Flatbush, Brooklyn (History)

(Neighborhoods In Brooklyn)

Flatbush is a community of the Borough of Brooklyn, a part of New York City, consisting of several neighborhoods.

The name Flatbush is an Anglicization of the Dutch language Vlacke bos (vlacke = vlak = flat; “flat woodland” or “wooded plain”).
The Flatbush Post Office is assigned postal zone (ZIP Code) 11226, but the area understood as included in Flatbush extends into other postal zones.

The Flatbush community has been receiving an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean, mostly from Haiti, Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Barbados, St. Lucia and Belize since the 1980s, as well as immigrants from India and African countries like Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Kenya. Haitians are the largest ethnic group in Flatbush. Prior to the arrival of these groups, the Flatbush community had already been diverse, with many Italians, African-Americans and Jews. Flatbush is patrolled by the NYPD’s 67th and 70th Precincts.

 

HISTORY

Flatbush was originally chartered as the Dutch Nieuw Nederland colony town of Midwout in 1651. Both names were used in the Dutch era, and Midwood was an alternative name for Flatbush into the early 20th century. Midwood now describes the area immediately south of Brooklyn College. Midwood’s residents predominately feature a mix of Orthodox Jews and Irish Americans.

Flatbush and the five other towns of what was to become Kings County were surrendered to the English in 1664. The influence of Dutch merchant and farming families remained strong in the area until after consolidation into the City of Greater New York in 1898, after which the development of Flatbush as a suburb, and then an integral part of the larger city, proceeded apace.
Flatbush Public Library in 1915

Before it was incorporated into the City of Brooklyn in 1894, Flatbush described both the Town of Flatbush, incorporating a large swath of central Kings County extending east to the Queens County border, and the Village of Flatbush, formerly the heart of the current community. Many of the remaining early Dutch structures are in the Flatlands and Marine Park neighborhoods.

In the first half of the 20th century, Flatbush had a sizable population of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans and Jews. Much as it is today, it was a working class neighborhood. A vast portion of Flatbush residents closely followed the Brooklyn Dodgers, which at the time were not only the team of Brooklyn but also of Flatbush in particular. Duke Snider was known as “the Duke of Flatbush”. However, by 1958 the Dodgers left Brooklyn, and Ebbets Field was eventually torn down. Due to shifting neighborhood boundaries, Ebbets Field today would technically be in Crown Heights, as the ballpark was located just north of Empire Boulevard.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Flatbush experienced a shift in demographics as it went from being a mostly White, Irish, Italian and Jewish community to a mostly Black, West Indian community. While most sections of Flatbush were working class before the demographic shift, there were a few affluent areas. Prospect Park South had a sizable number of more affluent homeowners, and more than a few doctors resided on a stretch of Parkside Avenue immediately adjacent to Prospect Park. However by the mid-1980s, there were a number of abandoned or semi-abandoned buildings in the community, with a number of apartment houses falling into a state of disrepair. Many of the affluent residents left Flatbush and were replaced by lower income residents. While crime had generally always been a problem in the community (e.g., a number of stores on Flatbush and Church Avenues were looted during the 1977 blackout), a drug epidemic ravaged Flatbush during the 1980s and early 1990s. The area around the Parade Grounds was particularly notorious for drug turf wars and shootouts. Street gangs were also prevalent in Flatbush. Columbia Pictures shot some of the 1974 film The Lords of Flatbush here, and CBS aired a short-lived sitcom named Flatbush in 1979, based somewhat on “The Lords of Flatbush”, but set in contemporary times.

 

DEMOGRAPHICS

The following are U.S. Census Bureau figures for the principal zip code area of Flatbush, 11226.[5] They exclude major portions of Flatbush that extend into other zip code areas.

As of the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 37,132 housing units with 106,154 people living in zip code 11226. Of those 79.8% were Black or African American, 14% were Hispanic or Latino, 6.5% were White, 2.8% were Asian, 0.4% Native American, 5.7% were some other race and 4.9% were two or more races. Of the population 25 and older 64.5% are High School graduates or higher and 12.4% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. 39.9% speak a language other than English at home. The median family income in zip code 11226 as of 1999 was $30,985, the median per capita income was $13,052. 23.2% of residents in this area were below the poverty level.