READ THIS INTERESTING HISTORY OF OUR PART OF
BROOKLYN AND ITS EXPLANATION OF THE NAMES OF THE STREETS IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD
(first printed in an anniversary booklet from St. Mary's Church, Maujer Street,
in the year 1978):
Before pursuing the story of the parish [of St. Mary's] growth, a glance at the earlier history
of the area would provide an instructive context within which to review that
growth. Brooklyn originally consisted of six towns of which Flatlands was the
first settled in 1624 by the Dutch. In the following year, Flatbush began to be
settled; then Brooklyn (Dutch Breuckelen - “Broken Land”) in 1636. In 1638
Bushwick saw its first farming families. The vast Bushwick acreage included
present-day Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Dutch family names are commemorated in
many local street names: Meserole, Calyer, Skillman, Devoe, Powers, Scholes,
Remsen, Conselyea, McKibbin and Nichols. Even in the early days the rich ethnic
mix of the area is attested to by many family names from Scandanavia, Iceland,
Flanders, France, Italy (A Cesare Family), Portugal, Spain, England, Scotland
and Ireland. Indians and half-breeds were also settled and some Negroes. The New
Utrecht, another Dutch settlement, began in 1642, and Gravesend (Coney Island),
the only English Settlement in 1643.
It was the Dutch West India Company that administered the affairs of
the Dutch colony, called “New Amsterdam”, first explored by Henry Hudson
in 1609. Basically fur traders, the company also purchased land for
farming settlers. It was thus on August 1, 1638 that the whole area
which they called “Boswick” (“Place of the Deep Woods”) was purchased
from the Indians for 8 fathoms of duffels, 8 fathoms of wampum, 12
kettles, 8 adzs, 8 axes, some knives, beads and awl blades. In 1660 the
first hamlet was laid out, centering on present day Woodpoint Road and
Conselyea Street. A Dutch Reformed Church was erected at what in now
North 2nd and Humboldt Street. It was at that time (March 14, 1661) that
Governor Peter Stuyvesant gave the tiny village its name. Heavy forests
were cleared for farming. The area grew slowly. A second village grew
around Flushing and Bushwick Avenue, and a third, the nucleus of
Williamsburg, between Bushwick Creek and South 4th Street.
after the American Revolution, Williamsburg became a focal point of intense
activity by land developers. In 1892 Richard M. Woodhull, a New York City
merchant, bought considerable tracts of land, hoping to attract settlers from
across the river. He envisioned it as a comfortable residential suburb. He hired
Colonel Jonathan Williams, a grand nephew of Benjamin Franklin, to survey the
land and lay out city lots for homes. So impressed was Woodhull with the survey,
that he named the area “Williamsburgh” after the surveyor. The “H” in the name
was dropped years later. Woodhull provided a small ferry from Grand Street in
New York City to North 2nd Street in Williamsburgh. Access to the ferry on
either side of the river was very poor, however, so the proposed development
came to grief and Woodhull went bankrupt.
The shrewd Stuyvesant had selected the Bushwick site on an Indian road that
faced his farm across the river in lower Manhattan. Bushwick was thus a first
line of defense for his farm against Indian attacks. The Dutch Farms were laid
out in long, narrow strips, so that each farmer would have immediate access to
water and transport of his produce. The early settlers used a “Kiekow”
(lookout), a small tongue of land jetting out from the foot of North 4th Street
as a place to watch for Indians. A Blockhouse was erected on this bluff and used
as a place of worship and also as a refuge against Indian attacks. Jan (or Jean)
Mesrol was the original owner of the river farm on which the “lookout” Stood. He
had come with his wife and child in 1663 from Picardy on the speedy ship, “The
Spotted Cow”. Early settlers like the Meseroles (a variant spelling) had to
suffer not only from Indians, but from floods and famine as well. English
colonists from Connecticut and eastern Long Island often mounted raids on the
Dutch, seeking to extend British crown territory. The English did finally
capture all of “New Amsterdam” in 1664. The Dutch regained their colony for a
brief period but lost it again in 1674. The peace treaty gave them Surinam in
exchange for New Amsterdam. The English would in turn lose “New York” (the new
name they gave the colony) in the American Revolution a hundred years later. The
part of Bushwick that became Williamsburg was called by the Dutch “Bushwick
Shore” or simply “The Strand.”
