Where Do The Names of Williamsburg Streets Come From?

The longest street in Brooklyn and the road that runs through the heart of Williamsburg is Bedford Avenue. The 10.19 mile-long street got its name from the village of Bedford, which was located roughly at the intersection of what is now Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street. There is some disagreement about Bedford. The village, which is so old that it was a focal point of the Revolutionary Wars’ Battle of Brooklyn could come from the English Duke of Bedford or it could refer to Dutch word bestevaar, meaning “the place where old men meet.”

Another street with an ancient history is Bushwick Avenue, which is the oldest street in all of Bushwick, dating back to the earliest Dutch occupation. Peter Stuyvesant named it on March 14, 1661. The name is generally said to mean “place of the woods.” The area was dense with forests, thickets, scrub oaks, logs and low land. British soldiers used a great deal of the wood for fuel, forever changing the area’s natural environment.

In 1792, Richard Woodhull, a real estate developer, whose name graces the local hospital, tried unsuccessfully to develop a settlement in Williamsburg. He created the numbered Streets (S. 5th to N. 3rd). When Richard Woodhull had the area surveyed in 1792 (he had purchased 12 acres), he simply gave the streets numbers for names, except for Grand Street. Woodhull also created a lane along the waterfront which he called “Water Street” and another East River street called “River Street” (now under water).

Grand Street divided the north and south numbered streets. N. 2nd Street was once part of the old Jamaica Turnpike. In Woodhull’s time the north-numbered streets stopped on N. 12th. The south streets (from 1836) extended to S. 11th Street, just at the line dividing Brooklyn from Williamsburg. Division Street was so named because it marked the dividing line between Brooklyn and the town of Williamsburg. The north-south named streets were similarly originally designated with numbers 1st, 2nd. etc. In 1885, the north-south numbered streets were renamed to avoid confusion. (1st Street is now Kent, 2nd Street is now Wythe Avenue, and so on).

Grand Street was opened in 1812 by Williamsburg landowners James Hazard and partner Thomas Morrell from the East River to about the present location of Roebling Street. It has changed its name. Grand Street dates from 1835, and like its Manhattan counterpart, suggests the “grandeur” of the many shops lining either side of the street. The Lower section had been called Washington and then Dunham Street, after the man who started the area’s first steam powered ferry, a major impetus to Williamsburg’s development. In 1836, it was extended through the Conselyea farm and in 1855 from Bushwick Avenue to Metropolitan.

Metropolitan Avenue was originally called Bushwick Street, later Woodhull Street and then N. 2nd Street. Eventually combined with the Jamaica Turnpike and Williamsburg Turnpike it became Metropolitan Avenue.

The independent village of Williamsburg came into existence in 1827 and it grew rapidly. In 1835, it annexed parts of the village of Bushwick and named new streets. Union Avenue, which was named in 1835, running from Withers Street to S. 6th Street. It was so named because in 1835 it “united” Williamsburg and Bushwick, which until then had been separate villages. The final sections were opened on September 8, 1861.

1874 Map of Old Farmland In Brooklyn: Wards 13, 14, 15 and 16 make up Williamsburg (via McBrooklyn)

Meserole Street, not to be confused with Greenpoint’s Meserole Avenue, also derives its name from the Dutch. The street was laid out in 1835 through Abraham Messerole’s farm, from Union Avenue to Bushwick Avenue. Abraham’s sons married the daughter’s of Peter Praa who once owned all of Greenpoint, hence the reason why there is a Meserole Street and a Meserole Avenue. Our Meserole Avenue was named for the branch that settled Greenpoint.

Scholes Street was named in honor of the family of James Scholes, also Dutch land owners in the area. Scholes purchased the Jeremiah Remson farm in 1831. Paved in 1850, it was extended from Bushwick Avenue to the county line in 1904.

Conselyea Street was named in honor of another ancestral Dutch family that owned a Williamsburg farm.

Ten Eyck Street, formerly Wyckoff Street, was opened in 1852. In 1904, it stretched from Union Avenue to Newtown Creek. It recalls Richard Ten Eyck, another Dutch landowner and one of the 44 men whose wealth in 1847 was estimated to exceed $10,000, a very large sum in those days.

Stagg Street: The origin of the name is not clear. Possibly it honors Peter Stagg, one of the commissioners who laid out the streets in 1835. Opened in 1853, it extended from Union Avenue to Bushwick Avenue and was extended, along with Scholes, in 1904 to the borough line.

Maujer Street was originally called Remsen Street, after Abraham Remsen, a farmer whose property began at what is now the junction of Maujer and Union Avenue. The lower portion was once also called Manhattan Street. On 1835, maps, it went from South 1st Street to Bushwick Avenue. In 1869, it was extended to Morgan Avenue. On April 30, 1937 the name was changed to Maujer Street for Daniel Maujer, Esq., and alderman in the old 15th Ward. He owned land at the junction of Remsen and Union. The change was made to avoid confusion with the downtown Brooklyn’s Remsen Street. The old Union Cemetery once occupied the area bounded by Maujer, Stagg, Leonard and Lorimer Streets.

A number of streets were named for signers of The Declaration of Independence. Rodney Street dates from 1835 and honors Cesar Rodney, a general in the Revolutionary War and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Keap Street, like Rodney, is on 1835 maps. The land for both streets was formally deeded to the city in 1858. It was actually named for another signer of the Declaration, Thomas McKean; the name was erroneously transcribed as “Keap” and never corrected.

