Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn (History)

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(Neighborhoods In Brooklyn)

Gerritsen Beach is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, located near Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay. The area is served by Brooklyn Community Board 15.
Gerritsen Beach lies on a peninsula in the southeastern part of Brooklyn, near Marine Park; it is bounded on the north by Avenue U, to the east by Gerritsen Avenue, to the south by the Plumb Beach Channel, and on the west by Shell Bank Creek and Knapp Street. It is bisected, from west to east, by the Gotham Avenue Canal. The area north of the canal, known as the “new section” by local residents, has traditional city streets lined with stores, brick houses, and wide sidewalks; the elementary school, P.S. 277 (“The Gerritsen Beach School”), is also north of the canal. The area south of the canal (the “old section”) retains the character of a small fishing village and is a popular spot for party boats and chartered fishing boats to be berthed. The streets in Gerritsen Beach are in alphabetical order (that is, Aster, Bevy, Celeste, Dictum, etc.), and they are patrolled by officers of the New York Police Department’s 61st Precinct.

The neighborhood is named for Wolphert Gerretse, a Dutch settler, who, in the early seventeenth century, built a house and mill on Gerritsen Creek (which is now part of Marine Park.) The three-hundred-year-old mill was destroyed by fire in 1931.

Until the early twentieth century, the area remained undeveloped except for a few squatters’ bungalows clustered at the foot of Gerritsen Avenue. In 1920, Realty Associates, a speculative real-estate builder, began constructing a middle-class summer resort there. The southwestern section of Gerritsen’s meadow was soon covered by one-story bungalows with peaked roofs and no backyards; typically, these houses were built on tiny 40-by-45-foot lots. The popularity of this venture spurred further growth. Some bungalow-owners made them suitable for year-round habitation; others built two-story houses with backyards; and, within a decade, there were fifteen hundred houses in Gerritsen Beach. With its narrow streets and closely-bunched homes (some sitting directly at the water’s edge), this neighborhood in south Brooklyn is often likened to a New England fishing village.

The neighborhood has residents of many different races and ethnic backgrounds, but there is a large Irish-Catholic presence in the community. A few long-standing residents of Irish descent refer to the community as being cois farraige, which is an Irish language phrase meaning “by the sea.”

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