greenpoint history

The Local Purple Heart Recipient Memorialized With a Park

Sergeant William Dougherty Park (courtesy of DOT)

Recently there was a $ 12,000,000 renovation of Sergeant William Dougherty Park, which lies right by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway at the corner of Vandervoort Avenue and Anthony Street. Sergeant Dougherty died in one of the most horrific battles of World War II. He was one of almost 3,000 young Americans who died in the bloody battle. Tragically, the 22-year-old Sergeant Dougherty survived the worst fighting of the battle and died on July 10, 1944, the day after United States Navy Admiral Turner announced that Saipan was officially secured. Dougherty was posthumously awarded two of the highest honors a soldier can receive: The Bronze Star and The Purple Heart.

The Greenpoint park was named in his honor in 1948. Dougherty was born near the park on Hausman Street on November 9, 1921, and as a child, he played in the park. He graduated from high school and was a messenger boy for employment. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 126 pounds when he enlisted in the “ Fighting 69th” New York Irish Regiment that had won fame for its valor in the Civil War and in World War I, and was even the subject of a film made about the famous regiment’s exploits in the Great War. Dougherty enlisted in the National Guard Regiment before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Continue reading

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A Greenpoint Irish Primer for St. Patrick’s Day

Most people associate Greenpoint with the Polish community, but our area has a long and deep connection to Ireland. Let’s answer a few questions to prepare you fully to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day locally.

1) When, how and why did the Irish come to Greenpoint?

Greenpoint really began to be a community in the 1850s, just after the Irish famine devastated the country. Already in 1855 a third of the local residents were Irish. The Irish dominated the local waterfront. The McAllister family from Cushendall, Co. Antrim started a tugboat and lighter fleet and brought over many family members and neighbors from Northern Ireland and many Greenpoint Irish families have Cushendall roots. By the 1880s The Irish were a large and growing presence in the area.

McGolrick Park, photo by Megan Penmann
McGolrick Park, photo by Megan Penmann

2) What local places have Irish associations?

Perhaps it is better to ask what places do not? McGolrick Park was named for local parish priest Monseigneur Edward McGolrick who was born in Donegal and rebuilt St. Cecelia’s Church. McCarren Park was named for Irish-American State Senator Patrick McCarren. McGuinness Boulevard was named for Peter J. McGuinness the politician who popularized Greenpoint’s nickname “ The Garden Spot” and brought the area the McCarren Park pool and the G Train.

McCarren Park
Connie O’s (via Google Maps)

3) What local Irish pub are around to celebrate in?

Sadly we lost Shayz Lounge, which was run by two Dubliners. Connie O’s on Norman Avenue is the last real Irish-American Greenpoint bar. The Capri Lounge, once known as Murphy’s, resurrects its Irish past and throws a great party with many locally born Irish- Americans. The Palace bar was for many years run by an Irish-American family. Derry man Stevie Howlett at Lake Street gives an Irish aura to the Minnesota bar on Manhattan Avenue.

4) Did Any Irish Greenpointers affect Ireland?

Yes and how! Thomas Clarke who lived at 175 Russell St. returned to Ireland and took part in the Easter Rising. He formally declared the existence of the Irish Republic before he was captured and shot by the British. He and his wife are honored heroes in Ireland.

Pete McGuinness

5) Which Irish Greenpointer became a local icon? Continue reading

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A History of Greenpoint Piers

 

Aerial view of Bushwick Inlet and Greenpoint 1982 (courtesy of NYCEDC)

There is no more important geographical feature of Greenpoint than our waterfront defined by piers, wharves and docks, so let us take a moment and examine in more detail the history of our local docks.

In 1845, David Provost, a scion of one of the five ancestral families that farmed Greenpoint, built the first pier at the foot of Freeman Street. Around 1850, the Federal Government also built a dock and a gunpowder storage facility at the foot of Milton Street that was used more for swimming than anything else.

