130 Kent Street, illustration by Aubrey Nolan

Greenpoint honors its heroes in different ways. John Ericsson, the inventor of the monitor warship is honored with a school and a statue. Pete McGuinness, the lovable “first Citizen of Greenpoint” was honored with a boulevard. However, there is nothing to commemorate Neziah Bliss, the man who founded Greenpoint—not even a plaque outside the home where he lived, 130 Kent Street.
Bliss was a visionary who appreciated how the development of steam powered ferries would transform Brooklyn from farmland into an industrial center. Born in Connecticut in 1790 in a poor family, Bliss came to New York City as a young man and befriended the inventor of the steamship Robert Fulton. Becoming a protégé of Fulton, the young Bliss learned how to construct the boilers that powered steamships and went on to become one of the foremost American nautical engineers. Traveling west, he made a fortune with steamboats, but Bliss returned to New York where he and his partner opened a Manhattan shipyard on 12th Street that built steam-powered vessels.

In the early 1830s Bliss could not help but notice that a booming New York was driving ship building out of Manhattan, and that Greenpoint, the virgin farmland just across the river from his boatyard, was the perfect new home for New York shipbuilding. He and his partners bought thirty or so acres of riverfront property, and when he married the daughter of John A. Meserole, Mary Meserole, he received even more riverfront property as a dowry. He had the land surveyed and streets laid out, but just as his venture seemed to be most promising, the panic of 1837 hit freezing credit and brought real estate purchases to a virtual halt. Eventually the panic ended, shipbuilders relocated to Greenpoint and Bliss became a wealthy man. He died a very rich man in 1876 at the age of 86, his vision having become a reality.

Bliss knew the finest street in his settlement was Kent Street, named after an eminent New York jurist. Bliss built three other houses on the block—numbers 110 and 112 in 1856 and 130’s twin #132 in 1859; but he chose to live at 130 because even today after all these years the home’s elegance is clear. It is one of the finest examples of the Italianate style remaining in Greenpoint today.

In my book Greenpoint’s Forgotten Past, I imagined Bliss emerging from the double oak doors on the second floor, under the graceful white portico with two fluted columns carrying that still shade the entrance. I described the seventy-five year old Greenpoint Patriarch carefully descending the steep stairs and walking down Kent Street to see the humming Civil War waterfront that was his brainchild. The house is so well preserved that imaging Bliss walking down the stairs is still easy to do.

Sadly, the house has no plaque, nor is there any mention in any local place of the man who helped start our community. Perhaps we should place a plaque outside 130 to our patriarch.

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  1. Really enjoyed this post. Informative and warmly evocative. You pay just honor to Mr. Bliss, Greenpoint’s visionary founder. By the mid to late 1880’s, my great grand uncle, John Gillies (1838-1919) a successful ship, dock and bridge builder, resided at 137 Kent Street, having previously lived at 192 West Street. My wife and I finally visited Greenpoint years ago and were delighted to learn that Kent Street was historically protected. Standing on this shady street that summer afternoon, it wasn’t difficult to imagine life as it was over 125 years ago. Thank you Geoff for your inspired research and writing.

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