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The Woodhull bankruptcy in 1811 saw his ferry line pass by a sheriff’s sale of
his assets to the Roosevelt family, Woodhull had purchased his 15 acres from a
Charles Titus. A new realtor now appeared on the scene in the person of Thomas
Morrell from Newtown. The Titus homestead became the “Fountain Inn” a focal
point of local political discussion. Morrell purchased another 28 acres from
Folkert Titus, extending from North 2nd Street to South 1st Street along the
river. He gave the development a new name “Yorktown” (after the Virginia city
where General Cornwallis had surrendered to General Washington to end the
Revolutionary War). He built another ferry. Like Woodhull, however, Morrell also
experienced failure, because the farmers would not permit passage to the ferry
through their farms along the shore. The lack of direct roads made it necessary
for farmers from Wallabout and other areas to take long and roundabout routes to
get to “Yorktown”. It is hard for us to picture the difficulty in our day. In
those times roads were few large tracts of woodlands made wagon traffic
impossible in many areas. Ready access to water was essential to reach the
Manhattan market, ill very much the center of activities.
These frustrations to progress were eventually dealt with, as political strength
gradually emerged and the original six hamlets grew closer together and finally
merged into the one city of Brooklyn in 1855. In 1827 the village of
Williamsburgh was incorporated. Since the name “Williamsburgh” antedated
“Yorktown”, that name generally came to be the popular designation for the
Woodhull and Morrell Development. The establishment of a large distillery in
1819 (later the site of the Schaefer brewery) gave the first real impetus to
local growth. Noah Waterbury established this plant at the foot of South 2nd
Street. He was born in 1789 at Croton, Connecticut, came to Brooklyn in 1807 and
to Williamsburgh in 1819. Seven hundred fifty nine (759) people lived here then.
So important was the distillery to the area that he was called the “Father of
Williamsburgh.” Docks, warehouses, rope- walks (long rectangular factories where
rope was spun by hand), shipyards, iron foundries, hat factories and the largest
glue factory in the nation soon dotted the community. The forest soon
disappeared, and so did the famous Ailanthus tree, imported from China in the
1840’s; that tree flourished in the swampy, low-lying areas of Williamsburgh and
was popular because of its supposed powers to dispel diseases arising from swamp
vapors. This tree gave the title to Betty Smith’s novel about Williamsburg “A
Tree Grows In Brooklyn.”ln 1835, the first local newspaper appeared: “The
Williamsburgh Gazette.” In that same year, nine trustees were elected to govern
the village. The commercial enterprises guaranteed success for the realtors who
began building homes to accommodate them. The growth, though, became intense
only when the Williamsburgh Bridge was opened in 1903. Up to that time the area
boasted many impressive and fashionable hotels and elegant brownstones. Owners
of the new businesses lived there and enjoyed splendid vistas of the New York
In 1843 Williamsburgh became a “town” distinct from Bushwick. That year saw a
period of financial collapse, due to the inflation resulting from wild real
estate speculation. Confidence was restored in 1845 when newer ferries were
built to guarantee transport. By then the population had grown from 759 (18 19)
to 934 (1820) to 11,000 people, enough to warrant the establishment of a bank in
1851 by Samuel Meeker in the basement of the “Universal Church” at Bedford and
South 3rd Street In that same year Willamsburgh became an incorporated city
Meeker drew up the city charter. In 1854 Bushwick and Williamsburgh were
consolidated to form the “Eastern District”. In 1855 these became part of the
City of Brooklyn and it was from this time that Williamsburgh was spelled
Williamsburg. In 1889 the Greater City of New York was formed, consisting of the
present five boroughs. Go
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ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE
Almost all the streets within the present parish boundaries [of St. Mary’s] are
now name streets and all of them give some clue to its historic past.
Originally, though, most had just numbers. It is surprising that the names of
Woodhull and Morrell, the realtors who first had official surveys made for
street locations, are not remembered by a single street sign commemorating their
contributions to the area. Nor is there a street named for any member of the
Titus family, wealthy Dutch farmers in the early period. Most of the streets
were not actually immediately laid out from those early surveyors maps drawn up
in the period 1792-1835. Grand Street was one that was actually laid out,
however, and named after the Grand Street in Manhattan, where the first ferry
terminated, allowing farmers to bring produce there. From 1835 through the 1850,
the surveyors’ plans were carried out by city engineers who laid out the
streets, initially only dirt roads, which were later gradually paved.
1) Maujer Street was originally called Remsen Street,
after Abraham Remsen, a farmer whose property began at what is now the junction
of Maujer and Union Avenue. The lower portion was once also called Manhattan
Street. On 1835 maps, it went from South 1st Street to Bushwick Avenue. In 1869
it was extended to Morgan Avenue. On April 30, 1937 the name was changed to
Maujer Street for Daniel Maujer, Esq., and alderman in the old 15th Ward. He
owned land at the junction of Remsen and Union. The change was made to avoid
confusion with the downtown Brooklyn’s Remsen Street. The old Union Cemetery
once occupied the area bounded by Maujer, Stagg, Leonard and Lorimer Streets.
