Brooklyn’s Last Frontier |


“Bergen” Frequently appears on the Brooklyn map – there’s Bergen St., which runs from Cobble Hill to Brownsville, the Bergen Beach Playground, Bergen Triangle, and Bergen Ave. The neighborhood, which is bounded by Ralph Ave. to the west, Paerdegat Basin to the north and to the east, Ave. U, East Mill Basin and Belt Parkway, was originally an island inhabited by the Canarsee Indians and, from the 1600s, was owned by Dutch settler Hans Hansen Bergen. In the 1890s -19-oh, entrepreneurs Percy Williams (a theater builder) and Thomas Adams Jr. (who developed chewing gum and whose home is still in Park Slope), built a park of attractions on the Bergen property grounds, accessible via a streetcar on Flatbush Ave. (the precursor of today’s # 41 bus).

Coney Island was much more accessible from many subway lines by 1920, and within a few years the resort and entertainment area was sold to developers Max Natanson and Mandlebaum & Levine, who hoped to open a residential community, a beach of swimming, a pavilion and other entertainment. to park. They were never built, and the Bergen Farm and all remnants of the amusement area were razed in 1939 when the Circumferential (later renamed Belt) Parkway was smashed into by Robert Moses in 1939.

The swamp land in the area prohibited large-scale residential development at Bergen Beach until it was more completely buried in the 1960s. Until that time there was a small cluster of houses along of avenue U (PS 236 educated children in these buildings from the 1930s). Yet much of Bergen Beach was not built until the 1960s.

Over the past 60 years, parts of the marine park have been enhanced with recreational facilities, while other areas have been conserved to protect flora and fauna. In 1939, the Pratt-White Athletic Field, north of U Avenue, was dedicated in tribute to the two fathers of Marine Park. A 210-acre golf course opened in 1963. Nature trails established along Gerritsen Creek on the west side of Burnett Street in 1984-85 invite park enthusiasts to observe rich flora and fauna. . Improvements underway at the end of the 20th century include the reconstruction of basketball, tennis and pétanque courts; baseball fields; and Lenape Playground at Ave. U. New ball fields on the west side of Gerritsen Ave. were opened in 1979 and are named after the policeman Rocco Torre, brother of Joe Torre, who died in 1996). A new Saltwater Marsh Natural Center, seen above, opened in 2000. The Marine Park holds regular cricket “tests” on its extensive grounds.

The section of U Avenue between Flatbush and Mill Aves. is called Old Mill Basin because it was populated between 1920 and 1945 (Mill Basin proper was built after WWII on Old Mill Island, named after many of the area’s tide mills at the time colonial). In 1970, I made the first of two visits to the brand new Kings Plaza at Flatbush Ave. and Ave. U, the first salvo to challenge the hegemony of the almighty Fulton St. shopping street. It was New York’s first closed mall; it may have been replaced by the Staten Island Mall, which is actually a shopping “district” made up of several shopping centers.

ABOVE: Mill Basin Creek, with a collection of pleasure boats owned by neighborhood residents.

PS 236, Mill Basin School, E. 63rd St. and Ave. U, is very close to the same place (2133 E. 63rd) where the Jan Martense Schenck house was located from around 1675 to 1954. Schenck built the house near one of the area’s flour mills about five or six years after immigrating from Holland. In 1784 the family sold the house and land to Joris Martense, who bequeathed them to his daughter and granddaughter, who married into the Caton and Crooke families. Martense, Schenck, Caton, and Crooke can all be found on Brooklyn Street Atlases. The last private owner, Frederick Crooke, sold it to the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Company in 1952.

You might have thought that would be the end of the house, but AGP donated it to the Brooklyn Museum, who took it apart, numbered each piece, stored it next to what is now the Jackie. Robinson Parkway in Cypress Hills, and reassembled it into the Museum in 1964. In 2004, Jan Martense Schenck’s house was again dismantled and moved to another location in the Museum to make way for a new exhibit. This time it was named after how curators believed a Dutch property in Brooklyn appeared in 1730. The museum now houses the Jan Martense Schenck House and the “newer” house of his grandson Nicklaes Schenck, built around 1775.

The streets north of T Avenue, east of Ralph Avenue and west of the Paerdegat Basin make up a subdivision of Bergen Beach known as Georgetown, named after a planned development in the 1960s which will be called Georgetowne Greens near Ralph Avenue and Ave. L. The project never took off, but the name has survived in the Georgetowne Mall on Ralph and the Neighborhood, minus the final “e”. The area slowly developed from the 1960s to the 1980s, and parts of Georgetown remained wasteland until the 2000s.

Going west from Georgetown through Ralph Ave. we are at East Flatbush, and we go from some of the newer buildings in town to an area with some of the older ones. At 1587 E. 53rd St., between Aves. M and N there is the private Stoothoff-Williamson House.

Douwe Stoothoff built this long building shortly after his marriage in 1797 on his farm near present-day Mill Island, near Jamaica Bay. In 1828, after Douwe’s death, his brother Cornelius sold him to John Williamson, where he lived with his wife Maria, daughter Joanna and sons Garret and James. Garret inherited the property and became a rhubarb grower, incorporating the new agricultural techniques of the time. After his death, the house was sold and moved to its current location on what would be E 53rd Street, positioned perpendicular to the newer houses surrounding it – the street was cut off after the building was placed here, and despite its age, this colonial relic is hiding here in plain sight.

Conclude this exploration of Marine Park, Bergen Beach and Georgetown is the Stoothoff-Baxter House at 1640 E. 48th St., again between Aves. M and N. One of the few surviving Colonial Flatlands houses owned by an Irishman, this house was built by the Dutch Stoothoff family around 1745. John Baxter, born 1765 in Omagh, County Tyrone in Ulster, Northern Ireland , sailed from Londonderry for the United States in 1784; in 1790 he was living in Flatlands and married Altje Stoothoff in 1791 and moved into the Stoothoff house.

The house stood on a now extinct section of a colonial-era footpath called Mill Lane, which still exists in chunks in the neighborhood. In 1811 Baxter enlarged the property and moved it to its present location south of the old Mill Lane. Baxter’s daughter, Abigail, inherited the house and married William Kouwenhoven. It was shot to its present position around 1900.

—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning Forgotten NY website and author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten queens (Arcadia, 2013)


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