Saturday, February 5, 2011

Red Hook, Reflections on History: Article #2 (b)

J. Burkard, Red Hook Area Historian, Brooklyn, New York

"The Hook' That's Not Red Hook: A Red Hook Anomaly"
(Continued from page: 1)

Atlantic Basin was Built on very shallow shoal water, and had to be dredged to accommodate the vessels it would be encountering. This phase of it was completed in 1842. When completed It was a 40 acre protective basin for ships, and the dredging soil was used to continue filling in the surrounding marshland of Red Hook.

Over at the breakwater meanwhile, Mr. William Beard and his partner Mr. Jeremiah Williams the movers behind this engineering marvel were also shrewd businessmen. Needing massive rocks and plenty of them for the breakwater, William Beard and Company would charge the shipping companies a fee to unload their ballast at the site of the breakwater under construction, and even had them do all the work. It didn’t take much convincing to have the owners agree to this since it was necessary to clear the ships holds of this ballast to facilitate the taking on of more cargo for the return trip home. No ballasts in the hold meant more cargo to sail home with.

So both the Atlantic basin, Col Daniel Richards, and the Breakwater (our hook that’s not Red Hook) Mess’s Beard and Williams, played a large part in shaping our waterfront as well as being responsible for creating the strong vibrant shipping industry which lasted for well over a hundred years in Red Hook while thrusting New York State into the leadership of this maritime phenomena for years to come. Did you take notice of the names? Col Richards (Richards St.) William Beard (Beard St.) Jeremiah Williams (Pioneer St. was formerly Williams St).

There’s a down side to this story however and certainly a lesson to be learned. Both of these great companies and others that followed, while they did create jobs for many people from all over the city, not just Red Hook. They failed to think about the community they operated out of. And Red Hook was left on its own with no help from these conglomerates, in fact at their mercy, to continue spiraling downward. Never able to reverse the trend.

Add the fact that these jobs were not permanent; they were called shapeup work which required the workers to stand outside the employment locality and be hand - picked by a hiring boss. Work depended on the frequency of the shipping or the need for the boats to be repaired, and sometimes whether the hiring boss was your friend (remember the movie “On the waterfront”?

Just as soon as the work was no longer in the ship repair yard, the job went away likewise. The increased shipping industry brought on by WW2 did create jobs aplenty for all until it was thankfully ended. But soon all of this activity was depleted, never to return again.

The lesson I speak of is the necessity of commercial in Red Hook or anywhere else to think outside the box. Think community and neighborhood. There’s more to a successful business than just the inside of the plant. Business and residential can exist side by side. But only if we recognize and respect each other’s right to exist and by taking an interest in improving the neighborhood where one has the privilege of operating the successful business. Fortunately this is beginning to happen. We can only hope and pray the positive trend will grow and continue. Meanwhile, remember, that hook on the map, is not Red Hook. But if you want to believe it is, well there’s really no harm in thinking that, is there? Till next month, the best to all of you.

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