Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s northernmost community, settles along the junction of the East River and Newtown Creek north of Williamsburg. It has a — for Brooklyn — unusual alphabetized street name system. While Queens has quite a number of pockets of named streets in alphabetical order, Greenpoint can claim one of Brooklyn’s 4 entries in the genre, even though middle and southern Brooklyn has an alphabetized Avenue scheme. The other 3 are in Manhattan Beach (Amherst through Quentin) and Gerritsen Beach (Allen through Gotham and Abbey through Nova, with two sets of K-M streets, just to confuse).
Noble and Franklin Streets
After Greenpoint’s grid street system was laid out by Neziah Bliss, east-west cross streets were named simply, A through Q Streets from north to south. Greenpoint Avenue was a plank road that was bridged over Newtown Creek, entering the Queens township that gave the creek its name, but it later became National Street and later, simply L Street.
The story goes that by the early 1850s Greenpoint residents were dissatisfied with the bland lettered street names, and thenceforth they acquired names. Interestingly there’s a pattern to those: the ones in the north, Ash, Box, Clay, DuPont — seem to honor the industry and manufacturing along Newtown Creek, though some historians believe Clay Street was named for Henry Clay, the “Great Compromiser” of the US Senate in the early to mid 1800s.
Further south, Huron, India and Java Streets hark to the shipyards found on the East River side, where vessels from the world over unloaded their cargoes. L became Lincoln in honor of the 16th President, while Milton and Noble honor Williamsburg political luminaries. There may have been many Oak trees in the area, while Quay (properly pronounced “key”) is a fancy word for “dock.” There had never been a “P” name, since P Street became Calyer for an early Greenpoint patriarch.
Many Greenpointers are aware of the old alphabet system and know something about where the alphabet street names come from. There are other sets of lost Greenpoint streets, though, that are not as prominently chronicled.
This 1886 map shows a number of dead-end streets… Dick, Ann, Bell, Pink, Blue, and Bay, along today’s Commercial Street between West Street and Manhattan Avenue.
By 1916, Bell, Pink and Blue are still on the map but notice that there are no buildings shown along them. Pink Street seems to have a building right on top of it. By then the other streets have disappeared from the map. I’d have to guess that these were “paper streets” on developers’ blueprints, but never actually built. Whatever rhyme or reason there was for these names would be hard to track down by now.
There’s one more road on this map that should be noted. Note the dotted line diagonal marked “Old Ravenswood and Williamsburgh Turnpike.” This was part of the turnpike constructed in the 1840s by developer Neziah Bliss between Greenpoint and western Queens, bridging Newtown Creek. Today’s Franklin Street, Manhattan Avenue and Vernon Boulevard were part of the old turnpike.
Moving forward to 1891, there are a number of dead-end streets on the map emanating from Paidge Avenue that dead-ended at the creek. In order they were Shawnet, Pequod, Ranton, Setauket, Brant and Duck west of Whale Creek, and Holland, Henry (likely an extension of North Henry without the “North”), Leyden, Halleck, and Emery.
OK, once again here’s a look at the 1916 atlas plate. All the streets west of Whale Creek are depicted, but weren’t paved at all and it’s again debatable whether they were built in the first place. Today, the areas between Commercial Street, Paidge Avenue, and Newtown Creek are largely given over to light manufacturing, water and gas tanks, and warehousing and any trace of any streets has been completely eliminated. As for those dead-ends east of Whale Creek, they disappear from maps quickly after 1900.
This 1949 Hagstrom still dutifully depicts these streets, but they seem to vanish for good from maps in the 1960s. As for their derivations, Setauket is a community in Suffolk County at Long Island Sound near Port Jeff; Pequod was Captain Ahab’s whaling ship in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or: The Whale (could Whale Creek and Pequod Street both have honored the work?) while Duck Street may have been named for Newtown Creek waterfowl.
A satellite view from Google showing the areas where the supposed streets were located. As mentioned, no current trace of them exists.
Formerly a major north-south Greenpoint thoroughfare, Oakland Street, which went from the Creek south to Driggs Avenue, was extended south and widened when the Pulaski Bridge was opened in 1954. It was renamed and given Boulevard status in 1964 for former local Democratic alderman Peter McGuinness, who was the first to call Greenpoint the “Garden Spot of the Universe.”
