Red Hook Building Company

By The Red Hook WaterStories

In 1838, a proposal was printed and addressed to the newly formed board of the Red Hook Building Company.  It was aimed at getting more support for the publicly owned real estate development concern whose goal was to develop all of Red Hook.  It promised that by developing the area, much of which was still underwater, the property value would quadruple.

This analysis was based on a comparison of Red Hook’s potential to Southwark, a waterfront section of the city of London, England. The proposal claimed that Red Hook and Southwark had similar benefits: they could both be used for residential and commercial shipping accommodations.

To raise money, shares of the company were sold to the public.  (The stock certificates looked similar to today’s dollar bills.)

Property was purchased, but the venture never got off the ground.  The vision, however, in part embodied by the Atlantic Basin (1841) and the Erie Basin (1864), did eventually come to pass.  The Red Hook Building Company was the dream of Col. Daniel Richards, as were Atlantic Basin and the Gowanus Canal.

In the map of the plan (shown below), all of Red Hook is a grid of streets, not at all what Red Hook looked like in 1838.  There is also no Atlantic or Erie Basin.  The Hamilton Avenue Ferry, which is shown as part of the proposal, did start service in 1854.

Select text from the Proposal.
(A pdf of the full original is linked below)

“The advantages of Brooklyn as a place of residence, as well as for commercial purposes  – in view of its proximity to the business centre of New York – its facility of intercommunication – its beauty of situation, its pure and wholesome water and general salubrity and healthiness, have already been alluded to. Red Hook enjoys all these in common with Brooklyn (excepting that more direct intercommunication which improvement may be expected to introduce by means of an additional ferry)  and has eminent advantages of its own  – is, from contiguity to the river, nearer the business section of New York than a large portion of Brooklyn …

For mechanical and manufacturing purposes it would seem to be in all respects well adapted.  The connexion of the East River, across the Hook with Gowanus Bay, by converting a natural water course into an improved canal, easily constructed at moderate cost and for which the legislature have granted a charter, will afford for these purposes a position, which, in reference to comparative and  positive advantages can rarely be found.” (p.18)

“Can there be any doubt that the 264 lots extending from the South Ferry to Red Hook Point, will be required at almost any price, in view of the increasing foreign and inland trade of the City of New York? … how shall the growing trade of the interior be accommodated [with] the enlargement of the Erie Canal? …Where shall they  find a vacant post to hold there fasts, or wharf to land there cargoes?” (p. 19- 20)

“The conclusion, therefore, becomes almost irresistible, that the waterfront owned by the Red Hook Building Company, by parity of reason, must also become valuable and give large returns for improvement.”

Red Hook WaterStories is a PortSide New York project. To see photos and read more click here!

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