2) Bushwick Avenue (Eastern Parish Boundary) in the oldest street
in all of Bushwick, dating back to the earliest Dutch occupation. Peter
Stuyvesant named it on March 14, 1661. The name is generally said to mean “Place
Of the Woods”. The area was dense with forests, thickets, scrub oaks, logs and
low land. British soldiers used a great deal of the wood for fuel.
3) Rodney Street dates from 1835 and honors Cesar Rodney, a
general in the Revolutionary War and a signer of the Declaration of
4) Keap Street, like Rodney, is on 1835 maps. The land for both
streets was formally deeded to the city in 1858. It was actually named for
another signer of the Declaration, Thomas McKean; the name was erroneously
transcribed as “Keap” and never corrected.
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5) Hooper Street (maps 1835, land deeded 1852) is named for
William Hooper, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
6) Hewes Street, originally a farm lane (1810) on General Jeremiah
Johnson’s farm, was named in 1835 for Joseph Hewes, a signer of the Declaration
of Independence. He also headed the naval committee for the 13 colonies.
7) Union Avenue in 1835 went from Withers Street to South 6th
Street. The first sections were opened on September 8, 1861. It was so named
because in 1835 it “united” Williamsburgh and Bushwick, which until then had
been separate villages.
8) Lorimer Street recalls the middle name of John and James Graham
(after whom Graham Avenue is named), two famous land-jobbers, active in 1836
selling building lots in the area. The street was originally called Gwinette
Street, after Button Gwinett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In
1835 it extended from South 6th Street to Greenpoint and was extended north to
Noble Street in 1868. The name was changed on April 23, 1901.
9) Leonard Street (formerly the name in 1835 of present-day
Lorraine Street in Red Hook) is one of the more recent streets in the area. It
was opened from Broadway to Greenpoint Avenue on October 4, 1852.
10) Manhattan Avenue (“manah”, island and “atin”, hill) has, since
May 24, 1897 been the name of the street originally called Ewen Street (1835).
Daniel Ewen was a surveyor of the old and new village of Williamsburg. Ewen
Street stretched from North 6th Street to Greenpoint line. The section from
Greenpoint Avenue to Newtown Creek was formerly Union Avenue, and a section
between South 5th Street and Java Street was once called Hill Road, and another;
piece “Union Place” and in 1867 another stretch was called Orchard Street: It
was called Manhattan after the borough across the river.
11) Graham Avenue was named in 1835 for John and James Lorimer
Graham, very successful agents for local realtors selling building lots. In
those days such agents were called “land-jobbers.”
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12) Humboldt Street (originally 1835 Wyckoff Avenue and later,
Smith Street and Smith Avenue) was paved and opened in 1851 from Flushing Avenue
to Greenpoint Line. It was renamed somewhere between 1869-1890 to honor
Alexander Humboldt (1769-1859), the German explorer of the Orinoco and Amazon
rivers (in 1799-1804) and the founder of geophysics.
The Parish Streets running East-West are shorter and will generally be of later
date than the North-South streets, though not in every case. Our survey begins
with the southernmost and works north.
13) Debovoise Street commemorated Charles Debevoise, a villager
who lived on Flushing Avenue. Opened in 1852, it was earlier known as Banzett
Street. Debevoise was a descendant of Carl De Devoise (the name means “Beautiful
Road”), the first schoolmaster in the area.
14) Cook Street recalls an old resident family whose farm home was
located at the “crossroads” of Flushing and Bushwick Avenue”
15) Varet Street opened in 1883, is named for Lewis I. Varette, a
land speculator in the area.
16) Moore Street recalls Thomas C. Moore, who owned land in the
area, a manufacturer of wire sieves and netting was opened in 1852.
17) Siegel Street (once called Marshall Street) in named for Major
General Franz Siegel (1824-1902) of the Civil War Union Army. The street was
opened in 1852 from Broadway to Bushwick. Siegel had been born in Germany, came
to this country and played an important role in engaging the sympathies of
German immigrants to the Union cause. His military skill helped save St. Louis
from the Confederates. He was later a customs agent and an editor of the “New
York Monthly”. A commemorative statue was erected in 1901 on Riverside Drive in
New York City. Go
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18) McKibbin Street was opened in 1853 from Broadway to Bushwick.
Part of the Jacob Boerum farm, it was purchased by John McKibbin and a certain
Nichols (his partner). They built homes for German settlers. The area was
therefore called “Dutchtown.”
