(Updated – Sept 19, 2016)
Done exploring the Brooklyn neighborhoods we mentioned in our first installment of historic districts? Don’t rest on your laurels yet. Designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, these four historic districts are home to some of the finest architectural eye candy in the borough — and they’re close enough to each other so you could tour them all in one day.
This tiny enclave remained largely undeveloped until the 18th-century. In 1784, the Sand brothers purchased land along the waterfront. They named their nascent community “Olympia” in a bid to attract wealthy Manhattanites.
Unfortunately for the Sands, the neighborhood didn’t take off until a shipbuilder named John Jackson bought up land in 1801. Jackson built a shipyard, erected worker housing, and sold part of his property to the federal government for the construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Hoping to draw patriotic Irish immigrants to his waterfront empire, he named the settlement Vinegar Hill after a 1798 battle of the Irish rebellion.
Jackson’s plan paid off. The 1801 arrival of the Navy Yard flooded the community with blue-collar workers. Unofficially known as Irish Town, the area filled up with brothels, bars, and gambling salons catering to the locals. (In 1822, nearly a quarter of all residents listed their occupations as tavern proprietors.) Located between Plymouth and Front Streets, the Vinegar Hill Historic District is one of Brooklyn’s oldest residential neighborhoods. Spend the afternoon perusing its 19th-century Greek Revival brick houses and Italianate buildings.
Vinegar Hill photo courtesy of dumbonyc via Flickr.
Fort Greene | Tom Giebel via Flickr
Fort Greene has some of the best-kept brownstones in Brooklyn. Originally settled by Walloon and Dutch farmers in the early 1640s, the area retained its pastoral charms until the mid-19th century. Walt Whitman (a Fort Greene resident) famously described the land along North Portland to St. Edwards Street as “a potter’s field, which is seldom without activity going on inside its low paling.”
The 1815 introduction of Robert Fulton’s steam-powered Nassau ferry transformed the sleepy hamlet. By the mid-1840s, the ferry was a regular service used by New Yorkers to travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Fort Greene’s Dutch farming families began selling their land to rich Manhattanites looking to relocate. The Fort Greene Historic District is home to the stunning Italianate, Queen Anne, and Neo-Grec style brownstone and brick row houses built during this period.
Once you’ve got your brownstone fix, head to Fort Greene Park. The site of the 1776 Battle of Long Island, it’s the oldest urban park in the country. While you’re there make sure to visit the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument. The imposing memorial commemorates the 11,500 Americans who died on British prison ships during the Revolutionary War.
Wallabout | Timothy Vogel via Flickr
This neighborhood is home to the largest concentration of pre-Civil War wood-frame houses in the City. French-speaking Walloons settled in the area as early as 1624, but Wallabout (from the Dutch Waal-bogt, meaning “a bend in the harbor”) didn’t come into its own until the Brooklyn Navy Yard was built in 1801.
The Navy Yard operated through the first and second world wars, but was decommissioned in 1966. In 2011, the National Register of Historic Places listed the area between Grand and Clinton avenues as the Wallabout Historic District. The area contains an impressive array of 19th-century industrial buildings, including the Rockwood & Company factory, which used to be the second largest chocolate producer in the country.
Can’t decide where to start your tour? Walt Whitman completed “Leaves of Grass” while living at 99 Ryerson Street.
DUMBO | Susan Sermoneta via Flickr
DUMBO is one of Brooklyn’s oldest mixed-use areas. Before it got the name DUMBO in the 70s, the neighborhood was referred to as Two Bridges, due to its location between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
In the late 19th-century, Brooklyn was the country’s fourth-largest manufacturing center. Some of the most important businesses in New York City—including Arbuckle Brothers, the Hanan & Son shoe company, and the Brillo steel wool firm—were concentrated along DUMBO’s waterfront. In the mid-20th century, the abandonment of Brooklyn’s dockyards caused the once-vibrant neighborhood to fall into steep decline.
Artists began to move into the area’s dilapidated factories in the 1970s. Legend has it that they christened the area DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in the hope that an unattractive name would deter developers. That didn’t work out—but the area’s dramatic post-industrial landscape remains remarkably well-preserved.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission granted landmark status to the DUMBO Historic District in 2007. The district is bound by John Street to the north, York Street to the south, Main Street to the west, and Bridge Street to the east. Almost all of the industrial buildings in the district date from 1880 to 1920.