In 1638, the Dutch West India Company negotiated with the native Keskachauge Indians for the purchase of a grassy peninsula that jutted out into the East River — the “green point.” Thus, Greenpoint, one of the few Brooklyn neighborhoods that has kept its original name.
The first European settler in that area was Dirck Volckertsen, a Norwegian immigrant who built a farmhouse there in 1645 (now the intersection of Calyer and Franklin streets) and planted orchards and raised sheep and cattle. The creek that ran by his farmhouse was known as Norman Kill, “kill” being the Dutch word for creek; it ran into a salt marsh and was later filled in.
The area was used primarily for farming, but in the 19th century it became a shipbuilding center. The famous Civil War ironclad Monitor was launched from there in 1862.
Newtown Creek became a major waterway and brought industry — factories, lumberyards, gas storage tanks, as well as shipyards — to Greenpoint in the second half of the century. Street planning followed the development. Most of the streets that run parallel to the East River in this northernmost of the borough neighborhoods are in alphabetical order from north to south, Ash to Kent.
In 1939, the Kosciuszko Bridge opened over Newtown Creek and connecting Greenpoint to Maspeth, Queens. It replaced the old drawbridge known as the Penny Bridge. Col. Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a Polish soldier who volunteered in the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War and was instrumental in the American victory at Saratoga. It has been replaced on the same site by the current cable-stayed bridge, which opened in April 2017.
One of the neighborhood’s enduring claims to fame is that actress Mae West was born there.
Like the five Dutch towns, Gravesend encompassed far more land than the Brooklyn neighborhoods they were to become. At the time, Gravesend included the land that is today Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Gerritsen Beach — a huge area.
And, like most of Brooklyn at the time, it was primarily rural. Dutch, German and English descendants farmed the land together in peace, indeed in prosperity.
It was on the shore of Gravesend Bay that the English fleet landed in their invasion of Brooklyn in 1776.
Gravesend was annexed to the City of Brooklyn in 1894 and residential development in south-central Brooklyn grew with the reach of the Sea Beach and Culver rail lines.
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.