Gravesend, Brooklyn

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Coordinates: 40°35′54″N 73°58′14″W / 40.5982°N 73.9705°W / 40.5982; -73.9705

Looking at Lower New York Bay from Gravesend (2012)
Afternoon by the Sea (Gravesend Bay), a pastel by William Merritt Chase, shows traditional catboats in the Lower New York Bay and the Navesink Highlands across the bay, c. 1888

Gravesend is a neighborhood in the south-central section of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, on the southwestern edge of Long Island in the U.S. state of New York. As of 2010, Gravesend had a population of 29,436.[1]

Gravesend was one of the original towns in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. After the English took over, it was one of the six original towns of Kings County in colonial New York. It was the only English chartered town in what became Kings County. It was designated as the "Shire Town" when the English assumed control in 1664, as it was the only one where records could be kept in English. Courts were removed to Flatbush in 1685.

Gravesend is notable as a town founded by a woman, Lady Deborah Moody. Governor Willem Kieft granted her and a group of English settlers a land patent on December 19, 1645. Moody, along with John Tilton and wife Mary Pearsall Tilton, came to Gravesend after choosing excommunication, following religious persecution in Lynn, Massachusetts. Moody and Mary Tilton had been tried because of their Anabaptist beliefs, accused of spreading religious dissent in the Puritan colony.[2] John Tilton became the first town clerk of Gravesend and owned part of what later would become Coney Island. Moody, the Tiltons, and other early English settlers were known to have paid the Lenape for their land.[citation needed] Another prominent early settler was Anthony Janszoon van Salee.

The Town of Gravesend encompassed 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) in southern Kings County, including the entire island of Coney Island. This was originally used as the town's common lands on the Atlantic Ocean. It was divided, as was the town itself, into 41 parcels for the original patentees. When the town was first laid out, almost half of the area was made up of salt marsh wetlands and sandhill dunes along the shore of Gravesend Bay.

The Town of Gravesend was annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1894.[3]

Name[edit]

Art Deco Verizon building at Meucci Triangle, at 86th Street and Avenue U.

The derivation of the name "Gravesend" is unclear. Because of the association with Lady Moody, some speculate that it was named after the English seaport of Gravesend, Kent.[4] But an alternative explanation suggests that it was named by the Dutch governor general Willem Kieft for the Dutch settlement of 's'Gravesande in the Netherlands, which means "Count's Beach" or "Count's Sand".[5][6] There is also a town in the Netherlands called 's-Gravenzande.

Geography[edit]

The modern neighborhood of Gravesend lies between Coney Island Avenue to the east, Stillwell Avenue to the west, Kings Highway to the north, and Coney Island Creek and Shore Parkway to the south. To the east of Gravesend is Sheepshead Bay, to the northeast Midwood, to the northwest Bensonhurst, and to the west Bath Beach. To the south, across Coney Island Creek, lies the neighborhood of Coney Island, and across Shore Parkway lies Brighton Beach.

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

1873 map of Gravesend by Alvin Jewitt Johnson
Lady Deborah Moody memorial

The island and its environs were first inhabited by bands of Lenape, an Algonquian-speaking tribe that occupied territory along both sides of Long Island Sound, and through coastal areas through present-day New Jersey and down to Delaware.[7] The first known European believed to set foot in the area that would become Gravesend was Henry Hudson, whose ship, the Half Moon, landed at Coney Island in the fall of 1609.[dubious ]

The Dutch claimed this land as part of their New Netherland Colony. In 1643 a large tract was granted by Willem Kieft, the governor general, to Lady Deborah Moody, an English widow who hoped to establish a community where she and her followers could practice their Anabaptist beliefs free from the persecution they encountered in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Kieft was recruiting settlers to secure this land that his forces had taken from the Lenape. Some clashes continued, and the town organization was not completed until 1645. The signed town charter and grant was one of the first to ever be awarded to a woman in the New World.[8]