In the 1850s, 12 shipyards lined the East River shore, building wooden clipper ships. Shipbuilding combined with the demand for wooden barrels for the sugar and oil refineries required huge amounts of wood, so Greenpoint became New York’s center for lumberyards. Lumber often arrived on three-masted ships where it was unloaded by brawny Irish-American longshoremen like Peter J. McGuinness who was the head stevedore at Orr’s lumber yard at the foot of Green Street.

The first pier was built at the foot of Greenpoint Avenue for the local ferry in the early 1850s, which made two stops in Manhattan- one at 10th Street and the other at 23rd Street. A fleet of ferries ran the East River until 1931 when the ferry service was closed in the money-strapped Great Depression.

In 1888, the Noble Street pier was built by the city for the use of the many industrial concerns that covered Greenpoint, but it was not alone. Piers also stretched out from Quay, Oak, Kent, Java, India and Huron.

Greenpoint Weekly Star archives

As Greenpoint industrialized, the swimming holes that once served as pools for kids were filled up and kids began to use the piers to swim in the East River, despite the fact that raw sewage was dumped right into the river. A number of local boys drowned in the swift river currents until the 1930s when Peter McGuinness succeeded in opening the McCarren Park pool, thus providing local kids with a far safer way of cooling off.

Greenpoint never had a commercial railroad that could supply local factories, so the local docks and wharfs played a central role in the local economy. Tugboats like the McAlister fleet also left from local docks, so hundreds of local families were dependent on the longshoremen who worked the East River shoreline.

Aerial view of Newtown Creek looking east over Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Queens 1982 (Courtesy of NYCEDC)

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Brooklyn Label: Rediscovering the Astral’s Legacy

The Astral (Pratt Institute archives)

A lot of local history is quickly disappearing, but one place that is holding strong is Brooklyn Label (180 Franklin St.) and the historic building it calls home. French Greenpointer Robert Arbor, proprietor of Le Gamin (108 Franklin St.) re-opened Brooklyn Label in the historic Astral Building. The former management did little to recognize the amazing history of the space, something that Arbor has dedicated himself to changing.

The Astral Apartments are not only landmarked, but the building is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Arbor and his manager, Alex Russell, are determined to honor the building’s rich history and its patron philanthropist Charles Pratt, the oil baron and the richest man in 19th century Brooklyn.

Completed in 1883, the Astral Apartments were unique in their day: Unlike the flimsy tenement buildings that sprang up all around the city without basic amenities, the Astral was a kind of gift to the Greenpoint community and a solidly built showcase.

In contrast to tenements, Pratt’s building had plenty of natural light, air and even indoor plumbing, unheard of luxuries for most tenement dwellers. And the building was stunningly beautiful too!

The philanthropist hired famed architects Hugh Lamb and Charles A. Rich who also designed his stately Pratt Institute campus. Pratt commissioned them to design the Astral as a model for worker housing. Lamb & Rich based the Astral design on innovative tenement housing built by American philanthropist George Peabody in London who was a personal friend of Pratt’s.

Astral Kindergarten (Pratt Institute archives)
(Pratt Institute archives)

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The Unlikley Story Behind Williamsburg’s Washington Statue

(Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives)

These last bone-chilling, frigid days have been hard to bear, but these freezing days have reminded me of the horrible cold the Continental Army endured during the darkest moments of the revolution and of a unique local statue that captures Washington’s suffering during that freezing winter. Situated in Continental Army Plaza, right near Roebling Street’s entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge, the Equestrian Statue of George Washington at Valley Forge is decidedly the most impressive piece of public sculpture in North Brooklyn. Perhaps the only thing that can rival the awe the statue inspires is the incredible story of how an honest politician (that rare breed indeed) gifted it to the city.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives

The statue was dedicated in 1906, and presented to the City by local Congressman James R. Howe and the Committee of Supervision and Construction. It was sculpted by Henry Mervin Shrady, a New Yorker and Columbia University graduate, who was commissioned to make his first major public work after winning a design competition in 1901. The huge statue was cast at Roman Bronze Works on Green Street in our area and is anchored to a granite base designed by Lord and Hewlett.

