The History of Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Bay Ridge Neighborhood with Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (May 26, 2013)
Bay Ridge Neighborhood with Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (May 26, 2013)

For most residents of the New York metropolitan area, the Bay Ridge section of the Borough of Brooklyn, New York, is remembered as part of the New York City marathon route.  Moviegoers remember the locale as the setting for the 1977 feature film Saturday Night Fever.  For motorists, the community is used to reach the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, by way of either the Gowanus Expressway or the Belt Parkway.  Concealed from view on the silver screen or through an automobile window is the rich history and natural beauty of Long Island’s westerly tip.  Bay Ridge and the adjacent community and military enterprise of Fort Hamilton border picturesque New York Bay and share a collective history that dates back to early Dutch colonization.  The following is a half-millennium account that highlights early European exploration and the area’s brief tenure as a playground for the wealthy.  It also features a historiography of Bay Ridge’s most distinct structure, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Early Settlement to the American Revolution

Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton stand at the western edge of Long Island, along New York Bay and the Narrows.  The latter waterway is a strait that separates Long Island from Staten Island.[1]  At one point, Bay Ridge extended as far north as Thirty-Ninth Street into present-day Sunset Park.  However, the construction of Interstate 278/Gowanus Expressway and the approaches to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge physically divided the community, created Sunset Park, and defined the eastern border.  Currently, Bay Ridge is circumscribed by the Gowanus Expressway and the Belt Parkway to form a clearly defined neighborhood.  On the east side of the Gowanus Expressway along the Narrows lies Fort Hamilton military post.[2]

The first European vessel to sail through the Narrows was the Dauphine, a three-masted carrack, under the command of Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.  On the mild spring morning of April 17, 1524, sailing for King Francis I of France, Verrazzano slipped through the Narrows into Upper New York Bay.  In a journal, he described that after dropping anchor, he ventured to shore in a smaller vessel.  There he was greeted with joy by a native people.  It is assumed that he landed on what is now Staten Island.  Verrazzano called the upper bay a “very beautiful lake” and named it Bay of Saint Marguerite, after the King’s sister.  He called the territory the Land Angouleme, because the King was once the Count of Angouleme.[3]

European settlement of present-day Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton waited over a hundred years following Verrazzano’s journey.  The area known as Fort Hamilton was first settled by Jacques Barkeloo in 1620.[4]  By the 1630s, the Dutch colonies of New Amsterdam and Breukelen were established on Manhattan and Long Island.  On August 3, 1639, Anthony Jansen Van Sales, one of New Amsterdam’s first African-American settlers, received a land patent from the Dutch West India Company under Governor-General Kieft for two hundred acres “on the bay of the North [Hudson] River,” near the current New Utrecht-Gravesend border.  While Van Sales applied for the land grant in 1643, it was retroactive to 1639.  A condition was that Van Sales improve the land and pay a small rent.  A May 27, 1643 patent confirms a house was built.  By 1660, Van Sales sold his land and returned to New Amsterdam.  Following the Van Sales patent, additional lands lying between Gowanus and Coney Island were purchased by Governor Kieft on account of the West India Company from Chief Penhawitz of the Lenape Indians.  The land was partly in present-day Gravesend and partly in New Utrecht.[5] [6]

The Narrows, Shore Road Park (May 26, 2013)
The Narrows, Shore Road Park (May 26, 2013)

The next chapter in the history of Bay Ridge is the formation of the Town of New Utrecht.  In 1652, Cornelius Van Werckhoven, a magistrate of the Netherlands city of Utrecht and a shareholder of the Dutch West India Company, received permission from Governor Peter Stuyvesant to purchase 180 acres from the Lenape in exchange for clothing and tools.  When Werckhoven set out to claim his land, with land agent Augustus Heermans and his children’s tutor, French Huguenot Jacques Cortelyou, other Indians resided there and denied knowledge of any prior sale.  He therefore repurchased the land on November 22, 1652.  The second purchase totaled over 1,000 acres and included the Nyack Indian village on present-day Fort Hamilton as well as Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Borough Park, and Bath Beach.  Items exchanged for land included two shirts, two pairs of shoes, six pairs of stockings, six adzes, six knives, two scissors, and six combs.  Soon after, Van Werkchoven returned to Holland to recruit settlers where he unfortunately died in 1655.  Cortelyou continued Werckhoven’s efforts.   A man of education and accomplishments, Cortelyou, with a group of eighteen settlers, acquired more land and established the Town of New Utrecht in 1657, named after Werckhoven’s hometown.  It encompassed the present-day neighborhoods of Fort Hamilton and Bay Ridge.  Early settlers were free farmers, skilled cultivators, herders, dairymen, and gardeners.  By 1661 a charter granted municipal powers and the first magistrates were Jan Tomasse (Van Dycke), Rutger Joosten (Van Brunt), and Jacob Hellickers.  The schout, or sheriff, was Adriaen Hegeman.  In 1675, the land along the bay, present-day Bay Ridge, was divided and settled as Yellow Hook, so named because of the color of its sand as opposed to the red sand at Red Hook. Heretofore, the English captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664 and established New York.  However, the Dutch recaptured New Amsterdam on July 29, 1673.  Under Dutch Governor Colve, a new charter reorganized the west end of Long Island as Kings County on August 8.  Formerly, the British designated it as The West Riding of Yorkshire.  In late August 1674, the English, under Colonel Nicholl, recaptured the area once again and demanded the surrender of New Netherlands from Stuyvesant.  The action took place just off Fort Hamilton in Gravesend Bay.[7] [8] [9] [10]

