DUNHAM PLACE, Williamsburg

by Kevin Walsh

According to the Bible of Brooklyn street names, Brooklyn By Name by Leonard Benardo and Jennifer Weiss, Williamsburg’s Dunham Place was named for

David Dunham (1790-1823), a New York merchant who helped initiate an early steam ferry from Brooklyn to New York, which earned him the nickname “Father of Williamsburg.” Dunham was an indefatigable advocate for steam navigation and a pioneer of steamship travel, venturing to Havana, New Orleans, and several southern states. He died a tragic death when he fell overboard in the Hudson River and drowned near West Point while returning — by steamship, of course — from Albany.

Brooklyn is fairly “alley-poor” and I’ve always been fascinated by this one-block street just off the Williamsburg waterfront.

Dunham Place first turns up on maps around 1850, when it is named at all; since it’s been so insignificant, many late 19th-Century and early 20th Century maps ignore it. It was actually one of the first streets in Williamsburg with a name: on this 1850 Dripps atlas, it shows up between South 6th and 7th Streets between 1st and 2nd Street. Three of the four were renamed in the late 19th Century: South 7th became Broadway, 1st Street became Kent Avenue and 2nd Street became Wythe Avenue.

ABOVE RIGHT: I first photographed Dunham Place in FNY’s early days, on March 19th, 1999. At that time it still wore its Belgian-blocked street paving. In 1999 Williamsburg was still an industrial haven. Railroads had only recently vacated the waterfront and there was no inkling or sign whatsoever that the neighborhood would become a major arts, entertainment, retail and residential hub.

GOOGLE MAP: Dunham Place

Building sign, Broadway and Dunham Place, NW corner; ca. 1850s building, NE corner. The ground floor is home to a restaurant named Vinny’s. The sign facing Broadway is so worn as to be illegible, and I wonder if it read “Broadway” or “South 7th Street.” In November 2005 I posted an FNY page about how much Broadway between Kent and Marcy Avenues — the only part of the roadway not shadowed by an elevated train –was changing. But the page is already outdated. Restaurants have come and gone, new buildings have sprung up, and quirks have been homogenized.

The 2 faces of Dunham. Looking north we see the granite anchorage of the Williamsburg Bridge (it’s been given a cleaning since 1999, when I first photographed it) and looking south, Dunham looks out on a 6-story Fedders Special. Western Williamsburg presents an interesting urban tableau. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when there was new construction in the area for the first time in almost a century, cheap Fedders-style housing was the pioneer style. Both rezoning and a major of influx of money happened since then and luxury buildings have begun to dot the landscape along Kent Avenue and the waterfront, as well as side streets and major thoroughfares like Metropolitan Avenue, Grand Street, and Broadway.

As we’ll see, the old and new are represented here on Dunham Place as well.

Just about every blank surface in Williamsburg boasts a mural, a piece of “street art” or just plain graffiti. The “no thru traffic sign” is baffling since Dunham Place does have two outlets, Broadway and South 6th Street. The art appears in front of #7 Dunham Place, an address immortalized by Tunisian electronica DJ Loco Dice as the title of a 2008 album.

The buildings on the east side of Dunham Place are now mostly residences, but I do see a building that may have been a stable at one time. Note the faded “factory” notation on the doorbell.

This begs the question of why Dunham Place is here in the first place. It wasn’t built to take advantage of Williamsburg Bridge views, since the bridge was completed in 1903. I’d imagine it was some sort of carriageway; I’m unsure if Kent Avenue was at one time heavily residential, but there are some signs there that it used to be.

Residents of those buildings have a fine, if temporary, view of the mighty Williamsburg Bridge. Until a couple of years ago, 2 or 3 low, peaked-roofed buildings occupied this site. From the fleeting, indistinct images I have of them from a distance, they may have been quite old indeed. If there are any ForgottenFans in Williamsburg, or even some Dunham denizens that can fill me in on their nature, let me know. Name That Car people: that’s a Dodge in the foreground, but what model and what year?

I’m hearing Coronet 1967 and Dart 71 or 72. If it’s the latter, that’s the car I took driving lessons on in 1974. Your webmaster discovered that I’m too fearful and tentative to operate a gasoline-powered vehicle.

