Brownstoner takes on Brooklyn history in Nabe Names, a series of briefs on the origins and surprising stories of neighborhood nomenclature.
Nestled among a conglomeration of southwestern Brooklyn neighborhoods — Dyker Heights, Flatbush, Midwood, Gravesend, Borough Park and Bath Beach — Bensonhurst houses both a dwindling number of Italian-American residents and a growing Chinese population.
Known for a time as Brooklyn’s Little Italy, the area today is more accurately known as the borough’s second Chinatown. A large portion of Asian businesses have opened along the nabe’s 86th Street commercial corridor in recent years, and there are large Cantonese and Fuzhou populations.
The neighborhood’s name comes from the Benson family, who controlled this area and parts of Bath Beach from the 1830s until well into the 1880s. Before the Bensons, the land was owned by the Polhemus family, another landowning clan. When developer James Lynch proposed buying the family’s land, with a plan to turn it into an exclusive resort with steam rail and trolley access, the Bensons conceded — but only so long as the area was known by their surname.
Following Lynch’s purchase of the neighborhood in 1889, the area was briefly known as Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea, before being shortened to what it’s known as today.