Brownstoner takes on Brooklyn history in Nabe Names, a series of briefs on the origins and surprising stories of neighborhood nomenclature.
Despite the oily presence of its Superfund namesake — the severely polluted Gowanus Canal — this once-industrial neighborhood has experienced a residential renaissance, thanks in part to the nearby sky-high property values of Park Slope.
Quirky mom-and-pop museums and pastry shops abound in Gowanus, as well as recent corporate developments like the Whole Foods Market at 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue. High-rise condo towers are sprouting along a not-long-ago upzoned 4th Avenue, replacing auto-body shops and other blue-collar businesses.
The nabe and its eponymous canal are thought to be named after a long-passed resident and Native American chief, the Canarsee sachem Gouwane. The late leader’s name is often translated as “sleep” or “the sleeper.”
A separate theory purports that the neighborhood was named for the Dutch word gouwee, meaning bay.
Today, Gowanus is a confluence of industrial relics and chic new retail stores. The formerly ubiquitous smell of eggs that wafted from the canal has been greatly diminished in recent years, yet the industrial aura remains, if lesser than before.
A Gowanus Wood-Frame House Doubles in Size, Discreetly
Architect Transforms Gowanus Parking Garage Into Garden-Topped Modernist Paradise
Take a First Look at the Sleek Renovation of Gowanus Arts Hub Dancewave