Bergen Beach, with trolley service, napha.org 1

In 1896, two Brooklyn entrepreneurs, Thomas Adams, Jr. and Percy Williams bought the Jamaica Bay side of Bergen Island, off the coast of Flatlands and Canarsie. The island had belonged to the Bergen family for centuries, and was part of an isolated community of small farms in this rural part of Brooklyn which still supplied the markets of Wallabout and Manhattan with produce, dairy and meat. The men wanted to cash in on the lucrative resort and amusement park success of Coney Island. They were counting on the cooling ocean breezes, the sunlit open spaces, and their amusement park to be more popular than an ever-increasingly crowded, and common, Coney. A short history of Bergen Island and the park appears in Part One.

They weren’t amusement park men, or hoteliers. Adams had made a fortune with the manufacture of Chiclets chewing gum. They were men with The Big Idea, but no real experience in making it happen. They started out with a classy hotel and beachfront resort, but in order to be financially viable, soon were just as tawdry as anything Coney Island had going on. It was called Bergen Beach. Many of their attractions were just burlesque girly acts, or played to the ethnic and racial stereotypes of the day. They had all of the requisite rides and amusements; a Ferris wheel, carousel, house of horrors, a dance hall and later, a swimming pool, but they just never really resonated with their audience. They even had Medieval jousts. A great deal of the reason for that was in getting there. (more…)

LI Wetlands, Stonybrook.edu 1

On a bright early summer day in June of 1893, Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Santoire, of 148 Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, went for a buggy ride on a Sunday morning. Their horse was a handsome bay, pulling an open roofed touring buggy, expertly handled by the good doctor. Their destination was Bergen Island, in the Flatlands. The journey was a long one, all the way south through Flatbush and on down to Flatlands and Canarsie. But the day was beautiful and the company pleasant, so by the time the couple reached the water, their day still stretched before them.

Bergen Island had been settled by the Dutch way back in the early 1600s. It was a real island, just off the coast of Canarsie, and had been a favorite place for the Canarsee Indians to hunt, harvest marsh grasses and shellfish. When the Dutch took over, the island was called Mentelaer’s Island, and had a Dutch West India Company trading post on it. It then became the property of one Hans Hansen Bergen who proceeded to farm the marshy island. His descendants would become quite important in Brooklyn’s history in the centuries that followed.

The island was just off the mainland, in Flatlands, a part of Brooklyn that remained rural well into the 20th century. But as Brooklyn developed into a crowded urban metropolis, people began heading towards the ocean looking for cooling breezes and fresh air in the summer. By the last quarter of the 19th century, Coney Island had been “discovered,” and was turning into a vacation spot for the well-to-do, with large hotels and beach resorts being built long before the amusement parks.

Bergen Island had also been “discovered,” as well, and a few years after this story took place, would be developed as a day tripper’s paradise, but that’s a later story. The island was still a destination for those who wanted to get away from the city and enjoy nature in a part of Brooklyn that was still relatively untouched by man. It was swampy out there, in parts, but beautiful, and still looked much like it did when the Canarsee lived there, and for a couple that wanted to get away, it was perfect. (more…)

The New York Times took a look at Canarsie as a place to live and discovered a close-knit, diverse community with affordable homes. One- and two-family homes range from $350,000 to $600,000. The prices are still off their 2007 highs, when a two-family cost $450,000 to $725,000, thanks to the twin blows of the mortgage crisis and Hurricane Sandy.

“The mortgage crisis is only getting worse in Canarsie, and it’s been exacerbated by Sandy,” Angella Davidson, who manages the foreclosure prevention program of the nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services of East Flatbush, told the Times. “People who already were struggling to pay their mortgage are now falling further behind, because they’re using money that should be earmarked for their mortgage to replace boilers and Sheetrock. And Sandy has forced people who were not in foreclosure to face potential foreclosure.”

Many residents faced two to three feet of flooding in their basements, and much of the damage isn’t covered by insurance. And to make matters worse, 10 percent of small homes (one- to four-unit properties) were in foreclosure in Canarsie as of June, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

But Canarsie brokers feel like the market is beginning to pick up there, based on the number of sales.  “Canarsie has not recovered much from the mortgage crisis,” Jean-Paul Ho, broker-owner of Brooklyn Real Property, said, “but you can feel it in the volume of transactions. Nothing was selling last year, but now the activity is there.”

Living in: In Canarsie, a Coalition of the Tried-and-True [NY Times]
Photo by Paul Lowry

649-677 E.91st, RemsenVillage, EFlatbush, NS, PS, 2011

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Detached two-family houses
Address: 649-677 East 91st Street
Cross Streets: Avenue A and Avenue B
Neighborhood: Remsen Village (East Flatbush)/Canarsie
Year Built: 1932
Architectural Style: Dutch/Medieval cottage
Architect: Irving Kirshenblit
Other works by architect: Similar houses in Brooklyn, small 2 and 3 story storefronts in Manhattan, Brooklyn
Landmarked: No

The story: Brooklyn.com has a map of all of the named neighborhoods in Brooklyn. There are 101 them, and if pressed, there could be more. Bedford Stuyvesant, for example only has two listings, Bedford Stuyvesant and Stuyvesant Heights. There is certainly plenty of room in there for micro-neighborhoods. But anyway, I was clicking on some places I had not heard of before and came up with Remsen Village, a neighborhood generally considered a subset of East Flatbush, nestled between East Flatbush, Northeast Flatbush and Canarsie. Its borders are Kings Highway, Ralph Avenue, Ditmas Avenue and Rockaway Parkway.

