New York Architecture Images-  Greenpoint Brooklyn

Greenpoint History

Sincere thanks to Frank J. Dmuchowski

Chapter One

The Discovery

One can only guess as to whether it was it’s high, pure white, sandy bluffed, shoreline offering a lofty position overlooking the river upstream from New Amsterdam, or it’s peninsular like shape, creased with many creeks and tributaries that first attracted him to this finger of land along the East River. Certainly, Captain Pieter Janse Wit, of the Dutch West Indian Company saw great value in this tract of land. Otherwise, why would he so ardently negotiate it’s purchase from the Keshaechqueren Indians in 1638, and then proudly write to the Dutch Governor, Pieter Stuyvestent, in 1660, “Fourteen Frenchmen with a Dutchman, Pieter Janse Wit their interpreter, have arrived here” (Felter, pp.17) in his petition to have this, and a larger parcel of land South and East declared the Township of Boswijck. Later, this territory would be known as Bushwick Township after the British took control from the Dutch.

Perhaps Captain Wit saw the tract for its possible military value. The River on the West, Maspeth Kill ( later known as Newtown Creek) on the North and East, and Norman's Creek (later known as Bushwick Creek) to the South surrounding it on three sides, and it’s great salt marsh, that on high tide became a small bay, did give it a highly defensible position. This finger of land was dubbed by ship navigators of the time as, Green Point. This was due to the high bluff and green lushness of the point of land that grew out of the bank and jutted a considerable distance into the river at approximately the foot of present day Freeman Street. From here an attacking force coming downstream could be readily observed and challenged before it reached New Amsterdam proper. And, in the case of an attack on this position itself, there weren’t very many places an enemy could easily, and surreptitiously, storm it by either water or land.

Or, could it be, Captain Wit had seen something else! Could it be he saw a place whose Jack Pine forest and meadows, and fresh water creeks would provide a good life for his small band of explorer/settlers. Since a military complex was never built there, although later it would play a military role, and since Captain Wit latter settled there himself, One must then conclude the latter. Captain Wit would come to play a important role in providing leadership and direction to the emerging community of settlers.

Thus, began the recorded history of Greenpoint. Of course, the European explorers were not the first to see the beauty and abundance of this land. The Indians, according to the accounts of Greenpoint’s earliest settlers, extensively used this area to hunt and fish. It’s briny marshes attracted an abundance of water fowl, pan fish and shell fish. And , according to Indian tradition, a mighty, primeval, forest of pines, oaks and aspens used to exist there, attracting deer and other game in abundance. However, due to some act of nature, probably a lightening storm, the mighty forest was replaced by bush-like Jack Pine and small Oaks that populated the land when the European explorers first landed there. In fact, for generations afterward, ancient Indian trails formed the basis of the roads, such as they were, that separated the early settlers of Green Point with the rest of the world.

The first Europeans to lay claim to this land were actually Huguenots. The Huguenots were French in origin who, a generation earlier, fled to the Netherlands in search of religious tolerance. However, the first to actually take up residence in the area that eventually became known as Green Point was not one of them. Instead it was the wily Dirck Volchertsen, referred to locally as “Dirck The Norman” because of his Scandinavian origin. He too apparently saw the great potential in this land. Dirck was a seagoing man, a ship’s carpenter by trade, who sailed from Scandinavia to the New World. Dirck was, also, well known in Governor Stuyvestant’s court. Court minutes show his name as both plaintiff and defendant in a number of proceedings. Although One would not have known at the time how important it was to Dirck, his most important victory came in 1644 when he challenged a certain Jan de Pree to title of a parcel of land in the Northern section of Boswijck Township. The Court ruled in his favor, thus Dirck obtained for himself a portion of the land he favored. A measure of Dirck’s personal interest in this land is evident by the fact that he built the first house in Green Point only a year later in 1645, and became its first recorded resident. Dirck built a one and one half story Dutch type farmhouse, typical of the period, overlooking the river on a spot roughly at the present intersection of Calyer and Franklin Streets. The creek which ran by his farmhouse and emptied into a great salt marsh to the East, became known as Norman Creek. Norman Creek has since been filled in, but the present day Norman Avenue still remains as a testament to Dirck and his family. Although a seafaring man, after settling in Green Point, Dirck gave up the sea to focus all his attention to agriculture. He cleared the land, planted his crops and his orchards, and raised his sheep and cattle to become a prosperous, well regarded, settler of the New World. Here he remained until his death in 1718. Upon his death, Dirck’s sons sold the land to seek out their own fortunes in the New World moving further into other parts of Brooklyn and New Jersey. Dirck must have imparted his pioneer vision and sense of leadership to his sons as it has been said of them, “..wherever they went they became men of affairs and influence”. (Felter, pp.19)