Image courtesy of Ephemeral New York

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157th Anniversary of USS Monitors’ Greenpoint Launch

 

The USS Monitor is launched from Greenpoint, 1862

Today marks the 157 year anniversary of Jan 30th, 1862, the day Greenpoint staked its claim in history as the site where the ironclad USS Monitor was built and launched, in the midst of the Civil War.

monitor st statue greenpoint mcgolrick park
USS Monitor Memorial statue in McGolrick Park

The Greenpoint Monitor Memorial is in McGolrick park. It depicts a nude sailor and was erected in 1938 in the memory of John Ericsson and the lost crew members. Any guess what Monitor Street was named after?

USS Monitor
Monitor on the James River, Virginia, 1862 Officers on deck (left to right): Robinson W. Hands, Louis N. Stodder, Albert B. Campbell (seated), William Flye (with binoculars). Note dents in turret from cannon fire. (Photo courtesy U.S. Library of Congress)

The vessel was constructed at Continental Iron Works and designed by the Swedish-born engineer and inventor, John Ericsson. The innovative design captured the attention of the world and became famous for battling the USS Merrimack of Virginia in the Battle of Hampton Roads, which lasted four hours and was the first stand-off between two armored warships. Neither ship could destroy the other, although many cannon shots were fired. Continue reading

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New Artists Revive Greenpoint’s First Industry

 

Historical Sketch of the Greenpoint Porcelain Works of Charles Cartlidge & Co., reprinted from “The Clay-Worker” via (tiles in new york)

Long before Greenpoint had the shipbuilding, oil refining or sugar refining industries, ceramicists had established Greenpoint as America’s first ceramic capital and it is more than a little ironic that recently a number of New York’s best ceramic artists have decided to call the area home. These artists are reviving an art form with over a hundred and fifty years of local history.

There are in fact so many first-rate potters working locally that just to mention them all would require too much space. Visit galleries like Greenpoint Hill (Freeman St.) or Wilcoxson Brooklyn Ceramics (67 West St.) to acquaint yourself with just some of the many talented locals turning out a stunning variety of ceramic art pieces.

The great poet Walt Whitman was also a journalist and in August of 1857 he visited The American Porcelain Works on Freeman and West Street to profile Greenpoint porcelain production. The pottery there stood atop a hill that was later leveled, appropriately called Pottery Hill, on account of the number of local potters there.

Charles Cartlidge and Company (1848–1856)
Pitcher, 1853–56: (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) 

Englishman Charles Cartlidge, who established the American Porcelain works there way back in 1848, came to Greenpoint from a family of potters in Staffordshire, the center of English pottery. The Englishman’s Greenpoint company manufactured tea sets, pitchers, busts, and other porcelain pieces, but the firm really excelled at porcelain busts of famous figures, sculpting busts of John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Joseph Hughes, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, Senator Daniel Webster, and President Zachary Taylor. Cartlidge’s Greenpoint Pottery exhibited wares that won a “first premium” award at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1853 in New York. The firm, however, could not pay the bills and became bankrupt.

Thomas Smiths’ former house, now the Greenpoint Reformed Church(via Brownstowner/ Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris)

To survive local potters would need to find commercial uses for porcelain. The man who first set up an economically viable local pottery was Thomas Smith, whose stately home on Milton Street is now occupied by the Greenpoint Reformed Church. Smith, a successful builder, never trained as an artist or a potter, so his success as a ceramicist is all the more remarkable. Continue reading

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Dangerous Immigrants and Deportations? Not Trump’s America, but Greenpoint 100 Years Ago!


