Local settlement houses have a long and honorable history in North Brooklyn and they have served as a cultural and educational oasis for generations of local youths. Still, many people might not fully appreciate the historic and current role settlement houses play in our area.
Settlement houses first appeared in England in 1884. Several young graduates from Oxford and Cambridge saw that the working class had little access to education or to culture, so they opened the first settlement house and hoped to share their knowledge and culture with their low-paid, poorly educated neighbors. The idea quickly spread to America where millions of illiterate, or semi-literate, immigrants with little or no English language skills began to populate the nation’s cities.
Many middle-class Americans feared that these immigrants and their children posed a danger to American culture and democracy. Something had to be done to help “Americanize” these newcomers and the settlement house quickly became the answer.
In 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded the famous Hull House Settlement House on Chicago’s west side. Hull House served the needs of recently arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe and it served as a model for approximately five hundred similar institutions that sprang up around the country.
Two settlement houses based on Hull House were founded in North Brooklyn. One was funded by Brooklyn’s richest man, Charles Pratt, on the ground floor of his model apartment building, The Astral Apartments, which still stands on Franklin Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The settlement house in the building ran a kindergarten, English language classes, home economics courses and civics classes for many of the newly arrived immigrants from Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Italy.
Arguably the best piece of literature ever written about North Brooklyn, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Betty Smith’s classic tale of a girl coming of age in early 20th century Williamsburg, will be celebrated on Wednesday, Nov. 14, from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. at the Leonard Street Library (81 Devoe Street). The book’s 75th anniversary of publication celebration will include live music, a panel of New York authors and Greenpoint’s own Amy Marino, the talented artist whom publisher Harper Collins chose to design the book cover.
Great literature never grows old or feels dated, and no local novel feels more current to local women than Betty Smith’s enduring 1943 classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which describes the coming of age of the protagonist Francie Nolan in the era before World War I in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The novel sold millions of copies and was made into a hit 1945 film, directed by Elia Kazan, starring James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner, who won a Special Academy Award for Outstanding Child Actress of 1945. Continue reading →
If you’re looking for some new reads this year, why not start with a novel that centralizes around Greenpoint? Or Williamsburg. Bushwick, even! These eight novels focus on the lens of human experience while living in Brooklyn. Continue reading →
One of my favorite things about Greenpoint is its neighborhood vibe. I can walk around and find myself in any cafe or bar and feel at ease. There’s so many great places to explore, drinks to drink, and marvelous books the read — so why not a few recommendations? Read on to find out the favorite drinks and libations in our editors’s favorite spots. Continue reading →