History of GREEN POINT
Everybody is interested in the beginning of things. We look at the majestic
oak towering to the sky, its wide-spreading branches the home of the feathered
songsters of the air, its grateful shade a boon to the weary traveler, and in
imagination we go back to the tiny acorn from which the giant oak developed.
The first words of the Bible are" In the beginning." Rome, the city of the seven
hills, traced its origin tot he fabled Romulus and Remus suckled by a wolf. Berne,
the capital of Switzerland, is said to have obtained its name from its reputed
founder the Duke of Zaehringen, who determined to name the city he planned to build
for the first animal he met and killed. Tradition asserts that he killed a bear.
At all events the bear is today the national emblem of that land of mountains and lakes.
So Green Point many years ago had its humble beginnings, although it can claim
no Romulus nor Remus. It is our purpose to discover these beginnings and bring the
story of growth and development down to the present day. Green Point is a peninsula.
On the north and east Newtown creek marks off its boundaries. On the south Bushwick
creek separates it in part from Williamsburgh, and the East River is its western boundary.
This geographical situation almost entirely isolated, gave it a peculiar opportunity for
separate development and it is therefore not to be wondered at that the early settlers
of Green Point were men of independence and character, self-dependent, and possessing
those native traits that make for vigorous manhood.
To the early settlers, however these bodies of water were known by other
names. Newtown creek was spoken of sometimes as Maspeth kill. In the early days, there
were high banks stretching from the mouth of this creek as far as the present
Manhattan avenue bridge. Following the line of this creek inland we would
have found in early times a salt marsh extending to a point south of the present
Blissville bridge. Here the banks rose in height and continued so as far as Penny
bridge. This salt marsh was known as the "Back Meadows." They formed a large
irregular triangle with the apex at about the present intersection of Driggs
avenue and Humboldt street. Near this point was the head of a water course called
Wyckoff's creek, running northerly near to the line of Green Point avenue and
then easterly to Maspeth kill, its mouth being somewhat south of where stands the
On the north side of Green Point avenue these salt meadows were drained by Whale creek,
which in its course followed the general line of Humboldt street. This creek
as well as Wyckoff's creek had many small tributaries and devious courses.
Bushwick creek was in the early days known as Norman's kill. This creek, too, drained
salt meadows. At high water the tide covered the meadows, forming a beautiful miniature
bay, but the retreating waters revealed an expanse of green sedge and brown mud flats.
Through these wandered the two deep channels of the kill as well as numerous little
meandering tributaries. A traveler in those times gazing at Green Point from a
boat on the East River would have noticed many high sandy headlands, remnants of the
early glacial period, similar to those still remaining along the north shore of
Long Island. Near where the foot of Freeman street now lies, a point of land jutted
abruptly beyond the shore line into the river for a considerable distance. This point,
covered With river ooze and green grass, naturally attracted the gaze of the sailors on
passing vessels, who gave to this verdant projection the name of Green Point.
Originally Green Point meant only this projecting piece of land, but later the name
was applied to the entire peninsula from Newtown creek to Bushwick creek With the
enclosed meadows. It was not until 1854, when this section of the city With the rest
of the town of Bushwick and then the young city of Williamsburgh were united
With the older city of Brooklyn, that the elastic name of Green Point was again
stretched to cover the whole of the present seventeenth ward.
It would appear from what precedes that the neck of high ground lying east of
the Back Meadows and north of Meeker avenue, known for many years as WYCKOFF
farm and later as KINGSLAND farm, was not considered in the early days as a part
of Green Point. This section now, however, forms a very important portion of the
community With its pleasant homes, its large industrial establishments and beautiful
but improperly named Winthrop park.
Reference has been made to the peninsular form ofGreen Point, almost surrounded
by river, creeks, and marshes. Its only upland connection With Williamsburgh
was measured by the length of Driggs avenue from Leonard street to Humboldt street.
