greenpoint history

Horrific History Lesson: Working Conditions at The Domino Sugar Refinery

Although the former Domino Sugar refinery on Kent Avenue does not lie in Greenpoint, the building and the firm that ran it, Havemeyer and Elder, cast a long shadow over local history. Having spent the summer researching the plant for my upcoming book The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King, it is hard to express how much suffering is associated with the refinery.

The plant, which was opened in 1858, employed thousands of Greenpointers over its almost a century-and-a-half of existence. Much of the reason that we have a Polish population today is because the refinery had a policy of hiring Slavic men, principally Polish, who could not recount to outsiders the misery that working in the plant entailed. They worked in horrendous conditions that we can scarcely imagine today. Continue reading

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Check out the Mary Fisher Home, Greenpoint’s 19th Century Artists’ Colony

Photo by Lucie Levine
Photo by Lucie Levine

Greenpoint’s industrial past is well known, and its emerging identity as an artist’s hub might seem like a 21st century phenomenon, but back in 1888, Greenpoint was sporting its very own artists’ colony. That year, Mary Fisher, of 71 Java Street, opened her home as the Home Hotel Association, a residence for elderly “Brain Workers.” According to the plaque marking the historic site, Fisher defined “Brain Workers” as men and women “who had labored in literature or art or any other brain profession.” The Home operated on Java Street until 1912, when it moved to two separate locations: one in Mount Vernon, NY, and another in Tenafly, New Jersey.

71 Java Street Today
71 Java Street Today

Mary Fisher was an Englishwoman inspired by the old age pensions which support the elderly in the UK. Social Security wasn’t established in the United States until 1935, so there was no public safety net for older people who had retired, or were out of work. In The Story of the Mary Fisher Home, published 1915, Fisher wrote, “I remembered that in Europe, pensions were often accorded to those who, during their lifetimes, had been of some benefit to the nation, and it seemed to me that in this country the people must do what the government failed to do, and I hoped that in time we might have a national fund for this purpose.”

Fisher appealed to notable New Yorkers for their in kind or financial support, and was well received by Fredrick Barnard, then the President of Columbia University. He introduced her to a variety of prominent and charitable New Yorkers, including Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, but not everybody believed that “brain workers” deserved philanthropic support. In fact, upon hearing the appeal, one woman said, “A home for old authors and artists! My! What a company of cranks! What will you do with them?”  Continue reading

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Community Visioning, Newtown Creek History, and Green Roof Tour at Kingsland Wildflowers this Saturday (6/3)

kingsland-wildflowers-greenpoint-visitors-photo-by-mpenmannThis Saturday (June 3rd), you can tour the beautiful rooftop at Kingsland Wildflowers (520 Kingsland Ave), learn about the future of Newtown Creek at a community visioning workshop, and take a look back to its industrial roots with local historian Mitch Waxman. These events are all free and open to the public.

Schedule of Events:

1-4pm   Community Visioning with Riverkeeper and NCA, RSVP

5-7pm   Lecture and Kingsland Wildflowers Green Roof Tour with Mitch Waxman, NCA Historian, RSVP

More Deets:

Join Riverkeeper and the Newtown Creek Alliance in creating a cohesive community vision for Newtown Creek. With a Superfund cleanup and long-term plan to control sewage overflows on the horizon, now is an opportune time to engage stakeholders in imagining and designing a future Newtown Creek that provides greater opportunities for restoration, remediation, recreation, and resilience. RSVP

Continue reading

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Just In Time For St. Patrick’s Day – A History of the Irish in Greenpoint!

On Friday everyone becomes Irish for a day—at least in the local bars, but Greenpoint actually has a long and colorful Irish history. The first Irish came to Greenpoint way back in the 1850s. Like many of the others who arrived here then, the Irish were lured by jobs in the booming shipbuilding business. An 1855 Greenpoint census revealed that about thirty percent of the locals were Irish born. Other Irish soon followed to work in the many factories and refineries that sprung up locally after the Civil War.

In 1864 Captain James McAllister, from County Antrim, Northern Ireland, started his maritime transport company with a single sail lighter, but it was the perfect time and place to open such a business. McAllister soon got more work than he could handle transporting the oil of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. He brought over many of his family and neighbors from his hometown Cushendall, Co. Antrim and many of the present day Irish families in Greenpoint have Cushendall roots. Quickly the Irish dominated the waterfront and worked the many nautical and longshoremen jobs along the bustling East River and Newtown Creek shorelines. One of these Irish-American longshoremen was the colorful Pete McGuinness, “The King of Greenpoint,” for whom McGuinness Boulevard is named. He later entered politics and ran the area as the last old style Irish ward boss until his death in 1948. Continue reading

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Day of Terror in 1950: The Frightening Greenpoint Underground Explosion

Greenpoint sewer explosion 1950It was just about noon on October 6, 1950—a day seemingly like any other day in Greenpoint—but five minutes later all hell would break loose. America was at the height of the Red Scare and news that the Soviets had the bomb was in everyone’s mind. Constant air raid drilling and the creation of local fallout shelters in the case of nuclear war only heightened anxiety even higher.