Peter J. McGuinness: My Hero [Miss Heather in The Gowanus Lounge]
Another of Greenpoint’s lost routes is Old Woodpoint Road, which zigged and zagged through the area before Neziah Bliss began to develop it. When the street grid was built, Woodpoint Road utterly vanished, though a small slice of it can be found further south in East Williamsburg at Bushwick and Maspeth Avenues. You can see it above as the jaggedy route in the upper section of the map.
I’ve mentioned Greenpoint’s lost streets, and now here’s a lost waterway. Whale Creek is a tributary of Newtown Creek that was straightjacketed into a ship canal during the peak of Greenpoint’s industrial era. It’s still there, but has been landfilled almost out of existence, and now extends to about were Paidge Avenue would be had it, too, not been truncated.
Today, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, whose “digester eggs” are seen here from Monitor Street, now fills the area where Whale Creek formerly ran, as well as the street grid east of the canal as seen on the map. It was formerly known as the Newtown Creek Sewage Treatment Plant, and the “eggs,” which process over a million gallons of sewage each day (I’m not afraid of the word) have become beloved local landmarks and tours are given regularly in them.
Make no mistake, though, the area gets pretty ripe — especially during the summer.
A casualty of the construction of the sewage treatment plant in the 1950s was Paidge Avenue, which was cut back to a dead end just east of Provost Street. However, in recent years…
… the Newtown Creek Nature Walk was amazingly constructed in an area where, as little as five years ago, you would not have even conceived of anything at all being open to the public. I’m speaking in general terms but there has been a complete alteration in the city’s attitude about what constitutes a proper area to let people in — especially the waterfront areas, which had always been zealously protected from the curious eyes of the public. The walk lines Newtown Creek and is eventually going to wind around Whale Creek as well as the sewage treatment plant.
Newtown Creek Nature Walk [pamphlet providing a detailed description of the nature walk and what will be opening before long]
I notice in a lot of places with lettered streets they skip “I”. Perhaps it looks too much like 1? In a couple places I have been noticed O was skipped as well. In Anchorage where I live there is an I St. but no J. And O is used but not Q. When it was originally platted the streets east of A St. were called East B, East C, etc. but for a long time [or possibly from the beginning] those are named after other Alaska towns and places — Barrow, Cordova, Denali, Eagle, Fairbanks, Gambell, Hyder, Ingra, Juneau, Karluk, Latouche, Medfra, Nelchina, Orca. I always thought it would be cool to give the west side streets names, too.
Until the colonial era, the differentiation between I and J was not yet complete, and they were somewhat interchangeable in orthography. I think that was the case in Washington, DC.
In later cases, when handwriting was more common in letters, envelopes etc. I think there was a desire to avoid the I or the J to avoid confusion.
Sometimes, “I” Street, in Washington, D.C., is also written as “Eye” Street. It is an old practice that goes back to earlier times when handwritten envelopes could be easily misread.
The street system in DC has no J, X, Y, or Z Streets. Following that in the NW quadrant, there are 22 streets with one-syllable names beginning with A, B, C, and so on. Two-syllable names follow those, and then 3-syllable names until one reaches the MD border.
Eric, don’t forget about the “fourth” alphabet in DC, which are flowers.
In Brooklyn, there are no avenues E, G, or Q, though there is an Avenue I. Makes me wonder.
E = Foster, G = Glenwood, Q = Quentin
There is neither an Ave E nor a named avenue or road beginning with E in Brooklyn, yets there are two C names Cortelyou and Clarlendon Rds as wll as Ave C plus two D names Ditmas Ave and Dorchester Rd as well as Ave D (which is a major avenue), and two F names Foster Ave and Farragut Rd as well as Ave F (Which is the shortest of lettered avenues)
Foster Avenue, long ago, was Avenue E
Grew up in Greenpoint and memorized the alphabetical streets when I was a kid. Enjoyed the missing streets and other tidbits.
