Tuesday, July 23, 2024

RED HOOK: THE MOST IMPORTANT PORT OF THE COUNTRY IN THE XIX CENTURY, AND A DEPRESSED NEIGHBOURHOOD IN THE XX

In 1636, the Dutch formed the settlement of Roode Hoek. Red Hook was one of the first neighborhoods in Brooklyn to be populated. The area was named for its red clay soil and the hook-shaped Brooklyn Peninsula that protrudes into the East River. In the mid-nineteenth century, Red Hook rose to prominence as one of the country’s most important ports. Read more about its story at brooklyn-future.

Heroic story

While Manhattan and Brooklyn were desirable destinations during times of peace, during times of war, they were both endangered and played a very important role. The same was true during the War of Independence. Red Hook Fort Defiance played a key role in the Battle of Brooklyn, the first major battle following the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July. In late August 1776, the British launched a three-pronged attack on Brooklyn, aiming to eliminate Washington’s Continental Army. At an appropriately daring moment, with the prayer “Hail Mary”, shots were fired from the fort. This nearly resulted in the sinking of HMS Roebuck, the flagship of the British Navy, sending them limping back to the British fortress on Staten Island. By the way, the British were not destined to defeat the American army in that battle. George Washington saved the troops by retreating and crossing the East River.

The heyday and decline of the port system

In the 1840s, entrepreneurs began constructing ports as part of the Erie Canal’s unloading point. These included the Atlantic Basin, which was deepened in 1850, and the Erie Basin, which was deepened in 1864. At the same time, in 1849, the New York State Legislature approved the deepening of the neighboring Gowanus Creek River, allowing it to serve as a 2.4-kilometer-long commercial canal connected to upper New York Bay. Dredging was completed in 1860. Another legislative act, passed in 1867, permitted the canal to be deepened even further. After the river was dredged, Red Hook became an industrial center, with up to 26,000 vessels passing through each year. Dockworkers of various ethnicities began settling in Red Hook. 

In the 1890s, African-American dockworkers began to flock to Red Hook, and Italians settled on Columbia Street. Many dockworkers resided in boarding houses, some of which were illegally constructed regular homes. However, as it is often the case, industrial development has given way to decline, resulting in chaotic shacks. In the mid-1880s, a slab city of 2,000 squatters and several hundred livestock had formed around Hamilton Avenue. The neighborhood’s reputation suffered even more when, at the turn of the 20th century, organized crime started to grow in Red Hook. Beginning in the 1920s, many poor and unemployed Norwegians, mostly former sailors, lived in the area that they called the “bitter desert”, around places like Hamilton Avenue and Gospel Hill.

In the 1990s, Life magazine named Red Hook one of the “worst” neighborhoods in the United States and the “crack capital of America.” In 1992, Patrick Daly, the principal of Public School 15 in Red Hook, was killed during a drug-related shooting while looking for a student who had left the school. The school was later renamed the Patrick F. Daly School in his honor.

Red Hook and IKEA

Red Hook has a large IKEA store (32,100 square meters) that opened on June 18, 2008. In this regard, a free ferry started sailing here, improving logistics. Red Hook also serves as a port for the transatlantic liner RMS Queen Mary 2. In the spring of 2006, a new cruise line terminal, Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on Payoner Street, opened at Pier 12, attracting more tourists. The Red Hook Container Terminal is one of four such facilities in the New York and New Jersey ports, as well as the only marine facility in Brooklyn that handles container ships.

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