The 7,000-acre town was one of the earliest planned communities in America. It consisted of a perfect square surrounded by a 20-foot-high wooden palisade. The town was bisected by two main roads, Gravesend Road (now McDonald Avenue) running from north to south, and Gravesend Neck Road,[8] running from east to west. These roads divided the town into four quadrants, which were subdivided into ten plots of land each. This grid of the original town can still be seen on maps and aerial photographs of the area. At the center of town, where the two main roads met, a town hall was constructed where town meetings were held once a month.[6][7]

Old Gravesend Cemetery

The neighborhood center is still the four blocks bounded by Village Road South, Village Road East, Village Road North, and Van Sicklen Street, where the Moody House and Van Sicklen family cemetery are located. Next to, and parallel with the van Sicklen Family Cemetery is the Old Gravesend Cemetery, where Lady Moody is said to be interred. Egyptian émigré Mohammad Ben Misoud, who was part of a late 19th-century attraction at the Coney Island amusement park, was given a proper Muslim funeral upon his death in August 1896 and also buried in Old Gravesend Cemetery.[9]

The religious freedom of early Gravesend made it a destination for ostracized or controversial groups, Nonconformists or Dissenters such as the Quakers, who briefly made their home in the town before being chased out by the succeeding New Netherland director general Peter Stuyvesant, who arrived in 1647. He was wary of Gravesend's open acceptance of "heretical" sects.[7]

In 1654 the people of Gravesend purchased Coney Island from the local Lenape band for about $15 worth of seashells, guns, and gunpowder.[7]

In August 1776 during the American Revolutionary War, Gravesend Bay was the landing site of thousands of British soldiers and German mercenaries from their staging area on Staten Island, leading to the Battle of Long Island (also Battle of Brooklyn). The troops met little resistance from the Continental Army advance troops under General George Washington then headquartered in New York City (at the time limited to the tip of Manhattan Island). The battle, in addition to being the first, would prove to be the largest fought in the entire war.[7]

Popularity and success[edit]

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Gravesend remained a sleepy suburb. With the opening of three prominent racetracks (Sheepshead Bay Race Track, Gravesend Race Track, and Brighton Beach Race Course) in the late 19th century, and the blossoming of Coney Island into a popular vacation spot, the town was developed as a successful resort community. John Y. McKane was credited with this. A Sheepshead Bay carpenter and contractor, he gained a variety of elected and appointed positions: as Gravesend town supervisor, chief of police, chief of detectives, fire commissioner, schools commissioner, public lands commissioner, superintendent of the Sheepshead Bay Methodist Church, head tenor of the church choir, and Santa Claus at the annual Sabbath school Christmas celebration. From the 1870s to the 1890s, McKane cultivated Coney Island, which was then part of the township of Gravesend, as a pleasure ground. He participated in both political and physical development.

As town constable, McKane expanded the Gravesend police force considerably and personally patrolled the beach. McKane became corrupt, using the pretense of town permits to extort tribute from every business, large or small, on Coney Island. Presenting himself as a champion of law and order, he skimmed much money from the many brothels and gambling parlors that thrived in his bailiwick. During McKane’s reign Coney Island came to be known by many as "Sodom by the Sea".[citation needed]

Marlboro Houses, a public housing project
Oil-soaked 'Mud Lines Industrial Canal' in Gravesend Bay, 1973. Photo by Arthur Tress.

