Manhattan Beach

Ask a historian: What’s the nautical history of southern Brooklyn?

September 17, 2019 John B. Manbeck

Gena of Sheepshead Bay asks: “I’d like to know more about Captain Knuth of ‘The Flying D,’ a Sheepshead Bay fishing boat, and who Voorhies Avenue was named after.” 

Jayne from Manhattan Beach asks: “What is the history of 190 Exeter St.? Was a hospital on this site?”

Both of these questions deal with the nautical history of southern Brooklyn.

For centuries, inhabitants of this coast lived with the ocean. Sheepshead Bay was named after a common fish — and at one point, connected to Coney Island Creek, making Coney a real island. But in the late 19th century, it became a destination for vacationers with three large hotels and entertainment to attract a diverse summertime crowd that enjoyed fresh seafood. Fishing boats guaranteed a ready supply.

At first, the commercial fishing fleet working for the restaurants and hotels fulfilled the need. But then people bought fresh fish at the docks to take home. Lundy’s built a shed on the dock before opening its large restaurant. Private fishermen saw an opportunity and began advertising cruises for locals to fish for their own catch. Soon recreational fishermen lined up at the docks. Fishing fleets saw an opportunity.

In 1925, Captain Tom Palowski built the “Flying D” and successfully developed a list of faithful customers. In a decade, he decided to retire. He sold the name to Captain Roy Knuth, but the new captain decided to rebuild the boat. In 1934, Knuth turned to the Bergen Boatworks in Mill Basin to build “Flying D II.” Eventually, Roy’s son, Frank (or “Lupo”) took over the enterprise and built a house in Sheepshead Bay.

The Voorhies name is Dutch. Their families arrived in New Amsterdam in the 17th century. The street in Sheepshead Bay was named for Stephen Voorhies, an official appraiser of the Town of Gravesend who worked for John Y. McKane, the town supervisor.

Across the bay lies 190 Exeter St., which, according to Google Maps, is today a daycare center. No, a hospital was not on this site but one was on Manhattan Beach.

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Many of the houses on Manhattan Beach are private homes that were sold by Joseph Day to developers starting in 1906 who had to conform to plans. All streets were named after British places. Each had a minimum size plot and all utilities came in through an alley behind the garages, not from poles along the streets. Only one apartment house was constructed on Manhattan Beach, due to a variance in the laws.

When World War II was declared in December 1941, Joseph Day sold his Manhattan Beach Baths to the federal government. A Merchant Marine Training Center opened at the eastern tip where Kingsborough College now stands. The Parks Department public beach area was occupied by a U.S. Coast Guard Training base.

Between the two military bases was a U.S. government military hospital. That remained on Manhattan Beach until the land was sold to City University of New York in 1964 for a community college. The government planned to build a new Veterans’ Hospital in Dyker Heights near Fort Hamilton since the Manhattan Beach bases has been closed.

The college had no use for the abandoned hospital building, so it was sold to The Menorah Home to build a senior residence.

Ask a Historian is written by John B. Manbeck, the former Brooklyn Borough Historian. To find answers to your questions about our fair borough and its history, fill out the form below. 

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