ABOVE PHOTO: Skyline from East River
By Renée S. Gordon
“The most dangerous people are the ignorant.”
–Henry Ward Beecher
Did you ever wonder how many of the 52 million people who visit New York City annually actually realize that there is much more to the city than Manhattan? My guess would be that most visitors, international or from the states, are unaware that New York City is comprised of five boroughs, Brooklyn, Bronx. Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens and each borough has its own unique history, sites, attractions, accommodations and eateries. www.nycgo.com
Brooklyn, the largest of New York City’s five boroughs, measures 71-sq. miles, has a population that exceeds 2.5-million and if it were a city would be the fourth largest city in the nation. Brooklyn is in King’s County, named after King Charles II, and in fact makes up the entirety of the county. It is situated on the western edge of Long Island.
Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian who sailed for France, discovered Long Island in 1524 but it was not until September 4, 1609 that Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch, landed in Gravesend Bay. Brooklyn was established in June of 1636 and called “Breuckelen” or “broken land,” by the Dutch farmers who moved there. The land was purchased from the Canarsie Indians for an assortment of goods including wampum, cloth, tools and 12 kettles. In 1643 religious dissenter Lady Deborah Moody founded a colony at Gravesend. She was the first woman to do so in the New World.
Brooklyn was a collection of six settlements, Bushwick, Brooklyn, Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, and New Utrecht. Brooklyn was incorporated in 1834 and the other five settlements were joined with the city, as neighborhoods, a few years later. In 1898 it became part of New York City.
African slavery was part of the first Dutch settlements and settlers had two options, some owned their own slaves and others rented slaves that belonged to the governing Dutch West India Company. Records indicate that 15 percent of King County’s population was black slaves by 1698 and by the first census in 1790 that number had doubled totaling 1500 slaves. The county ended enslavement in 1825.
Fourteen surviving Dutch Colonial farmhouses are sprinkled throughout the borough, the oldest of which is the 1652 Wyckoff Farmhouse. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, a former indentured servant, built the original, wooden, one-room house and additions were made throughout the years. The 1652 section of the house is the oldest building in NYC. Pieter and his wife Grietje raised 11 children there.
Guided tours of the Wycoff Farmhouse and Education Center and restored gardens are offered and highlights of the interior include an original oak wall, imported Dutch tiles, and a two part Dutch door. Original slave bills of sale are also on display because the Wycoffs both owned and engaged in the slave trade. www.wyckoffmuseum.org
Hendrick Lott incorporated a portion of his grandfather’s 1720 home into the house he built in 1800. The 200-acre farm depended upon a labor force of slaves and indentures but in 1805 the Lotts freed their slaves and there is some evidence that the home served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The house is undergoing restoration and may be viewed from the exterior only. www.lotthouse.org
Brooklyn Heights, once known as Clover Hill, was the area settled by the first Dutch in 1636. It is the oldest neighborhood in Brooklyn and the first suburb in the nation. The “Hill” was linked to Manhattan by ferry service and provided a superior view of the waterfront and beyond. During the Revolution Washington built fortifications but 21,000 British soldiers crossed the Verrazano Narrows and fought the 11,000 Continentals stationed there. The Battle of Brooklyn Heights, the first battle of the American Revolution after the Declaration of Independence, was fought on August 27, 1776. Two days later he retreated under cover of darkness to Manhattan. The British were entrenched inBrooklyn for more than six years.
The Old Stone House, or Vechte-Cortelyou House, is a 1937 reconstruction of the 1699 house built by Claes Vechte and later owned by the Cortelyou family. During the battle the house was held by approximately 1,800 troops while American General Alexander and 400 Maryland men launched attacks against it. Although the attacks were unsuccessful they allowed Washington’s army time to slip into Manhattan. The house is now a museum that relates the story of the battle through displays and a diorama.
In 1865, the house was sold and the open space around it was used as a ballpark with the first game being held on May 12, 1883. The Old Stone House served as the clubhouse. The home team would become the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers in 1911. The name, eventually shortened, was derived from the fact that Brooklynites had to dodge the many trolleys in the borough. In 1947 the Dodgers were the first team to integrate. www.theoldstonehouse.org
The Brooklyn Historical Society is the only history museum in the borough. It has an outstanding collection of maps, artifacts and documents that interpret the borough’s history. Current exhibitions include “Inventing Brooklyn: People, Places, Progress” and “An American Family Grows in Brooklyn: The Lefferts Family Papers.” www.brooklynhistory.org
King County was a significant site in the abolitionist history of New York and Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Church gained fame as the Underground Railroad’s “Grand Central Depot”. Freedom seekers were brought from Manhattan to Plymouth Church. Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a radical abolitionist and the first minister of Plymouth in 1847. His sermons were dramatic, including mock auctions where attendees bid for the slave’s freedom, and well attended. Notables who visited were Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman. www.plymouthchurch.org
Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and completed in 1867. The 585-acre park, the borough’s largest, contains trails, waterfalls, a lake, historic sites and the remains of Montgomery Clift interred in Friends Quaker Cemetery. www.prospectpark.org
Lefferts Historic House Museum has been situated in the park since relocated in 1918. Peter Lefferts built the Georgian house in 1783 to replace an earlier structure destroyed by the British. Of interest are the two-tiered gambrel roof and the unique mixture of Georgian and vernacular Dutch farmhouse architecture. According to family papers the Lefferts owned a large number of slaves and actively engaged in the slave trade. The museum interprets the colonial Dutch lifestyle.