Yellow Hook and present-day Fort Hamilton developed gradually and played an important role in the American Revolution.  In total, the Town of Utrecht had forty-one residents in 1672.  By 1698, the number rose to two hundred fifty-nine[11] and the town organized a militia.  New Utrecht’s slave population increased to one hundred nineteen by 1738.  With the increase in population came the need for more roads.  The earliest reference to present-day Shore Road was in 1715 when it was described as twenty-two yards wide running from the lane of Bernardus Janse, current Bay Ridge Ave, to a point beyond Dyker Meadows.  The waterfront location along the Narrows permitted Yellow Hook to evolve into a leg of the journey from New York to Philadelphia.  Travelers passed through Yellow Hook to board a Staten Island ferry.  For some, the journey originated in New York, or other parts of Kings County, and advanced toward the Narrows via a marked path at Yellow Hook across the farm of Teunis G. Bergen.  The voyage continued onto New Jersey and finally Pennsylvania.  John Lane ran the first ferry to Staten Island from Yellow Hook in 1753.  Other ferries that traversed the Narrows were on the Gelston and Bennett properties.  Additional ferries crossed over to other parts of Kings County or onto Manhattan.  One ferry was the Dyker Heights-bound Denyse, located on Denyse Ferry Lane, which was named after the ferry operator.[12]

Yellow Hook’s coastal position forced it to be a battleground during the Revolution.  As war became imminent, British ships gathered in the Narrows, poised to invade the rebellious colony.  The American patriots kept a small battery of cannons on the heights near today’s Fort Hamilton and fired upon the HMS Asia on the Fourth of July in 1776.  The British returned fire, with one cannonball lodged in the chimney of the Bennett house and another damaging the neighboring home of the Denyse family.[13]  On the morning of Aug 22, 1776, the British army landed at Bay Ridge and proceeded north to meet the American patriots at the largest battle of the war.  Along the way, the British looted farms, arrested patriots, and killed the unarmed General Nathaniel Woodhull.[14]  Today, the only remaining wharf in the area is Denyse Wharf, located under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  It is believed that it operated in colonial times and following patriot victory British troops departed Long Island from this wharf in 1783.[15]

Denyse Wharf, Fort Hamilton (October 27, 2013)
Denyse Wharf, Fort Hamilton (October 27, 2013)

In the early nineteen century, a fort was established on the heights where Fort Hamilton now stands.  Fort Lewis was a simple structure made of timber logs and earth.  Following the War of 1812, new plans called for the construction of two stone forts.  One was an island fort on Hendrick’s Reef, just off the Bay Ridge shore.  Completed in 1822, the fort was originally called Fort Diamond.  The name, however, was changed to Fort Lafayette to honor the French general who served in the American Revolution.  The Brooklyn tower of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge now stands on Fort Lafayette.  Construction of the second fort began in 1825 as stone was unloaded at Denyse Wharf.  Completed in 1833, the fort was named Fort Hamilton to honor the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Initially the surrounding neighborhood was called the Narrows, which featured a general store operated by the Church family who ran daily stagecoaches to Bernardus Janse Lane, current Bay Ridge Avenue, and Couwenhoven Lane.  The community name was later changed to Irishtown for all the laborers who built homes nearby.  By the 1840s, Fort Hamilton was the official name of the area surrounding the fort.  After West Point, Fort Hamilton is the second longest continuously garrisoned base in the nation.[16]  Both General Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson served on the base.  During the Civil War it served as a defense installation for the Union and as a prison.[17]  During World Wars I and II it was the stage for the embarkation of over 120,000 soldiers.  Today it features the Harbor Defense Museum.[18]

Growth of Transportation and the Gilded Age

When New York City became an industrial center in the nineteenth century,  Yellow Hook and Fort Hamilton grew into residential communities.  Many of the new citizens were Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants.[19]  With increased population, better transportation and infrastructure was needed.  By century’s end, at the height of the Gilded Age, the communities boasted exotic mansions and a rail connection to both eastern Long Island and the City of Brooklyn.

