Historical Greenpoint

North Brooklyn Then & Now: _missing_the_point_’s Amazing Instagram Account

Frost Street / Union Ave by _missing_the_point_ on Instagram
Frost Street / Union Ave 2005 vs 2017, by _missing_the_point_ on Instagram

There’s no doubt that North Brooklyn’s skyline has rapidly changed in the last decade plus. In place of one-story bombed out warehouses, high rises stand tall. An old sludge tank in Greenpoint has been seemingly effortlessly replaced by luxury apartments. Those who lived in the neighborhood before “the change” began probably remember a slightly different vibe: the area was rougher, with locals playing the role of war-torn veterans. The hip coffee shops and restaurants were fewer and farther between, and the pioneers that were there had worn yet comfy thrift store furniture instead of the minimalist high design stuff you might see today. Piles of trash and industrial waste have disappeared and been replaced with waterfront parks and bike racks. Still, there was something special about North Brooklyn back then in its less polished state. It was way more punk rock.

An Instagram account with the handle _missing_the_point_ has been quietly posting side-by-side comparison photos of North Brooklyn from “then” (most of them about 13 years ago) and “now”. Greenpoint native and amateur photographer Jack Olszewski says, “I’d be walking around my own neighborhood and certain blocks had become completely unrecognizable to me. I’d think, ‘Wait… what used to be here?’. That led me to revisit my old photos. I thought it might be something other Greenpointers could relate to, which led to me start  _missing_the_point_ .”

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The Great Blizzard of 1888 in Greenpoint

Image courtesy of Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Monday, March 12th marks the hundred and thirtieth anniversary of the greatest storm ever to hit Greenpoint: The Great Blizzard of 1888. Snowfalls of 20–60 inches fell locally, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour produced snowdrifts 50 feet high. Railroads were shut down and people were trapped in their houses for up to a week. This snowstorm became legendary, earning the nickname “The Great White Hurricane,” after it paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. Ships at sea sunk or were grounded, telegraph and telephone wires came down, cutting off communication between major cities. All transportation was immobilized. Continue reading

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Before L-pocalypse: A History of Transit in North BK

B.R.C.C. Crosstown Trolley, Via the Transit Museum
B.C.R.R. Crosstown Trolley, Via the New York Transit Museum

As the MTA’s planned 15-month suspension of L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan draws near, all 200,000 daily riders of the L-pocalypse have been asking the same question: how will we get across the river? Brooklynites have been asking that question for generations, and personal ingenuity, along with municipal planning, has yielded several answers. All we can say for sure is that this is not the first time aggrieved Greenpointers have been up in arms over inadequate inter-borough transit. I’m just glad we don’t have to take a rowboat.

The rowboat commute was the first in a line increasingly efficient methods of getting from Greenpoint to Manhattan that includes horsecars, trollies, ferry services, elevated trains, and the dawn and growth of the subway. Step in, stand clear and read on for a history of transit in North Brooklyn.   Continue reading

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A Stroll Down Historic Huron Street

Inside Archestratus— part cookbook shop, part cafe and part event space.
Inside Archestratus on Huron Street— part cookbook shop, part cafe and part event space.

Huron was originally just called H Street, but it was changed to Huron in the 1850s, possibly in honor of a locally built steamship the U.S.S Huron, or it could simply honor the New York state Native American people.

Huron Street was once famed for the beauty of its gardens. At one time Huron Street had two gardens that were so beautiful that they helped make Greenpoint “The Garden Spot of Brooklyn.” Cousin’s garden near Franklin Street was a show place of Greenpoint. The Provost House near Manhattan Avenue also had a beautiful garden with grapevines and was known as The Brass Castle. Number 119 seems to be one of the oldest buildings in Greenpoint and might have shared the street with the gorgeous gardens. The gardens vanished long ago, but the foodie bookstore/cafe Archestratus (160 Huron St), near where the Provost House once stood, is a garden of culinary delights.