McKane became a Democratic Party ward boss and had loose standards on who was allowed to vote: immigrants, dead people, seasonal migrant workers, and criminals. Voting records show many specious entries. On the eve of the 1893 election, William Gaynor, a lawyer running for Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice, decided to test McKane's methods by dispatching more than 20 Republican observers to examine the Gravesend voter registries and oversee the voting in all six districts of the town, as he was entitled to do by law. However, when the observers reached Gravesend town hall at dawn on election day, McKane, along with a large group of policemen and cronies, confronted them. When the observers balked and produced injunctions from the Brooklyn Supreme Court, McKane supposedly declared "injunctions don't go here" and ordered the men away. A scuffle ensued and five of the observers were beaten and arrested. This event raised great outrage.[10] Early in the following year, McKane was tried, convicted, and sentenced to six years in Sing Sing for such corruption. He was released near the end of the century and died of a stroke in his Sheepshead Bay home in 1899.[11]

After McKane's fall from power, Gravesend and Coney Island were annexed in 1894 by the city of Brooklyn. George C. Tilyou created one of Coney Island’s first amusement parks, Steeplechase Park, the opening of which ushered in Coney Island’s golden age.

Around the same time, Gravesend was the site of testing for the Boynton Bicycle Railroad, the earliest forerunner of the monorail.[12] The BBR consisted of a single-wheeled engine that hauled two double-decker passenger cars along a single track; a second rail above the train, supported by wooden arches, kept it from tipping over. The engine and cars were four feet wide and were capable of speeds far greater than the much bulkier standard trains. In 1889, the BBR began running a short route between the Gravesend stop of the Sea Beach Railroad (near the intersection of 86th and West Seventh Streets) and Brighton Beach in Coney Island, a distance of just over a mile. Despite the smooth and speedy ride, the BBR ultimately failed and the test route fell into disuse, as did the Boynton train and its shed.[13]

Later years[edit]

Gravesend in Hurricane Sandy's aftermath

Although Coney Island continued to be a major tourist attraction throughout the 20th century, the closing of Gravesend’s great racetracks in the century’s first decade resulted in the rest of the old town fading into obscurity. Most of it was developed as a working and middle-class residential Brooklyn neighborhood. In the 1950s, the city constructed the 28-building Marlboro Houses for public housing; the units are located between Avenues V and X from Stillwell Avenue to the Gravesend Rail Yards. Gradually this housing became occupied predominately by African Americans. It is run by the New York City Housing Authority.[14]

In 1982, an African-American transit worker named Willie Turks was beaten to death in Gravesend by a group of white teenagers.[15] The relationship between the predominantly African-American and more poor population of the Marlboro Houses and the predominantly white surrounding neighborhoods continued to be tense through much of the 1980s.[16]

On December 25, 1987, white youths beat two black men in the neighborhood in an apparent "unprovoked attack."[17] In January 1988, in protest of this event specifically and a climate of racial violence in general, Reverend Al Sharpton led a march that proceeded from the Marlboro Houses to a police station by way of Bath Avenue; along the way, the 450 marchers were met with chants of "go back to Africa" and various racial epithets by a white crowd.[18]

Beginning in the 1990s, with an influx of Sephardi Jews (mostly Syrian Jews), the northeast section of the neighborhood was redeveloped with larger, upscale single-family homes, whose prices reached $1 million. This dramatically changed the composition of part of the town.[19]

Education[edit]

Demographics[edit]

Dahill Road and Kings Highway

Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Gravesend was 29,436, an increase of 179 (0.6%) from the 29,257 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 731.83 acres (296.16 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 40.2 inhabitants per acre (25,700/sq mi; 9,900/km2).[20]

The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 52.8% (15,535) White, 8.4% (2,469) African American, 0.1% (41) Native American, 21.2% (6,250) Asian, 0.0% (1) Pacific Islander, 0.1% (41) from other races, and 1.3% (383) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 16.0% (4,716) of the population.[21]

Historic demographics[edit]

Gravesend's earliest European settlers were predominantly English and Dutch. Slavery was legal in the colony, and many settlers had enslaved African Americans as workers until after the American Revolution, when New York gradually abolished the institution.

African Americans continued to work and live here. The now-defunct Gravesend Race Track opened on August 26, 1886 and hired mainly black workers, who tended to live nearby. Later, there was a surge in Irish, Italian, and Jewish residents, immigrants and their descendants who moved out from Manhattan. Puerto Rican and Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese, and Mexican immigrants are the most recent residents to share this neighborhood.