Sadly, in the 1840s, a yellow fever epidemic spread throughout Yellow Hook.  Many residents fled and abandoned their homes.  In 1850, a few men of means took advantage of the exodus and established the Ovington Village Association.  They envisioned that the panoramic landscape of woodlands, hills, and the sea would draw the wealthy of New York to construct homes and mansions.  The syndicate purchased the former Ovington family farm, which extended from Third Avenue to the neighborhood of Seventh Avenue, and forged Ovington Avenue.[20]  In light of the yellow fever epidemic, residents of “Yellow” Hook deemed it necessary to change the name of the community.  Florist James Weir suggested the name Bay Ridge and it was adopted in 1853.  It applied to the territory running from Sixty-First Street, the New Utrecht town line, to about Eighty-Sixth Street, from Sixth Avenue to the waterfront.[21]  The name is applicable since the land forms a ridge that overlooks the waters of New York Bay.[22]  Joseph Perry was the first to build a home in the planned community.  He was followed by Maltby G. Lane who bought the Bennett house and built a large bulkhead to cover his riparian rights to the Bay.   Confederate Army Colonel A.W. Johnson later built a home on the bluff known as the “shell house,” in which shells were imbedded in the plaster on the outside walls.  Neils Paulson went on to build a copper house at Eighty-Eighth Street and Shore Road.

The arrival of Senator Henry C. Murphy to Bay Ridge generated needed change.  He induced the State Legislature to enact a law to grade Fourth Avenue from Fort Hamilton to Atlantic Avenue in the City of Brooklyn.  The work also inspired other grading and transit facilities such as the elevated road along Third Avenue to Sixty-Fifth Street.[23]

Senator Murphy built a home on Colonial Road at what is now Owl’s Head Park.[24]  Originally the land was purchased by a free black man from West Africa named Swan Jansen Van Luane in 1680.[25]  Purportedly, the area took its name from the little cape on which it stood.[26]  Eliphalet W. Bliss, partner of oil magnate Charles Pratt,[27] purchased Murphy’s estate in 1866.  When Bliss’s widow died in 1905, the land was donated for a park.  Parks Commissioner Robert Moses turned it into the current twenty-seven-acre park in 1937.[28]

It was Senator Murphy who, in 1864, came across a travel journal written between 1679 and 1680.  In it, Jaspar Danckaerts and Peter Sluyter described an Indian village and the life of the Native American.  Translated by Murphy and published in 1867, it illustrates a bark longhouse of several families on the former Nayack village of Fort Hamilton.  Today, there is a dedication at Fort Hamilton to the bygone community.[29]  For his contributions to Bay Ridge, Senator Street is named to honor the six-term State Senator and former Brooklyn mayor.[30]

Owls Head Park (October 27, 2013)
Owls Head Park (October 27, 2013)

By the 1890s, hotels and resorts operated in the community.  One famous organization was the Crescent Athletic Club which opened in 1892.[31]  Located at Eighty-Third Street, it hosted the second Davis Cup match, attended by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.[32]  The club stood on the former estate of Justice Holmes Van Brunt of the New York State Supreme Court.  The area was also called Owl’s Head because of the high promontory just north of the club.  Locals disputed the claim of the aforementioned Owl’s Head Park to its usage of the name.  Another famous site was the Sea View Hotel which featured fishing parties on Shore Road.[33]

During this time, society leaders and wealthy business people lived in Victorian mansions in Bay Ridge.  The present Fontbonne Hall Academy on Shore Road was originally a mansion purchased by investment banker Diamond Jim Brady.  In 1937, it was acquired by the Sisters of St. Joseph and is now a private girl’s school.[34]  The current Bennett Farrell House on Ninety-Fifth Street near Shore Road was built by Joseph S. Bennett as a Greek revival style villa.  A descendant of an early New Utrecht family, Bennett sold the home to the Farrell family who lived in it from 1890 to 1912.  James Farrell was a Tammany Hall politician and his daughter Georgina was one of the first female graduates of the Pratt Institute.[35]

Fontbonne Academy (October 27, 2013)
Fontbonne Academy (October 27, 2013)
Bennet-Farrell House (October 27, 2013)
Bennet-Farrell House (October 27, 2013)

Fred C.Cocheu was a promoter of Bay Ridge.  He worked with the Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton Citizen’s Association and formed Bay Ridge Improvement Company with real estate operator P.H. Flynn.  Together they bought about 3,000 acres that extended from Fort Hamilton Avenue to Fourteenth Avenue and from Ovington Avenue southward to Eighty-Sixth Street hoping to convert it to a residential area.  They also introduced trolleys, complete with electric service by 1891.  The Bay Ridge Avenue trolley line was built from the Thirty-Ninth Street ferry along Second, Third, and Bay Ridge Avenues to Sixty-Fifth and Eighty-Sixth Streets.[36] [37]

