This post courtesy of Explore Brooklyn, an all-inclusive guide to the businesses, neighborhoods, and attractions that make Brooklyn great.
Before Brooklyn was a cultural and arts destination, it was first a Dutch settlement known as Breuckelen — named after the town of Breukelen in the Netherlands. The Dutch colonized what is now present-day Brooklyn in 1646, establishing six different towns with defined borders. These original towns eventually became English settlements, and then the settlements were consolidated to create the City of Brooklyn. (Brooklyn wasn’t incorporated into greater New York City until 1898.)
The original six Brooklyn towns that would become Brooklyn were Bushwick, Brooklyn, Flatlands, Gravesend, New Utrecht and Flatbush. Present-day Brooklyn neighborhoods bearing these names are located roughly in the center of each of these original towns. Here are a few details of those six original towns, when Brooklyn looked a whole lot different than it does today.
Map of Brooklyn towns via Ephemeral New York.
The town of Brooklyn included many of the popular brownstone neighborhoods of today, such as Bed Stuy, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, Fort Greene, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Sunset Park. Since the area bordered the waterfront facing New York City, there were a number of ferries established to connect the two shores. The ferry routes allowed for increased economic and population growth to the Dutch towns.
The town of Flatlands was located where the modern neighborhoods of Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Flatlands, Georgetown, Marine Park, and Mill Basin now stand. The Dutch first called this “Nieuw Amersfoort” when it was settled as a farming community in 1636. In the area, farmers grew beans, corn, marsh hay, squash, potato bean, and tobacco. The Flatlands developed slowly because the town wasn’t well connected by roads or transportation systems.
Gravesend map via Wikimedia Commons
The town of Gravesend encompassed the southernmost point of modern Brooklyn, now Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Gerritsen Beach, Gravesend, Homecrest, Manhattan Beach, Seagate, and Sheepshead Bay. The origin of the name is unclear. This town is actually the only British town of Breuckelen’s original six. It was settled in 1643 by Lady Deborah Moody, known to be the first female landowner in the New World. An English expatriate and Anabaptist, she wanted to establish a community where she and her followers could practice their beliefs free from persecution. She laid out a highly organized planned community, one of the first in the country. Although the town was spread over a total of 7,000 acres, nearly half of that was made up of salt marsh, wetlands, and sandhill dunes along the shore of Gravesend Bay.
Bushwick included the current day neighborhoods of Bushwick, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg — now often referred to as North Brooklyn. It was settled in 1661 as “Boswijck,” which means “little town in the woods” or “heavy woods” in 17th-century Dutch. It was the last of the original six Dutch towns established by settlers. Unfortunately, many of the Dutch records of Bushwick were lost after its annexation by greater Brooklyn in 1854.
A house in New Utrecht where Nathanial Woodhull died via Wikipedia
The southeast portion of Brooklyn which is now known as the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and New Utrecht. It’s original name comes from the city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. The town emerged in 1655, with twenty lots laid out for residential development. (Pictured above, one of the first homes built in the village by the resident Nicasius di Sille.) The area of New Utrecht known as the “town center” was located in the present-day neighborhood of Bensonhurst.
Flatbush Reformed Church via Wikipedia
The town of Flatbush retained its name into the 20th century, though it’s made up of sub-neighborhoods such as Ditmas Park, Farragut, Fiske Terrace, Flatbush, Kensington, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Prospect Park South. The name emerged from the Dutch term “Vlacke bos” (or flat woodland). The area became a hub for important merchant and farming families, and their influence remained strong in the area even after Brooklyn consolidated with New York City in 1898. The Flatbush Reformed Protestant Dutch Church still stands in the neighborhood — its cemetery is the resting place of many of the early Dutch families of Flatbush.