Captain Pieter Praa and other Huguenot families were not far behind old Dirck in settling in this land. Captain Praa established himself in Green Point, and, who like Dirck, gave himself over to an agricultural life. As Captain Praa had a military background, he was able to use these skills by playing an important leadership role in the new agricultural community that sprung up at Green Point. The Praa family would be influential in the affairs of Green Point for generations. It was here that Captain Praa and his ancestors would, for nearly 200 years, find an idyllic life fitting the name of Green Point.

The Praa’s and Volchertsen’s, together, with the Mesorole’s, Calyer’s, Provoost’s, and Bennet’s formed the core of settler farmer families that lived and flourished on the land consisting of Green Point. They and their ancestors would do so for almost 200 years. The fertile land provided enough to supply the needs of the families that toiled on the land, and an abundant excess to trade at nearby markets. Each family kept a large row boat on the river to transport their harvest to the markets downstream in the emerging cities of Williamsburg and Brooklyn, and across the river in New York. Thus, Green Point became a major agricultural center and breadbasket for the area. It’s grains, cereals, fruits, vegetables and livestock made it possible for others to take up other trades in the New World, and contributed to the overall success of the pioneer efforts of that era.

What did Green Point look like to those Dutch and French explorers? Figure 1, is a map of Green Point as it may have looked in 1638. The map is based on descriptions and locations provided by William L. Felter in, Historic Green Point , published by the Green Point Savings Bank in 1918 commemorating its 50th Anniversary. From the East River imagine standing at the foot of present day East 23rd Street in Manhattan looking across the river at the opposite shoreline. Now interpose a view of the North Shore of Long Island around, for example, Northport or Port Jefferson, with its high banked headland, and white sand beaches. If you then launched a boat into the river, crossing it to enter the mouth of Newtown Creek, known at the time as Maspeth Kill, and sailing East you would pass by high banks until around the foot of present day Manhattan Avenue. From here the banks diminished in height into a great salt marsh that extended East and South toward Maspeth Creek to a point just south of the present day Greenpoint Avenue bridge. The marsh, now filled in many years ago, was known as the Back Meadows. Inland from its boundaries on the Kill, it formed an irregular triangle whose apex was roughly at the intersection of present day Driggs Avenue and Humbolt Street. Continuing our journey South along Maspeth Kill, once passing Back Meadow, the bank rose again and continued past the point of the old Penny Bridge, just south of the present day Meeker Avenue and Kosciusko Bridge.

Now, let’s change course by turning around and going back up the Creek to the river. Once on the river, let’s sail south along the high banks of the shoreline towards New Amsterdam at the Southern tip of Manhattan Island. Just South of the confluence of Maspeth Kill and the river, we must be careful as not to run aground on Green Point. For as Felter wrote in 1918, “Near where the foot of Freeman Street now lies, a point of land jutted abruptly beyond the shoreline into the river for a considerable distance.” (Felter, pp.14) This point of land, covered with green grass, was a favorite landmark used by the sailors in those days to safely navigate the river, which they dubbed, “Green Point”. Once safely around Green Point, we continue South until we see what appears, on high tide, to be a small bay extending inland for some distance East, South East to a point that takes in all of the present day McCarren Park. However, on low tide we would, instead, see the mouth of the channel of Norman’s Kill, later known as Bushwick Kill that cut a path down the middle of the sedge and marsh grass of the salt marsh. All that remains to this day is what is known as Bushwick Inlet, a small inlet from the river terminating at the intersections of Quay Street and Franklin Avenue. During the course of our journey we would have noticed the crystal clear water of the river and creeks and would have seen the abundance of both finned and shell fish. More than likely we would have stopped somewhere to enjoy a seafood shore lunch. Although originally used to describe the point of land jutting out into the river, Green Point was to come to describe the entire peninsular extending from Maspeth Kill (Newtown Creek) to the North and East and Norman’s Kill (Bushwick Creek) to the south.