The building of luxurious hotels and mansions, and the promotion of the Narrows as a summer getaway, was not enough to attract both the wealthy and commoner.  A faster means of transportation with New York and Brooklyn was necessary for the growth of Bay Ridge in the Gilded Age.  Therefore, the coming of the steel rail was of no casual consequence.  The narrative begins with the founding of the New York & Hempstead Railroad (NY & Hempstead RR) in 1870.  Designed as an alternate to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), the planned road was to traverse from Bay Ridge through New Utrecht, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Lots, Woodhaven, and Jamaica, and onto Hempstead, a distance of about twenty-one miles.  Since the LIRR freight docks in Long Island City and along Newtown Creek offered no direct connection with railroad terminals on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, it was believed that if a waterfront railroad terminal was constructed approximately opposite the great terminals of Elizabeth, Bayonne, Greenville, and Jersey City, freight could be trans-shipped across New York Bay.  The closest point on Long Island to the New Jersey terminals was Bay Ridge.  After earning favorable public opinion, a route was selected that would cut through East New York and Woodhaven.  However, due to land acquisition problems, an alternate route was adopted to avoid established villages.

While the eastern part of the road progressed slowly, a terminal was firmly established at Bay Ridge.  For $330,000, the NY & Hempstead RR purchased the hundred-acre Michael Bergen farm that stretched from the bay at present-day Sixty-Fifth Street to Fourth Avenue.  The land insured an invaluable deep-water terminus and ferry site for freight and passenger service.  At a five-acre site along the water’s edge, a depot yard was planned.  From here, the shore line was perforated for the preparation of a right of way to Sixth Avenue so that tracks could be laid.   By the end of June of 1873, railroad ties were laid from the bay to Third Avenue and the great water dock dredging had begun.  However, trouble plagued the NY & Hempstead RR for the remainder of the year.  First, the road was leased to the LIRR’s rival, the South Side Railroad Company of Long Island (South Side RR).  Next, to save money and time, an alternate plan was devised to link the road with the South Side RR tracks at Springfield and utilize the latter’s branch line to Hempstead.  Lastly, the Panic of 1873 led both the South Side RR and the NY & Hempstead RR into financial ruin.  As a result, all work on the road from Bay Ridge to points east stopped and the route abandoned.[38]

The rally to revive the NY & Hempstead RR was started by ex-postmaster, and ex-collector of the Port of New York, Abram Wakeman.  An investor in the NY & Hempstead RR, Wakeman called out to the farmers and landowners of Brooklyn.  On June 21, 1874 a meeting of Brooklyn property owners was held in New Utrecht.  By November of 1874 a right-of-way to East New York was agreed upon, with total cost estimated at $400,000.  Also, lease negotiations were established between the Brooklyn, Central & Jamaica Railroad, owner of the road along Atlantic Avenue, to utilize its tracks from South Ferry to Jamaica.  However, state legislation passed in 1871 delayed progress.  The law outlined that steam railroads needed to cross under or above grade at Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Avenues in Bay Ridge, among others in Kings County.  Thus, a tunnel concept was devised so as to avoid all roads from Second to Fifth Avenues.[39]

Manhattan Skyline, Sixty-Ninth Street Pier (May 26, 2013)
Manhattan Skyline, Sixty-Ninth Street Pier (May 26, 2013)

Finally, on November 20, 1875 the New York, Bay Ridge & Jamaica Railroad Company (NY, Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR) was incorporated at Albany.  Two branches were provisioned under the charter, one to Bath Beach and the other to Coney Island.  With Wakeman selected as president of the road, the construction contract was awarded to Messrs. Beard and Hanlon in January of 1876.[40]  In addition to the work of street grading and track installation, permanent large bridges were built over the cut at Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Avenues, complete with masonry arches.  Swift work was needed on the Third Avenue bridge since it carried the Brooklyn City Railroad horse car line to Fort Hamilton, the sole public transportation to the area.  One last plan was necessary to complete the NY, Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR.  By late summer of 1876, an agreement was reached with the Brooklyn, Bath & Coney Island Railroad to operate passenger service between the Bay Ridge terminal and Coney Island.  A switch was installed to connect the roads and on Saturday, August 19, 1876, the NY, Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR launched its maiden trip.  Regular service began on September 1, with a total of five trains running daily at two hour intervals between the Bay Ridge ferry terminal and Coney Island.[41]