Along the present line of Driggs avenue ran an ancient highway, the west end of
which was at a public landing place on Bushwick creek, near the corner of Guernsey
street and Driggs avenue. This was called the Wood Point Landing. This road
east led along the line of Driggs avenue to Humboldt street and from that point
followed a winding course to Bushwick village. This road along Green Point's extreme
southern border remained the sole public highway until 1838. There was, however, a
farm lane With gates at each farm line, which the traveler was obliged to open
and close at each passage, giving communication to the Green Point farms from this
Wood Point road which took its name from the landing. This farm lane started from
the back end of the most northerly farms (Freeman street west of Manhattan avenue),
ran across the hilly portions of the farms to about Green Point avenue and Oakland
street, and then along the edge of the Back Meadows to its junction With the Wood
Point road at Humboldt street.
Let us in imagination follow a traveler of the early days as he goes from Green Point
to New York, an event for the traveler at once wearying and arduous. He would
follow the farm lane and the Wood Point road to Bushwick village. From that point
his journey took him to Bushwick Cross Roads (Bushwick and Flushing avenues),
then along the south side of the Wallabout swamp to Flushing and Nostrand avenues, from
thence he took his way over the hills by a crooked road to Bedford Corners
(Bedford avenue and Fulton street). There he would come upon the road from Jamaica
to the Brooklyn ferry. This road followed the lines of Atlantic and Flatbush
avenues and Fulton street to the river shore. Every foot of the trip was made in
deep sand or loose cobbles. It was a long, wearisome ride on those washed-out and
stony roads, over many miles in the spring-less wagons of that day.
The earliest authentic record in the history of Green Point dates from the purchase
of the land from the Indians by the Dutch West India Company in 1638. The ancient
town records of Bushwick reveal the founding of the Township of Bushwick by Governor
STUYVESANT in 1660, four years before New Amsterdam passed under the control
of the English and became New York. It will be recalled that he was the last of
the Dutch governors of New Amsterdam, he of the wooden leg and peppery temper. It
appears that the governor received a petition reciting the fact that "Fourteen
Frenchmen with a Dutchman Pieter Janse WIT, their interpreter, have arrived here."
Acting favorably upon this petition the Dutch governor founded the Township of
Bushwick. The establishment of this township marks the beginning of social and
political life for this section.
The interpreter, Pieter Janse WIT, located his farm upon the neck of high ground,
lying north of Meeker avenue between the Back Meadows and Maspeth kill, and
this tract later became one of the most desirable portions of Green Point. It is
evident that Pieter Janse WIT had qualities of leadership and was a man of parts,
for he became the first magistrate of the town and for many years headed the list
of names in the records. In 1720 this land was purchased by Peter LOTT, and twenty-nine
years later was sold by his son of the same name to Abraham POLHEMUS of the Brooklyn
family of that name. In 1799 it was conveyed to Peter WYCKOFF of Bushwick, and in 1847
the larger portion was bought by David and Ambrose G. KINGSLAND, who held it until
it was laid out into lots and sold for building purposes in the eighties. It is in
the memory of persons still living that this transformation took place, of a truck
farm to its present crowded homes and streets.
It was only a few years after the purchase from the Indians that a number of
so-called Norman families, who were really Scandinavians, settled here. One of
these families, headed by Dirck VOLCKERTSEN, better known as "Dirck the Norman,"
came into possession of the whole of Green Point. He was one of a small group of
adventurous Scandinavians who early came to New Amsterdam and engaged successfully
in the business enterprises of that period. Those were the days of smuggling, of rum
drinking, of hardy sailors free in the use of their dirks, of gambling, of risk and
adventure. The court records in the case of Jan de PREE vs. Dirck the Norman, bring to
light an amusing and instructive page of the life of that day. Dirck must have thrived
on litigation, for his name often appears as complainant or defendant on the court minutes.
The patent granting the ownership of Green Point to Dirck the Norman was dated
April 3, 1645. He built the first house presumably the following year. It rested
upon a knoll, about where Calyer street is laid out, and from one to two hundred
feet west of the present line of Franklin street, only a few feet from the exact
location where more than two hundred years later the Green Point Savings Bank began its
successful career. The site of the home was evidently chosen With care. The lawn sloped
gently in front to Norman's kill on the south, and gradually to the East River on the west.
The house was of stone, one and a half stories in height, With dormer windows, built in
quaint Dutch style With old Dutch doors, studded With glass eyes, and brass knockers.
Eventually, the farm, orchard, and meadows became among the best of those of early days.
It was Dirck the Norman who gave the name to Norman's kill, a name that disappeared
as applied to a body of water but reappeared in the name of Norman avenue.
