"Bushwick" A brochure published in 1946 by the Brooklyn Eagle
A March 8, 2012 New York Times article declares that, “As with SoHo, Chelsea and the Lower East Side before it, Bushwick is shaping up as the city’s next gallery district.” This and other recent Titles articles with titles such as “The Vanguard Alights” and “Bushwick is Getting Some Wine Shops” indicate that Bushwick has come of age as a (not so) new New York hipster destination.
As I flipped through a booklet entitled “Bushwick,” published in 1946 as part of a series of six booklets for public school students about the history of Brooklyn townships, Bushwick has a long history dating back 300 years. On August 1, 1638, the West India Company bought from the Indians the land that comprises the old town of Bushwick for “8 fathoms of duffels cloth, 8 fathoms of wampum, 12 kettles, 8 adzes, 8 axes, some knives, corals and awls.” The town was chartered by Peter Stuyvesant in 1661 and named “Boswijck,” meaning “little town in the woods” in Dutch.
By the end of the Revolution, Bushwick consisted of three hamlets whose inhabitants were mostly farmers growing fruits and vegetables for the New York markets. This farmland was coveted by real estate speculators who wanted to build a suburban development.
The Bushwick village square, no date (source: BUSHWICK bythe Brooklyn Eagle)
In 1868, the Long Island Railroad added a Bushwick Branch and in 1885, the Lexington Avenue elevated, the first elevated train in Brooklyn, terminated in Bushwick thus making the area accessible by public transportation. At the same time, as the New York area began to industrialize, factories were built, including Peter Cooper’s first, a glue factory. The area was also home to 44 breweries by 1904 due to a large influx of German immigrants, making it the “beer capital of the Northeast.”
During the 20th century, the area shifted demographics, first becoming one of the largest Italian-American communities and later in the century becoming predominantly African-American. For a time, Bushwick was a very affluent area, with grand homes on grand boulevards, according to the nyc.gov website:
Bushwick homes were designed in the Italianate, Neo Greco, Romanesque Revival, and Queen Anne styles by well known architects. The New York City Landmarks Commission considered two sections worthy of Historic District Status in the 1970’s and described the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Lindens Street as “one of the finest groups of Romanesque Revival architecture in the City.”
Looting in Bushwick after the blackout of 1977 (photo: © Alon Reininger)
By the time of the New York City blackout in the summer of 1977, Bushwick had become an economically depressed area. During the blackout, many of the area’s shop were looted and were forced to close permanently. In addition, an arson fire three days after the blackout left 23 buildings destroyed over 7 blocks.
Since then, Bushwick has been slowly making a comeback, both residentially and commercially. On his website “Up From Flames,” about the recovery of Bushwick, Adam Schwartz writes:
The events of July 1977, however apocalyptic they may have seemed, were also a turning point for Bushwick. The neighborhood had been suffering out of sight for many years. After the jarring week of looting during the blackout and the “All Hands Fire”, the media came to Bushwick, and put it on the map. Through the city’s attention and the fire department’s innovative fire prevention program Bushwick was able to begin the process of regeneration.
After a long period of urban blight, Bushwick is once again transitioning, for better or worse. Ironically, there is even a Bushwick Farmers Market, a project of Ecostation: NY, who has also developed Farm-in-the-Sky, a prototype rooftop farm that has brought farming back, after three centuries, to the hamlet of Bushwick.
“Bushwick,” Brookyn Eagle Historic and Beautiful Brooklyn Pamphlet Series
(Flatlands, Flatbush, Brooklyn, Bushwick, New Utrecht, Gravesend)