Within a short time the NY, Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR was consolidated into another railroad scheme.  After Andrew R. Culver opened the Prospect Park & Coney Island Railroad,[42] Harvard-educated magnate Austin Corbin envisioned both a hotel and railroad depot on the eastern portion of Coney Island at Manhattan Beach and proceeded to purchase the NY, Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR.  His project entailed reorganization of the NY, Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR into the New York and Manhattan Beach Railway (NY & Manhattan Beach RR) for the purpose of running both passenger service to the beach resort hotel and freight traffic to the adjoining areas.  Work began on July 10, 1876[43] and the formal opening of the new road was on July 19, 1877.  Regular service operated the next day with thirteen daily trains.[44]  In addition, a five mile connection from East New York to Greenpoint was built to connect passengers with East River ferry service.[45]  As of 1878, the completed NY & Manhattan Beach RR was 21.5 miles, with the four-mile Bay Ridge Branch extending from the Sixty-Fifth Street docks to the Manhattan Beach Junction.  The route from Manhattan Beach Station to Greenpoint was 14.25 miles.  A short-lived Kings County Central Branch ran 3.25 miles to Prospect Park.[46]

In December of 1880, Corbin purchased the LIRR and refined operations.  First, the seasonal NY & Manhattan Beach RR fell to the status of branch line.[47]  Secondly, it was connected to the LIRR’s Montauk Branch east of Fresh Pond Station in 1882 making Long Island City ferry terminal available to customers.[48]  The right-of-way from Greenpoint to the South Side Crossing Station, known as the Evergreen Branch, was abandoned between 1896 and 1897.[49]

The addition of the Bay Ridge ferry terminal was an asset to the LIRR in light of the heavy summer traffic.  In 1883 there were fifteen hourly trains out of Bay Ridge.  The number increased to twenty-six by 1887.  Furthermore, the Prospect Park & Coney Island Railroad and the LIRR reached an agreement in 1885 that both companies run trains alternately out of Bay Ridge with each contributing fifteen trains to provide half-hourly service.[50]  While these were summer-only, residents compelled the LIRR to add winter service with four daily trains beginning in 1889.  The limited operations ceased in the winter of 1893-1894.[51]

LIRR Manhattan Beach Branch service was provided at Bay Ridge and Third Avenue Stations.  Contractor George Kingsland erected a two-story depot at Bay Ridge Station on the former Bergen farm in June 1877.  The building was razed by fire on December 14, 1882 and rebuilt the following year.  The last year of passenger service to Bay Ridge Station was 1904, with four roundtrips running that summer.  However, most trains were terminated as of the close of the 1897 season.  In 1892, a plan was devised to divert all freight traffic from Long Island City to Bay Ridge.  The following year new tracks were laid and the yard was expanded to its present dimensions in 1895.

Bay Ridge Station
Historical Fact
Station opened by the the New York, Bay Ridge & Jamaica Railroad Company August 19, 1876
Regular service began September 1, 1876
Depot building opened June 1877
New York, Bay Ridge & Jamaica Railroad Company reorganized as the New York & Manhattan Beach Railway July 19, 1877
New York & Manhattan Beach Railway became Long Island Rail Road branch December 1880
Depot building destroyed by fire December 14, 1882
Depot building replaced 1883
Last passenger service 1904


Third Avenue Station first appears on a July 1877 timetable.  A depot, complete with waiting room, was built on the Third Avenue bridge over the tracks.  The station closed for the 1879 season and briefly reopened in August of 1880.  A new station and platforms were constructed in 1885, and service was solely provided by the aforementioned Prospect Park & Coney Island Railroad trains.  In 1888, both the LIRR and the Prospect Park & Coney Island Railroad provided service to the station.  It last appeared on timetables in the summer of 1897.[52]

Third Avenue Station
Historical Fact
Station and depot building opened by the New York & Manhattan Beach Railway July 1877 (timetable)
New York & Manhattan Beach Railway became Long Island Rail Road branch December 1880
Depot building replaced 1885
Last passenger service Summer 1897
Location of the former LIRR Bay Ridge Station, Second Avenue and Sixty-Fifth Street, view west (October 27, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Bay Ridge Station, Second Avenue and Sixty-Fifth Street, west view (October 27, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Third Avenue Station, Third Avenue and Sixty-Fifth Street, east view (October 27, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Third Avenue Station, Third Avenue and Sixty-Fifth Street, view east (October 27, 2013)

Consolidation into Greater New York and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

At the turn of the twentieth century, Bay Ridge became a part of the City of New York.  The entire landscape changed as the affluent mansions were replaced with middle-class homes.  Former LIRR service was substituted with mass transit.  In lieu of its location along the Narrows, Bay Ridge was chosen for the site of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  Its construction permanently reshaped the community.