By trade Dirck the Norman was a ship carpenter, an occupation that for many years
kept busy many men in Green Point. Originally Green Point was an agricultural
community, but two centuries after the time of Dirck, ship building became its chief
industry. Many of the old boys still living recall With pleasant memories the many
launchings of vessels from the shore of Green Point into the East River. For half a
century this industry held sway to be deposed later by other industrial activities.
Dirck, however, did not follow his trade but devoted himself to agriculture With
marked success. At his death his sons inherited these lands and sold them in 1718.
The family then scattered, some going to Brooklyn, others to New Jersey, but wherever
they went they became men of affairs and influence.
The only house still remaining as a relic of the first settlers in Green Point
may be found at Meeker avenue adjoining Newtown creek. Some modern touches have been
added to it during the almost two and one-half centuries it has stood, but it is still
a good example of one type of the Dutch farmhouse of the time of Pieter PRAA. It was
built by Joost DURIE (George DURYEA), a Huguenot who came from Holland to America
and settled in New Utrecht. Later, about 1681, he removed to the disputed land between
Bushwick and Newtown and erected this house. Here the DURYEA family lived for over
a century. The house then passed into the hands of Josiah BLACKWELL, for whom Black
well's Island is named, and finally became the possession of William BLESER, in
whose estate it still remains. When this house was built the Dutch living outside
the stockade were obliged to fortify their homes, because the Indians were
decidedly hostile as a result of the crimes, against them by William KEITH, the
Dutch Governor. Beneath the porch in the wall may be seen two gun holes to be used
in defending the house against Indian attacks.
An investigation of the early records brings to light a shrewd and wealthy
business woman, Christina CAPPOENS. She was a prominent figure in New Amsterdam,
and at the time of her death lived on what is now known as Stone street in New York
City. Although she was never possessed of a home of her own in Green Point, she was in
many respects a very important link in the development of this community, as will
shortly appear. The name as given above was her maiden name, and like all women
of that time she was known by her maiden name together with the added title of
"wife (or widow) of Jacob HAY," and later "wife (or widow) of David JOCHENSEN." She
seems to have been very successful in her marriages. In 1653 Jacob Hay purchased from
Dirck the Norman the Northern part of Green Point, the line of division running from
the river at the north end of Franklin street, to the northeast corner of St. Anthony's
church and thence east to the meadows at Oakland street. The land so purchased
was inherited in 1693 by the only child of Christina CAPPOENS, Maria HAY, who had in
1684 married for her second husband Pieter PRAA, the third and greatest personality
in the settlement of Green Point. Captain Pieter PRAA was a man of great prominence
in the history of the Town of Bushwick. He easily ranks as the greatest man
from its earliest days to the time of its merger With the City of Brooklyn two centuries
later. Captain PRAA was of Huguenot extraction and was born in Leyden, Holland,
1655. His parents were from Dieppe in France on the English Channel. Like other
Huguenots they were expelled from their native land owing to religious persecution.
It was during their temporary stay in Holland, a refuge to the oppressed of all nations,
that Pieter was born. When he was five years old his parents emigrated to the new
world and settled first in Newtown and then in Bushwick near the intersection of
Flushing avenue and Broadway. After his marriage to Maria HAY, Captain PRAA and his
wife lived in a stone house on their Green Point farm, which was located on the meadow's
edge at Freeman street just east of Oakland street. This house was destroyed by fire in 1832.
His history is another evidence of the loss to France that came as a result of the expulsion
of the Huguenots. Pieter PRAA was not only captain of militia but was magistrate as well.
He was influential in both local and provincial politics. He was a magnificent
horseman and a genuine sportsman. He was easily the leader in public affairs of the
community. He added largely to his original land possessions and purchased from
the sons of Dirck the Norman all their remaining Green Point land.
In 1687 he bought from Anneke Jan BOGARDUS of New Amsterdam, a tract of about 130 acres
of land at the mouth of Maspeth kill. This tract, known as Dominie's Hoek, later as
Hunter's Point and Long Island City, consisted of two or three low hillocks rising out of
a sea of encompassing marshes valuable for their salt hay for cattle. In addition to the
above Captain PRAA owned some 40,000 acres of land in New Jersey.
