Gowanus, Brooklyn (History)

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(Neighborhoods In Brooklyn)

Gowanus is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community Board 6. It is situated roughly between Red Hook and Carroll Gardens on the west and Park Slope on the east. Bounded by Butler Street to the north, the neighborhood runs alongside and surrounds the Gowanus Canal, ending with the Gowanus Expressway to the south where Hamilton Ave meets 17th street. Smith and Bond Street are generally considered the western boundaries, with Fourth Avenue as the eastern boundary. The neighborhood is marked by the elevated Smith-Ninth Street subway station.

The Gowanus area has been an active center of industrial and shipping activity since the 1860s. It is zoned for light to mid-level manufacturing (M1, M2, and M3). The majority of residents live in two NYCHA housing projects, Wyckoff Gardens and Gowanus Houses. Residential zoning is also found near the eastern and western borders. These areas consist of mostly frame housing, built prior to constructing the canal in 1860, in contrast to the brownstone homes found in neighboring Park Slope that were built from the building materials shipped in along the constructed canal. The residents of Gowanus are proud of their neighborhood and its name.

Gowanus, one of the few remaining manufacturing neighborhoods in Brooklyn, is having an industrial renaissance as it re-attracts new small manufacturing businesses, many owned by individuals who live in the adjoining residential neighborhoods and walk or bike to work. Demand for light-industrial space in Gowanus is on the rise as manufacturing districts in many other parts of the city are in the process of re-zoning or have already been re-zoned for residential use which has left innumerable businesses and individuals seeking available and affordable workspace elsewhere.

Recently, residential developers have been hindered by the industrial zoning and the problems of the sewage overflow through the canal water, but there have been rumors of rezoning by the New York City Department of City Planning.

In 1636, Gowanus Bay was the site of the first settlement by Dutch farmers in what is now Brooklyn. First settled by Dutch (1630) and English, an opening skirmish of the Battle of Brooklyn was held there. By the late 19th and early 20th century the area also became home to immigrants, then arriving from Ireland, Italy and Germany.

The ponds of the original Gowanus meadowlands served the power needs of the early settlers who used them to drive gristmills. The Gowanus later became an active center of industrial activity after the construction of the canal and the draining of the ponds began in 1860’s. After World War II, with the decline of shipping at the port of Red Hook and the decrease of manufacturing around New York City in general, the vibrancy of industry in Gowanus began to change as larger industrial users left the city. However, during 1980’s and 1990’s, many larger buildings were successfully adapted for smaller, industrial and creative users, which by 2000 was the largest growing segment within the industrial sector.

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