Sign for Long Gone Russian People’s Home on Clay Street

The more things change the more they seem to stay the same. Today’s headlines feature stories about dangerous immigrants on our shores, threats to national security and the need for mass deportations, but these very same headlines appeared a hundred years ago in the New York Tribune and one of the dangerous foreigners meriting deportation was a teenage Greenpointer nicknamed “Tommy the Kid.” While some media outlets today might scare people with menaces from Central America or the Middle East, in 1919 the fear was that Russians would spread the Bolshevik Revolution to the banks of the East River.

New York Tribune – December 23, 1919

The December 23, 1919 edition of the New York Tribune ran an article on Russian anarchists who had been arrested by the government to be deported. The youngest threat to the American way of life was Greenpointer Tommy Buhkanov, who was just 17, but despite his youth was the Financial Secretary of the Greenpoint Branch of the subversive Union of Russian Workers, an association of Eastern European anarchists who supported worker seizure of factories and industries.

New  York Tribune – December 23, 1919

“Wait,” you say, “Russians, but I thought Greenpoint was Polish?” Although Greenpoint was heavily Polish a hundred years ago there was a thriving Russian community here around Clay and Dupont Streets, which was centered around a Russian National Home at 106 Clay Street and a Russian Saturday school on Dupont Street and Manhattan Avenue that taught American-born kids how to read and write in Russian, but lets get back to the Union of Russian Workers and Tommy the kid. Continue reading

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Transmitter Park: How Greenpoint’s Waterfront Oasis Finally Appeared

When Transmitter Park finally opened in 2012, many longtime Greenpoint residents were shocked to realize that for decades they had been denied amazing views of the East River. They wondered how they could have lived so close to the East River, yet missed its stunning vistas. They also wondered why the community had been shut off from their waterfront for generations. The 1.61-acre park on the East River offers spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline and is a much needed urban oasis, but to understand why it took North Brooklyn decades to develop a park at the site lets take a look at the history.

WNYC’s Greenpoint Transmitter site in 1937; by Allan Gordon Lorimer (WNYC Archive Collections)

The park is a natural estuary with wetlands that were once the hunting ground of the Keskachaugue Native Americans. The land is also susceptible to floods and when the park was planned, the designers incorporated a bridge into the park design that allows for the periodic high waters of the East River to enter the park. Sometime in the 1840s, the area was chosen as the site for a primitive ferry that was nothing more than a small rowboat with a sail that carried a few passengers over to the sparsely settled Brooklyn shore. Remnants of that first ferry are still visible from the park’s bridge, but the undeveloped shoreline of the park would soon change with the advent of our area’s first industry: shipbuilding.

The rapid development of shipbuilding in Greenpoint coincided with a huge demand for sailing ships. Trade with China and the gold rush in California created a massive need for ships and the East River shoreline became the nation’s largest center of shipbuilding. The first wooden ship was built locally in 1850 and within five years a dozen shipyards producing wooden ships lined the East River shoreline.

The Grand Republic (via the Bowery Boys)

John Englis joined his father’s business in 1850 at his yard at the foot of East 10th Street in Manhattan and created the famous shipbuilding firm John Englis and Sons. Manhattan was booming, forcing shipbuilding across the river and John Englis and Sons moved to Greenpoint in 1872. The Englis family yard, located where the park is today, built several famous ships there. The family constructed one of the largest wooden ships ever built, The Grand Republic, which was more than a football field in length. Today, the bar ‘Grand Republic’ is just up the street from the park and recalls the huge wooden ship.

Shipbuilding was proving unprofitable in the early 1900s, and slowly the Greenpoint yards closed, but John Englis and Sons alone held out. Finally, Englis and Sons too could not find orders and in 1911 the last surviving shipyard in Greenpoint closed, ending a colorful era.

