Red Hook History Part 1 by Maryam Daghmoumi

Walking around Red Hook this past week felt like I was stepping through a worm hole, into a time when Red Hook would have been a busy, bustling port town and not just the sleepy little seaside community I have known for so long.  Maybe it was the hordes of sailors docked here for Fleet Week that I saw walking through the neighborhood in their crisp white uniforms down cobbled stone streets on Friday night.  They were making their way, in the rain, to Sunny’s for last call. The image made me wonder how Red Hook would have looked in its heyday.

I became curious. What exactly did Red Hook look like in the mid 1800’s? After a little investigation, I happened to come across a very interesting website created by a woman named Maggie Blanck, who had initially set out to research her family’s history (they had spent some time in Red Hook area in the early 1800’s).  Maggie’s findings are a fascinating culmination of what looks like of hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of cold hard research in order to reconstruct a beautiful and well-studied view of Red Hook, our lovely little neighborhood, almost 200 years ago!

There are literally dozens of pages of dates, names and archival information she has chronicled on the history of not just her family but the neighborhood of Red Hook.  There is, in fact, so much information that I have decided to break down this massive task of repainting this picture for you all into many smaller and more easily digestible series of blogs.  This first installment will be a brief history of what we know as Red Hook today.

Most of us already know that Red Hook was settled by the Dutch in 1636, and that at the time it was literally just a collection of small islands and marshlands. The Dutch called this area Red Hook (Roode Hoek) because of the reddish clay the land was made of and because the shape of the peninsula extended out and upwards, like a hook. By the 1760’s Red Hook was little more than a developed village, at a time when there was not much else in Brooklyn. However, what changed everything for our beloved hood was the development of the Atlantic Basin in the 1850’s which quite literally put Red Hook on the map and made it one of the busiest ports in the WORLD!

Red Hook was such a bustling and thriving community; made up of mostly Irish and German immigrants working in the shipping industry.  In the 1880 census report the foreign born population was predominately Irish, followed by Germans. There were some Italians, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, French, Belgians, Canadians, English, and Scotts as well.  In addition to the many, many different shipping and manufacturing companies that lined the South Brooklyn waterfront, there were many businesses that sprang up to service this rising population in the Red Hook area, some of them chronicled by the Brooklyn Fire Dept in 1892:

“One of the finest water-fronts in the world was the inducement that attracted many large manufacturing firms in New York, and in fact from all over the country, to locate there. Besides that it was within five minutes’ walk of Hamilton Ferry. In a short time immense factories and warehouses grew up with surprising rapidity. Now it is by far the greatest manufacturing centre in the city. Among the large industries that give employment to hundreds, who live in, and go to make up the large resident population of the region, are the stove works of the Richardson & Boynton Company, the factory of the Chesboro Vaseline Manufacturing Company, Worthington’s Hydraulic Pump Works, the Pioneer Iron Works, the Lidgerwood Iron Works, the South Brooklyn Machine Company, the India Wharf Brewing Company, J. M. Williamson’s Drop Forging Works, P. H. Gill’s Elevator Works, Casey’s Rosin Works, the South Brooklyn Fire Brick Manufactory, and many other large concerns. Besides these are the immense storehouses that line the water-front, including those of the Beard estate, the Robinson estate, the Atlantic Dock Company, the Erie Basin Stores, Findlay’s Stores, and the Long Dock Stores. Added to these are the large shipbuilding concerns located along the bay, and thousands of vessels, large and small, that are continually loading and unloading their cargoes there. It is estimated that more goods are handled at the Atlantic Dock and Erie Basin than at any other similar places in the country. Recently the Inman and White Star Steamship Companies have purchased property in the district, and before long it will be the headquarters of these and other large lines of transatlantic steamship companies.”

Our firemen: the official history of the Brooklyn Fire Department, By Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.). Fire Dept, 1892

To be continued!

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