Weeksville Brooklyn History

Imagine being told your entire life that you were not really a citizen of your town or country. Imagine being treated as an inferior, offered only the most menial of jobs, and told to be happy with your lot in life. Imagine being banned from churches, stores and theaters, even cemeteries, because they did not serve “your kind.”

Now imagine finding a town where you were accepted — a town where you were able to build your own home, worship in your own church, buy from stores owned by people like you, and raise and educate your children in a place where they would be welcome. A town where you could reach old age and pass on in dignity and equality.

For Brooklyn’s African-American population in the 19th century, some of whom were recently freed from slavery, this remarkable town was called Weeksville. And it survives today in bits and pieces, some of which now comprise a historic center in present-day Crown Heights. Here is its story. (more…)

Jehovah Witness History Brooklyn

The Jehovah’s Witnesses — aka the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society — first came to Brooklyn in 1908, in hopes of having their sermons syndicated in newspapers alongside the writings of the borough’s most famous pastors. It was under the Watchtower’s autocratic second leader, Joseph F. Rutherford, that the religious group truly began practicing the art of Brooklyn real estate.

This is the 100-year story of how the Jehovah’s Witnesses grew to be a global phenomenon and came to own some of Brooklyn’s most valuable properties. (more…)

Jehovah Witness History

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been making headlines in Brooklyn since they moved their headquarters here in 1909. Back then they were called the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, led by a charismatic man named Charles Taze Russell.

In the last five years, the Witnesses have been in the news for selling off an impressive portfolio of Brooklyn real estate — like the soon-to-be finished Dumbo Heights complex, 200 Water Street and 85 Jay Street in Dumbo.

But how did this all this come to be? (more…)

 Kings Theatre Brooklyn -- Restoration and History

Photo by Barbara Eldredge

After being closed up for decades, with the very real possibility of condemnation and destruction in its future, the old Loew’s Kings Theatre came back to life spectacularly in 2015, like the legendary phoenix from the ashes. It was easily one of the year’s greatest triumphs.

“Legendary” is apropos, because this massive theater was one of the Loew’s company’s five “Wonder Theaters,” all built with great pomp and splendor at the beginning of the Great Depression. (more…)

Brooklyn New Year's Day Celebrations and History

1910 New Year’s Eve party in NYC. Photo via Ephemeral New York

For those following the Gregorian calendar, and that’s most of us, that magic moment when the old year ends in the last seconds of 11:59 on December 31, and the new begins at midnight on January 1, is celebrated with music, fireworks, noise makers, parties and a kiss.

And thus it has been for centuries, with Brooklyn being no exception. (more…)

Brooklyn Christmas Tree Society -- Lena Sittig Legacy

1907 photo via Brooklyn Eagle

Beginning in the 1890s and for nearly 40 years after, the Brooklyn Christmas Tree Society brought holiday cheer to Brooklyn’s underprivileged children, treating them to a huge meal, gifts and musical performances.

The annual tradition was founded by a woman named Lena Wilson Sitting, whose legacy of generosity and holiday spirit deserves remembering around this time of year. (more…)

Slave Theater in Bed Stuy Brooklyn -- Judge John Phillips History

Judge John L. Phillips. Photo via the Slave Theater website

For many people in Bedford Stuyvesant, home to Brooklyn’s largest African American community, Fulton Street’s Slave Theater is not just a building — it’s a metaphor.

The name has always been uncomfortable. Who wants to be reminded of slavery? Who wants to be reminded of slavery when going to the movies, of all times?

That’s just why Judge John L. Phillips chose the name. (more…)

Industry City Brooklyn -- Bush Terminal Sunset Park History

Read Part 1 of this story here.

The huge gray cement factory buildings that span Sunset Park’s shoreline between 30th and 37th streets are the remaining structures of Brooklyn’s largest industrial park, Bush Terminal.

The complex was the brainchild of Irving T. Bush, the son of an oilman-turned-yachtsman. Today, these buildings are known as Industry City, an evolving complex made up of workspaces for Brooklyn’s creative economy, as well as future dining, entertainment and shopping destinations. (more…)

Famous Brooklyn Stores Retail History

We can blame the late Victorian era for the commercialization of Christmas. The late 1800s gave us an affluent society with the disposable income to buy the vast amount of machine-made goods coming out of American factories.

The Brooklyn Eagle gloried in this consumer excess, writing glowing reviews of the merchandise in stores all over the city and running thousands of ads. No time of the year was more important than Christmas.

We’ve picked five Brooklyn stores to highlight for the holiday shopping season — three old-timers from the Victorian age, and two more contemporary. None of them exist anymore.

They were founded by the same kind of smart, successful and lucky entrepreneurs that abound today, all striving to bring Brooklynites the next greatest thing, especially for the holidays. (more…)

Brooklyn Thanksgiving Traditions and History

Thanksgiving in America has always been a rather strange combination of festival, food and frolic. We watch colorful parades in the morning, stuff ourselves in the afternoon and then retire to our couches to watch two teams of modern gladiators beat each other silly for the prize of a silver trophy.

Traditions have evolved since Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the 1860s, but the sentiment has remained the same. Here’s how late-19th-century Brooklyn celebrated, with massive feasts and costumed Fantastics. (more…)

Industry City Sunset Park Brooklyn History Bush Terminal

Read Part 2 of this story here.

In the last few years, Sunset Park’s Industry City, a 16-building complex along 3rd Avenue, has become a hub for artist studios and manufacturing bases for local food purveyors and makers, as well as outposts of large companies like Time Inc. The complex has seen increasingly more foot traffic, too, with popular dance parties in the summer and now the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg through the winter.

Its namesake — industry — is still very much at its core. There are big things in store for Industry City, which today is run by Jamestown Properties, Belvedere Capital and Angelo Gordon, along with Cammeby’s International and FBE Limited, starting with a staggering $1 billion redevelopment plan that was announced earlier this year.

Instead of going toward high-rise luxury condos, this influx of big money is being used to renovate, repurpose and revitalize the massive complex, eventually bringing 20,000 jobs to the vast industrial hub that was once called Bush Terminal.

But how did we get here? It involves a man named Rufus Bush, floating railroad cars and bananas. (more…)

Bed Stuy Brooklyn -- 1897 Merrick Rd LIRR Train Wreck

On Memorial Day 1897, a group of young adults from Stuyvesant Heights’ Green Avenue Baptist Church was involved in a horrible collision between an open horse-drawn coach and a Long Island Railroad train. Last week we shared Part 1 of the story. We now pick up as the investigations and funerals continue. (more…)