The 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden is more than 100-years old. The gardens feature more than 10,000 plants, 13 gardens, special plant collections, a restaurant and gift shop. www.bbg.org
PHOTO: Brooklyn Museum
More than 1.5-million objects are housed in the 560,000-sq. ft. Brooklyn Museum. The collection began in 1846 but the current Beaux-Arts building dates from 1895. Two wings flank the structure’s façade adorned with a pediment and grand columns. The museum’s Egyptian collection is internationally famous as is its sub-Saharan African collection. In the South Gallery on the 1st floor 200 works comprise the museum’s “African Innovations” exhibition. The chronological installation presents 2,500-years of artistic creativity. www.brooklynmuseum.org
Before it was Fort Greene Park the area was the site of the 1776 Fort Putnam administered by General Nathaniel Greene. During the War of 1812 the fort was renamed Greene. The city claimed the land as a public park in 1845 and in 1850 work was begun. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the landscape in 1867.
One of New York City’s most impressive memorials, the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument was created by Stanford White to memorialize the 11,500 Americans who died aboard eleven British prison ships. They would have been released if they agreed to swear allegiance to the king but they refused. More people died on the prison ships than in the war. The monument has a 100-ft. wide staircase that leads to a 143-ft. tall Doric column topped by a bronze urn. The remains of the martyrs are buried in a 25-ft. by 11-ft. crypt beneath the park making it the largest Revolutionary War cemetery in the country. The monument was dedicated in 1908. www.prisonshipmartyrs.com
The most iconic symbol in all of Kings County is the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge’s first designer was John Roebling but early on he injured his foot and died of an infection. His son Washington took over and shortly after construction began he became paralyzed as a result of decompression sickness. At this point his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, took over as his assistant to oversee the bridge’s construction. It opened after 13 years of construction on May 24, 1883. The suspension bridge spans 5989-ft., weighs 14,680-tons, is made of granite and steel and cost $18-million. People doubted the stability of the bridge so on May 17, 1884 P. T. Barnum led a parade of 21 elephants and 17 camels across the bridge. The march included Jumbo, Barnum’s huge African elephant, as the pièce de résistance.
If you decide to stay over to soak up Brooklyn’s nightlife the boutique Hotel BPM is an excellent choice. The hotel, founded by BIJAL, a Sirius Satellite Radio hip-hop deejay, opened in September of 2012. The name is taken from the music term “beats per minute.” Guest rooms take it to another level with “Sound Sleeper” mattresses, designer linens, rainfall showers and 37-inch LED televisions and complimentary hot breakfast. In homage to the music theme guests who make reservations online can request a special song be played at check-in and deejays spin live music every Friday and Saturday evening in the lobby. Only in Brooklyn! www.hotelbpm.com
Brooklyn can be reached a variety of ways but the easiest, most comprehensive and cost effective way to see Brooklyn is to take CitySights NY’s double-decker hop on/hop off Brooklyn Tour. Visitors board the bus in downtown Manhattan, cross the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn and visit the significant sites and attractions. You have the option to simply ride the loop or get off and spend time at the locations of your choice. Tours are fully narrated and there are photo stops at the best vantage points. A complete loop is 1.5-hours and is offered in 11 languages. www.citysightsny.com
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises allows you to see some of Brooklyn and important Manhattan sites from the water on their five narrated cruise selections, the Full Island Cruise, Harbor Lights, a Semi-Circle Cruise, a Liberty Cruise or a thrilling, jet-powered outing aboard The Beast. www.circleline42.com
A tour of Brooklyn can be coupled with a trip to Manhattan and no matter how often you visit there are always new things to do.
The Jekyll and Hyde Club opened its mid-town Manhattan location in January to the delight of explorers everywhere. The tri-level restaurant replicates an English club complete with chandeliers, overstuffed leather chairs, dark woods and trophy and portrait lined walls. Characters move about the room and mini-shows are presented on a rotating basis. Two of the signature dishes are the Memphis Burger and the calamari. There is an entertainment charge. wwwjekyllandhydeclub.com
“Kinky Boots,” winner of six Tony Awards, is justifiably the hottest play on Broadway. The musical was adapted from a 2005 movie by the same name with a score by Cindy Lauper and award-winning choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Billy Porter won Best Leading Man in a Musical for his portrayal of Lola, a fierce black drag queen. This is the must-see of the year for the music, the performances and the message. The musical, like Lola, defies your expectations. www.kinkybootsthemusical.com
Barbara Streisand, Spike Lee, Jay-Z, Truman Capote, Woody Allen, Walt Whitman, Al Capone and Richard Wright all lived in Brooklyn. You might not get to live there but visiting just got easier. “Brooklyn, Believe the Hype.” www.visitbrooklyn.org
I wish you smooth travels!
Don’t miss Baltimore’s annual African American Festival held at M&T Bank Stadium on July 6–7, 2013. The festival is free and includes crafts, history, music and family fun. Fantasia will rock the festival on July 6 followed by Philly’s own Patti LaBelle on July 7th. www.africanamericanfestival.net