Continuing our series on how Brooklyn neighborhoods got their names, we take a look at the history behind Cobble Hill, the Navy Yard, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. From Dutch settlers to naval shipyards to the Revolutionary War, keep reading for the interesting histories that gave these neighborhoods their present-day titles.
Dutch farmers settled this area in the 1640s, giving the name “Cobleshill” to a conical-shaped hill at present-day Atlantic Avenue and Court Street. The hill was used as a fort during the Revolutionary War, going by different names such as “Cobble Hill Fort,” “Smith’s Barbette” and “Corkscrew Fort.” (Interesting fact: the British cut off the top of the hill during their occupation of the area, so American troops wouldn’t be able to look down on the British headquarters in Brooklyn Heights.)
Moving into the 1900s, the neighborhood was typically known as “South Brooklyn” like much of the surrounding area. In the middle of the century, as parts of South Brooklyn were experiencing a renaissance, a real estate agent reportedly saw the name “Cobles Hill” on an 18th century map and applied it to the neighborhood.
Current day Cobble Hill, photo coutresy of Matthew Hurst via Flickr.
Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1944 | Naval Historical Center via USS Enright
The name of the Brooklyn Navy Yard is fairly straightforward: this was a U.S. Navy shipyard from the years 1802 to 1979. It opened after the American Revolution and built ships during both World Wars. At its peak, during World War II, the yard employed 70,000 people, 24 hours a day.
Today the Brooklyn Navy Yard is used as an industrial park, with many of the old warehouses converted into office space.
Williamsburg map, 1827 | via Wikipedia
Williamsburg has had several names over the years. The Dutch West India Company first purchased the land from Native Americans in 1638 and chartered the Town of Boswijck in 1661. When the English took over the area in 1664, the name was anglicized to Bushwick. For about 140 years, residents called the waterfront area “Bushwick Shore.”
In the early 1800s, the real estate speculator Richard M. Woodhull developed 13 acres of land in present-day Williamsburg. He named the development Williamsburgh, after Colonel Jonathan Williams, a U.S. Engineer who surveyed the property. That “h” was dropped in the 1850s, when increased urbanization led to the area being called the “City of Williamsburg.”
The Old Bushwick Church, 1711 | via Brooklyn Museum
Bushwick, which borders Williamsburg, was also part of that land purchased by the Dutch West India Company and named Boswijck, or “the little town in the woods.” (The area also included the present-day neighborhood of Greenpoint.) By the turn of the 19th century, Bushwick was separated into four different villages: Green Point, Bushwick Shore (now Williamsburg), Bushwick Green, and Bushwick Crossroads.
As Williamsburgh went through a rapid development, it seceded from Bushwick to form its own independent city in 1852. But the original name stuck for what we now know as Bushwick. In 1854, both Bushwick and Williamsburgh were annexed into the City of Brooklyn, and the rest is history.
For more on how Brooklyn neighborhoods got their names, check out Part 1: Red Hook, Bed-Stuy, Sheepshead Bay, and Dyker Heights, Part 2: Bay Ridge, Carroll Gardens, Flatlands, and Fort Greene, Part 3: Coney Island, DUMBO, Gowanus, and Park Slope, Part 4: Bergen Beach, Clinton Hill, Gravesend, and Prospect Heights, and Part 5: Boerum Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Sunset Park.