Brownstoner takes on Brooklyn history in Nabe Names, a series of briefs on the origins and surprising stories of neighborhood nomenclature.
Tucked between Coney Island Avenue and Kings Highway, Gravesend is just across a creek from Coney Island, but the neighborhoods are starkly different.
One of Brooklyn’s lesser-known residential nabes, Gravesend has some of the borough’s deepest roots as one of the original New Netherland towns. Dominated by its Jewish and Italian residents, the quiet area is speckled with yeshivas, Sicilian restaurants and McMansions.
The origin of the name Gravesend is debated, and could be English or Dutch. Although a Dutch town in a Dutch colony, Gravesend was founded by English refugee Lady Deborah Moody. While Dutch governor William Kieft, who gave the settlement formal sanction in 1645, traces his roots to the town of s’Gravenzande in Holland, Lady Moody debarked from Gravesend in Kent, England, to travel to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
If the English origins are indeed correct, that would make Gravesend the only of Brooklyn’s original six settlements to take its title from America’s former motherland.
A little bit more about Lady Moody: The Anabaptist English expatriate, religious-freedom advocate and the first female landowner in the New World, settled Gravesend in 1643. She planned the town thoroughly, despite half of its 7,000 acres consisting of salt marsh, wetlands and sandhill dunes along the shore of Gravesend Bay.
A five-bedroom farmhouse named after Lady Moody (although it is doubtful she ever lived there) still stands at 27 Gravesend Neck Road. One of the oldest buildings in New York, the structure dates to the 18th century. Not a landmark — not yet, at any rate — it is on Landmark’s backlog list. It is also for sale.