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Heff's Corner: A Walk Through History

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Hello to all our friends on “Heff’s Corner.” On a quiet walk home from The Rhapsody Players’ rehearsal last evening at St John’s Church, a sense of history came over me. I looked at Fort Hamilton, founded in 1825, and thought to myself how lucky we are to live in an area so rich in history and steeped in tradition.
 
St John’s, known as the “Church of the Generals,” was founded in 1834 and such military luminaries as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were vestrymen there! St Patrick’s School was first erected in 1863 and the church, a few years earlier, was founded to serve the immigrant farmers and soldiers who were stationed at the fort.
 
Bay Ridge was farmland and was initially named “Yellowhook” after the color of the soil found by the shoreline. That name was changed to “Bay Ridge” after the yellow fever epidemic of 1853. Farmers brought their produce to a landing on 79th Street and Shore Road, where ships waited to sail them to New York City and surrounding markets.
 
An extremely interesting book that was published by the Bay Ridge Historical Society several years ago and credits Peter Scarpa, Lawrence Stelter and Peter Syrdahl, provides a rare view of what Bay Ridge looked like after the Civil War. This collection of photographs is amazing. To actually see the very streets and avenues that we have trod upon our whole lives as they were 150 years ago boggles one’s mind. 
Early photos taken by the famous photographer and Bay Ridge resident, Samuel Winter, depict our neighborhood as one of many farms, lanes and mansions. People flocked to the seaside along Shore Road and bathed in the Narrows.
 
The famous Crescent Athletic Club, which is now the home of Fort Hamilton High School, was the playground of the wealthy. The boathouse on 82nd Street was huge and many of the most powerful men in America docked their yachts right off Shore Road! St. John’s Episcopal Church is commonly referred to as “The Church pf the Generals.”
 
More than 100 years before this time, our neighborhood was the site of the British troop landing (Dyker Beach). They made their encampment in what is now known as John Paul Jones Park (“Cannonball Park” to native Ridgeites). The colonial militia retreated from this point to what is now known as Park Slope, and “The Battle of Brooklyn” ensued.
 
Behind Xaverian High School, on McKay Place and Narrows Avenue, stands the Barkaloo Cemetery. Revolutionary War veterans Jacques Barkaloo and Simon Cortelyou are interred there.
 
We at “Heff’s Corner” truly appreciate our wonderful neighborhood, but not just for its beautiful parks and landscapes, or its view of the greatest natural harbor on earth, or its majestic Verrazano Bridge that looms steadfastly above us. It is the site of the beginning of the American Revolution! It is also a place where our forefathers cultivated the land, to which the rich and famous flocked on the weekends, and the early Wall Street magnates made their playground. All of this in our own little village by the sea!
 
So, as usual, we urge you to join us in enjoying all that our neighborhood has to offer — the parks, restaurants and bars, the beautiful churches, the great community theater and entertainment, the list goes on.
 
Next time you are strolling on the Shore Promenade, close your eyes for a second and think of what came before us — who were here and how they lived ... a wealth of history and tradition right here at home.
Ah, Bay Ridge ... a great place to live.
January 26, 2012 - 11:34am


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