Residents of this quaint beach community in southeastern Brooklyn were wise to choose “Gerritsen” from the lengthy moniker of the man whose legacy they commemorated.
Wolfert Gerritsen von Kouwenhoven — there are various spellings — was born in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, in 1579, and in 1625 was hired by the Dutch West India Company to manage some farms in the New World colony of New Netherland.
In 1629, the company offered a group of Dutch farmers 15,000 acres of land across the East River from New Amsterdam. The land included today’s Gerritsen Beach, the peninsula in southeastern Brooklyn which carries his name.
But it was a descendant of his, Hugh Gerritsen, who, in 1665, built a house and tidewater mill there on Gerritsen Creek (now part of Marine Park). The mill stood there until 1931, when it was destroyed by fire.
In the late 1800s, the area was still primarily rural except for some squatters’ bungalows. But investors soon saw its potential. In 1899, William C. Whitney, President Cleveland’s secretary of the Navy, bought 67 acres of land there and others followed. It became a popular summer resort and boating community.
Its boundaries are Knapp St. and Shell Bank Creek on the west to Burnett St. and Gerritsen Ave. on the east, Avenue U on the north and Plumb Beach Channel on the south.
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook. He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism. He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.