Continuing our journey, we sail into the mouth of Norman’s Kill and follow its deep channel inland, through the salt marsh and into the woods, until the channel narrows and becomes shallow. However, before we run out of navigable water, we notice a small clearing on the creek’s bank and land our boat at a spot approximately where present day Guernsey Street and Driggs Avenue intersect. Now, on shore, and walking into the woods, we would come upon one of the ancient Indian trails in the area. This trail, heading East formed an upland bridge between the marshlands of Norman’s Creek to the West and the Back Meadow in the East. The trail followed a path roughly along present day Driggs Avenue to the intersection of where Humbolt Street currently lies. Later the settlers would name the clearing on the Kill, Wood Point Landing, and the path as Wood Point Road, Green Point’s sole public highway until 1838. Walking East on the path, and just before we reached the apex of the Back Meadow, we would come upon the intersection of another path that ran from Southeast to Northwest toward the confluence of the river and Maspeth Kill. Later this path would be used by the settler farmers in the Northern end of Green Point as a farm path, with gates in between the individual farms in order to reach Wood Point Road, and points beyond. Later still, the path on its northern end would become Green Point’s first business district, Franklin Avenue, and the “main street” of the emerging village of Green Point. Upon reaching this intersection, we would have nearly traversed the entire circumference of Green Point.

It was in this environment that Dirck Volchertsen, Captain Pieter Praa, and the Dutch settlers that followed, would build their homes, raise their children, and begin the agricultural phase of Greenpoint’s history.


Chapter Two

Agricultural Phase - 1645 to 1830

The Ground Breakers

The first European to settle in Green Point was Dirck Volckertsen, known as Dirck the Norman. Dirck the Norman was a ship’s carpenter who came to the New World from Scandinavia. He was granted a patent in 1645 by the Dutch Governor as an outcome of the case, Jan de Pree vs. Dirck the Norman. This patent included all the land between Maspeth Kill (Newtown Creek), Bushwick Creek and the Back Meadow. Essentially, this patent encompassed most of the entire area of present-day Greenpoint. A year later in 1646, Dirck the Norman, built his house on a knoll near the northern branch of Bushwick Creek, known in his day and long afterwards as Norman’s Creek or Kill. According to Felter, Dirck’s house was west of the present day intersection of Calyer and Franklin Streets (Felter, pp. 18). Armbruster tells us that Dirck’s house had a view of the river to the west. Felter also tells us the site was carefully laid out with lawns that “..sloped gently in front to Norman’s kill on the south, and gradually to the East River on the west.”(Felter, pp.18)

Dirck built his house along the lines of the Dutch style. Felter describes the house as constructed, “..of stone, one and a half stories in height, with dormer windows... ” It also had, “..old Dutch doors, studded with glass eyes, and brass knockers.” (Felter, pp. 18). As was common for houses located outside the Stockade at New Amsterdam, Dirck no doubt, had to fortify his house against occasional Indian attacks. The Indians became hostile toward the European settlers as a result of some unspecified crimes committed against them by William Keith, a Dutch Governor. Although the Indian War (1631-1645) had ended, there was still the danger of an occasional Indian raid. To defend himself, Dirck’s house more than likely sported two gun holes in the house’s wall, just under the porch. Thus, he and his family could fend off an attack with their muskets safely behind the house’s stone wall.

As is the case with most of the North Shore of Long Island, Green Point’s terrain and soil was affected by the retreating glaciers at the end of the Ice Age. The terrain was hilly and moraine-like with no shortage of glacial rocks. As any New England or Upstate New York farmer will tell you, clearing this kind of land is very hard work. To prepare this type of ground for planting, first the trees need to be cleared, an arduous task in and of itself. Once the tress and stumps are cleared, then the soil must be cleared of the rocks of all sizes deposited by the retreat of the glaciers so the soil can be tilled for planting. Fortunately, this process also provided an abundant source of building material to construct houses and barns, and to fashion stone fences to contain their horses and other farm animals. As was the custom of the time, Dirck was a slave owner. He and other pre-Colonial and Colonial families had slaves to help them in clearing and tilling the land. The historical record indicates that these settler families were kindly in their treatment of their slaves. So much so, that when slavery was abolished in New York State in 1824, these slaves, now free, choose to stay with the families of their former masters.

