by Kevin Walsh

A café on the corner of Van Brunt and Dikeman Streets in Red Hook carries the name of one of New York’s forgotten forts. 

At old Pier 39 facing Upper New York Bay, Red Hook residents (Red Hookers?) have enjoyed a shiny, modern pier at the foot of Coffey Street since the late 1990s. Louis Valentino Jr. Pier is named for a hero firefighter who sustained fatal injuries in a Canarsie blaze in 1996. Upper New York Bay, the Statue of Liberty, New Jersey, Governors Island and lower Manhattan are well in view. The pier overlooks the western end of the Buttermilk Channel, so named because its roiling waters apparently would churn milk, or so the legend goes.

Years ago, a tiny sign…almost invisible when foliage covers it in summer… on a chainlink fence topped with barbed wire at the park’s northern boundary identified the green area at the pier as Fort Defiance Community Park at the foot of Coffey Street; here were fired the shots from the short-lived fort, once located a few blocks to the south at Dwight and Beard Streets, that delayed the British long enough to allow colonials to escape without being decimated. It was a small fort, and shot was fired from cannon mounted at the top of the walls instead of from slots (as you can see at Castle Clinton in Battery Park and Castle Williams on Governors’ Island).

That small sign at the Valentino Pier has disappeared, but the name of the fort lives on in this favorably-reviewed restaurant on Red Hook’s main drag. 


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