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Greenpoint has long held a dynamic of industrial mixed with residential.

The Dutch acquired the land from the Keskachauge Indians in 1638 and named it for a grassy stretch of land on the East River.

After 1840, the neighborhood developed into a center for shipbuilding and became known as the birthplace of the famous ironclad Civil War ship, the Monitor.

With development of the neighborhood’s piers increasing in the late 1800s, streets and lots were carefully planned, causing almost all the streets that run parallel to the river to be in alphabetical order from north to south.

Alongside Williamsburg, Greenpoint was known for the black arts: printing, pottery, petroleum and gas refining, glassmaking and iron making.

In later years, more than 50 oil refining companies were based in Greenpoint. But the area struggled through the early 20th century as demand for shipbuilding, light manufacturing and warehousing declined in Brooklyn.

From World War II to the present though, Greenpoint has been invigorated and filled by a community of immigrants and hipsters.

  • On the shore of Newtown Creek, garbage piles up along a fence in front of the water.
  • A freestanding cast-iron sidewalk clock sits in front of 752 Manhattan Ave., put in place in the early 20th century.
  • Just blocks from the industrial lands of Greenpoint's northern shore, residential buildings line the streets. The neighborhood has long held a dynamic of industry coupled with tree-lined residential streets.
  • Manhattan Avenue is filled with markets that sell fresh produce on the sidewalk.
  • Once called the "garden spot of America" by the Brooklyn Eagle, Greenpoint boasts many front-porch gardens. Some, like this one, include wild life.
  • The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord can't be missed in southern Greenpoint with its large dome roof. The church was completed in 1921.
  • A group of children from a local summer camp walk down Greenpoint's busy streets.
  • A local laundromat offers games of Pinball for its patrons.
  • A child plays in Monsignor McGolrick Park, formerly known as Winthrop Park.
  • A home on Kent Avenue covered in foliage.
  • A 1939 monument to the Civil War ship, the Monitor, stands in McGolrick Park. As a center for shipbuilding, Greenpoint was the birthplace of the ship that launched in 1862.
  • The site of the old Astral Apartments on Franklin Street, opened by Charles Pratt after he founded Astral Oil Works in 1867. The apartments served as housing for his employees.
  • St. Stanislaus Kostka Vincentian Fathers Church worshipers make up the larges Polish congregation in Brooklyn. The congregation is particularly proud of a visit from Pope John Paul II to Greenpoint in 1969.
  • Near Greenpoint's waterfront, the Manhattan skyline can be seen past construction sites and industrial lots.
  • The Polish flag waves next to the American flag outside the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union.
  • The first span of the new Kosciuszko Bridge, which connects Greenpoint to Queens, stands next to an empty space where the old bridge was. A second span is under construction to create two separate lanes of traffic in opposite directions.
  • The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord can’t be missed in southern Greenpoint with its large dome roof. The church was completed in 1921.
  • Newtown Creek, splitting Greenpoint from Queens, is the site of heavy industry that has helped to make it one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States.
Photos by Paul Frangipane

How Greenpoint Got Its Name

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. 

Norm Goldstein

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.