On This Day in History, March 30: The Bergens Settle in Brooklyn

March 30, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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On March 30, 1647, Hans Hansen Bergen, Brook-lyn’s first Norwegian settler, received a “patent” for a 400-acre farm in the Wallabout Bay area.

The Bergens had landed with the sea breezes at what became Bergen Beach. Hans’ descendants eventually sold the beach property and it became a summer resort that thrived in the 1890s and the early 20th century. It could not compete with Coney Island and Rockaway and by 1926 the last section had been sold for a development of one-family houses. Houses were built and picnic groves were set along the streets, but much of the area remained undeveloped until the later 20th century.

The Norwegians who settled in New Amsterdam in the 17th century became shopkeepers, innkeepers, carpenters, traders and shipbuilders. They also introduced a style of clapboard house that became common in the colony. One immigrant was Anneken Henriksen from Bergen, who in 1650 married Jan Arentzen van der Bilt, forbearers of the Vanderbilt family.

The port area attracted sailors, carpenters, and those skilled in other aspects of the maritime industry. In the mid-19th century there was a large Norwegian neighborhood around the docks, piers and shipyards along Hamilton Avenue near what is now Red Hook. For many years the Norwegian Seamen’s Church owned an impressive edifice at 33 First Place in Carroll Gardens before moving to smaller quarters in Manhattan. Many Norwegians settled, about the turn of the century, in Bay Ridge, a community that supported a wide range of Norwegian cultural institutions and businesses.

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As many as 55,000 first- and second-generation Nor-wegians lived in New York City in 1940, most of them in Bay Ridge, which has since lost some of its Norwegian character as second- and third-generation Norwegians moved to the suburbs. However it was still Norwegian enough in 1975 for King Olaf V of Norway to honor the community with a royal visit.

Prominent Norwegian immigrants of the city and its environs have included Ole Singstad, who built the Holland Tunnel, and Thor Solberg, a pioneer aviator who in 1935 was the first person to fly solo from the U.S. to Norway.

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