Good article – thanks for posting it. Most of those dead-end streets are part of the process by which the coastline of Brooklyn was extended with landfill: You can see these streets on a number of old maps: we have an 1872 Colton map that shows some of them: Dick, Ann, Bell and Pink are named. In that map, however, the streets Bell and Pink are shown to be still underwater… so the streets were planned, but the land had not yet been filled in. A lot of Brooklyn and Manhattan’s shoreline was built out this way: Piers would often be given a street name, and eventually the space between the piers would be build up with landfill: voila, new shoreline. All that had to be planned in advance, so it often showed up on the maps before the actual work was done.
I noticed that the steetcar tracks on Manhattan avenue between Box and clay curved thru the curb into the builling on the south West side of Manhattan avenue. When I was working for DDC back in 1999-2000 we resurfaced Manhattan Avenue from Ash to Nassau and removed the double streetcar tracks that were below the existing pavement. The curved tracks between Box and Clay were found to be encased within the old Bluestone sidewalk that was under the present sidewalk on Manhattan Avenue, and probably still there today.
The trolley tracks curved into the old trolley barn which was once located at that location. The track looped around through the barn and onto Box St. It was destroyed in a fire many years ago. The present structure was built over the former site. The tracks didn’t cut through the curb. That was actually part of the street surface. The sidewalks were installed after the trolley barn was demolished. Here’s a photo of the tracks (ca. 1928) from BrooklynPix.com:
The old Vernon Ave Bridge is in the photo. I wish it was still there.
I remember that bridge, it was made of wood. When Trolly car crossed it felt as though the bridge was going to fall. This was in the early 40s. P.pj. Fyfe
Manhattan Avenue trolley barn fire, June 30, 1952, as reported by The Brooklyn Eagle:
This post is great! I wanted to ask though: when did you go to the nature walk? It’s been locked up every time I’ve gone recently. It feels almost as if they decided building it was a bad idea and Transmitter Park was meant to replace it conceptually.
June of 2011 and June of 2012. Maybe they close for the winter?
Brooklyn also has an alphabetized street scheme in Manhattan Beach.
I knew there was someplace else!
Quentin no longer exists but once the names extended further. Ripley was demolished when Goldstein High School was built not that long ago. There was once also an S, T and U. I believe they were Somerset, Thornton and Udall.
Since ancient times, no one has been able to agree on how to spell Newel Street. Above, the 1886 map say “Newell” but by 1891 its shortened to “Newel.” You see it both ways to this day, both on maps and in city records. The “Newel” camp hangs their hats on the belief that it is the counterpart of “Jewel” a couple of blocks over. But 1981 seems to have two L’s on the end of that name too. The “Newell” faction says its named after person…its an established Anglo surname. A newel, on the other hand, is the word for the main post in a staircase bannister. Why waste time on this esoteric and ultimately meaningless debate? Why not….?
I grew up on Newell Street from 1943 to 1966, and my parents were there until 1981. In all that time, everyone spelled it with two Ls – as in Newell Street.
My great-great grandfather, William Sheehan, bought a plot of land in Greenpoint in May 1867. The plot description refers to Newel Street–one L. The land conveyance says in parentheses ‘formerly called Seventh Street’. Another puzzle. The seller was William M. Meserole of one of the oldest families in Greenpoint. It had been part of the Peter Meserole farm.
Believe it or not I was told Newell Street was named after my Great Great grandfather Alexander Newell, which was formally Alexander Newel, and before that Alexander Nuell. I’m investigating now. I Did find the information about Jewell street which was named after a man named Thomas Jewel, I believe. Im going threw Newpaper archives as we speak. thru 1850s so it’s low moving
I live in Greenpoint and it took me a while to notice the Alphabet for street names, I think you may miss it because its not consistent with Greenpoint Ave and Calyer St throwing it off.
Interesting other fact is that East London follows a similar, though reverse logic to the postcodes (zipcodes). E1 = Algate, E2 = Bethnal Green, E3 = Bow, E4 = Chingford… E17 = Walthamstow.
A terrific article, as usual. A few comments and recollections.
While Oakland Street was, just prior to its remaning, the broard avenue we now know as McGuinness Blv., before that it was a narrow and very sleepy cobblestoned street; it was, in fact, the last residential street in Greenpoint with cobblestones. Its major misfortune was the fact that it ran all the way up to Newtown Creek at preciselty the point where the Pulaski Bridge would be built. Thus its transformation during the 50’s and early 60’s could not have been more dramatic – and traumatic.