And so, for eight years Dirck and his household tended to and nurtured the land of Green Point as its sole owner and inhabitant. In 1653, Dirck sold the northern portion of his holding to Jacob Hay. He sold 65 acres of land to Hay running along a line from the River at the north end of present day Franklin Street, northeast to approximately the northwest corner of where St. Anthony’s Church (Manhattan and Milton Street) now stands, then east to the Back Meadow whose western border roughly ran along present day McGuinness Blvd. The historical record seems to suggest that Hay himself never established a farm nor lived in Green Point. However, the land was inherited in 1693 by Christina Cappoens, whose mother was Maria Cappoens, Jacob Hay’s widow who had remarried after Hay’s death. Christina married, Captain Pieter Praa, a Captain in the Militia and of Huguenot extraction. Shortly thereafter, they established a farm and built a house on a site located near the edge of the Back Meadow near present day Freeman Street and McGuinness Blvd. Pieter Praa played a significant role in the early days of Green Point and the greater Bushwick Township as a magistrate and an influential local and provincial politician. He was described as a “..magnificent horseman and a genuine sportsman”. (Felton, pp. 20).

Praa expanded his land holdings in 1687 when he purchased from Anneke Jan Bogardus of New Amsterdam approximately 130 acres of land at the opposite side of the mouth of the Maspeth Creek known in that day as Dominie’s Hoek. Later it would come to be known as Hunter’s Point and then as Long Island City. (Felter, pp. 22). The Praa’s also owned some 40,000 acres of New Jersey, that was apparently purchased for speculation purposes. Then in 1718, Praa purchased the remainder of Dirck the Norman’s land from his sons.

In 1681, Joost Durie (George Duryea) settled the land south of the Back Meadow and built his house near the foot of present day Meeker Avenue on the banks of the then Maspeth Kill (today’s Newton Creek). This farm was in a section of land whose ownership was disputed between Newtown and Bushwick Township. Joost also built his house in the Dutch style. This house was still standing in 1918! Felter included a photograph in his book (Felter, pp.21). This house, known for a time as the Duryea House, was refurbished in 1838 and was used as the toll house for the toll bridge built by the Newton and Bushwick Turnpike Company, known as the Penny Bridge. The toll was only a penny, hence its name. The Duryea family lived and farmed here for more than a century.

South of the apex of the Back Meadow and Wood Point Road, Captain Pieter Janse Wit settled and farmed the land. His farm included present day Monsignor McGoldrick park, better known to Greenpointer’s by its original name, Winthrop park.

These then, were the New World founders of Green Point. Their success at taming and tilling the land ensured a firm foundation for the future of Green Point. They were able to demonstrate that the land was not only inhabitable, but that it also provided a hospitable and thriving environment in which to live.

The Roots of Community Development

Large families was the custom of the times. As these first settler’s families grew and thrived on the land, their children established families and farmed Green Point as well. Pieter and Christina Praa had four children, all daughters. To his dismay Captain Praa did not have any sons to carry on the Praa name. However, through his daughter’s his numerous progeny have taken prominent positions in Greenpoint’s history. On the other hand Dirck and his wife had 10 children and several sons. However, Dirck's influence in Green Point would not survive much beyond his own life. Captain Praa died in 1740 as the owner of most of modern day Greenpoint. For 56 years, Captain Praa made Green Point his home inspite of land holdings elsewhere. Here he prepared the way for his children and grandchildren to continue his devotion to his beloved Green Point. By the time of the Revolutionary war (1775-1783), the entire population of Green Point consisted of five families: Abraham Meserole, son of Jan Meserole (who was married to one on Pieter Praa’s daughter’s , hence a grandson of Pieter Praa), and his family lived on the banks of the East River between the present day India and Java Streets; another son of Jan Meserole and grandson of Pieter Praa, Jacob Meserole and his family farmed the entire south end of Green Point and built a house near the Bushwick Creek meadows between present day Manhattan Avenue and Lorimer Street near Norman Avenue; Jacob Bennett, his wife Annetti (a daughter of Pieter Praa) and their family farmed the land in the northerly portion of Green Point and built their house near present day Clay Street roughly between present day Manhattan Avenue and Franklin Street; Jonathan Provoost, his wife Christina (also a daughter of Pieter Praa) and their family farmed the eastern portion of Green Point, and lived in the house built by Pieter Praa near the Back Meadow; finally, Jacobus Calyer and his wife Janitie, a daughter of Jan Meserole and granddaughter to Pieter Praa and their family farmed the western portion of Green Point, and lived in the house built by Dirck the Norman near the mouth of Bushwick Creek. These families formed the nucleus, and set the nature and character of the community and society that would come to flourish at Green Point

