19th-Century Developers From Vermont: How Brownsville Got Its Name

Children in line outside the Brownsville Children's Library in 1930. Photo via the Brooklyn Public Library

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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.

At Brooklyn’s eastern edge, “the city goes back to the marsh, and even the subway ends,” Alfred Kazin wrote of his native borough corner in A Walker in the City, his 1951 ode to Brownsville.

The neighborhood has seen a rich ebb and flow of cultures, from Kazin’s youth — when the area was largely a hub for Jewish immigrants — to its current incarnation as a largely black and Puerto Rican nabe in transition. Brownsville is home to the highest density of low-income public housing in the United States and is included in an ongoing rezoning effort by the city.

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Photo via the Brownsville Partnership

Before it was Brownsville, it was Brown’s Village, named for one of the area’s first developers, Charles S. Brown. A Vermont native and early investor in the neighborhood, Brown purchased and subdivided land from the Van Sinderens and other land-owning families and built on it hundreds of cottages during the late 19th century.

Today, while many only know the area from trips past it to and from JFK Airport, Brownsville remains a hub of culture, historic architecture and great soul food.

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A street market on Brownsville’s Belmont Avenue in 1962. Photo by Roger Higgins via Wikipedia

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