Though Dutch immigrants had established some homes and farms in Brownsville and East New York in the 1700s, the area did not gel as a community until the early-to-middle 1800s. East New York, whose easternmost section east of Highland Park is Cypress Hills, was developed by John R. Pitkin, a Connecticut merchant beginning in 1835, while Brownsville is named for Charles S. Brown, who subdivided it in 1865. The area that would become East New York was actually part of the Town of Flatbush from 1651 to 1852, when the eastern section of Flatbush Town seceded to become the Town of New Lots. In 1886, New Lots was annexed by the City of Brooklyn, which itself was annexed by New York City in 1898. With all this shifting around, some of the street names also changed.
Today, Essex Street runs south from Jamaica Avenue southeast to Schroeders Avenue in a relatively new section of Brooklyn adjoining the massive Spring Creek shopping mall. I have never been there — it’s relatively boring with cookie cutter housing, but I should explore it one day, just to put my time in.
Today’s post is about a building on the corner of Essex Street and Liberty Avenue, one of East New York’s major east-west arteries along with Pitkin and Atlantic Avenues. A pair of signs on the corner are quite interesting because they reveal both the cross streets and the date of construction: Liberty and Eldert Avenues, 1885. This building is quite the survivor for these parts, turning 133 years old in 2018.
We can also see clearly that the street’s original name was indeed Eldert Avenue while its later name, Essex Street, also has a surviving blue and white street sign mounted above it.
As this map from 1875 indicates, many of East New York’s north-south streets’ names have changed over the years. By my estimation, nearly half! Most of these changes took place in the dim past and the streets’ present names were mostly in place by Greater NYC consolidation in 1898. However, traces of the old, long-forgotten names can be found in odd places here and there. Another such relic appears on Wyona Street and Atlantic Avenue, where a chiseled “Wyckoff Avenue” sign can be found.
Why was Essex chosen to be the new name? Further research is necessary; none of its parallel streets are named for British counties. We can guess why it was changed. The Brooklyn street directory also has an Eldert Street in Bushwick and an Eldert Lane further east in Cypress Hills.
There are a couple of other interesting anomalies on the map. Eastern Parkway is shown instead of Pitkin Avenue. When it was laid out in the 1870s, Eastern Parkway’s original route was where Pitkin is now. Instead, in 1891, it was laid out northeast to Bushwick Avenue along the old Flatbush town line, paralleling East New York Avenue. Pitkin Avenue still continues Eastern Parkway’s house numbering.
photos; Gary Fonville
1/1/18 as FNY begins its 19th year.