These families lived in relative seclusion from the rest of the world. Partly due to Green Point’s topographical and geographical aspects, the earliest Greenpointer’s were highly independent and self-sufficient. Since there was only one road, no market, store, church, or school, their contact with others was confined to occasional trips to these places out of necessity. The only public road in Green Point until 1838 was the Wood Point Road. The Wood Point Road, which followed an ancient Indian path, ran from Bushwick Landing located on Bushwick Kill near the present day intersection of Guernsey Street and Driggs Avenue on the west, and ran east approximately along the course of present day Driggs Avenue to the western edge of the Back Meadow near the present day intersection of Humbolt Street and Driggs Avenue. The only other means of communication with and among the farm families was to travel the farm paths that were formed among the farms. There was, however, a central farm lane that served as the main north to south passageway through Green Point. It too, followed the path of an ancient Indian trail. This path started in the north at a point just west of present day Freeman Street (near present day Manhattan Avenue). From there it meandered southeast to about the corner of present day Greenpoint Avenue and McGuinness Boulevard. Then, it roughly followed the edge of the Back Meadow along the course of present day McGuinness Boulevard to intersect with Wood Point and Bushwick Roads at present day Humbolt Street. This was an arduous trek that required One to open and close several gates of the fences that separated the farms. The closest church and store was located at Bushwick Village (approx. corner of present day Humbolt Street and Grand Avenue). To get there, One would have to travel to the Wood Point Road, then to and down the Bushwick Road that ran south through Bushwick Township. Therefore, under these conditions the folks at Green Point had to develop a strong interdependence to supply their immediate needs.

A ferry service between Greenpoint and New York was established at the Wood Point Landing in 1790. Before this, and unless you had your own boat on the river, the only way to get to New York was to travel down to Bushwick Shore (later in 1827 to become the city of Williamsburg) to take the ferry that was established there in the 1660’s. The Wood Point Road connected with the Bushwick Road that ran south following approximately the path of present day Humbolt Street to Bushwick Village. From here, it continued south over the hills through the Bushwick Crossroads (approx. corner of Bushwick and Flushing Avenues) and then west to Bedford Corners (approx. corner of Bedford and Flushing Avenues) where it joined with the Jamaica Turnpike leading to the riverfront. Fortunately, the Green Point families did not have to make this tedious journey. The families kept long boats and sail boats on the East River shore in order to make the trip to the New York markets where they would trade the grains, meats and vegetables they produced. This too, contributed to Green Point’s isolation, as there was very little need to travel to other areas of Long Island where communities such as Bushwick Village, Bushwick Shore and the City of Brooklyn were developing. However, Green Point was not totally isolated. Politically Green Point was part of Bushwick Township, so this required someone to represent Green Point’s interests in the affairs of the Township, and to travel to Bushwick Corners from time to time to attend Township meetings. Therefore, its geographical remoteness and inaccessibility allowed the families of Green Point to remain aloof and removed until the 1840’s. As a consequence, very little historical information about Greenpoint's earliest history is available other than the chronicles, journals, and diaries of the five descendant families of Captain Pieter Praa. Much of Felter's account of this period of Greenpoint's history was derived from these documents, and the oral history of the remaining decendent family members in 1918.

The Revolutionary War

Green Point as well as much of Long Island was the possession of the British throughout the Revolutionary War. As a result, whether real or feigned, it was expedient for the families of Green Point to remain loyal to the King. However, apparently there were some who may have had other notions. The record shows that John Meserole, son of Abraham Meserole, appears to have come under British suspicion as a revolutionary. This resulted in his being taken and imprisoned in a New York jail. Without any doubt, the British Army saw the strategic military advantages that Green Point’s topography and geography afforded. This is evident by the fact that British troops were encamped in Green Point during the war. However, it appears the relationship between the troops and the Green Point families was less than favorable. For Felter tells us, “Tradition reports that all the families suffered severely from the depredations of the British soldiers and their camp followers.” (Felter, pp.27) When the war was over, Green Point returned to it’s well ordered, secluded farm life well into more than a third of the ensuing century. In 1838 the first public highway was opened in Green Point that connected it with bridges across Newton and Bushwick Creek’s to the cities of Astoria to the North, and Williamsburg the South. This made it possible for the isolated little farming community to develop into a small town.

