A history of Brooklyn begins with the name itself. Breuckelen, settled in 1646, was one of six separate Dutch towns chartered by the Dutch West India Company. The land had been home to the Canarsie nation of Native Americans, who ceded their homeland to the incoming Dutch colonists. By 1664 the English controlled Manhattan and Brooklyn, with the six colonies joined in 1683 to make Kings County.
The American Revolution played a significant role in a history of Brooklyn, which was the site of a major battle in 1776. Though the Americans lost, they were able to cross the East River and take refuge in Manhattan.
In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, New York became an American state, and Brooklyn thrived as its own city for generations. On January 1, 1898, Brooklyn joined the other four boroughs of New York City to create one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world.
Were Brooklyn to secede from NYC, it would instantly become America's fourth biggest city.
Brooklyn retains its unique character, though, so a history of Brooklyn must pay homage to its neighborhoods. In no particular order of importance—because comparing Brooklyn neighborhoods is sure to start a healthy disagreement among Brooklynites—here are the major neighborhoods of the borough:
- Brooklyn Heights—Row houses sitting in stately splendor along tree-lined streets; fine views of the Manhattan skyline
- Jamaica Bay and Rockaway Beach—Fish, surf, eat, golf, all in New York City
- Bedford-Stuyvesant—Notable historic buildings, new restaurants, live entertainment
- Red Hook—A rough-and-tumble neighborhood for a rugged shoreline
- Dumbo—Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass is an artistic hub with performance spaces, unique shopping, and reborn factory spaces
- Greenpoint—Vintage shops, Polish food, live music and the farthest north Brooklyn goes
- Brighton Beach—Little Odessa, filled with authentic Russian markets and clubs
- Park Slope—Literary nooks and crannies rub shoulders with microbreweries and odd shops
- Williamsburg—Thriving art galleries, bustling nightlife, and the trendiest spot in NYC
- Downtown—The commercial center of the borough
- Bushwick—Up-and-coming new neighborhood with arts, nightlife, and dining
- Prospect Park—A grand park rivaling Manhattan’s Central Park, and designed by the same man
- Carroll Gardens—Tightly packed houses, great shopping, and plenty of tasty restaurants
- Fort Greene and Clinton Hill—Culture, history and charm
- Cobble Hill—Art, fine food, and a busy nightlife
- Coney Island—Yes, it still has amusements, hot dogs and a great boardwalk
- Gowanus—galleries, cafes, forward-looking innovators have rechristened this former industrial spot
Things To See and Do in Brooklyn
The saying, “Only the dead know Brooklyn” sounds far more sinister than its meaning. Thomas Wolfe’s titular short story probably...probably...means that Brooklyn has so much to offer, you can spend a lifetime trying to understand the borough. A history of Brooklyn means a history of art and architecture, of fun and food and frights. Highlights for any tour include:
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden—Featuring 52 acres of beautiful buds and florid flowers
- Coney Island Boardwalk—More than just hot dog stands and odd entertainment
- Brooklyn Bridge—An architectural gem, an engineering triumph, and worth a walk across
- Brooklyn Children’s Museum—You can have fun watching your kids have fun
- Brooklyn Heights and the Promenade—Come for the view of Manhattan, stay for the romantic magic
- Coney Island’s Cyclone—A real bone-rattling roller coaster
- Green-Wood Cemetery—If the dead really do know Brooklyn, you can find them here, in this Victorian celebration of intricate, overdone decoration
In addition, you can find nearly every food imaginable, from all over the planet, in Brooklyn. A history of Brooklyn must include an appreciation of its evolution from working-class corner restaurants to some of the city’s best eateries.