Captain PRAA's death occurred in 1740, He left no son to perpetuate his name, but
he had numerous progeny through his four daughters, many of whom have played
prominent parts in business and politics in Green Point and in larger spheres of action.
These four daughters were :
Elizabeth, who married Jan MESEROLE;
Maria, who married Wynant VAN ZANDT;
Christina, who married David PROVOOST;
Annetti, who married William BENNETT.
At the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) there were but five families on
Green Point, all of them lineal descendants of Pieter PRAA. The heads of these
families were as follows:
-1. Abraham MESEROLE (son of Jan MESEROLE) and grandson of Pieter PRAA, who lived
on the banks of the East River, between what are now India and Java streets.
Later the house in which he lived was occupied by Neziah BLISS, whose wife was a
granddaughter of the above named Abraham MESEROLE. This house was demolished about
1875. It was at this period that nearly all the old relics gave place to the
necessities of modem industrial developments.
-2. Jacob MESEROLE (another son of Jan MESEROLE), who resided in the southerly
part of Green Point, near Bushwick creek meadows (between the present Manhattan
avenue and Lorimer street near Norman avenue) not far from the residence, still
standing, of his grandson, the late Adrian MESEROLE. His farm included the entire
southerly portion of Green Point.
-3. Jacob BENNETT (son of William BENNETT, whose wife Annetti was a daughter of
Pieter PRAA), who dwelt in a house in the northerly portion of Green Point, near the
present Clay street, midway between Franklin street and Manhattan avenue. His farm
was later known as the "Griffin Farm" and for many years was owned by the
trustees of Union College.
-4. Jonathan PROVOOST (son of David PROVOOST, whose wife Christina was a daughter
of Pieter PRAA), who lived on the east side of Green Point in a stone house on the
edge of the meadows, formerly the residence of Pieter PRAA. Later this house was
occupied by the late James W. VALENTINE, whose wife was a great-granddaughter of
the above named Jonathan PROVOOST. The old PROVOOST burying ground near the
northeast corner of India and Oakland streets was removed about 1875 and no trace of
-5. Jacobus CALYER (whose wife Janitie was a daughter of Jan MESEROLE and granddaughter
of Pieter PRAA), who occupied the house referred to and described in previous
pages, near the mouth of Bushwick creek and built by Dirck the Norman.
These five families at the time of the Revolutionary War constituting the entire
population of Green Point, must have lived quiet lives, cultivating the fertile fields
which had descended to them from their ancestors. Each farmer had his own large boat
which he used in carrying his surplus farm products to the New York market.
This does not mean that the East River was crossed in a straight line. It was
necessary to drop down the river at least as far as the present Brooklyn bridge,
for New York in those days did not extend north of the City Hall.
The homes of that period were all after the Dutch style, one and a half stories
in height, the lower portion of stone, and the upper usually of wood, With dormer
windows and wide overhang. A broad hall running through the middle of the main floor
was lighted in the day time either by the bull's eye glass insets in the upper part of
each door, resembling little port holes, or by opening the upper portion of the door.
Knockers of brass or iron hung on the outside of the door to announce the arrival of
a caller, and a great flat stone helped the guest to step over the sill.
It is easy to believe that stone step, sill, door, and knocker were kept in
immaculate condition by these Dutch descendants, who prized personal and household
cleanliness and almost elevated them to the position of sacred rites. It requires no
stretch of the imagination to know that these Green Pointers had a rich and varied larder.
Their orchards gave a profusion of luscious fruits. The fields yielded in abundance all
the then known vegetables and cereals, and the adjoining creeks teemed With pan fish
and blue crabs, a condition that existed until the advent of the oil refining factories.
Their refuse drained into the creeks killed all fish life.
In these early days the houses were heated by great wide open fire places in the
living room. This was the place where the food was prepared and eaten and where
the family in the evening gathered about the fire place, warmed themselves at the great
log fire, and discussed family, social, and political affairs. The casual caller
was entertained at this hospitable fire place. Wood was the only fuel and every farm
had its wood lot. For the fire a huge back log was rolled into place, then smaller
logs about six feet in length would be piled in front and on top of the back log. A
roaring fire could easily be kept going to make the entire house comfortably warm except
in bitter winter weather.
