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Photo by Jennifer K. via Yelp

By Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris)

When Manhattan’s favorite market Fairway announced that it would be opening a branch in Red Hook in 2006, food lovers from all over Brooklyn waited in anxious anticipation. The market would be housed in the Red Hook Stores, the largest of the brick storage warehouses built by Red Hook’s original developer William Beard in the 1870s. This iconic Red Hook landmark was built to store cotton, jute, coffee and other commodities.

With 52,000 square feet of retail space, the ground floor of the Red Hook Stores was perfect for a new supermarket. Like many other Red Hook buildings, the Red Hook Stores was owned by Greg O’Connell. He renovated the building to hold the market, as well as three floors of apartments above it. With a world class view and lofty spaces, the apartments were a big hit, as well.

When Fairway first opened its doors in 2006, it immediately became Brooklyn’s most popular market. The store was packed with eager shoppers from opening to closing.

Would any market have been this popular? What was it about Fairway? The company’s history tells the tale.

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By Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris)

Live in Brooklyn long enough, and you’ll be used to change. Shops, restaurants, and bars come and go, warehouses become condos, whole blocks are transformed as high-rises replace three-story buildings.

None of us, however, have lived in Brooklyn long enough to see how much the shore line itself has changed. For that, we need to go much further back.

By looking at almost 250 years of Brooklyn maps, we can watch the entire shape of Red Hook morph as it evolves from marshlands to docklands and beyond. The first stop on our time machine will be 1770.

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By Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris)

Our neighborhoods all have interesting place names. The streets, thoroughfares and neighborhoods themselves are named for people, landmarks, or natural features that were a part of its history. So it stands to reason that Red Hook, with its storied past, would have some interesting street names.

Red Hook

The name “Red Hook” goes back to the city’s Dutch past.

When settlers first put down roots here, they named the area Roode Hoek because of the color of the soil, and the general shape of the land. “Hoek” means “point” or “corner.” It referred to a point that stuck out into the bay near today’s Dikeman and Coffey Streets.

The Dutch must have felt Gowanus and Red Hook to be just like home. It was a low-lying area, with streams, tidal ponds and marshes leading to the sea. They cut small canals through it, harnessed the water with windmills, and raised streets and farmland.

Centuries before a highway bisected it, Red Hook was a town apart due to the swampy land of Gowanus, and a creek which effectively cut it off from the rest of South Brooklyn. The creek was filled in long before Gowanus’ land was permanently drained for the canal in the mid-19th century.

A trip to the Red Hook Fairway may be your excuse to visit the iconic warehouses of Red Hook, but once you are there, stop for a moment and look around.

You are looking at American and international history.

It’s a story of how these Red Hook warehouses—or “stores,” as they used to be called—were the conduit between the cotton fields of the South and the textile mills of upstate New York and New England. And it’s the story of how an Irish immigrant not only made his fortune, but gave Red Hook its shape.

This is the story of King Cotton, and its connection to Brooklyn.

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For a limited time, a vintage trolley car will be on display at the Red Hook Stores building on the Red Hook Waterfront. This particular trolley car is known as a PCC (President’s Conference Committee) car. Commissioned by the Electric Railway President’s Conference in 1929, the PCC was designed to compete against the automotive bus. Addressing rider complaints about about trolleys — too slow, noisy, and uncomfortable — the PCC was an attempt at creating a sleeker, more modern car.

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It’s been a long and hard winter for the Red Hook waterfront, but with the return of warmer weather, Red Hook is starting to bloom again. If you’re thinking about what to do on one of these spring weekends, you might consider visiting the Red Hook waterfront.

The entire neighborhood is sweeping up, painting the stoop, and the kids are outside playing again.

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We admit it. We love Red Hook. But we also know that getting there can seem daunting, especially for first-time visitors from other boroughs. Or so they tell us when they break our lunch date at Fort Defiance.

BY SEA

The NY Water Taxi Ikea Ferry offers the most picturesque approach, with its views of the lower Manhattan and Red Hook waterfronts. The ferry leaves from Pier 11 in lower Manhattan, where Wall Street meets the East River, and lets you off in Erie Basin Park, behind the Ikea. Check the schedule, though, before you decide on this option: ferries run once or twice an hour, 2pm–8pm on weekdays and 11:20am-8:40pm on weekends.

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The aging trolley cars parked behind Fairway on Van Brunt Street that were once part of a plan to revive trolley car service in Brooklyn starting with Red Hook were dragged away by a developer last night, according to Gothamist. Bob Diamond, who collected the trolleys and parked them in Red Hook (he also famously discovered the Atlantic Avenue tunnel), sent photos to Gothamist and said that neighborhood developer Greg O’Connell arranged to have them removed.

Gothamist reports conflicting rumors about whether the cars are destined for a scrap yard upstate or the Trolley Museum of New York in Kingston.

In the early ’80s, Diamond formed the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association and acquired a fleet of 16 early 20th-century trolleys, hoping to revive trolley service between downtown Brooklyn and Red Hook. Although the DOT pulled support for Diamond’s project in 2003, local groups have endorsed the plan in the last year, and he is hopeful that de Blasio will be more open than Bloomberg to the streetcar service.

Update: The O’Connell Organization donated three cars on its property to the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Conn., according to a press release we received via email tonight.

The Red Hook Trolleys Were Removed This Weekend [Gothamist]
Photo via Gothamist