Saturday, February 5, 2011

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

John J. Burkard, Red Hook historian Brooklyn, New York

"The Hook' That's Not Red Hook: A Red Hook Anomaly"

This is the story of two Hooks located in Red Hook Brooklyn. Both are equally important to Red Hook, but only one is the real McCoy. The other is entirely perception…..

A few days ago I was watching a couple, possibly tourists, examining a map of the Red Hook area and discussing the Hooks location while sitting on the bench outside “Baked” by the bus stop on Van Brunt Street. One was telling the other, “See, there’s Red Hook “I glanced at what the young lady was pointing to on her map. It was the hook shaped Erie Basin Breakwater which notoriously stands out on any map of Brooklyn.

So much so that anyone unfamiliar with our neighborhood can easily mistake the breakwater hook on the map as the reason for Red Hook’s name. You and I know of course (don’t you?) that the name Red Hook as it applies to our great little town, has nothing to do with the Breakwater Hook and originated long before this breakwater was ever constructed, and long before the settlers ever set foot on our shores.

The Breakwater itself however is an entirely different story. It is part of what made New York State excel in moving goods across the state, and across America. It was instrumental in bringing the shipping industry to a place called Erie Basin which was the terminus for all goods shipped through the famous Erie Canal.

The Erie Canal was a marvelous engineering feat whose construction began at Syracuse New York in 1850. It made its way across the State. And after connecting with the Hudson River, paddle wheelers and barges began to carry cargo due south ending in New York City and terminating in the Erie Basin right here in Red Hook.

Though the Erie Canal construction began around 1850, long before that date, enterprising businessmen were planning for the onslaught of massive shipping converging on Brooklyn, especially Red Hook. Which was to be the terminal in New York City? A Colonel Daniel Richards who owned a site on Cypress Tree Island fronting the Buttermilk Channel was preparing the beginning of his venture, construction of the Atlantic Basin.

The Island, also called Red Hook Island at the time was a fifty acre island separated from the mainland by a series of creeks and marshlands, and completely surrounded by water. This project started by Colonel Richards was destined to change the face of Red Hook forever, and establish the street grids as they presently exist.

The first major operation of the construction began around 1839-1840 and was to cut down the fifty acre mountain, fill in as much of the surrounding marshlands as possible with the removed earth. (So much for preserving the historic Fort Defiance which once stood upon this very same hill.) The rest of the lowlands, consisting of parts of Carrol Gardens were completed with soil from these projects in a similar fashion. Until all the marshland existed no more. Sadly, the native Indians had some very rich fertile hunting and fishing grounds taken away from them, and their lives were forever affected by the white man’s progress.

To be continued on Page: 2

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