The Interesting History of Brooklyn

Brooklyn residents are usually proud of their locality; the older ones reminisce about old school Brooklyn, while the younger generation might even prefer it to living in the upscale area of Manhattan. Today, one can walk down a street in this borough and hear all kinds of languages within a couple of minutes. There are several immigrants of Korean, Spanish, Creole, Chinese, or Arabic descent in this space, making it the most populous borough of New York City.

It’s also said that about one-seventh of Americans can trace their family roots back to Brooklyn at some point. The size and population of this borough mean that if it were an independent city, it would be the 4h largest in the whole of the United States. In fact, if the population continues to grow at the current rate, it might even become the third-largest by population, surpassing Chicago.

With over 2.3 million residents, Brooklyn also has a very interesting history. Its beginnings were quite humble, but we all see what it’s developed into these days. Let’s have a brief look at the rich history of this borough now:

The Beginning

The land that Brooklyn stands upon now was once the home of the Canarsie tribe, a Native American clan. These were people that farmed this land and also fished in the surrounding waters. However, Dutch colonists took over the land in the first half of the 1600s. For the next four centuries, these forests and general rural look of this area saw a lot of urbanization.

Dutch Colonies

By the middle of the 1600s, there were six Dutch towns in the Brooklyn area. These were Gravesen, New Amersfoort, Midwest, New Utrecht, Boswijck, and Breuckelen. As we can see by the name, Breuckelen was the old title of Brooklyn. The other towns have also morphed into modern areas, with Midwest being Flatbush in the present day. All of these towns were settled between 1645 and 1661.

In 1664, however, the English managed to conquer the Dutch colonies and take over Manhattan as well as Brooklyn. This made Brooklyn part of the New York colony instead of a city on its own. The six colonies of Brooklyn were renamed Kings County at the beginning of November 1683.

The Battle of Brooklyn

The Battle of Brooklyn took place in August 1776 and was among the first clashes between the British colonizers and the American in what is now called the Revolutionary War. This battle was also known as the Battle of Long Island, as Brooklyn technically shares the same landmass. George Washington positioned some trooped inside Brooklyn, with much fighting in neighborhoods such as Park Slope and Flatbush. These names were not around back then, but they will give us an idea of just where the fighting was going on.

The British did manage to defeat the Americans at that time, but the weather took a turn for the worst. As a result, many American soldiers were able to escape from Brooklyn and take refuge in Manhattan.

By 1783, New York was officially an American state even though the British controlled it during the Revolutionary War. After the treaty of Paris was signed, Americans were able to take over New York and its surrounding areas, including Brooklyn.

The Building of Landmarks

Brooklyn is also a city/borough that’s known for its famous landmarks. These were mostly built in the period from 1801-1883. In 1801, Americans saw the opening of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This is a huge industrial complex and shipyard within northwest Brooklyn. Its location is in Walkabout Bay on the East River, which is a semicircular bend of river opposite the Manhattan Corlears Hook.

In 1814, the service of a steamship called ‘Nassau’ stated between Manhattan and Brooklyn, on the Fulton Ferry route. This contributed to the burgeoning economy in Brooklyn, which officially became the City of Brooklyn in the year 1834. The tips to and fro were twelve minutes at the most, with a very predictable and safe passage. This also led to the development of Brooklyn Heights, which is dubbed ‘America’s First Suburb’ due to the ease with which residents could commute back and forth from Manhattan.

In 1838, the Green-Wood Cemetery came into being. It’s now known as a national historic landmark, being created in a period of rapid urbanization. Since the churches were becoming overcrowded, there was a need for a naturalistic kind of cemetery similar to the English manner. This cemetery was quite popular among the locals and visitors, being described as ‘a public park by default. It’s even said to be the inspiration behind Central Park in Manhattan, giving rise to a competition that led to the design of Central Park, along with Prospect Park in Brooklyn itself.

Around two decades later, in 1859, Americans saw the Brooklyn Academy of Music being formed. This is now a center for promoting avant-garde performances and an official not-for-profit corporation in the New York State.

Prospect Park opened its gates to the Brooklyn public in the year 1867 and is now the 2nd largest public park in Brooklyn. The largest is Marine Park. There are several landmarks and interesting structures within Prospect Park itself, with the main attractions including the Picnic House, Prospect Park Zoo, Concert Grove, and the only lake in Brooklyn. It was mainly designed as a scenic landmark for New York City and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Some of the largest zoos in the us are found here.

In 1882, the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most renowned landmarks of Brooklyn, was opened. This is a suspension bridge that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was the first fixed crossing on the East river and the longest suspension bridge in the whole world at the time of its construction. The original name for this crossing was the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, but the current shortened form was made official in 1915.

Since this bridge was opened, it has been one of the most major tourist attractions in the area. It’s also touted as one of the main icons of New York City, almost at par with the Statue of Liberty. There have been several performances and stunts on this bridge over the decades, along with many crimes, assaults, and suicides as well. This bridge is also designated as an official New York City landmark, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and a National Historic Landmark.

The Late 1800s

After the building and completion of these historic landmarks, Brooklyn kept on thriving and developing. 

We also saw the opening in the Brooklyn Museum in 1897. At the time of its opening, it was called the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.

One year later, Brooklyn merged with New York City, becoming one of the five boroughs. Many residents of Brooklyn opposed the merger for several reasons, including the loss of economic power as well as their civic identity. However, the merger still happened due to the powers in New York wanting to retain their status as the heart of commercial activity. Since Chicago was rapidly catching up with New York City, this was one of the major reasons why Brooklyn had to lose its independence

After the merger, the development of Brooklyn continued. Among other landmarks, there was also the opening of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, which was the first children’s museum in the world.

The Early 1900s

In the early part of the 1900s, Brooklyn saw the construction of several tunnels, bridges, and even a sports stadium. The Williamsburg Bridge was established in 1903 and is among the largest suspension bridges in the world.

In 1908, the first subway in Brooklyn began its operations. These first trains were again between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Manhattan Bridge was finished in 1909.

From 1929 to 1964, the Williamsburg Savings Bank was also completed. This was the first skyscraper of Brooklyn and also one of its tallest buildings. All these changes meant that the rural side of Brooklyn was gradually fading away completely.

After the War

Brooklyn saw many challenges to its vibrant landscape after World War II. The manufacturing industry was cut in half from 1954 to 1990, with the dockyards being abandoned. The Brooklyn Navy yard also closed in 1966.  The blackout of 1977 further complicated things, with arson and looting becoming rampant. In about a year, almost half of all retail and commercial operations in Brooklyn were out of business.

Despite all of these challenges, the second half of the twentieth century saw a revival of sorts. Affluent neighborhoods such as Fort Green, Clinton Hills, and Brooklyn Heights came into being. The Brooklyn Academy of Music also drew in the crowds from outside, while the Navy yard started developing into an industrial park.

With the rents in Manhattan rising rapidly, people soon began forming communities in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, etc. This led to the wonderfully diverse culture and various accents that we see and hear in modern-day Brooklyn.


The history of Brooklyn spans several centuries and has seen many changes in the place. Today, we know about the Brooklyn Bridge and how Brooklyn is turning into the hip new place for young folks. With an understanding of its past, we’ll be able to better understand how the place morphed into what it is today. This will also help us recognize the meaning behind the street names and generally appreciate these surroundings more.