When I was very young, I remember seeing an old map that contained those one-block long streets that extended from Paidge Ave. to the creek. I then took a walk with my father to “discover” them, only to find an unbroken block of industrial uses. It was my first opportunity to learn that what you see on a map is not always true. (The same situation has long existed with Mussel Island, a small piece of land that once existed in Newtown Creek and was obliterated when that stream was canalized at the turn of the last century but has continued to appear on many more recently published maps.)
One interesting fact about the last remaining remnant of Woodpoint Road, which existed as little more than an alley until its widening in the – I think – 1930’s, is that it turns toward the northeast even though the old road once ended its course in the northwest, near the intersection of the East River and Newtown Creek. The reason for this stems from the one time existence of Bushwick Creek, whose flood plain existed far inland and required Woodpoint Road to turn slightly east to avoid it.
i read your comment with interest. I am wondering if the change from Oakland to Mcguiness was so drastic that it is a very different street. my grandfather lived at 417 Oakland and wondering if perhaps the building might still be there or was destoryed and doe the numbers from Oakland match up with Mcguiness numbers? Thanks for any help
The change from Oakland Street to McGuinness Boulevard was quite drastic at the time. Oakland Street ran from Driggs Avenue to Newtown Creek, with houses (mostly three- to eight-family) on both sides of the street. To build the Pulaski Bridge and widen the street to make it a boulevard, all of the houses on the East side of Oakland Street from Driggs Avenue to Kent Street had to be demolished (this also included some houses on the various streets and avenues with which Oakland Street intersected). The slight turn at Greenpoint Avenue necessitated that, from that point on and up to Newtown Creek, the houses on the East side of Oakland Street remained standing and the houses from the West side of that street were then demolished. All of this meant that many hundreds, perhaps well over a thousand families had to leave their homes, and many chose that point to move out of Greenpoint completely so that we all lost a lot of friends, and in my case, a lot of schoolmates at PS126 (then situated where PS31 now stands). I think this started around 1951 and was in full swing by 1952. Isn’t it interesting that they could tear down about a mile of buildings, shore up the buildings they had been attached to, help relocate hundreds or even over a thousand families, completely tear up a cobblestone street that was perhaps 25 feet wide and replace it with a paved boulevard that is at least 60 feet wide and runs that same mile, build a quite long and wide bridge that runs from Jackson Avenue in Long Island City to at least four or five blocks into Greenpoint and spans Newtown Creek, and do this entire job in only about two years? Today it would take ten and with a 500% cost overrun! (Witness that last year they took over three months to simply repave Nassau Avenue, something which they had previously done in less than two weeks when I was a kid.) I cannot imagine they would have changed the addresses of the buildings left standing, as they continued to run from Driggs Avenue to Newtown Creek (although now on only one side of the street). If Oakland Street’s house numbers ran the same as Newell Street’s, that would mean that number 417 was on the West side of the street and, if it stood south of Greenpoint Avenue, was probably demolished. The next time I walk on McGuinness, I’ll check it out, but I’m fairly certain that there weren’t enough buildings between Driggs Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue to reach a number as high as 417, so it was almost certainly part of the north-of-Greenpoint Avenue demolition process. I do recall that for several years after the Pulaski was completed and the boulevard in full operation, there were several deaths on that boulevard due to traffic speeding off the bridge and with no streetlights in place, and that there were demonstrations until something was done about it – maybe the first indication that our little out-of-the-way-to-most-New Yorkers community was (unfortunately) losing its anonymity.
Question in return: Someone mentioned (if I understood it correctly) that Oakland Street officially became McGuinness Boulevard and was termed a ‘boulevard’ only in 1964, but I’m pretty certain that it was so proclaimed back at or near the time the Pulaski Bridge was opened to traffic. I have a recollection of Pete McGuinness’s funeral procession moving down Newell Street (and practically every other street in Greenpoint) back in 1948 (his brother, Tom, lived directly across the street from me), and since he was so instrumental in getting the Pulaski Bridge built and in wanting to be able to connect the traffic from that bridge to the BQE by means of the reconstructed Oakland Street, I cannot believe it took 16 years from his death, or 10 years from the opening of that boulevard, to re-name it.
