History

How A Greenpoint Statue Became A Target of Anti-Americanism

Many Greenpointers know that Ferdinand De Lesseps famous Iwo Jima memorial was cast locally at Bedi Rassy Art foundry on India Street; however many people do not know the story of another sculpture cast there, which has become one of the most attacked statues in the world and a focal point of anti-American violence.

In 1963 De Lesseps cast a twelve-foot high bronze statue of Harry Truman. The statue is one of only eight statues of American presidents that stand outside of the United. States. The piece was commissioned by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, a Greek-American group, to honor the Truman Doctrine, which gave $2 billion in economic and military aid to the Greek government to defeat communist guerrillas during the country’s civil war between 1946 and 1949. Continue reading

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A History of the Greenpoint Ferry

East River Ferry, via Facebooka
The East River Ferry, via Facebook

Starting this morning, the East River Ferry is no more—it’s transitioning into a new entity, NYC Ferry, to provide city-wide service. The good thing about the new city-subsidized service is that fares are being slashed to $2.75 for a one-way ticket (formerly up to $6). As Greenpoint’s waterfront transforms itself from industrial shoreline to “Dubai on the East River,” and greater numbers of people settle along the East River shore the importance of local ferry service becomes increasingly important. Let’s take a look at the history of the Greenpoint ferry. Continue reading

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A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: 85 Calyer Street

Thomas Fitch Rowland, illustration by Aubrey Nolan
Thomas Fitch Rowland, illustration by Aubrey Nolan

85 Calyer Street looks like many other frame houses in Greenpoint, but it was the home of the greatest mechanical genius to ever live in Greenpoint, Thomas Fitch Rowland, and one of the most important short conversations in American history took place in the parlor there. First, though, lets get a little background on the owner of the house, Thomas Fitch Rowland.

Rowland was born in Connecticut in 1831 and became a railroad engineer, quickly becoming one of the leading experts in the design and construction of steam engines. However, he decided to leave railroad engineering, switching to the construction of steam engines for sailing ships and also developing an expertise in metallurgy. He was soon invited to come to Greenpoint to build ships because of his twin areas of expertise. By 1859 he founded his own company, the legendary Continental Iron Works on Quay Street. Two years later, he would help make history when visionary Swedish naval engineer John Ericsson approached him about building a revolutionary ship in Greenpoint, the ironclad Monitor, which would revolutionize warfare making wooden ships obsolete. Continue reading

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A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center

Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center - Illustration by Aubrey Nolan
Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center – Illustration by Aubrey Nolan

One of the oldest surviving local factory buildings is the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center located in the sprawling former factory building at 1155–1205 Manhattan Avenue. The factory dates from the days when Greenpoint was a center for shipbuilding. The factory was constructed as the Chelsea Fiber Mill in 1868 to make ropes for the neighboring shipyards. Shipbuilding died, but the rope making business thrived and grew. The jute mill produced marine rope from sisal, manila, jute, and hemp. By 1903 the factory had expanded to eight buildings, which were powered by a massive steam generator, which still survives today. The massive boilers that powered the generator are more than two stories tall and huge enough to fill a baseball diamond. The welded boilerplates on these boilers date from 1880. Old drawings also show a series of tracks, running across the rooftops of lower buildings, which workers used to move coal cars from waterfront loading areas to a huge chute on the mill’s roof. The coal was shoveled into furnaces that created heat and massive quantities of steam.

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Artist Fredrick Remington’s Debt to Greenpoint

Remington's "Aiding a Comrade," 1890. Via Wikipedia.
Remington’s “Aiding a Comrade,” 1890. Via Wikipedia.

Frederic Remington is perhaps the most iconic artist of the American West, and his bronze sculptures capture the essence of the American frontier. Remington’s figures of cowboys and horses seem to be light years from Green Street here in Greenpoint, but his most iconic sculptures were cast locally at the Roman Bronze Works and could never have been created without the help of Greenpointer Riccardo Bertelli. Continue reading

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How Greenpoint Helped Build The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a majestic span with its elegant gothic towers and roadway suspended above the East River. Today we take it for granted, but at the time it was built it was called “the eighth wonder of the world.” However, the bridge never would have been built without major contributions from a Greenpoint shipyard and an engineer from Kent Street.

The first step in building the towers for the mighty bridge was designing caissons, or huge metal boxes, that were to be sunk to the riverbed so that diggers could dig down and find bedrock to plant the towers on. John Roebling, the chief architect for the bridge, designed these massive caissons in 1868 and gave the demanding contract to assemble them to a shipbuilding firm located at the foot of Milton Street: Webb and Bell. Continue reading

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Still She Persisted! Sister Francis Gerard Kress: The Fighting Environmentalist Nun

Today almost all the local people know about the massive pollution of Newtown Creek and the oil plume that sits under Greenpoint, but it was not always so. One of the first fighters for the local environment was a Catholic nun—Sister Francis Gerard Kress. Born and raised in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1914, all her life Kress was a fighter and a protester. At age ten she organized a pot banging demonstration of local children in support of Al Smith’s bid for the presidency, but her biggest protests were yet to come. Continue reading

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Margaret Wise Brown—Greenpoint’s Greatest Writer

Margaret Wise was an amazingly successful writer whose books have sold millions of copies. Brown developed an extraordinary talent to write for small children, perhaps unequaled in literature. Considered by many to be one of the greatest children’s writers of all time, Brown, is even regarded by many as the inventor of the modern children’s book. A contemporary of that other great children’s book author Doctor Seuss, her output during her brief career was prodigious, writing more than a hundred children’s books, many of which are still in print six decades after her death. No author before or since Margaret Wise Brown has managed to write books that reflect a natural impulse to amuse, delight and comfort small children.

Brown was born and lived her first five years at 118 Milton Street. Some might argue that Greenpoint had a negligible impact on her. However, memory was central to Brown’s creative process and she was able to vividly recall her earliest feelings on Milton Street. Brown continually stressed the importance of recollection in her creative process, saying that memory was the “ultimate source of the creative work.” She attributed her success to being able to reach down into the soul of the child that still lived within her and bring it to life. Continue reading

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Olympian Connie Darnowski: Greenpoint’s Greatest Ever Female Athlete

Connie Darnowski

Hurdler Connie Darnowski represented the United States in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic games and is the greatest female athlete our area ever produced. Her success is all the more amazing because she succeeded at a time before Title IX opened up women’s sports. She competed when there were only two women’s college track teams and Connie never had the chance to compete on the college level. Connie graduated from St John’s University in 1956, but the school had no college women’s teams. It is ironic that Connie is in the St. John’s Athletic Hall of Fame, yet never had the chance to compete for her school. Continue reading

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The Greenpoint Woman Who Ran For President?

Belva Lockwood was an early feminist and one of the first women to ever run for president. She ran twice in 1884 and again in 1888 in the days before women even had the right to vote. While doing research on Greenpoint history I have come across sources, including Memorable Greenpoint by Professor Virginia Felter, stating Lockwood was from Greenpoint, however other sources contradict this claim. At any rate, her story is fascinating.
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