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Charles Evans Hughes: Greenpoint’s Forgotten Statesman

Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

He did not look like a Greenpointer, he did not act like one either and with his eloquent vocabulary and upper-class speech he sure did not sound like one, nevertheless, Supreme Court Chief Justice and former Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes came of age in a home on Milton Street. The Ivy League-educated patrician Robert Moses who built and destroyed so much in New York was certain that Hughes had never lived in Greenpoint and bet Pete McGuinness that the Supreme Court Justice had never lived locally. A letter from Hughes to McGuinness published by New York newspapers confirming that he had in fact actually lived locally won the bet for McGuinness. Hughes is a forgotten figure, even locally, but Hughes’ legacy in Albany and more importantly in Washington is so huge that it should not be forgotten.

Brooklyn Eagle archives from 08/26/43

Charles Evans Hughes was born in Watkins Glen, New York in 1862 during the Civil War. In 1874, at age 12, he arrived locally when his father, Rev. David Hughes, was ordained minister to the Union Avenue Baptist Church that once stood on Manhattan Avenue, which was then called Union Avenue. Hughes was definitely a minister’s son and he inherited both the positive and negative legacies of having a stern moralistic father. His father was intensely religious; one might even say fanatically religious. He would knock the pipes and cigarettes out of people’s hands on the Greenpoint Ferry because he believed smoking immoral. Charles was raised in an overly strict, gloomy puritanical home, where whatever he did, was never quite good enough. The Puritanism of his upbringing made him a melancholy child who acted more like a young minister than a teenager. Hughes was scrupulously honest, but even as a boy he was self-righteous and gloomy. An only child, he had few friends and was prevented from spending much time with other boys due to his many duties in the church.

If he lacked charisma, then Hughes made up for it with brains. He had a photographic memory and began reading Shakespeare at eight. He took the ferry across to Manhattan where he studied under the famous educator Thomas Hunter at P. S. # 35 where he was so superior to the other smart boys in his class that he graduated at fourteen and went onto college. His parents expected him to study for a ministry, but he chose law instead. He proved to be a brilliant law student who excelled at creating coherent legal arguments and became a partner in a prestigious firm handling corporate law. He married and had children and seemed like he would have a quiet life out of the scrutiny of the public gaze.

In 1903, Albany was investigating corruption by the gas and electric monopolies. Senator Stevens asked Hughes if he would investigate the two firms who dominated gas and electricity. Hughes reluctantly agreed and conducted a brilliant investigation into the two monopolies, showing his genius by demonstrating in very simple terms the complex tricks the two monopolies used to defraud customers and investors. He also exposed massive corruption in the insurance industry in another state investigation. In a state desperately in need of reform, Hughes seemed like a godsend and the perfect choice for governor. With New York State Governor Theodore Roosevelt on his way to Washington to be Vice President, Teddy needed a reformer to replace him and protect his legacy and endorsed Hughes for governor. Hughes won the Republican nomination and then narrowly defeated his opponent for the governorship.

Hughes was elected governor in 1907 and reformers were joyous. Hughes was such a moralist that he could not cut deals to advance the good of the general public. His own party even turned against him and he made little headway. Republicans in Albany taunted him as “ Charles the Baptist” and blocked many of his worthy reforms. Hughes was frustrated in Albany at his inability to carry out reform.

Charles Evans Hughes and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (courtesy of PICRYL)

Hughes was offered a position on the Supreme Court in 1910, which he jumped at and resigned as governor. Confirmed by the Senate, Hughes proved to be a brilliant Supreme Court Justice who had an amazing ability to marshal facts into cogent compelling legal briefs. He wrote a number of decisions for regulation of big business that reformers cheered.

In 1916, Hughes resigned from the Supreme Court to run for president against Woodrow Wilson whose campaign slogan related to the Great War, which was raging across Europe. It read,” he kept us out of war.” Hughes was an interventionist who believed America should be in the war and he said so, losing Hughes millions of votes. He was also a boring speaker who could not connect with the common man. Hughes lost a close election and believed falsely that his days of service to America were done.

Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover (1924). (via Flickr – U.S. Department of State )

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