Brooklyn History Neighborhoods Podcasts

The Story of Flatbush: Brooklyn Old and New

Over 350 years ago today’s Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush was an old Dutch village, the dirt path that would one day become Flatbush Avenue lined with wheat fields and farms.

Contrast that with today’s Flatbush, a bustling urban destination diverse in both housing styles and commercial retail shops. It’s also an anchor of Brooklyn’s Caribbean community — Little Caribbean.

There have been many different Flatbushes — rural, suburban and urban. In today’s show we highlight several stories from these phases in this neighborhood’s life.

If you are a Brooklynite of a certain age, the first thing that might come to mind is maybe the Brooklyn Dodgers who once played baseball in Ebbets Field here. Or maybe you know of a famous person who was born or grew up there — Barbra Streisand, Norman Mailer or Bernie Sanders. 

But the story of Flatbush reflects the many transformative changes of New York City itself. And it holds a special place in the identity of Brooklyn — so much so that it is often considered the heart of Brooklyn.

FEATURING STORIES OF Erasmus Hall, the Kings Theater, Lefferts Historic House, the Flatbush African Burial Ground and the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church.

PLUS We chat with Shelley Worrell of I Am CaribBEING about her work preserving and celebrating the neighborhood’s Caribbean community.

Listen Now — The Story of Flatbush

Thank you to Shelley Worrell for being on the show. For more information on I am CaribBEING, visit their website.

Today (June 17) is One Love Little Caribbean Day, celebrating the Caribbean businesses of Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Garden and East Flatbush.

And this Sunday (June 19) celebrate National Caribbean-American Heritage Month in Prospect Park with I AM CaribBeing and Prospect Park Alliance

A Juneteenth celebration with live performance by Grammy-Award winning Angela Hunte backed by Da Jerry Wonda Band, peer-to-peer gaming powered by Fun With Friends DJ sets by Gab Soul + Khalil and Little Caribbean artisan vendors.

This episode is brought to you by the Historic Districts Council. Funding for this episode is provided by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and Council Member Benjamin Kallos.

The historic cemetery at Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church

Erasmus Hall High School can be seen from the grounds of the cemetery.

Albemarle–Kenmore Terraces Historic District

Kings Theatre, a Flatbush landmark since the 1920s

Holy Cross Cemetery in East Flatbush

Marker for the Flatbush African Burial Ground and a makeshift tombstone for the two people who were known to be buried here.

A Caribbean restaurant in East Flatbush amid some excellent examples of rowhouses that are scattered throughout the area.

The landmarked Sears Roebuck building, one of the last reminders of the mid-century department stores of Flatbush

Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park

Historic image of the house at its original site (north of Church Avenue) Courtesy New York Public Library

An 1869 map of state senate districts in Kings County. (Courtesy New York Public Library)
George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Steeple, Flatbush, Brooklyn, ca. 1872-1887. Wet-collodion negative. Prints, Drawings and Photographs. Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.164.2-384. (1996.164.2-384_glass_IMLS_SL2.jpg)
George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Erasmus Hall, Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1879. Wet-collodion negative. Prints, Drawings and Photographs. Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.164.2-159. (1996.164.2-159_glass_IMLS_SL2.jpg)
Inside Ebbets Field, 1913, Library of Congress. Here’s an article on their first regular game there.

A map of redlined Brooklyn. Flatbush (seen below the Prospect Park white space) has sections in blue, yellow and red.


After listening to the story of Flatbush, dive back into these podcasts which touch on some of the themes from this week’s show:

20 replies on “The Story of Flatbush: Brooklyn Old and New”

Great job! I was born and grew up in the heart of Flatbush from the 1950s to the 1970s (although in a pre-war apartment house, and not one of the Victorian mansions). I went to Erasmus Hall High School. You should do an entire podcast on the school. There is so much rich history there. There was a lot of old Flatbush information I didn’t know, so thank you! Just a few pronunciation errors (common to non-Flatbush residents): Cortelyou is pronounced CorTELLyou, Erasmus is pronounced ErasZmus, and Martense is pronounced MARtenZe. Also, the Victorian houses were always filled with doctors, dentists, lawyers, and professionals since they were built in the early 1900s. The big influx of young professionals really started happening in the 1990s because they were priced out of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights and were also starting families. They loved having more space. I’m sorry you didn’t include mention of some of the many famous Erasmus graduates. We are extremely proud of them. My aunt owned a building and dress store on Flatbush Ave and Duryea Place in the 1940s and 50s, and the family lived above the store. BTW, if you ever get back to the Loew’s Kings Theatre, can you ask them if they ever found the bite plate I lost there in 1969…? Thanks again. You guys are great!