Steps toward urbanization began with the annexation of the town of New Utrecht into the City of Brooklyn in 1894.[53]  Four years later, New Utrecht residents helped vote for consolidation of Greater New York.  While the northern areas of Brooklyn opposed consolidation with New York City, southern Brooklyn realized that unification with New York would help urban improvements and growth.  Thus, the mayor appointed a commission to lay out infrastructure through the entire County of Kings.  Elijah Kennedy was chosen as chair and Olmstead & Olmstead, the noted landscape architects of Boston, were commissioned to prepare the general plan.  The Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton grid included land from the bay at Shore Road to Sixty-Fifth Street and as far east as Fort Hamilton Avenue.  Hence, New York City attained riparian rights to all the land.  As streets and trolleys were laid out, Brooklyn land values rose and investors took interest in Bay Ridge.  Streets and avenues were paved, and churches and schools were constructed.[54]  In response, the new market for home and apartment buildings grew and former estates were divided into lots with modest homes.  Some of the shore front mansions became the site of red brick apartments.  Shoppers of these new homes were primarily Scandinavian and Italian-Americans.[55]  A building boom erupted by the early 1920s.[56]  Between 1910 and 1924 the Bay Ridge population doubled.[57]  With the advent of the automobile, Shore Parkway was opened to the public in 1940 and connected Bay Ridge to other metropolitan areas.[58]

Mass transit came to Bay Ridge when the elevated train reached Sixty-Fifth Street and Third Avenue in 1899.  Consequently, the Fourth Avenue subway line got to Eighty-sixth Street in 1916.  With improved mass transit, the LIRR Bay Ridge Branch transformed from an excursion passenger line to a modern freight road.  Austin Corbin was anxious to discontinue passenger service because the LIRR paid a revenue percentage to the Staten Island ferry operator.  Also, steam and electric trains on the surface was impractical and dangerous.  In fact, on May 3, 1903, the State Legislature created the Brooklyn Grade Crossing Commission to abolish all railroad grade crossings.[59]

Following the elimination of grade crossings and passenger service on the Bay Ridge Branch, the LIRR increased Bay Ridge dock and yard facilities.  It negotiated with the City of New York that Sixty-fourth and Sixty-Fifth Streets be closed between Second Avenue and the waterfront.  It also financed the First Avenue viaduct construction and enlargement of track yards.  All work concluded on May 1, 1917.  In addition, reconstruction of all bridges between Second and Fifth Avenues was completed between 1911 and 1915.[60]

With waterfront access at a new and expanded rail yard, the LIRR Bay Ridge Branch became a through freight line by the end of 1917.  A three-way track agreement was reached between the LIRR, the New York Connecting Railroad, and the New Haven Railroad for the interchange of freight via the East River Arch Bridge, better known as the Hell Gate Bridge.  Following exchange of cargo, trains traveled via the Bay Ridge Branch to float barges on the bay.  The service was inaugurated on January 17, 1918.[61]

Subsequent to the 1924 termination of passenger service, all trains that ran on the Manhattan Beach Division to Bay Ridge were freight-only.  Indeed, the LIRR provided heavy freight service on the Bay Ridge Branch during the First World War and the 1920s.[62]  Car-floating across the bay reached a zenith during the 1950s and early 1960s.  However, by the end of the decade New York’s industrial base slipped away.[63]  As a matter of fact, the LIRR freight deficit in 1970 was $7.3-million.[64]  To cash in on the valuable real estate, the LIRR sold over 230,000 square feet of land under its freight tracks and air rights over them in 1962 for the construction of a middle-income cooperative apartment house development.[65]  Erection of the first of two structures began in May of 1970.[66]

When the LIRR was sold to the State of New York on December 22, 1965, the road temporarily lost control of the Bay Ridge Branch.  The contract of sale provided that the Pennsylvania Railroad, former operator of the LIRR, secure the entire Bay Ridge Branch as compensation for its initial investment.  A few years later, the Penn Central Railroad, the by-product of the merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad with the New York Central Railroad, thought the Bay Ridge Branch as unneeded.  Moreover, a late 1960s proposal to utilize the branch right-of-way for a Cross-Brooklyn Expressway suggested the tracks may be razed.[67]

Luckily, a mid-1970s plan by the federal government to restructure bankrupt railroad companies and fund improvements of freight handling facilities saved the Bay Ridge Branch.  The government-backed Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail, supplanted the Penn Central Railroad and planned a new track connection to the old New York Connecting Railroad at Fresh Pond Junction.  Conrail also planned to rehabilitate freight yards.[68]  Rebuilding of the Bay Ridge freight yard was also aided by a New York State bond act in the late 1970s.  Work was completed in 1986.[69]