That is correct. Oakland St. wasn’t renamed to McGuinness Blvd. until 1964. You can verify that by looking up businesses on Oakland St. advertising in the Greenpoint Weekly Star between 1954 and 1962. There’s a photo of a trackless trolley turning west from Oakland St. onto Freeman St. and it is dated 1956. The photo can be found at http://www.subway.org. Also interesting to note in the photo is the service station in the middle of Oakland St. near the base of the Pulaski Bridge. In the background, you can see Harry Brainum, Jr.,the oldest still operating business (1919) in Greenpoint. That honor was once held by Manhattan Furriers at 695 Manhattan Ave. which opened in 1914.
Such an amazing article. I’m trying to find out more about the history of Engert Avenue between Leonard and Eckford. Technically this is Greenpoint but many people call it Williamburg. Either way, there are many newish condos here now. Before the condos this area was mostly inhabited by low lying warehouse type buildings. I want to know what was here before the single story buildings. Were there every houses or apartment buildings in this area? We are immediately surrounded by town houses and apartment buildings so I have to imagine this whole area was residential at some point.
If you know anything about this please do share.
Believe it or not, Engert Ave. was once the center of Greenpoint’s Jewish community. Engert St. had numerous tenements along its relatively short length before they were razed and replaced with warehouses and small factories.
[…] Image Credits: The nifty 1886 Brooklyn Map hails from WardMaps.com. The 1949 Hagstrom Map comes via Kevin Walsh’s very own Forgotten NY! […]
I was born on Oakland Street (378 Oakland Street) in 1946. My Polish immigrant Grandparents worked hard and eventually were able to buy 378 Oakland Street. My family lived with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We occupied 3 of the six apartments in that building. I remember gazing out the window of my grandmother’s living room window on the top floor and staring at the Empire State Building across the East River. It is one of my best childhood memories. I know “378” is still standing as we visited Greenpoint recently to give my son a tour of Greenpoint (moved away from NY in 1974 and have lived in Hawaii since 1974). I am sad the name changed as Oakland Street is where I’m from!
Guss bar & grill Oakland street 30 40 50’s
Hi Dorothy hope your doing well.
Thx for your post. My grandfather and greens mother and aunt resided on Oakland street.
Any chance you remember a bar and grill called guss’s. Guzowski family.
Either double major with journalism and creative writing, or a “good” school in an urban area where I could major in journalism and minor in creative writing? I’m only a sophmore in high school but I know I love to write and I don’t know what I’d enjoy more as an actual career, journalism or creative writing. What would be the best college for someone like me?.
So if my great grandfather worked at “388 to 392 Oakland Street” in Greenpoint around 1913, what would that address be called today? The company was the Consolidated Wafer Company.
Oakland St is now McGuinness Boulevard
As a young man in the mid to late1960’s I remember riding my bike and/or walking through a huge sandy, tree-less & surreal-looking wasteland to the south of Newton Creek in northeastern Greenpoint, with even an occassional squatter’s shack to be found there as well. I wondered why this land had never been developed, neither for industry or otherwise (too contaminated?). This area was to soon to become the Newtown Creek Pollution Plant, that was later expanded. I wonder if this expanse was sandy and barren due to the huge underground oil spill (larger then the Exxon Valdez spill) along and well beyond the Creek (from years & years of oil storage tank leakage) that was later discovered and is still being remedied to this day? Heck they even had oil drilling rigs in the streets recovering the oil! And once – was it in the late 50’s ?– it even caused an explosion in the sewers….not to mention the unhealthy underground fumes from the oil plume underlying certain residential areas.
I also remember a huge garbage-buring plant on the eastern side of Greenpoint with its tall chimneys (was it in nearby Queens or Brooklyn?) that used to spew ash (and who knows what other toxic residue) on the neighborhood –until, after protests, it was closed down in favor of transporting waste by barge from the city (as we also closed down landfills such as Great Kills on Staten Island).