In 2008, The New York Times reported that the neighborhood had become particularly popular among Sephardic Jews. It was among several Syrian Jewish communities of the United States.[19] The New York Times also reported that in the 2012 presidential election, a precinct in Gravesend was one of the few parts of New York City carried by Mitt Romney, with 133 votes to just 3 for Barack Obama.[22]

Transportation[edit]

Gravesend is served by three lines of the New York City Subway system.[6] The services and lines, respectively, are

The Coney Island subway yard is in the neighborhood.[6] Gravesend is patrolled by the NYPD's 60th, 61st, and 62nd Precincts.[23]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 17, 2013. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  2. ^ Pelletreau, William Smith (1905). A History Of Long Island: From Its Earliest Settlement To The Present Time, Volume 2. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company. p. 67. ISBN 978-1295616862.
  3. ^ Manbeck, John B. (2008), Brooklyn: Historically Speaking, Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, ISBN 978-1-59629-500-1, p.79
  4. ^ "Gravesend Library"
  5. ^ Letter to the Editor: Gravesend, The New York Times, December 20, 1992. Accessed October 28, 2007. "As a historical archeologist specializing in the early history of New York, I can tell you that what is now the Gravesend section of Brooklyn was not named for the hometown that Lady Deborah Moody and her followers left in England, as you stated in your article about the community on Oct. 18, but by the Dutch governor-general, William Kieft. Kieft chose to name the settlement " 's'Gravesande" after the town in Holland that had been the seat of the Counts of Holland before they moved to the Hague. It means the count's sand or beach."
  6. ^ a b c d ForgottenTour 33, Gravesend, Brooklyn, Forgotten NY. April 2008. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e Gravesend, Forgotten NY
  8. ^ a b Lady Moody Triangle, New York City Parks
  9. ^ Bradley T. Frandsen; Joan R. Olshansky; Elizabeth Spencer-Ralph (December 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Registration:Old Gravesend Cemetery". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  10. ^ (May 4, 1894). "A New Chapter in History" The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Archived September 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Page 4; "Becoming Wards One By One" The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, p. 12
  11. ^ (September 6, 1899) "John Y. McKane Dies" The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Archived September 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 17, 2012. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  13. ^ (September 10, 1899) "Boynton Bicycle Railroad" The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Archived September 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Marlboro Houses at NYCHA Archived November 3, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Sokol, Jason (December 5, 2014). "Opinion | The Unreconstructed North". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  16. ^ Lowenstein, Roger (July 25, 1988). "The Mood Gets Nasty in City Neighborhood as Racial Tension Rises". The Wall Street Journal.
  17. ^ Manly, Howard (December 29, 1987). "'An Unprovoked Attack': Black brothers tell of beating by whites". Newsday.
  18. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (January 3, 1988). "Blacks, to Jeers of Whites, Protest Racism in Brooklyn". The New York Times.
  19. ^ a b Mooney, Jake (August 10, 2008). "A Neighborhood Both Insular and Diverse". The New York Times. p. RE9.
  20. ^ Table PL-P5 NTA: Total Population and Persons Per Acre - New York City Neighborhood Tabulation Areas*, 2010, Population Division - New York City Department of City Planning, February 2012. Accessed June 16, 2016.
  21. ^ Table PL-P3A NTA: Total Population by Mutually Exclusive Race and Hispanic Origin - New York City Neighborhood Tabulation Areas*, 2010, Population Division - New York City Department of City Planning, March 29, 2011. Accessed June 14, 2016.
  22. ^ "In Manhattan, Largely Blue, One Bright Spot and a Tie for Romney", by Michael M Grynbaum, New York Times, November 24, 2012
  23. ^ 61st Precinct, NYPD.

Bibliography

External links[edit]