Small, Flat and Dutch: How Boerum Hill Got Its Name

Boerum Hill in July 1978, as seen from the 26th floor of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank. Photo by Dinanda Nooney via NYPL

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Brownstoner takes on Brooklyn history in Nabe Names, a series of briefs on the origins and surprising stories of neighborhood nomenclature.

With the bustling Atlantic Avenue and quirky Smith Street as commercial districts and a swath of historic row houses — many of them brownstones — for residential stock, Boerum Hill is a reflection of many of Brooklyn’s best known and most-loved features. 

Indie shops are alongside international corporations on low-lying, landmarked streets that young families and longtime residents peruse on foot or pedal. The area has housed a variety of celebrities, from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Heath Ledger to Jonathan Lethem, who set his novel Motherless Brooklyn in the neighborhood.

The nabe’s name originates from the colonial period, when Simon Boerum owned a large deal of land in the area, then known as North Gowanus or South Brooklyn. But Boerum, an early Dutch settler whose family had come to Brooklyn in the mid 1600s, was long dead before the area was named for him — “Boerum Hill” did not catch on until the 1960s.

Contrary to its title, Boerum Hill is quite flat.

Located amidst the borough’s center of 20th-century revitalization, the thriving area today hosts a diverse array of storefronts and businesses. Indeed, a large portion of the old real estate, many of the same shopkeepers and some of the old culture still remain in this corner of Brooklyn.

State Street. Photo by Jaclyn Warren

State Street. Photo by Jaclyn Warren

Pamphlet from 1969 Boerum Hill House Tour via Brooklyn Historical Society. Photo by Barbara Eldredge

Pamphlet from 1969 Boerum Hill House Tour via Brooklyn Historical Society. Photo by Barbara Eldredge

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