The History of Greenpoint, Brooklyn: An Industrial-Strength Story

PODCAST The history of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint and the oft-polluted Newtown Creek.

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has a surprising history of both bucolic green pastures and rancid oil patches. Before the 19th century this corner of Brooklyn was owned by only a few families with farms (and the slaves that tended them). But with the future borough of Brooklyn expanding at a great rate, Greenpoint (or Green Point, as they used to call it) could no longer remain private.

Industries like ship building and petroleum completely changed the character of Greenpoint’s waterfront, while its unique, alphabetically-named grid of streets held an extraordinary collection of townhouses. By the late 19th century, Polish immigrants would move on the major avenues, developing a ‘Little Poland’ that still characterizes the neighborhood.

Today big changes are coming to Greenpoint thanks to new housing developments. How will these new arrivals fare next to the notoriously toxic Newtown Creek, a body of water heavily abused by industry?

FEATURING: Charles Pratt, Margaret Wise Brown, Pat Benetar and the alarming smell of cinnamon toast!

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #198: GREENPOINT, BROOKLYN: AN INDUSTRIAL-STRENGTH HISTORY

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A map of Greenpoint from an 1896 survey. A list of industries are marked along the waterfront including tanneries, rope and twine manufacturers, a glue factory, glass works and “Wissel’s Dead Animal Wharf.”

Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

 

Neziah Bliss, the ‘godfather’ of Greenpoint due to his marriage into the Meserole family and subsequent development of their former farm and shoreline property.

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The USS Monitor, made at an iron works in Greenpoint, pictured  here July 9, 1862, by Union photographer James F. Gibson.

monitorofficersondeck
Courtesy Library of Congress

An ad for Eberhard Faber pencils from the 1905 journal Architect and Engineer.

Internet Book Archive
Internet Book Archive

Employees at the Eberhard Faber pencil company in Greenpoint, circa 1915, courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

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Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

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Your standard view of Newtown Creek in the early 20th century.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

One unusual house at 112 Milton Street. The house is still there but, as part of the Greenpoint Historic District, it’s no longer blue.

Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

 

The old Meserole house at 1000 Lorimer Street

Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

 

A very fanciful ‘place mat’ map of Greenpoint Brooklyn. I’m not sure what the original source for this is, but it’s courtesy the Box Hotel.

greenpoint

 

A rather ghastly look at Newtown Creek in 1960, from Apollo Street looking towards the East River.

Courtesy Newtown Creek Alliance
Courtesy Newtown Creek Alliance

 

Picture at top: Manhattan Avenue and Bedford Avenue

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11 thoughts on “The History of Greenpoint, Brooklyn: An Industrial-Strength Story”

  1. Thank you! that was great coming from a retired Ironworker and a die hard New Yorker can’t enough of it…I’m partial to scenes of the waterfront and the maritime history that goes with it and again thanks!
    Martin Power

  2. OMG,….Born and raised in Greenpoint… Never saw these photos of knew of Mesrole or the pencil factory…
    Thank you for sharing….

    Great photo of Bedford and Manhattan Ave…
    Run the NYC marathon every year and i know that street like the back of my hand… funny to see it 100 years ago…
    fs

  3. Manhattan Avenue and Bedford Avenue looks almost exactly the same in my eyes. Of course, they’re different storefronts and all, but still. What year was it taken?

  4. Grew up in Greenpoint, still here, Eberhard Pencil factory was on my block which was on Java St. Went down to West, over to Kent St., than over to a whole of Greenpoint Ave from Franklin st to West St., We also had working docks one had Passaged Ship on Kent St. The other docks were mixed food,lumber, etc. I also remember the Circus coming to town, from the dock down by Dupont St walking up Franklin st, as they say old days

  5. I believe Manhattan ave may have been called Union Avenue at one time. Born and raised in Greenpoint. Never appreciated it until I left. Now I miss it.

  6. miss it? when my grandmother passed, i couldn’t afford to buy her house, (my uncle bought it) our rent doubled and we were forced to leave.

  7. my mother was born in greenpoint in 1914, she was a brooklyn girl. died at the age of 98. she relocated to hoboken at the age of 15

  8. Re:Newtown Creek Superfund site:
    So the Superfund got its money through taxes on petroleum companies (primarily) but Republicans obstructed efforts to reauthorize the tax. As a result, the Federal government provides some overhead costs for cleaning up the sites, but almost all of the costs must be recouped through litigation. Thus it’s taking so long to clean up Newton Creek partially because of the difficulties determining how much culpability various companies have for the cleanup as you’ve noted that there has been 150 years of pollution, often by companies that have long gone out of business. Thus the lawsuits are complicated and it’s hard to get anyone to pay off. And NYC government is resisting paying for their role in the pollution of the creek.

    Tl;dr:the EPA is broke and cleanup of complicated sites like Newtown is super expensive.

  9. My wife and I live in the house her great grandmother bought in 1912. Her grandfather was born in the house and his sons were born and raised in Greenpoint. One thing about the pictures, I wish i could click on them and enlarge them. Especially the maps!

    Thanks,

    Chris

  10. Went to see the monument to the Monitor & Merrimack, the Astral Apartments, and the Faber Building today, as per your charming directions. But alas, the Meserole Theater/ disco-balled drug store has now sadly morphed into a Rite Aid! We felt badly, so we quelled our grief with an enormous and delicious lunch at Pyza, an extraordinary Polish restaurant on Nassau St. Thank you again for these podcasts which I listen to over and over again.

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