Each house had its outdoor oven in which the busy housewife could easily bake
a dozen loaves of bread or as many pies at a time. The vigorous outdoor life was
conducive to healthy appetites, but these Dutch families were all good providers.
Large families were also the rule. This sparsely settled section gave small opportunity
for social life. The farms were large and widely separated and the church and store
a great distance away. The gallants who sued for the favor of the several daughters
of Pieter PRAA and Maria Hay must have been rowed up and across the East River by
their slaves in order to do their courting. All these daughters married merchants
or professional men from across the river.
Prior to 1824 nearly all Dutch families were slave holders. Pieter PRAA was the
owner of quite a number and in his will he provided that each slave should choose among
which of the children he desired to serve. To his body servant. Jack, was given by
terms of the will an island, a part of which is now Long Island City and which was
known for more than a century later as "Jack's Island." Although not a large island
it was sufficiently large for his maintenance. The Dutch enjoyed a reputation of
treating their slaves with consideration. Although the act of 1824 freed all slaves
in New York State, these black servants continued to regard themselves as members of
the household to which they had formerly belonged. Many of these slaves had been
brought up to a trade and there was work in abundance for all.
It is a matter of general history that during the greater part of the Revolutionary
War this portion of Long Island was in the possession of the British, and loyalty, real
or assumed, to the King of England seemed the only path of safety for the Green Point
families to follow. "It appears, however, that Abraham MESEROLE's son, John, cared
less about safety than did his neighbors, for he came under suspicion as a rebel and
was at one time taken prisoner and confined in a New York jail. Tradition reports that
all the families suffered severely from the depredations of the British soldiers and
their camp followers. After the close of the Revolutionary War and for more
than a third of the succeeding century. Green Point maintained its seclusiveness.
The dwellers upon the well ordered farms had little intercourse with the outside world.
Row boats or sail boats would, when necessary, convey them across the river.
On Sundays, on horseback or in wagons, they might be seen taking their way across the
neck to the Bushwick church. Its well established character as a secluded nook,
geographically remote and not easily accessible, remained until about 1840. In fact the
history of the place up to this date is largely the family chronicles of the
PROVOOST'S and BENNETT'S, the married names of the daughters of Pieter PRAA Green Point's
most distinguished early citizen.
We have traced thus far the first two centuries of the history of Green Point, an
agricultural period, from 1638, when the Dutch West India Company purchased from
the Indians the tract of land that later became the Town of Bushwick (all of Brooklyn
lying north of Broadway and Division avenue), to 1838. It was the opening of
the first public highway in 1838 that made possible the development of Green Point
into a small town. This highway ran across the land along the line of the present
Franklin street, with bridges over Newtown and Bushwick creeks, and became a part of
the turnpike running from Williamsburgh to Astoria. Green Point thus lost its position
of splendid isolation and became connected on either side with the greater world beyond
its borders. During these two centuries there was no church, no school, no store.
The early families resorted for religious, educational, and political affairs to
Bushwick village (Metropolitan and Bushwick avenues), which was the municipal
center of the Town of Bushwick, of which Green Point was politically a part.
The time had now come when the land that had been turned by a plow was to be used
as sites for homes and factories. The high sandy bluffs facing the river were
gradually to be leveled. The rolling country behind the bluffs, which had been brought
up to a high state of cultivation by skilled farmers, was to be intersected by streets.
The fine orchards and scattered fruit trees along the fences between the fields were
to be obliterated and linger in the memory only as the name of the southeasterly part of
Green Point. The era of the industrial development had dawned.
Reference has been made in a previous paragraph to the ship-building industry as one
of the most potent factors in the development of Green Point. While ship building
began in the colonies in 1607, the new industry appeared here about 1840. The place
was well adapted for this new departure, for the beaches on the East River front were
of fine white sand. The expanding world commerce following the overthrow of the Napoleonic
power and the expansion of American commerce created a demand for strong, swift, and easily
handled ocean carriers. This demand was met in the creation of the historic American
clipper ship, long reputed the best and fastest in the world. Although some yards launched
as many as three ships at a time, it was impossible to create a sufficient supply.
The Yankee crew on board these beautiful vessels with graceful lines did much to gain for
these ships an enviable reputation. As every man on board from the captain to the cabin
boy was a shareholder, it was easy to develop and maintain a fine esprit du corps.
