It’s Not Literal, It’s Dutch: How Flatbush Got Its Name

Flatbush and Church avenues, circa 1918. Photo via Brooklyn Historical Society

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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.

Flatbush encompasses a sprawling mass of central Brooklyn, serving as a main artery and residential hub for more than 100,000 Brooklynites as well as being the borough’s literal center.

The area shares its name with Flatbush Avenue, a major thoroughfare that climbs the borough from end to end, from the foot of the Manhattan Bridge down to Jamaica Bay. Flatbush, perhaps an odd, seemingly literal title to some borough newcomers, was named V’lacke Bos, or “a plain with woods” by Dutch settlers in reference to the land’s heavy timber covering.

One of the six original towns that composed Brooklyn in the 1600s, Flatbush’s name was anglicized during the 1664 British takeover of New Amsterdam. (Say “V’lacke Bos” out loud, it sounds more similar to Flatbush than it is spelled.)

The English’s influence on Flatbush didn’t stop there — after purchasing 40 acres of Flatbush in 1898, landowner Dean Alvord chose decidedly Anglo names for various streets in the neighborhood’s subsection, Ditmas Park, including Albermarle, Westminster and Buckingham roads, all of which still exist today.

While some emblems of Flatbush’s more recent history have been erased — Ebbetts Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers (and arguably located not in Flatbush but Crown Heights), was demolished in 1960 — many live on, such as Erasmus Hall High School, Brooklyn College and various notable religious institutions, like the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church.

The neighborhood is one of Brooklyn’s most diverse and also has some of the borough’s most disputed boundaries due to its sprawl and large amount of subsections.

East Flatbush. Photo via StreetAdvisor

East Flatbush. Photo via StreetAdvisor

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Flatbush’s “Business Section” in a postcard dated 1913. Photo via Brooklyn Eagle

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The former Ebbetts Field baseball stadium on opening day, 1913. Photo via Wikipedia

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