Williamsburg Settlement

The Settlement House’s Long History and Continuing Role in North Brooklyn

The original Hull House in Chicago (courtesy of University of Alabama)

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.

The Astral in 1903 (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection): Caption states: “Greenpoint Settlement in South End, 85 Java Street. Settlement end of Astral Building eleven flats – for work of settlement Resident’s Apartments, fifth and sixth floors.”

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Vision for New Williamsburg School Settlement Gains Support

Rendering of the new community center (courtesy of School Settlement Association)

A rally in support of the School Settlement Association’s plan for a new building on Jackson Street was held last week with appearances by Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Senator Julia Salazar, News12 Brooklyn reports.

The event was held to bring attention to the more than one-hundred-year-old SSA community building at 120 Jackson Street, that is the association wants to be replaced with a modern 22,000 square-foot building at an estimated cost of $23 million, according to their website:

The new facility will consists of 22,000 sq. ft. of fully accessible community and classroom space including a state of the art auditorium-gymnasium. The new center will also provide in-home care services for frail elderly seniors through School Settlement Home Care.

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