North Brooklyn History

The 5th of July: Abolitionist Williamsburg

African School WIlliamsburg
The African School in Williamsburg via the Brooklyn Historical Society

The Weeksville Heritage Center, a multidisciplinary museum dedicated to preserving the history of Weeksville, a self-supporting 19th century free black community in what is now Crown Heights, has a “5th of July Resource Center for Self-Determination and Freedom.”

This 5th of July, I’d like to honor that project by taking a look at Abolitionist Williamsburg. In the 1840s and 1850s, Williamsburg was home to Brooklyn’s second largest African American community, and was a hotbed of the Abolitionist movement.  Continue reading

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Bask in the History of Greenpoint’s Basque Club

Greenpoint's Basque Club 307 Eckford
Greenpoint’s Basque Club at 307 Eckford

Greenpoint is well known for its Polish herritage, but New York’s Basque community also calls Greenpoint home. Since 1973, Euzko-Etxea, the Basque Club of New York, has maintained its headquarters at 307 Eckford Street. The group’s mission is to preserve Basque culture in the lives of immigrants and their descendants, and to share Basque culture and heritage with the community at large.  To that end, Euzko-Etxea and offers Basque language classes, traditional Basque dancing, and pintxos (or tapas) on special occasions at the converted two story church on Eckford Street.  Continue reading

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Gangs of New York: North Brooklyn Edition

Map of North Brooklyn Gangs 1974
Map of North Brooklyn Gangs 1974 via The New York Times

Martin Scorsese acquired the rights to Gangs of New York, Herbert Ashbery’s 1927 history of Gotham’s urban underworld, in 1979. The movie focuses on the murderous mayhem of mid-19th century Five Points, but 1970s New York City was itself a study in violence. Bloodshed was so prevalent here in North Brooklyn that Luis Garten Acosta, founder of the local outreach program El Puente, dubbed the area “The Killing Fields.”

Pre-eminent New York City History podcasters The Bowery Boys unearthed a map produced in 1974 by the New York Times which plots the territory of “youth gangs” in ’70s North Brooklyn. In all, reported the Times, the NYPD had identified 48 gangs in the area with a total membership of 2,500. The police also held that six of those gangs were “responsible for more than half of the criminal gang activity in Northern Brooklyn.” Greenpoint in particular was home turf for the Sinners, the Mad Caps and the Sons of Devils.  Continue reading

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Help Celebrate Geoff Cobb’s New Book at AWA Next Tuesday (11/14)

Flyer for Sugar King Book Launch

Greenpoint historian Geoff Cobb has already graced us with two excellent titles, Greenpoint Brooklyn’s Forgotten Past, and The King of Greenpoint Peter McGuinness: The Amazing Story of Greenpoint’s Most Colorful Character. Now he’s back with a third volume.

Help celebrate the publication of The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King: A History of Williamsburg, Brooklyn 1844-1909 at the book’s launch party next Tuesday (11/14). The event will be held in the Pencil Factory at Gallery AWA (61 Greenpoint Avenue #306) from 7-9pm.

What: Book Launch, The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King by Geoff Cobb

When: Tuesday, November 14, 7-9pm

Where: Gallery AWA, 61 Greenpoint Avenue #306

Who: Everyone! The event is free and open to the public

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

Screen shot 2016-05-22 at 6.52.20 AM
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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