The focus on freight improvements inspired the LIRR to consider a restructure of its own service in 1991.  Some points considered were freight equipment and utilities that were conducive for the island’s terrain, such as low bridges that could handle large shipments.[70]  The considerations paid some dividends.  In a few short months, freight volume increased fifteen percent and turned a profit.[71]  However,  a 1995 New York State Comptroller’s audit revealed that the road was coming up short in its efforts to revitalize.[72]  At the end of 1996, Anacostia & Pacific Company, Inc. was awarded a $12.7 million, twenty-year concession to operate the LIRR’s freight operations.[73]  From May of 1997 to the present, the company provides service on the Bay Ridge Branch and utilizes Bay Ridge Terminal,[74]  which adjoins the Brooklyn Army Terminal.  Completed in 1919, Brooklyn Army Terminal served for decades as the country’s largest military supply base and embarkation point but now functions as an industrial warehouse and commercial complex.[75]  Although New York City’s Economic Development Corp. proposed to improve operations at the Bay Ridge Terminal in the mid-1990s, according to the Forgotten New York website the barge transfer that was constructed in the 1980s has never seen service.[76]

LIRR Bay Ridge Freight Yard, view east (October 27, 2013)
LIRR Bay Ridge Freight Yard, view east (October 27, 2013)

Arguably the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is Bay Ridge’s most recognizable structure.  Its construction changed the landscape of the community and displaced a large number of residents.  The story of its development begins in 1888 when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad called for a tunnel or bridge to link Brooklyn and Staten Island.  However, plans never got passed the drawing board.[77]  The United States Military dismissed construction on the grounds that destruction of a bridge by an enemy in time of war could conceivably bottle up the Navy in New York Harbor.[78]

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (October 27, 2013)
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (October 27, 2013)

Discussion of spanning the Narrows resurfaced in the early 1920s.  In February of 1920, a three-mile tunnel, linking all freight lines along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Florida, was proposed from Greenville, New Jersey to Bay Ridge.[79]  Next, the Port of New York was established former New York State Governor Alfred E. Smith was appointed to its board.  Smith stressed that New York Harbor needed attention and suggested “a complete co-ordination and development of all the port and terminal facilities.”[80]  A Port Authority report made public on December 31, 1921 planned to link twelve railroads that served New York City territory.  The “keystone” of the proposal was a tunnel from Greenville to Bay Ridge.  However, the plan was opposed by New York Mayor Hylan.[81]  Dismissing the Port Authority’s idea as a joke, Hylan proposed a tunnel from Bay Ridge to Staten Island.  Drawing support from the Board of Estimate, Hylan broke ground for the construction of the Brooklyn shaft on April 14, 1923.[82]  By the end of April, work was well underway to complete the two shafts on either side of the Narrows, referred to as “Hylan’s Holes.”[83] [84]  However, budget costs went well over projections and in consequence the work quickly stopped.  Following the Second World War the New York Tunnel Authority merged with the Triborough Bridge Authority to form the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority.  The new Authority concluded that a bridge would cost less to build and maintain, and have greater traffic capacity.  In addition, the advent of the Nuclear Age ousted the earlier argument that a bridge collapse would bottle-up the military.  In 1946, the New York State legislature authorized construction of a bridge crossing the Narrows.[85]

Robert Moses advocated for and supervised the construction of what would become today’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  Throughout his career in public works, Moses planned and built highways, parks, bridges, and recreation areas from 1919 until his retirement in 1968.  Educated at Yale, Oxford, and Columbia, Moses was a visionary known for his strong character and outspoken persona.  Nicknamed the “master builder,” he presented a plan for statewide improvements in parks and highways in 1920, and was appointed head of the state park system of New York and served as chairman of the Long Island State Parks Commission in 1924.  He later became Park Commissioner in 1933 and was responsible for the construction of eighty-four miles of parkways.[86]  Although initially Moses was not committed to either a bridge or tunnel,[87]he believed the Narrows crossing was necessary.  He declared that it would be a link to a “future that holds the promise if at least substantial part of a solution of the metropolitan traffic problem.”[88]

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Shore Road Park (May 26, 2013)
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Shore Road Park (May 26, 2013)

In 1954, engineers and technicians were completing borings under water to get soil samples at the Narrows in preparation for the construction piers.[89]  A combined Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority and Port Authority study in January of 1955 proposed the erection of a twelve-lane, double-decked suspension bridge at a cost of $220-million.  It was to be financed under a lend-lease deal between the two authorities.[90]