19) Montrose Avenue was opened in 1850 in what was by then already
known as the “German
Quarter” (as the section bounded by Bushwick, Metropolitan, Meeker and Union
Avenues was called “Irish Town”) Originally opened from Union to Bushwick
Avenue, Montrose was extended in 1906. The origin of the name is not known.
20) Meserole Street (spelled originally Messerole) was laid out in
1835 through Abraham Messerole’s farm, from Union Avenue to Bushwick Avenue. In
1948 it was extended to Seneca Avenue.
21) Scholes Street (1835) recalls the family of James Scholes,
land owners in the area. He purchased the Jeremiah Remson farm in 1831. Paved in
1850, it was extended from Bushwick Avenue to the county line in 1904.
22) Stagg Street: The origin of the name is not clear. Possibly it
honors Peter Stagg, one of the commissioners who laid out the streets in 1835.
Opened in 1853, it extended from Union Avenue to Bushwick Avenue and was
extended, along with Scholes, in 1904 to the borough line.
23) Ten Eyck Street, formerly Wyckoff Street, was opened in 1852.
In 1904 it stretched from Union Avenue to Newtown Creek. It recalls Richard Ten
Eyck, one of the 44 men whose wealth in 1847 was estimated to exceed $10,000, a
very large sum in those days.
24) Maujer Street (formerly Remsen) has already been described.
When the name was changed, Daniel Maujer represented the area’s 15th Ward as
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25) Grand Street dates from 1835, and like its Manhattan
counterpart, suggests the “grandeur” of the many shops lining either side of the
street. The Lower section had been called Washington and then Dunham street. As
early as 1812 a section ran thru the Morreil farm. In 1836 it was extended thru
the Conselyea farm and in 1855 from Bushwick Avenue to Metropolitan.
26) Powers Street (1835) is named after William E. Powers, a
zealous clerk in the realty office of the Graham Brothers (after whom Graham
avenue was named). Powers was designated the nominal proprietor of vast acres
for convenience in arranging sales; the profits went to others, but work detail
was his responsibility.
27) Ainslie Street (1835) honors Justice James Ainslie, a member
of the Board of Trustees (1828-36) of Williamsburg. It was officially opened and
paved in 1850 along with Devoe.
28) Devoe Street (1835) recalls the Devoe family of old Bushwick
Village. It was formerly opened in 1850. The Devoe family owned the land near
south side of North 2nd, but lived in Bushwick. (The street if not named after
the Frederick Devoe family, which did have a farm along the East River shore).
29) The Number Streets (South 5th to North 3rd). When Richard
Woodhull had the area surveyed in 1792 (he had purchased 12 acres), he simply
gave the streets numbers, except for Grand Street and a lane along the
waterfront which he called “Water Street” and another East River street called
“River Street” (now under water). Grand Street divided the north and south
numbered streets (1828). North 2nd Street was once part of the old Jamaica
Turnpike. In Woodhull’s time the north-numbered streets stopped on North 12th.
The south streets (from 1836) extended to South 11th Street, just at the line
dividing Brooklyn from Williamsburg. These numbered streets therefore count as
among the very oldest in the parish [of St. Mary's]. The north-south named streets were
similarly originally designated with numbers 1st, 2nd. etc. In 1885 the
north-south numbered streets were given names. (First Street is now Kent, Second
Street is now Wythe, and so on).
30) Metropolitan Avenue was originally called Bushwick Street,
Later Woodhull Street and then North 2nd. Eventually combined with the Jamaica
Turnpike and Williamsburg Turnpike it became Metropolitan Avenue.
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church
St. Mary's Church, formerly located at the corner of Leonard and Maujer Streets
(five blocks away from Most Holy Trinity
Church), was a
good neighbor to Most Holy Trinity for more than one hundred and fifty years. This
photo was taken in September of 2005. The two parishes merged
under the name "Most Holy Trinity--St. Mary" in September of 2007.
The excerpt printed above is from
a booklet printed during the one-hundredth and fiftieth anniversary of
The Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin
“St. Mary’s Maujer Street,” as the parish
was called until it merged with Most Holy Trinity in September of
2007, was Trinity's closest
neighboring Catholic church (just five blocks from door to door).
What is presented in the excerpt, thanks to St. Mary's,
includes an excellent history of our neighborhood, the area
now known as Williamsburg; it includes a great explanation of local street
Saint Mary's was located at 72 Maujer Street,
Brooklyn, New York
The last pastor was Rev. Alex G. Abugel
right is the cover of the anniversary book that was published in