brooklyn  williamsburg history early photos

circa 1910


Wythe - N7
South 5th
South 4th
S8 & Bedford
NW Bedford & N7
N7 NW to Berry
N7 & Havemeyer
N7 & Bedford
Kent & N7
Grand & Bedford
Driggs & N7
Bedford & N7
107 N7
104 N7
Special thanks to

The large corner store at this commercial intersection was built in 1888, when Williamsburg was a small village on the edge of the town of Bushwick. Although Williamsburg became Brooklyn's most congested residential neighborhood after the 1903 opening of the Williamsburg Bridge, this northern corner of the neighborhood remained stable. The electric trolley wires and the subway station are the primary signs of twentieth-century change.

The intersection remains remarkably unchanged today, although the pictorially interesting aspects of Abbott's photograph--the buildings' decorative cornice and clapboard siding and the tangle of overhead wires--are gone.

POWERS AND OLIVE STREETS Beatrice Abbot, Williamsburg JUNE 1, 1937

Not far from the intersection of Graham and Metropolitan Avenues was the Roman Catholic Church of St. Nicholas, which formed the center of this German immigrant neighborhood. Founded in 1866, the church converted its original building at the corner of Powers and Olive Streets (seen in the photograph) into a school run by Dominican nuns who lived on the church grounds.

A variant image of this scene shows a group of boys from St. Nicholas School gathered in front of an Olive Street candy store. Abbott preferred the version showing an ice-and-coal man at work and a housewife suspiciously eyeing the photographer. As a tourist in Queens, Abbott appreciated "the little out of the way districts, the little poor neighborhoods," which struck her as "weird and dismal" but "interesting." (McQuaid, 360).

This neighborhood has changed little. The Olive Street storefronts are gone, but the other buildings, with new siding and without cornices, remain. The school, without its belfry, stands as well.

WILLIAMSBURG BRIDGE South 6th and Berry Streets, Beatrice Abbot, APRIL 28, 1937
Opened in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Manhattan's Lower East Side to Brooklyn, was the second bridge to span the East River. By 1913, trolleys, elevated trains, and subways crossed the bridge, spurring the growth of Brooklyn's working-class residential neighborhoods.

The long entry ramps to the bridge cut straight through the riverfront neighborhood, as Abbott's photograph dramatically demonstrates. Her long lens foreshortened the space between bridge tower and houses, exaggerating the effect; a variant made with a shorter lens gives a more accurate impression.

Today, most of the buildings in Abbott's view remain. Several businesses are owned by Hasidic Jews, who moved to the area in large numbers after World War II. The reinforcement of the bridge's cables have marred its graceful design.

Special thanks to the Museum of New York,