Chapter Three

Farm to Town - 1832 to 1855

From the first European settler house built by Dirck Volckertsen in 1645 to 1840, Green Point was a collection of farms devoted to agriculture. For two hundred years, first as part of a Dutch, then British colony, and finally the State of New York, Green Point was able to exist in relative isolation. However, two events inexorably and forever changed its course through history. The first was the completion of the first public road through Green Point the second was the coming of the shipbuilding trade. In this chapter we will look at these and other formative events that contributed to Green Point’s transformation from an idyllic agricultural community into a thriving bustling town. Both of these developments can be greatly attributed to the vision and tenacity of one man, Neziah Bliss.

Since the events leading to Green Point’s transformation are intertwined with those going on at the same time in other parts of Long Island and New York, we will pull the camera of inspection up high in order to obtain a more panoramic view of the historical landscape. Let’s start by focusing on what was going on to the west and across the river, in Manhattan.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, New York City, on Manhattan Island, had grown into the largest and most productive commercial and manufacturing center in the fledgling United States. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Each year, its success attracted thousands of new, mostly European immigrants seeking fortune and the good life. And with each year, the number was growing. Land for development was already scarce and expensive. It was evident to merchants and bankers that if this commercial success were to sustain itself and grow, more nearby land would be needed to build new factories and to house its workers. Many eyes turned east to Long Island.

Long Island contained a vast store of natural resources allowing for easy development. By the early 1800’s most of the suitable land of present-day Brooklyn and Queens was already under plow and cultivation. Further east on the island, additional farmland was continuing to be brought under production. In addition, the growth and advancement of the shipping and transportation industry made the greater New York area less dependent on local agriculture. Agricultural goods could easily be shipped to New York markets from the surrounding states. Thus, the farmland on Long Island’s immediate western edge was no longer critical to sustain life. The time had come to form a new vision of what this land could be used for.

City and town development was already taking place in western Long Island. The City of Brooklyn, incorporated in 1834 was already the nation’s second largest city, second only to New York City itself. It too was experiencing great commercial success and phenomenal growth. To Green Point’s immediate south, the City of Williamsburg, incorporated in 1836 was taking shape. To the immediate north, the City of Astoria was developing as well. As we will see these developments in particular had the most profound effect on Green Point.

The shipping and transportation industry was highly dependent on the waterways to move goods locally, as well as, for import/export. In addition, the United States military was developing its Navy into superpower proportions. There was a great need to build more ships and other maritime vessels. Caught up in this nexus of time and events, it was time for the sleepy little farming community to be startled and awakened to a new era. Neziah Bliss, visionary, inventor, shipbuilder, industrialist, gave Green Point its wakeup call.

Born in Hebron, Connecticut in 1790, Bliss, due to some set of circumstances early in life became a self-supporting, highly responsible and creative individual. He had a highly developed sense of initiative, resourcefulness, and vision for a young man. For the most part, he was a self-educated man who sought out the acquaintances of like-minded men. This led him to leave Connecticut around 1810 and head for New York where he could easily find many like-minded men. Here he met Robert Fulton whose work with steam engines as a means of propulsion, was making steam navigation a reality. Bliss caught Fulton’s vision, and along with his own resourcefulness led him to become a successful manufacturer of steam engines and steamboats.

In 1811, only a year after working with Fulton, Bliss organized a company in Philadelphia with Daniel French and built a steamboat. Quickly, he became a well known and sought out expert in the steam engine and steamboat building industry. This led him to Cincinnati in 1816. There with the backing of then General, soon to be President, William Henry Harrison, he continued his experiments with this technology and built a steamboat that plied the Mississippi River for many years. Through his travels in the west, Bliss continued to gain knowledge and skills in obtaining and using natural resources, in particular, iron and steel.

