by Kevin Walsh

Long before Queens officials thought of doing it, the city of Williamsburgh laid out streets that were all numbered, with the odd rare named street here and there. North-south streets were numbered 1 to 12 beginning at the street closest to the East River and running east. Then there were two sets of east-west numbered streets, North 1-15th and South 1-11th, divided by Grand Street, which runs between North 1st and South 1st. For many years, Metropolitan Avenue was called North 2nd, which is absent from modern maps.

This led to some unusual and ultimately confusing intersections, such as 2nd Street and North 2nd Street and so on, so sometime between 1860 and 1890 (I haven’t nailed the year down) the City of Brooklyn, which by that time had annexed Williamsburgh and dropped the h, decided to give names to the north-south streets, which became Kent, Wythe, Berry, Bedford and so on.

There are still some reminders of the all-numbered era on building street signs, like this one at Wythe and North 8th.



Joe Fliel December 20, 2012 - 8:12 am

Kevin, your best source, aside from atlases, is Eugene L. Armbruster’s “The Eastern District of Brooklyn”. It’s a great reference for obsolete street names and other minutiae. But, you probably know that.

John Dereszewski December 22, 2012 - 6:49 pm

I believe Armbruster cited 1889 as the date when the street names were changed.

John Dereszewski December 25, 2012 - 3:24 pm

When the name changes occurred, all of the streets that extended into the old City of Brooklyn had their names extended northward The three streets that did not – Berry (named after Williamsburgh’s first Mayor), Driggs (named after Williamsburgh’s last village President) and Roebling (a street that passes by the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge but was named after the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge) – had new names attached to them.

A situation where the reverse practice was utilized occurred further inland. Lorimer Street initially ended at Broadway, which was the Williamsburgh/Brooklyn border. The street extending south of Broadway – at a fairly sharp angle – was Gwinnett Street. While it made some sense to extend the much larger Lorimer Street southward, I have always suspected that some other motives may have been in play. According to Armbruster, Gwinnett Street was, at one time, occupied by a small neighborhood of – to use the contemporary phrase – “free coloreds”. The fact that it was situated in an outlying, swampy. area – near Wallabout Creek’s flood plain – lends support for the conclusion that this not very well wanted community would have to call this place home. By the time Gwinnett St. ceased to exist, this community had moved on, but perhaps memories of its existence still lingered. Perhaps the idea of further erasing that memory by eliminating Gwinnett St. also figured in the mix – or perhaps not.

Ironically, Gwinnett, who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner from Georgia; he was also the first signer to die – in a duel.

Hope you find this interesting.

Kevin Walsh December 25, 2012 - 11:36 pm

I always wondered why Gwinnett was changed to an extension of Lorimer

april October 7, 2013 - 2:28 pm

I find it extremely interesting and thank you for this historical gem.


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