Suddenly a massive ear splitting explosion at Huron and Manhattan Avenue occurred causing terror. The power of the blast was so greatscreen-shot-2016-11-12-at-10-32-06-pm that it blew manhole covers fifty feet in the air like champagne corks and a ten foot section of the street was vaporized. A reinforced concrete sewer was blown to pieces. Five hundred windows were shattered by the powerful explosion as blue flame belched from the manholes. Continue reading

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Then and Now: The Monitor School Gets Historical

That's one way to examine the past.
That’s one way to examine the past.

What’s more adorable than kids being kids…next to cardboard cutouts of kids whose heyday was more than a century ago?

In celebration of the 120th anniversary school year of The Monitor School (PS110), the neighborhood kids recently observed Historical Photo Day.

For this occasion, each class posed with a cardboard cutout of a class photo from 120 years ago. But it was a thoughtful pose, because the kids spent a week leading up to the photo shoot analyzing the historical photo and talking about the things they have in common with the kids of yesteryear (not to mention what sets them apart). Continue reading

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The Lot Radio & Crowdspacer present: 67Yarc at The Mission

67Yarc is a multimedia project by Joakim
67Yarc is a multimedia project by Joakim

Greenpoint’s only outdoor/online radio station, The Lot Radio, is hosting a series of events with their neighbors the San Damiano Mission. Join them this Saturday evening for a special performance of 67Yarc.info, an interactive multimedia project by Joakim, followed by an ambient live set, befitting to the pious venue.

Brother Nick and Father Raphael with The Lot Radio DJs
Brother Nick and Father Raphael with The Lot Radio DJs

Suggested donation is $10 and 100% of all proceeds go towards the renovation and refurbishment of the San Damiano Mission’s pipe organ, originally installed in the mission in 1912.

 

The Lot Radio & Crowdspacer present: 67Yarc at The Mission
Saturday, July 9th
8pm
at The San Damiano Mission
21 Nassau Ave. (next to The Lot Radio)
RSVP

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A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings #6: The Havemeyer Sugar Refinery

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The Havemeyer Sugar Refinery

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, North Brooklyn was the largest place for refining sugar in the world and Brooklyn’s largest industry. Although Williamsburg refined far more sugar than Greenpoint, the Havemeyer refinery at 85 Commercial Street on Newtown Creek was one of the most important American sugar refineries and was the scene of a near riot when the refinery’s workers fought for better conditions in 1886.

The members of the Havemeyer family were the crown princes of sugar. Multi-millionaire Henry Havemeyer formed an illegal cartel of sugar refiners around the United States that blocked competition, colluded to lower the amount of sugar refined and raised the price to consumers, while making all the refiners in the cartel spectacularly rich. He used his vast sugar money to buy a thousand pieces of art, which later became the basis of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. Continue reading

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A History of Greenpoint in Twenty-Five Buildings #5: The American Manufacturing Company

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For decades the remains of the American Manufacturing Company buildings around West and Noble have stood, hulking and vacant, as a reminder of Greenpoint’s industrial past. Now all that is rapidly changing. Part of it is the Brooklyn Expo Center. Another building houses a furniture store. Part of the long vacant rope works is being transformed into a luxury hotel.

Screen shot 2016-04-03 at 2.44.17 PMAt one point the company occupied sixteen buildings and was Brooklyn’s largest employer with four thousand people, mostly females. The great local writer Margaret Wise Brown’s father was Vice President of the firm, but the majority of the people who worked there were newly arrived immigrant women who worked fifty-six hour weeks for low wages, making rope. Many of the immigrants who settled in Greenpoint first came to work in the plant. Initially, it was the Polish and later in the 1920’s, Puerto Ricans. They were recruited on Puerto Rico and brought here on a special ship. Continue reading

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Cartoon History, Park Drama & Hank the Dog — The Hook-Up 6/3

Via Julia Wertz
Via Julia Wertz

The more you know: now you can learn about Greenpoint’s pastry, vaudeville, and industrial history in comic book fashion thanks to cartoonist Julia Wertz.

Is McCarren Park the new hotspot for attempted abductions? This Reddit forum suggests it might pay to be extra careful when you’re leaving Matchless at 3 a.m.

In the next potential round of Cuomo v. de Blasio: the state might strongarm the city into giving the Williamsburg waterfront its long-awaited park. However, some people would rather it turn into an Industry City-esque Maker Park. 

If “Combined Sewage Overflow” didn’t mean much to you before, you’re about to get a very visceral idea of why people think Newtown Creek is so shitty. However, the Newtown Creek Alliance has news about how local residents can do their part by using less water when it rains.
 
The Calyer Building is getting a makeover. Not to worry, though — the more iconic-looking Green Point Savings Bank will remain intact.
 

Few are thrilled about the prospect of an L Train shutdown, but it seems as though the overwhelming consensus is “get the damn thing over with.” However, “getting the damn thing over with” might actually entail closing 14th Street to car traffic, giving buses and bikes their own dedicated space. 

They say 90% of success is showing up. Or is it 80%? Either way, Greenpoint Democratic district leader Linda Minucci is being taken to task by people who admittedly have a vested interest in seeing her challenger best her.
 
Grub Street is wading into contentious territory here, but here’s its definitive ranking of the best Polish food in Greenpoint.
 
Is this you? Some of your neighbors really wish you’d pick up after your dog. #dogpoopshaming
 
Hank. Hank is Greenpoint’s most popular dog name. #dognameshaming
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