Hooper Street (maps 1835, land deeded 1852) is named for William Hooper, another signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hewes Street, originally a farm lane (1810) on General Jeremiah Johnson’s farm, was named in 1835 for Joseph Hewes, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also headed the naval committee for the 13 colonies.

Not every signatory to the Declaration of the Independence is represented, but most are. George Clymer, George Taylor, James Wilson, John Morton, and George Ross of Pennsylvania; Caesar Rodney of Delaware; William Hooper, George Hewes and John Penn of North Carolina; Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., and Arthur Middleton of South Carolina; George Walton of Georgia; Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts; and John Hart of New Jersey; George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, and Benjamin Harrison of Virginia… all have named streets in Williamsburg named in their honor.

In the 1830s, before the crash of Williamsburg real estate in the panic of 1837, the area was a hotbed of speculation and some of the most prominent men involved in this bubble left their names on streets. Berry Street was named for Dr. Abraham J. Berry, the first mayor of Williamsburg from 1852-53. He died from malaria he contracted while serving as a doctor during the Civil War. The Williamsburg City Bank was organized in Samuel M. Meekers’ office. Nicholas Wycoff was the banks’ first president and both men were honored with street names.

Lorimer Street recalls the middle name of John and James Graham (after whom Graham Avenue is named), two famous real estate salesmen, active in 1836 selling building lots in the area. The street was originally called Gwinette Street, after Button Gwinett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1835 it extended from S. 6th Street to Greenpoint and was extended north to Noble Street in 1868. The name was changed on April 23, 1901.

Leonard Street (formerly the name in 1835 of present-day Lorraine Street in Red Hook) is one of the more recent streets in the area. It was opened from Broadway to Greenpoint Avenue on October 4, 1852 and is named in honor of a major builder of Brooklyn public schools, including p.s. 34.

Havemeyer Street is named after the Havemeyer family, which operated the Havemeyer and Elder sugar refinery on Kent Avenue that later became Domino.

Withers Street is named for Reuben Withers who was one of the owners of the Houston Street Ferry and came to NY as a poor boy from Virginia. He earned his money in the china trade while being of the house of Withers & Heard.

Manhattan Avenue (“manah”, island and “atin”, hill) has, since May 24, 1897 been the name of the street originally called Ewen Street (1835). Daniel Ewen was a surveyor of the old and new village of Williamsburg. Ewen Street stretched from N. 6th Street to the Greenpoint line. The section from Greenpoint Avenue to Newtown Creek was formerly Union Avenue, and a section between S. 5th Street and Java Street was once called Hill Road, and another piece “Union Place.” In 1867 another stretch was called Orchard Street because it ran through the one-time Meserole Orchard. It was called Manhattan after the borough across the river.

Humboldt Street (originally Wyckoff Avenue and later, Smith Street and Smith Avenue) was paved and opened in 1851 from Flushing Avenue to Greenpoint Line. It was renamed somewhere between 1869-1890 to honor Alexander Humboldt (1769-1859), the German explorer of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers (in 1799-1804) and the founder of geophysics. Debovoise Street commemorated Charles Debevoise, a village resident who once lived on Flushing Avenue. Opened in 1852, it was earlier known as Banzett Street. Debevoise was a descendant of Carl De Devoise (the name means “Beautiful Road”), was the first schoolmaster in the area. Cook Street recalls an old resident family whose farm home was located at the “crossroads” of Flushing and Bushwick Avenue. Varet Street opened in 1883, is named for Lewis I. Varette, a land speculator in the area. Moore Street who Thomas C. Moore, who also owned land in the area, and was a manufacturer of wire sieves and netting. The street was opened in 1852.

Siegel Street (once called Marshall Street) in named for Major General Franz Siegel (1824-1902) of the Civil War Union Army. The street was opened in 1852 from Broadway to Bushwick. Siegel had been born in Germany, came to this country and played an important role in engaging the sympathies of German immigrants to the Union cause. His military skill helped save St. Louis from the Confederates. Possibly some Germans from Williamsburg served under him and honored him with the street. He was later a customs agent and an editor of the “New York Monthly.” A commemorative statue was erected in 1901 on Riverside Drive in New York City.

McKibbin Street was opened in 1853 from Broadway to Bushwick Avenue. Part of the Jacob Boerum farm, it was purchased by John McKibbin and a certain Nichols (his partner). They built homes for German settlers. The area was therefore called “Dutchtown.” Montrose Avenue was opened in 1850 in what was by then already known as the “German Quarter” (as the section bounded by Bushwick, Metropolitan, Meeker and Union avenues was called “Irish Town”) Originally opened from Union to Bushwick Avenue, Montrose was extended in 1906. The origin of the name is not known.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over 20years and is the author of a book on the history of the area, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past."

2 Comments

  1. Rita Levin says:

    I am trying to ascertain where Rush Street would have been in Williamsburg. I know it no longer exists but would love to know approximately where my father grew up.

    Reply
  2. Jim Mason says:

    Thanks for your web page Where Do The Names of Williamsburg Streets Come From? This helped solve a mystery about one of my ancestral family’s residence.

    Reply

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