The appearance of the East River beaches must have been extremely interesting, not to
say fascinating. On the ways were vessels in various stages of completion in
charge of great gangs of shipwrights. Mammoth piles of lumber lay about waiting for use;
white oak, hackmatack and locust for ribs, yellow pine for keelsons and ceiling timbers,
white pine for floors, and live oak for aprons. Through the air was wafted the odor
of damp pine chips, of pitch and of oakum, while the ceaseless clatter of mallets
and busy saws gave evidence of strenuous industry. The workers came in large numbers,
attracted by the permanent character of the work, bringing their families and taking
up their residence here. The farm stage soon passed into the village stage of development,
then into town, until on January 1, 1855, Green Point was consolidated with
Bushwick and the young city of Williamsburgh with the older city of Brooklyn. At that
time there were in the Seventeenth ward about 15,000 of population, but this figure was
increased to about 30,000 in 1875, when ship-building had passed its zenith of growth.
The hard labor exacted of these makers of ships is worth noting. The daily grind
was fatiguing and exhausting in the extreme. Originally the day's work consisted of
fifteen hours at the rate of $1.25 per day. Later through labor organizations a ten-hour
day was secured and the wages were increased by gradual steps until $2.00 per
day was the rate. Many of the men went from the yards to their homes only to eat and,
exhausted by their day's labor, to retire. The long, hard day, the exposure to the
burning heat in summer and the biting cold in winter, drained the vitality of the
workers and left scant opportunity for leisure or wholesome recreation. The equipment of
the yards was primitive. The sawing was done by hand, one laborer being in the pit with
face covered by a veil to protect him from the sawdust, and one above working
with a two-man saw. There were no cranes, cables, or power helps such as are seen in the
modern yard, only man-power to raise the heaviest timbers by hand.
The following apprentice's indenture throws a flood of light upon the working conditions
of that day. John ENGLIS later became one of the great ship builders of Green Point.
THIS INDENTURE WITNESSETH, That John ENGLIS,
now aged sixteen years, nine months and twenty-four days, by and with the consent of
George BELL, his step-father, hath put himself, and by these Presents doth
voluntarily and of his own free will and accord put himself, apprentice to Stephen SMITH,
of the City of New York, ship carpenter, to learn the art, trade and mystery
of a ship carpenter, and after the manner of an apprentice to serve from the day of
the date herefor, for and during and until the full end and term of four years two months
and seven days next ensuing: during all which time the said apprentice his master faithfully
shall serve, his secrets keep, his lawful commands everywhere readily obey; he shall do no
damage to his said master, nor see it done by others without telling or giving notice
thereof to his said master: he shall not waste his said master's goods, nor lend them
unlawfully to any: he shall not contract matrimony within the said term: at cards, dice or
any unlawful game he shall not play, whereby his said master may have damage with his own
goods, nor with the goods of others, without license from his said master, he shall
neither buy nor sell: he shall not absent himself day or night from his master's service
without his leave; not haunt ale-houses, taverns, dance-houses, or play-houses;
but in all things behave himself as a faithful apprentice ought to do during said term.
And the said master shall use the utmost of his endeavors to teach, or cause to be
taught or instructed, the said apprentice in the trade or mystery of a ship-carpenter, and
the said master shall pay to the said apprentice, the sum of Two dollars and fifty cents
weekly, for each and every week he shall faithfully serve him during the said term. And
also shall pay him, the said apprentice, the sum of Forty dollars per year payable quarterly
for each and every of the said years which is in lieu of the meat, drink, washing,
lodging, clothing and all other necessaries. And for the true performance of all and
singular the covenants and agreements aforesaid, the said parties bind themselves each
unto the other firmly by these Presents.
In Witness thereof the parties to the Presents have here unto set their hands and seals
the 10th day of September in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and twenty-five.
The vital importance of the work of building ships to the growth of the place is
seen in the statement that for thirty years (1840-1870), 35% of the population were
engaged in this industry. Among the many master builders who at various times had
their yards here were:
William W. COLYER,
E S. WHITLOCK,
Thomas A. SEABURY,
Robert H. SNYDER,
LUPTON and Co.