Looking at very recent email “COS” notifications from the City I see that they warn of sewage overflow into Newtown Creek with even minimal rains ( example: .06 inches). So what is this huge & expensive pollution plant doing to stop the pollution of Newtown Creek? – apparently very little, and certainly not enough. And that was one of the main rationales (i.e. cleaning the Creek) that was foisted on the community in order to have its less-tham-sweet smelling presence accepted. Now this neighborhood handles not only alot of the City’s sewage waste, but garbage is also a trucked-in to way-stations for alot of the City’s solid waste to be placed on barges on the Creek to be taken to who knows where to some poor community far away…
Greenpoint has been dumped on- lierally. So while I may dislike the gentrifying yuppies and their noisy bars in the middle of once quiet residential areas, and the destruction of mom-and-pop stores and rising rents that they have brought, at least their new-found presence is helping to change this community for the better environmentally in some ways –both by pushing industry out, and by their being more environmentally aware and active. Unfortunately people have lost their jobs as industry has moved out , but on the positive side we got rid of the polluting aspects of many industries (i.e. including several Plastics plants such as Harte & Co, whose workers would more often than not die of cancer before ever reaching retirement, as toxins were spewed in the neighborhood.
Yes Greenpoint and its residents has been used, misused and dumped on, but now, as an upcoming wealtier, and gentrying area, we now get treated better – ain’t it the (shameful) truth.
At the start of the 20th century, a book was published which created problems for NYC and property owners along what had been Woodpoint Road. The problem was (I think… I was just skimming at that point), that back in Dutch days the road was not, as had been assumed, a private road whose right of way reverted to the property owners, but a public road. Title companies and mortgage lenders became hysterical, believing that the City was preparing to lay claim to the right of way. However, I have not yet been able to find any follow up regarding this perceived problem.
There’s another area in Brooklyn with alphabetized streets.
Starrett City (a.k.a. Spring Creek Towers) has Ardsley, Bethel, Croton, Delmar, Elmira, Freeport, Geneva, and Hornell Loops in the complex.
Ardsley is on the north end and Hornell is on the south.
I saw an old map of the area, pre-Starrett City, and similar to the Canarsie peninsula where there are streets numbered Paerdegat 1 through 15 Streets on the west and Flatlands 1 through 10 Streets on the east, the area south of Flatlands Avenue by Louisiana Avenue had several streets numbered Vandalia 1 through ??
I don’t know if they ever really existed or were just planned, but the development of Starrett City wiped them out.
My immigrant grandparents owned 94 Oakland St. When they confiscated that property and named it after some political nobody, they both died of a broken heart just 1 year later.
Does anyone know anything about the history of Russell Street?
This is a great article, I was hoping to find a reference to “Pearsall Street”. My Grandparents immigrated from Poland and moved into 65 Pearsall Street. I can not find any reference to where it is.
If anyone can help it would be greatly appreciated.
I remember the area, there used to be a small playground there around Dupont St. and a fairly large lumberyard, I also remember seeing fireboats docked there
I believe one of the large oil companies was fined big time and ordered to clean up the mess they made of the area, probably other companies too…one of the other abominations I remember as a kid was the Van Iderstein plant in Sunnyside that rendered fats and dead animals into a product called tallow and another called “offal” which were used to feed livestock and chickens and was actually sold in third world contries as food for human consumption….the smell was sickening especially if there was a breeze to the south….I remember getting nauseous from it…I believe that company uprooted and moved to New Jersey
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This was very informative, my grandparents Rudolf Schneider/Emily lived at 116 Jewel Street, Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, remember as a young girl visiting there. I did not see the Street mentioned. I am trying to find out what borough this would be in for search census.
Mary L Raymond (Schneider)
My grandparents lived at 184 Oakland St when my father was born in 1919. In the 30’s they relocated to Hollis, Queens. The whole family, the Germans and the Irish were located in Greenpoint from the 1860’s.
Hi. Any chance you pave pictures my grandparents lived 286 Oakland street. The place Guss’ s bar n grill comes up often.
I’m researching two Irish families who lived at Calyer and Franklin streets beginning in the 1860s. Can anyone give me a source for the 1891(shaded tan) Greenpoint map above. Thanks!
AMAZON made a great choice to have THE NEWTOWN CREEK as the epicenter of its 20,000 humanoid campus. A sensational garden-spot in which to live, eat, drink, play, work and simply inhale the surroundings into your nostrils and lungs.