From one Erasmus graduate to another thank you for your wonderful comments. Yes an entire Podcast of the history of Erasmus would be appreciated. Just an FYI most people think that Erasmus Hall H.S. is the oldest public H.S. in NYC, however, it is actually Flushing High School in Flushing, NY. Only bcz the original Academy Building is older but was not a certified regent school. Also, Erasmus was built from the blueprints of Flushing H.S. (same builder & designer). There are parts of each school that are almost exactly the same for example the Chapel and the auditorium are almost duplicates. I do think that the stain glass windows in Erasmus are prettier and different where the ones in Flushing H.S. are all the same, also the light from the campus shines thru the stained-glass windows in Erasmus Hall.

Hi Joan, I just read your interesting story about Flatbush. There happens to be a buddy of mine I am looking for, from Flatbush. He and I were buddies in basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia October through November of 1969. His name is James West. James would be around 73 years of age now. Out of a whole company of soldiers, James and I were the only two to receive the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. I have been trying everything I know to find James West of Flatbush to no avail. Do you think you could help me. James told me in basic training he is going to marry his sweetheart after he gets out of the Army. Is there any possibility you will check for marriage records from Flatbush and maybe that will reveal how to locate James.James is of oriental decent and of average size. Your help will be appreciated. We trained at Fort Benning, Georgia at the Harmony Church facility. I really hope I can find him. May God Bless You. If you can help, thank you, if you can’t,that is OK. Thank you so much.

Love this episode! I never knew Flatbush had this much history! Speaking of Flatbush, New Dorp in Staten Island has a nearly 350 year history of it’s own that is worth exploring, especially since the Vanderbilts once had a farm there and are buried in that neighborhood. There was once an airfield there south of what is now New Dorp High School. That would be a good podcast to do.

Great show! I never knew there was so much history in Flatbush. Another neighborhood with a similar long history is New Dorp, Staten Island which dates from the Dutch era. It would be interesting to see if a show can be done on that neighborhood.

Loved the historical information included in the article and podcasts. Originally from nearby Bensonhurst I did live in Flabush-Leffefts Gardens for 20 years. It was a wonderful experience. Close to transportation, shopping, and excellent restaurants.
I find it’s history fascinating especially that of the Dutch Reform Chuch with the oh so beautiful Cemetery right on Flatbush Ave. It’s a great place to live , work, and have a sense of community.

Thank you for the indepth history on Flatbush. The neighborhood I lived so much, but unfortunately didn’t love me back. I had the great opportunity of growing up in one of those big Victorian homes. My dad was a blue collar worker, we couldn’t afford “the help” like most of our neighbors, and was frowned upon. My older brothers weren’t allowed to play in the local park with people who didn’t look like us and the police harassed them relentlessly.
Flatbush had many beautiful landmarked buildings with tree lined streets.
My greatest pastime was riding my bike through prospect park.

My mother grow up in Bedford stuyvesant & I wrote a book on her life in Brooklyn from 1945 to 1980. Book Am I my mother’s keeper yes I am. By Aileen Read

Hello my name is Aileen, I wrote a book about my mother’s life growing up in Brooklyn. The title is (Am I my mother’s keeper yes I am) and I have lots of pictures of my father’s life growing up in Brooklyn as well, I love Brooklyn & I have tons of pictures of my on life growing up in Brooklyn as well.

Thank U for this bit of history about my great Flatbush!! I lived on Newkirk Ave between Argle Rd&Rugby Rd from 1956-1987. I went to Erasmus&Robert Kennedy spoke at my graduation in 1967.
As I was reading this story I went back to my happy days&happy place

The Brooklyn Museum has an exhibit of old Brooklyn photos, prints, etchings and memorabilia. I recall seeing an historic silent film of people on rides at Coney Island, too. This seemed to be clips of different rides.

I had ancestors of Flatbush Adrian Hendrickse Aten a constable of Flatbush of the first Dutch colonies there and his family he and his wife Elizabeth Thomas with their children. To be baptized there at the first church built there .many records show he a member there .He a constable to patrol the streets back in 1665 .love to come there to look up family ties there and see old grave sights of the Aten family

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