LAURENCE and FOULKS, whose yard was at the foot of West street;
WEBB and BELL, whose yard was located at Washington (West) and Green streets;
SNEEDEN and Co., later SNEEDEN and ROWLAND and finally The Continental Iron Works, at
West and Calyer streets;
John ENGLIS and Son,
and lastly "honest old Jabez WILLIAMS," who transferred his yard about 1866 from
the foot of Montgomery street, New York, to Green Point. He was later succeeded
by his son Edward F. WILLIAMS, who after the organization of the Green Point Savings
Bank, became its second president.
By 1870 only a few of the old establishments remained, WEBB and BELL and
John ENGLIS and Son were about the only ones having any construction work on the ways
in that year. George BELL and Eckford WEBB, who in their day built many ships, clippers,
and steamers for the ocean, as well as harbor and river craft, constructed the caissons
for the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Continental Iron Works, however, has
remained continuously in business with a wonderful record for construction. The
ENGLIS yards also hold an enviable record, for in their long career from 1838 to 1911,
they had built or completed the Joiner work on one hundred and thirteen steamships or
steamboats, including :
"The Grand Republic,"
"C. W. Morse,"
"Clermont," and "Storm King!"
The decay of the industry was caused by increased costs of lumber and copper, labor
troubles, the steamboat law of 1852, and last but by no means the least cause, the
building of iron vessels.
There is one historic event in connection with the chronicles of Green Point which
must not be overlooked, the building of Captain John ERICSSON's "Monitor," an event
that revolutionized naval warfare.
Captain ERICSSON born in Sweden in 1803, a deep student of mechanics, had already
won enduring fame as the builder of the "Princeton" wherein he demonstrated the use of
the propeller. When he had pleaded in vain with the Washington authorities for the
adoption of his "Monitor" plan, two distinguished iron masters of Troy, Hon. John F. WINSLOW
and his partner, Hon. John A. GRISWOLD, came to the rescue. At their own financial risk
they undertook the construction of this naval experiment. The attitude of the Washington
experts concerning the proposed new fighting craft is seen in the statement of one of
them who observed:
"It resembles nothing in the heavens above, or the earth beneath, or the waters under
the earth. You can take it home and worship it without violating any commandment."
Despite such rebuffs the "Monitor" was finally constructed and boomed the death knell
of wooden men-of-war.
It was President LINCOLN himself who saved the day by the Judicious exercise of
his great powers of persuasion from the interview when he intervened, came the government
contract for the building of the "Monitor " The cost was not to exceed $275,000 and the
time limit was 101 days The builders were obliged to guarantee the success of the experiment.
WINSLOW and GRISWOLD lacked the facilities at Troy, so the hull was built by Thomas
F. ROWLAND and launched January 30, 1862, in exactly 101 days from the date of the contract.
The later history of the Monitor is the history of the United States and
of naval warfare, for the "cheese box on a raft" on the morning of March 9, 1862,
vanquished the "conquering Merimac, destroyed her and preserved the Union navy
from destruction. The life of the "Monitor" was as brief as it was adventurous, for she
foundered off Cape Hatteras on the night of December 20, 1862.
The coming of the ship building industry brought to an end the exclusive character of
the place and the sole inhabitancy of the five families of French Huguenot extraction,
the descendants of Pieter PRAA. Their day with its Dutch houses and wide-spreading farms,
of bountiful orchards, and leafy woods, of Negro slaves, and rustic existence was gone
beyond recall. The new era brought with it many native born Americans as well as a liberal
sprinkling of English, Irish, Scotch, and Scandinavian emigrants. Houses were rapidly
built to accommodate these newcomers and new streets were laid out There was a considerable
movement of population from the East side of New York as the advantages of living on this
side of the river became known. House builders recognizing their opportunity built for
anticipated profits and on speculation, one of the earliest being Mr. John HILLYER a mason
by occupation. Practically all of the houses were frame dwellings. Land was cheap then.
One colored inhabitant purchased sixteen lots at fifty dollars each and built him a house.
This improvement he sold in 1842 for $2,300, and the house became Poppy SMITH's tavern,
an inn run by John SMITH on Franklin street near Green, well known to the earlier inhabitants.
Transcribed for the Bklyn Pages by: Mimi Stevens
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