This part of town begins right across the street from the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff house, the oldest existing building in New York State, started in 1652. This was then all part of Flatlands, one of the original Dutch settlements in Brooklyn. This was farmland for centuries, even when the northern parts of Brooklyn were growing into a city. Although there were houses here and there in the coming centuries, and the street grid was laid out, real development did not occur here until the 1920s, when the IRT Nostrand Avenue subway line (2 and 5 trains) was extended to Brooklyn College. (more…)

Beckers Aniline Dye Works, Canarsie, colorantshistory.org 1

The discovery of aniline dye in the 19th century brought bright, permanent color into the Victorian world. These dyes, whose chemical components were derived from coal tar, the by-product of extracting gas from superheated coal, were extremely valuable to the textile and leather industries. One combination of chemicals, one specific procedure carried out in a particular way, or in a specific order, could be the difference between fortune and funeral. It was a risk many chemists would take, because the rewards were great. One of the best of the best in New York was Dr. William G. Beckers. He was a German immigrant with an impressive educational background, and long years of experience in the dye industry.

Part One of our story outlines his history, and sets up the scene of our story. He established an aniline dye and chemical factory in Prospect Heights, on Underhill Avenue, in a mixed commercial and residential neighborhood that would never be allowed with today’s zoning codes. There, in the early years of World War I, before America got involved in the fight, Dr. Becker and his staff of chemists were trying mightily to discover the chemical secrets of German intermediaries.

Intermediaries were the chemicals used to bind the dye components, and produce lasting and vibrant colors. They were coal tar derived, and strong acids were also part and parcel of this chemical soup. While almost anyone could put together the rest of the dye mixtures, it was the intermediaries that made the dye successful for manufacturing. The best intermediaries were imported from Germany, where the formulas for them were literally kept under lock and key. Many chemists had tried to figure out the formulae, but no one could replicate the Germans.

The chemical companies there had a monopoly on intermediaries, and dye factories in America and elsewhere had no choice but to buy from them, and them alone. When World War I broke out, in 1914, it became harder and harder to get materials shipped out the country. Dyes were needed more than ever in the States, and a company that could make their own intermediaries would practically own the market. Dr. Beckers was determined to be that company. (more…)


On Sunday, power had been restored to many areas in Southern Brooklyn and national aid had arrived. (Outside Brooklyn, the Rockaways and Staten Island remain in crisis, with many without power or water.) We checked out Brighton Beach Sunday afternoon, where we found the National Guard distributing water, blankets, diapers, and baby wipes, above. Down the block, a volunteer group gave out free clothes from a truck. Power was back on in most places and delis and groceries were open for business as usual. Debris had been gathered into piles dotted about the beach, which was mostly empty of people, but otherwise it looked pretty normal. Most buildings in the central area seemed to have already completed their basement cleanups, though a few were still siphoning out water and placing wrecked furniture on the sidewalks for pickup. Tensions seemed high; a fistfight almost broke out over a fender bender, we heard a lot of people arguing, and a woman said she was going to call the police because we were taking photographs. There was, of course, no subway service to the shore areas throughout Southern Brooklyn. Buses were running about every 20 minutes, and they were packed full.

(more…)


The Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum puts on its annual Halloween Harvest Festival this Saturday, Oct. 20, from 1 to 5 pm. There will be crafts, food, games, a magic show, info about Colonial superstitions and haunted house tours! Built circa 1652, the farmhouse is Brooklyn’s oldest house. It stands at 5816 Clarendon Road, near Ralph Avenue. Above, a photo of it from the early 20th century.
Photo via Wyckoff House & Association Inc.

Okay, you gotta check this out. This 12-foot-wide, single-family home at 613 East 89th Street in Canarsie was built mid-boom (2005-2006) and has been flirting with foreclosure for most of this year. (There’s a lien of $321,984 on the place.) Apparently, but not surprisingly, the developer was never able to find a buyer. Wonder why! Click through for the money shot. GMAP (more…)

canarsie-sign-1.jpgThat’s the word from the NY Times, which gave Canarsie the Living In treatment yesterday. The leafy, suburban-ish neighborhood has suffered a high rate of foreclosures, many of them belonging to the Caribbean, Chinese or Russian immigrants who’ve flocked there as of late, they write; prices are drooping. Single-family houses have been giving way to higher density development, worrying some residents. As one said, “If you buy a house on a quiet block, ‘you don’t want the dude next door to come, knock down his house and put up a four-story building.’”
Living In: Canarsie [NY Times]
Photo by singingpixel.