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Oil, Philanthropy, The Astral and Art: The Mixed Local Legacy of Charles Pratt

Pratt Institute

Perhaps there is no person in the long history of Greenpoint who had a bigger effect on our area than Charles Pratt. Pratt’s legacy, though is a mixed one: a philanthropist, Pratt felt a duty to use his wealth to give back to the community, but he is also heavily responsible for the massive local pollution that is a result of his business in oil refining. One thing though is sure, more than a hundred and twenty years after his death; Pratt’s long shadow still hangs over Greenpoint. Continue reading

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The Fascinating and Tragic History of The Wythe Hotel

The Weidmann Cooperage before its renovation
The Weidmann Cooperage before its renovation

The Wythe Hotel at North 11th Street and Wythe Avenue is a symbol of cool in trendy Williamsburg. The building is a combination of old and new, with a three story sleek glass tower rising out of the remnants of a 1901 industrial building. The hotel’s L-shaped rooftop bar The Ides has stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, attracting people from around the world to the 72-room boutique hotel. People use words like chic, trendy and ultra-modern in describing the building, but it has a fascinating and tragic past that stretches back to the 1890’s—and that past is still evident in today’s hotel building.

The Wythe Hotel today, image via Morris Adjmi Architects
The Wythe Hotel today, image via Morris Adjmi Architects

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The Story Behind Brooklyn’s Iconic Water Tanks

Courtesy of Ted McGrath on Flickr.
Via Ted McGrath on Flickr.

PARIS has its world famous Eiffel Tower. Pisa, of course has its leaning tower and London has its ancient tower. What about New York? We have towers, too, but here, they hold water.
Although the skyline of New York city has changed dramatically over the years, one element has remained constant; the city’s romantic wooden water towers, which are every bit as iconic as the Empire State building or the Chrysler Building. There are more than 10,000 water towers around the city, which feature prominently in the works of famous New York artists Like Edward Hopper and the Ash Can School.

In the 1880s, steel was transforming the New York skyline, allowing buildings to reach above five stories, but also creating a design problem. As the buildings soared upwards, water pressure could only reach the fifth floor. Taller buildings needed water for the upper floors and that’s why the water towers were built. Water towers use gravity to help create pressure in pipes on the upper floors. These wooden towers are still the water source for many of the city’s buildings, and they also contain enough water to feed the sprinklers if there’s a fire.
With demand spiking for water towers in late nineteenth century New York, Brooklyn’s large barrel making industry was perfectly positioned to build the city’s water towers. One of the firms that achieved market dominance was the Rosenwach Water Tower Company, which for decades was located in the Northside.
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The Greenpointer Who Led a Prison Break from Sing-Sing

Charles Bergstrom

For years his wanted poster had hung in the Meserole Avenue Police station, but there was not a trace of Charles Bergstrom to be found. Bergstrom was wanted for being an accomplice in the worst prison break in Sing Sing history. He had become a wanted man for helping three of his buddies to break out of the maximum-security prison, and four people had lost their lives as a result of the breakout.
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A Brief History of the Puerto Ricans in Greenpoint

Members of the Assembly of God Church in 1928

Sunday, January 14th is a day of pride for the Puerto Rican community in North Brooklyn. It is the celebration of the feast of the Three Kings and there is an enthusiastic parade and celebration of Puerto Rican culture on Grand Street. In traditional Puerto Rican culture, the feast day was a day of celebration and gift giving that was actually bigger than Christmas for many Puerto Ricans. So it’s a good time to reflect on the long history of Puerto Ricans in our part of Brooklyn. Continue reading

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The Amazing Philanthropist Who Founded Williamsburg’s First Public Schools

Grahams Polley

So many of the wealthy in today’s world are both so selfish and self-interested that it’s easy to believe that rich people do not think of those who have nothing. The story of Grahams Polley, the great Williamsburg philanthropist, however, shows that wealth and concern for the poor and for public education are not mutually exclusive. Polley only lived to be thirty-four years of age, dying in a riding accident in 1860 and leaving behind a wife and ten children. His charity was legendary and left a legacy still felt today.

Polley was born in Manhattan to a poor family. He never had the chance to go to school for himself and he never learned to read or write, but he died as a bank president with a fortune of $40,000. He was determined to use his wealth for the public good and his chief interest was ensuring that all of Williamsburg’s children got educated. Continue reading

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