Bliss returned to New York in 1827. It was then that he capitalized on his vast and seasoned knowledge and skills by establishing the Novelty Iron Works at the foot of East 12th Street in Manhattan. His company became famous for its maritime engines. Most of the vessels built in the New York area had Novelty engines installed.

As a man of vision and a shrewd businessman, Bliss saw the need to encourage more shipbuilding. After all, the more ships built the more the need for his engines. It is no doubt, that the high banks of Green Point caught his imagination, as it had others before him. The slope of the banks and the white sandy beach made it perfect in Bliss’ eye for building boats. So, in 1832 Bliss and Dr. Eliphalet Nott, the then famous president of Union College, purchased 30 acres of riverfront land from John Meserole. A year later they purchased the Griffen farm. Apparently, Bliss found his eye on more than land during these transactions. Bliss married, Mary A. Meserole, the daughter of John A. Meserole. Thus by marriage, Bliss was incorporated into the five interrelated families of Green Point. Bliss continued to consolidate his Green Point land holdings by eventually purchasing all of the remaining land of the five families. He also purchased land across the Newtown Creek in what is present day Long Island City.

In 1834, Bliss’ plan finally took a more formal shape. At his own expense, he had all of the land consisting of Green Point surveyed and laid out into streets and lots so that it would properly connect to the adjoining towns of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Hunters Point. Thus Green Point made its transition from farm community, to village, to town. Bliss’s vision of shipbuilding on the Green Point’s riverfront, required workers, and workers need to live nearby. Shipbuilders also needed other supporting trades and suppliers, and they in turn needed a place to set up shop. A town was needed, and Bliss provided it. Thus the town of Green Point was conceived and developed to support a shipbuilding industry on its shores.

However, because of the topological features that kept Green Point isolated for so long, Bliss knew that unless something was done to overcome its natural barriers Green Point would not be able to come to fruition. His first step was to build a foot bridge across Bushwick Creek in 1838 roughly at the intersection of present day West Street, Kent Avenue and Quay Street. This provided a connection between Green Point and its neighbor, Willamsburg. This also set the stage for the Ravenswood, Green Point, and Hallett’s Cove turnpike that opened for traffic in 1839, and that was promoted heavily by Bliss. This turnpike followed roughly the line of present day Franklin Street, and provided a road for raw materials and goods to come in and out of Green Point. It was around 1840 that Bliss’ vision bore fruit and the first skeletons of boats began to appear on the Green Point riverbanks. Shipbuilding had come to Green Point. So too came houses, shops, streets, churches and schools, and, of course, the people to build and inhabit them. Bliss too apparently liked what was going on here. He built a home in Green Point for him and his family, and became known as Neziah Bliss of Green Point.

Since his foundry was across the river, as were many other suppliers and tradesmen needed to build Green Point, dependable ferry operations between Green Point and Manhattan was needed. Even as late as 1850, skiffs were used to cross the river. Several skiffs manned by their owners maintained a service between Greenpoint and the foot of East 10th Street. However, these skiffs and their owners were somewhat unreliable. From day to day, riders would not know how much they would be charged or where they would be let off once on the Green Point shore. So, in about 1850, Bliss obtained a permit from New York City to begin regular, dependable ferry operations from the foot of Greenpoint Ave first to the East 10th Street, and then an East 23rd Street landing.

Apparently not content with building Greenpoint, Bliss acquired land across Newton Creek and formed the town of Blissville. He also built the first version of what was to be known for many years as the Blissville Bridge. Today we know it as the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. Blissville, now part of Long Island City, was on the now Queens side of the Greenpoint Avenue bridge. In addition, Bliss was very much involved with Williamsburg and the town of Bushwick in general.

Bliss was a very influential leader and community builder of his day. He apparently played a very significant role as a founding father in shaping Greenpoint into what it is today. However, sad to say there are no monuments or plaques in Greenpoint denoting his great contributions.



Others too made their contributions to establishing the fledgling town. An Englishman by the name of New (first name unknown at this time) started a stagecoach line along the turnpike that Bliss help establish. It ran from the Williamsburg ferries at the foot of present day Grand Street through Franklin Street to what was known as Poppies Tavern near to corner of present day Green Street. However, this was not his greatest contribution. Ironically enough, his greatest contribution also put him out of business. In 1855 the City Railroad Company, a precursor to the New York City Transit Authority, ran its cars through Williamsburg up to the bridge over Bushwick Creek built by Bliss. It was because of Mr. New’s persistent coaxing that the tracks were extended over the bridge and eventually all the way up Franklin Avenue. Once the train service was available, no one wanted to take the stagecoach. Thus leading to the demise of Mr. New’s stagecoach line.



