Windsor Terrace: a river of cars runs through it

Windsor Terrace is in one of the nicest locations in the borough, wedged between the green oases of Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. A third obvious (and much less appealing) feature of Windsor Terrace is the Prospect Expressway, which more or less bisects the neighborhood. While the highway is a blight on the area, one of its few positives is that it alleviated pass-through traffic on the “normal” roads, allowing them to return to their previous quiet charm.

The name “Windsor Terrace” dates from around 1850. It was coined by Robert Bell, who held land in the area for a brief time. Bell soon sold his property to Edward Belknap, who divided his holding into 47 sub-plots on Seeley Street and Vanderbilt Street. The first mention of the neighborhood in The Brooklyn Eagle is on March 18, 1854, in an announcement of an auction of several tracts of land.

Living in Windsor Terrace had many perks. It was located at the extreme northwest of the town of Flatbush, just over the border from the city of Brooklyn. Residents could enjoy the convenience of the growing city while remaining “free from the city taxes and assessments”. It was adjacent to Green-Wood Cemetery, a very popular destination for tourism, picnicking, and leisure. Its position on a hill (which might have inspired the “Terrace” part of its name) offered views of Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Rockaways, and the Atlantic Ocean. And in the early 1860s, Prospect Park was proposed.

Map of the original six towns of Kings County. (From Ephemeral New York)

In the never-ending morphing of Brooklyn neighborhoods, Windsor Terrace has since expanded to incorporate a few blocks of what was formerly Brooklyn proper. Terrace Place approximates the boundary between Brooklyn and Flatbush.

Detail from an 1873 map of Flatbush. Terrace Place, the border of Brooklyn and Flatbush, is one block above Seeley Street. (From the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection)

The northernmost point of Windsor Terrace is Bartel-Pritchard Square, a popular access-point to Prospect Park. It is named for two residents, Emil Bartel and William Pritchard, who were killed in the final months of World War I. The two columns are replicas of an acanthus column dating from the 4th century B.C. that might have marked the center of the Greek world. (Maybe I should stop using them to stretch when I’m running.)

Photograph of the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park, now known as Bartel-Pritchard Square, 1915. (From the Prospect Park archives)

The first public transportation came to the area in 1871, when the Park Avenue Line of coach-drawn carriages was extended from Grand Army Plaza down 9th Avenue (now Prospect Park West) to Green-Wood Cemetery. (The entrance to the cemetery at that spot was built as a result.) The fare was five cents, and cars ran every four minutes. Signs were posted in English and German — perhaps I will learn why when I research a future neighborhood.

Connection to the south end of the county came in 1875 with the completion of the Culver Line, a surface railroad. Travelers could now get from Coney Island to downtown Brooklyn with a single connection at Green-Wood between the Culver Line and the Park Avenue Line. The new route also provided easy access to the Brooklyn Jockey Club, a horse-racing track. The line was named for Andrew Culver, the founder of the Prospect Park & Coney Island Railroad, which first operated the line.

1894 Long Island Railroad map. Windsor Terrace is at the very top. (From Arrt’s Archives)

Transportation-projects brought upheaval — literally — to the neighborhood twice in the 20th century. The first was the building of the second Culver Line, now home to the F and G trains. This was part of the new Independent Subway System (IND, today’s lines A-G), started by New York City in the 1920s to compete with the privately owned Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT, today’s numbered lines) and Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT, today’s other lettered lines).

The construction called for the “cut and cover” method, which required all buildings along the route to be destroyed, then rebuilt after the subway was completed. One of the casualties was a basement bowling-alley. Service between Church Av and Jay St began in 1933.

Cross-section of a plan for a station along the IND Culver Line, showing “support for future buildings”. (From nycsubway.org)

The second upheaval, in the 1950s, came courtesy of our favorite neighborhood-destroying villain. Windsor Terrace was a perfect spot for crossing into south Brooklyn between the Park and the Cemetery, and was used as such for many commuters every day, causing traffic issues on the streets of the neighborhood. Of course, Robert Moses couldn’t wait to get his grubby little hands on the space.

The Prospect Expressway connects the Gowanus Expressway with Ocean Parkway. Construction began in late 1953; the final section, between Greenwood Av and Church Av, was opened on June 12, 1962. To build the two-mile stretch, the city had to remove 1,252 tenants and to “condemn” hundreds of buildings.

1912 photograph of Prospect Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, later Windsor Terrace Methodist Church, a victim of the Prospect Expressway. The congregation moved to Vanderbilt St and E 3 St. (From BPL’s Brooklyn Collection)

For nearly a century, the neighborhood comprised mostly Irish immigrants and their descendants. This legacy remains in the identities of the neighborhood’s three main private educational institutions: Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School, Holy Name of Jesus School, and Immaculate Heart of Mary School. (P.S. 30 and P.S. 154 are also within the neighborhood’s confines.) Bishop Ford is named in honor of Francis X. Ford, a Catholic missionary who worked in China for 34 years before dying in prison in 1952, after two years of captivity and torture. (Disclosure: Bishop Ford also has a close relationship with my running-club, Prospect Park Track Club.)

Windsor Terrace has historically been much more affordable than “more-glamorous” areas like Park Slope; however, it, too, was subject to the rapid rise of housing-prices in the mid-2000s. The opportunity to sell proved too tempting for some long-time residents, resulting in a turnover in population. The neighborhood has seen some diversification, but apparently still maintains a close-knit feel.

I’ve heard a lot about Farrell’s, at Prospect Park West and 16 St. It was one of the first bars to open after the end of Prohibition. I look forward to visiting it later this week. The neighborhood is also home to Kensington Stables, the last stable in the area of Prospect Park.

Bound sources:

Brooklyn’s Windsor Terrace, Kensington, & Parkville communities by Brian Merlis and Lee A Rosenzweig (Israelowitz Publishing, 2010). [The text of Liz Farrell’s history from that book is available here.]

The neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Kenneth T. Jackson, Ed. (Yale University Press, 2004).

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10 Responses to Windsor Terrace: a river of cars runs through it

  1. Anne Perzeszty says:

    Keith,
    I cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts and how much I am learning about my adopted home borough. Carry on – I am following you every step of the way.

  2. chickenunderwear says:

    My Mother in law tells me that Bartel Prichard Square (and Park Circle) were once trolley turntables.

  3. Keith says:

    Thanks, Anne! I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

    Michael, that’s cool. I’ll have a look to see what I can find on that …

  4. Joe Furshong says:

    I am an annual visitor (my son lives on Sherman St) and I truly enjoyed your synopsis of Windsor Terrace history. I am hoping you will dig deeper and share.

  5. I grew up in Windsor Terrace and went to both PS 30 and Ps 154, before the Prospect expressway was built. It was a closeknit neighborhood, my father had a small Dry Goods Store and we knew everyone. I have not seen it since 1964. I hear it is quite the place to live now.

  6. another clueless new resident says:

    I just wanted to say I have nothing to comment on

  7. I grew up on 18th street between 10th and 11th avenue. I watched the old trolley car barn come down when Bishop Ford high school replaced it. Numerous houses were demolished in order to build The Prospect Expressway. My uncle Jimmy had a grocery store on the corner of Windsor Place and 11th Avenue across from PS 154. The neighborhood was and still is a GREAT place to live. Of course, Farrells bar helps keep us all in touch; social media for the baby boomers.

  8. Pingback: What’s in a Name? How The Brooklyn Neighborhoods Got Their Names | The Index

  9. Luigi Ruocco says:

    What about the Coney Island Railroad Horse barn that was on PPSW (then Coney Island Ave/Plankroad and 15-17th Sts.? It was there in 1886.

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