In this ongoing series, we dig into the history of how Brooklyn neighborhoods got their names. In most cases, names come way back from when the Dutch settled Brooklyn in the 1600s and remain a testament to the borough’s rich history. Keep reading for the stories behind the names of Bay Ridge, Carroll Gardens, Flatlands and Fort Greene.
When the Dutch settled the area in the 17th century, they created two adjacent villages called Yellow Hook and Fort Hamilton. Yellow Hook was named after the yellow color of the soil, and Fort Hamilton was named after the military installation in the area. Both villages began to develop between the 1830s and 1850s, with a resort and residences replacing what was previously farmland. But both neighborhoods were struck by yellow fever throughout the 19th century, an unfortunate coincidence given the name of “Yellow Hook.” In response, community leaders decided to change the neighborhood name all together. A local horticulturist suggested “Bay Ridge” because of the area’s high ridge that looked out onto the New York Bay. As Bay Ridge, the neighborhood attracted wealthy residents who built mansions overlooking the water.
Photo of Bay Ridge by Jim.henderson via Wikipedia
Carroll Park | Jim.henderson via Wikipedia
Carroll Gardens got its name much later than most other Brooklyn neighborhoods. The area wasn’t settled until the 19th century, when Irish Americans moved there, soon followed by Norwegian Americans. During the influx of Norwegians, the neighborhood finally took its name after an area park. Carroll Park was constructed in the 1840s and consisted of a block-long stretch of playgrounds, walkways and benches between Court, Smith, Carroll, and President Streets. The park got its name from Charles Carroll, a Revolutionary War hero. The “Gardens” came from the prominent front gardens that dominated many of the townhouses being built in the area, many of which still stand today. While the neighborhood was officially titled Carroll Gardens, most residents considered this area to be simply “South Brooklyn” or even Red Hook, well into the early 1900s. It wasn’t until the Brooklyn Queens Expressway cut off Red Hook from Carroll Gardens in the 1940s that the neighborhood took on a character of its own.
Map of Flatlands | via Brooklyn-living.com
The area of Flatlands was actually the first established town in Brooklyn — the Dutch settled it in 1636, ten years before they established the greater township of Breuckelen. It was originally named “Nieuw Amersfoort,” after the town of Amersfoort in the Netherlands, and the first plantation established there was called Achtervelt, or “beyond the great flats.” The area was mostly used as farmland, due to its rich, productive soil and level ground. Flatlands didn’t get its present name until 1664, when the British captured New Netherland and rechristened the area with its current title. Despite the new name, residents continued to speak Dutch here for the next 200 years.
Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, Fort Greene Park | Adonovano via Wikipedia
Fort Greene was originally settled by Native Americans and its history was marked by conflict between the early settlers and the Native Americans. But in 1776, under the supervision of General Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island, Fort Putnam was constructed in the area for the Revolutionary War. The fort was massive, holding six 18-pound cannons. The fort was badly damaged during the war and slowly deteriorated. But during the War of 1812, when the possibility of a British invasion led to the re-use of the site for defense, the newly rebuilt fortification was named Fort Greene in General Greene’s honor. In 1847, the site became Brooklyn’s first park, with the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument honoring the American prisoners held in prison ships in Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War.
For more on how Brooklyn neighborhoods got their names, check out Part 1: Red Hook, Bed-Stuy, Sheepshead Bay, and Dyker Heights.