ForgottenFan Joe Hedio:

That Dodge is a ’67 Coronet. Here’s a 1972 Dart

I rest my case. Thank goodness those 3 yrs of law school didn’t go totally to waste!

The Manhattan skyline is also visible from here. The scrawled writing on the plywood fence says “Williamsburg Petting Zoo.” Rats and squirrels, I suppose. The graffiti on the building says either “Screw Rent” or “Screw Kent.” If the latter, I wonder what the problem on Kent Avenue is. Or maybe they just mean ex-Met Jeff Kent. The site will likely all to soon be filled by an overpriced condominium. Speaking of which, over on Dunham and South 6th…

…there’s the Dunham Condominium, 24 Dunham Place. The north side gets a view of the Williamsburg Bridge traffic ramps and walkway, while the lucky ducks buying apartments on the west side have views of the river and the bridge.

Actually I don’t mind glass-walled buildings; I like a lot of sun (as long as I have air conditioning). You’d have to be a dedicated Williamsburger to buy here though — it’s still off the beaten track somewhat.

Since the likes of your webmaster would never be allowed on premises, even if I did patent cold fusion or synthesized air for fuel and could afford an apartment, here’s a sales video of the place so you can see for yourself.

Now and then alleys and underpasses preserve lamppost archaisms. This Type 8S curved-arm lamp is a member of the first genus of octagonal-poled posts that first began to colonize NYC streets in 1950.

Photographed August 3, 2008; page completed August 4, 2008


l April 21, 2012 - 11:22 am

from ny times:
is this possibly the same dunham place? :

Published: August 18, 1865

OPERATIONS OF BURGLARS AND SNEAK-THIEVES. — The safe manufactory of TILTON & MCFARLAND, in Dunham-place, E.D., was entered by burglars on Wednesday night, and robbed of 150 safe keys. The entrance was made in the rear of the factory….

Kevin Walsh April 21, 2012 - 10:39 pm


jeff January 5, 2014 - 8:34 pm

Yes, for sure. My great great grandfather was David McFarland. He and his older brother William came from Bowdoinham, Me. to manufacture safes in Brooklyn. David became a Williamsburgh policeman for a time ( from 1862-1874)..

Steve Waterman May 10, 2012 - 12:17 pm

I was researching family history and found a directory from the 1870’s that indicated a family member worked at 18 Dunham Pl. and lived at 50 S. 6th Street. His occupation was listed as “steampower” for the work address and it was interesting to see David Dunham’s advocation for steam in the introduction.

Thanks for helping me get a visual of what Dunham place may have been like in the 19th and 20th century. I always enjoy adding perspective to “just a name in a book”

Trish June 8, 2012 - 2:21 pm

I used to live at 6 Dunham Pl. We got kicked out when the gentrification went into full swing. I learned so much living there, like when you call the cops or to call the dept of sanitation for the torched or abandoned/stolen cars on South 6th!! I miss Brooklyn, but the beach is nice…so…

Rosemary February 27, 2014 - 3:52 pm

An old family letter dated 12 Oct 1841 from Alexander Bowman to his cousin Emma Maria Baldwin Gibbs in Milton, Litchfield CT reads: “Aunt Ruth [Dunham] sends her love…if Mr. Gibbs should come to New York, why can he not come down here and see us, the steamboat Hope leaves the foot of Robinson street north river every day and lands passengers close by uncle Dunham’s place.” [Alexander Bowman (c1825-1902) was living with his uncle Alfred F. Dunham (died 30 Nov 1885, 84 years old, NY Evng Pst) & aunt Ruth Dunham (died 4 Sep1873). Alfred F. Dunham is the son of David Dunham for whom Dunham Place is named. Alfred & Ruth are listed in the 1875 Census of NY. It would be interesting to find out if they were living in the brick building at Dunham Place. We have a daguerreotype of Alfred]

mariapaula August 25, 2017 - 11:07 am

I would be more than interested to have some information, any and maybe pictures of those old times,

I part owe a property on Dunham, and was fist attracted by the mistery of the narrow street, love at first sight I guess,

mariapaula August 25, 2017 - 11:07 am

I loved the article, many thanks, there should be more of all of this historical remembrances


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