Happy 350th birthday, Bensonhurst!

December 31, 2011 Denise Romano
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Bensonhurst had a big birthday this week – it turned 350 yearsold on December 22.

It was in the year 1661 that Dutch colonists purchased the land- known today as Bensonhurst, Bath Beach and Dyker Heights – fromnative Americans to form the town of New Utrecht. One of thereminders of that time is the New Utrecht Reformed Church, whichwas founded by the Dutch and whose current structure dates back to1829.

In front of the church – now a city landmark — is one of theneighborhood’s most historic artifacts, the Liberty Pole, theoriginal of which was put up in 1783 to mark the end of theAmerican Revolution.

But the actual designation of Bensonhurst happened sometime inthe 1800s, the name a salute to Arthur W. Benson, a descendant ofthese settlers and former president of Brooklyn Union Gas, whostarted purchasing farmland from another family in 1835.

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The Benson family owned all of the property there and theylived on a large farm, explained Brooklyn Borough Historian RonSchweiger, adding that Benson Avenue is named after this family.During the 1800s, other developers started to come in and buy upthe farmland. It was more profitable for farmers to sell their landinstead of actually farming.

Schweiger said that, eventually, steam railroad tracks werebuilt and ran all through the borough. The B and Q train trackswere originally put down in 1878. It was called the BrooklynFlatbush Coney Island Railroad.

These railroad tracks helped the community expand and developersbegan building houses and commercial strips. It started to evolve atown or a hurst, thus the name Bensonhurst.

The adjacent community of what is known today as Bath Beach, hadanother name in the 1800s, Bensonhurst by the Sea. It was a popularsummer resort town, named after Bath, England. There were severalboating and yacht clubs and plenty of hip hotels – including theHotel Argyle, which stood at Bay 22 Street and Cropsey Avenue.

Those who live in Bensonhurst today experience remnants of itsseaside past – residents still sweep sand off the street. It wasalso impossible to dig subway tunnels or lay certain types of cableunderground because of the soft, sandy subsoil. That’s one of thereasons why the trains are elevated and why some residents stillcan’t get certain types of cable television, depending on how closeto the shoreline their homes are.

But that suits them just fine.

Carol Botte has been living in Bensonhurst for the past 50years. I love it, there’s no place like Bensonhurst, she said.It’s close to all transportation and you can go all over the cityfrom here. Plus, we have under the el [the elevated train] forshopping, which has been fantastic all these years.

Botte had a slice of history right on her block. She recalled ahouse that was demolished a few years ago across the street fromher 16th Avenue home.

It used to be the servant’s home of all the rich people who hadestates and mansions, she explained. All of the servants actuallylived there. It wasn’t up by the curb; it was set way back andthat’s because it was part of a mansion. But that mansion was goneby the time I got here.

Botte also enjoys the closeness to the shoreline- just like theearly settlers did. The bike path along the waterfront is one ofthe treasures of our city, she said. The ocean is right at yourfingertips.

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