FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose;
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
–Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
How fitting that my first stop will be the neighborhood where Brooklyn was born.
The Fulton Ferry Historic District was designated by the decree of Mayor Abraham D. Beame on June 28, 1977. The official report has a nice summary of the history of the area, which I will distill to a few key points here.
First and foremost: this neighborhood was the launching-point of one of the most important escapes in American history on the night of August 29-30, 1776. Fresh off its defeat at The Battle of Brooklyn, the American army (led by George Washington) was trapped between the British army and the East River, and were in danger of being flanked. General Washington managed to evacuate all 9,000 troops overnight, aided by a morning fog, which concealed the last boats crossing the river – including the one he was in, since he refused to leave until everyone else had. (I’m bummed I can’t find my copy of 1776, because David McCullough gives a great analysis of what went down.)
As the neighborhood’s name suggests, Fulton Ferry was historically a ferry-port. Not just any ferry-port, mind you – it was the Brooklyn Bridge before there was a Brooklyn Bridge.
The location had been used as a ferry-terminal since the mid-1600s (including at the time of Washington’s escape), but it wasn’t until Robert Fulton brought his steamboat to the area in 1814 that business took off. In his honor, Ferry Road – the thoroughfare visible in the picture above – was renamed Fulton Street. (Presumably, this made for some confusion, as the ferries connected Brooklyn’s Fulton Street with Manhattan’s Fulton Street. The former is now known as Cadman Plaza West or Old Fulton Street.)
At its peak, Fulton’s service carried fifty million passengers annually. The Brooklyn Bridge spelled doom for this venture, of course, and in 1924 the ferry service ended. It was revived in November 2006 by New York Water Taxi’s service to Pier 11 in Manhattan.
A few other things I’m looking forward to checking out:
Anything else? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.
P.S. This whole adventure was an excuse to create an account on the Twitter. I plan to post things there in a stream-of-consciousness manner as I explore my lucky nabes, so follow me if you like.