In order to meet the need for docking facilities, David Provost – a descendant of Pieter Praa - built the first private commercial dock. It was built on property he owned at the foot of present day Freeman Street. He expanded his operations by establishing the first material and supply yard for building materials.

In 1850 David Swalm opened the first general store on the West Side of Franklin Street near Green Street. Not only did it provide goods for sale; it also became a center of social life in the neighborhood and center of politics and literature. Around the same time, Lucian Brown, who married Neziah Bliss’ daughter, Magdalen, opened a hardware store near the corner of Franklin Street and Greenpoint Avenue. In 1847, Dr. Isaac K. Snell, became Green Point’s first physician and druggist. Andrew J. Provost and his brothers Perry, Chauncey and Timothy, sons of David Provost opened Green Point’s first legal firm. Dr. William Starr was the first dentist to put up his shingle.



Green Point also attracted two renowned artists to its shores. George Innis and Albert Ralph Blakelock set up their studios in Green Point in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. Some of Innis’ greatest works were produced at his Green Point studio.



Education and schools also came to Green Point. Its first teacher was a Mrs. Masquerier. She taught twenty to thirty children at her home, without pay, until the first formal school was built in 18??. The first formal public school came about chiefly due to the efforts of Martin Kalbfleisch. When Kalbfleisch moved to Green Point from Connecticut in 1842, he apparently did not find the existing school acceptable. Apparently, he had a large family of children so he immediately began an effort that led to the building of the first formal schoolhouse on Manhattan Avenue between Java and Kent Streets. The first principal was Benjamin R. Davis. This school was the forerunner to P.S. 22. Before Green Point was merged with the City of Brooklyn in 1855, it had 4 well-equipped and staffed public school houses. In his "Historic Green Point", (Felter, pg. 43) published in 1918, Dr. Felter stated, "These schools and their successors to-day are among the best of the city." Echoing Dr. Felter in 1998, Greenpoint’s schools continue to be among the best schools in all of New York City.



Green Point’s first organized church was the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Green Point. It was establish built in the winter of 1847-48 on Union (present day Manhattan Avenue) between India and Java Streets. However, it was preceded by a Sunday school that was organized by and met in the home of Clark Tiebout located on Franklin Street. Mr. William Vernon was the superintendent. The first Catholic parish, St. Anthony of Padua was established in 1856. The Rev. John Brady was its first pastor.



From its first settlement, Green Point was part of the Bushwick Township. Starting with Peiter Praa, Green Point was always represented on the Town Board. In 1851 Martin Kalbfleisch, who was instrumental in establishing the first public school in Green Point, was elected to the Board. To the south, the City of Brooklyn was incorporated in 1834. It shortly consolidated with the city of Williamsburg. Kalbfleisch was involved in drafting the charter for the consolidation of cities of Williamsburg and Brooklyn with their outlying towns, including Bushwick (Green Point included) and was elected its Mayor in 1861. After Green Point became the 17th Ward of the City of Brooklyn, H. Bartlett Fenton became its first supervisor.

For better or worse due to the coming of roads, ferries and railroads, Greenpoint was no longer able to remain isolated from the world. After almost two hundred years as an idyllic agricultural community, Greenpoint made a relatively swift transition into village, town and, finally, part of one of the most thriving and successful cities the world has ever known. Its transition into a town brought about by the vision of Neziah Bliss allowed Green Point to take its place, and play an integral role in the growth and history of the nation. It became a place of industry, and provided homes and a community for people of various ethnic and cultural heritages. In a forthcoming chapter we will trace the ethnic history of Greenpoint and the contributions that each ethnic group made to the "persona" that was, and still is, Greenpoint.



Armbruster, Eugene L., Brooklyn’s Eastern district , Brooklyn, N.Y., 1942
Felter, William L., Historic Green Point , Brooklyn, N.Y., 1918, Green Point Savings Bank
Welch, Richard, F. An island's trade : nineteenth-century shipbuilding on Long Island, Mystic, Conn. : Mystic Seaport Museum, 1993.

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