In Staten Island, the announcement was viewed as a mixed bane and boon.  While the prospect of a modern highway and bridge would join Staten Island with rest of New York City, it would alter the semi-rural, isolated landscape.[91]  In Bay Ridge, the bridge concept was also criticized and some added that New York City was going backward rather than forward.  In an editorial to the New York Times on January 30, 1955, Moses criticized cynics and stated that “expressways are becoming the framework for a new city – not only expediting through travel but fixing the avenues of growth and the preferred routes of building and high values.”  Moses added that funding would come from tolls and from a national highway program instituted under the Eisenhower administration to create modern interstate highways and urban connections.[92]  Moses also asserted that the future of Staten Island depended on a link to the rest of New York City.[93]  Both the New York and New Jersey Legislatures passed the bill to enable construction of what was titled the Narrows Bridge in 1955 and 1956, respectively.[94][95]

Controversy engulfed construction of the bridge from the beginning.  First, location of the Brooklyn anchorage in Fort Hamilton required two years of discussion between Moses and the United State Army.[96]  Secondly, a rapid transit integration proposal was debated but eventually rejected by Moses as impractical.[97]  However, the most contentious debate was over the Brooklyn highway approach to the Narrows Bridge within Bay Ridge.  Although the New York City Planning Commission approved the widening of Third Avenue in June of 1957, they rejected a Seventh Avenue approach curve proposed by Moses.  Its construction was to displace many residents of Bay Ridge.  Both the commission and residents suggested a study to determine the best alternate route.  However, Moses refused to consider any deviation from his plan since it met federal standards.[98]

In response, both residents and politicians banned together to stop the Seventh Avenue approach.  Residents organized a “Save Bay Ridge” delegation and appealed to the Commissioner of Interstate Highways Bertram D. Tallamy.[99]  Brooklyn legislators also led a charge to introduce a bill to suspend all work until a substitute proposal was studied.[100]  Alternate proposals were ultimately vetoed by New York State Governor Harriman.[101]  Architect David Steinman reintroduced a 1926 concept to link north Brooklyn to Bayonne.[102]  The $650-million idea dubbed the Liberty Bridge[103] was bitterly opposed by the Port Authority Executive Director Austin J. Tobin on the grounds that it was too costly.[104]  According to Moses, it was unfeasible.[105]

At a Board of Estimate meeting on May 22, 1958, Brooklyn Borough President John Cashmore charged that the Seventh Avenue approach from Sixtieth Street to Ninety-Second Street would “destroy Bay Ridge and an entire community would be obliterated.”  While he attempted to halt the project, it was referred back to the City Planning Commission.[106]  Two days later the State Department of Public Works recommended the Seventh Avenue route after a review of twenty-six alternates.  This report was previously sent to the governor on February 20 before he vetoed a bill that changed the route by way of the Belt Parkway.[107]

Opposition to the Seventh Avenue approach was eventually silenced.  At a public hearing before the City Planning Commission on June 30, 1958, five hundred Bay Ridge residents attempted one last effort to stall the project and demanded that the “divide-and-conquer [method] of Mr. Moses be stopped.”[108]  Nonetheless, the commission voted five to one for the Seventh Avenue route on August 14.[109]  On October 23 the Board of Estimate officially approved the Seventh Avenue route.  A formal announcement was finally made on December 31, 1958.  The deferred period gave Brooklyn Borough President Cashmore “a reasonable time” to submit an alternative.[110] [111]  The Seventh Avenue approach meant the demolition of 800 homes and the displacement of 7,500 Bay Ridge residents.[112]

Unofficial construction started with a steam pile-driver driving a pipe thirty-six inches in diameter into the silt off Fort Lafayette on January 15, 1959.[113]  Two months later demolition of buildings east of Gowanus Parkway between Forty-Fifth and Fifty-Ninth Streets was complete.[114]  The City of New York officially took possession of the Seventh Avenue property on April 29, 1959.[115]  A futile March State legislative bill attempted to bar the use of Seventh Avenue.  However, the action was vetoed by the governor on April 10.[116]  Moses claimed that any about-face would signal the loss of vital federal funds.[117]  By this time, Governor Rockefeller announced the reappointment of Moses as a trustee of the State Power Authority for an additional five years so that Moses could see the project through.[118]

On April 17, 1959, Governor Rockefeller endorsed the proposal of the Italian Historical Society of America to name the proposed Narrows Bridge in memory of Giovanni da Verrazzano, the Florentine navigator.  For years, Italian-Americans sought greater recognition of Verrazzano and managed to have a ferryboat bear his name and a statue placed in the Battery on Manhattan.  For their efforts, the governor endorsed the naming at the annual Verrazzano Day in the Battery.  There was however some dispute over the spelling of the name.  Rockefeller preferred the American spelling with a single Z.[119] [120]  Finally, after a years’ debate, a bill was passed on March 9, 1960 by the New York State Legislature to officially name it the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.[121]  The Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority contributed the addition of Narrows to the name.[122]

During a special meeting of the Port Authority at the Wall Street Club at 40 Wall Street, it was announced that official construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge would begin on June 17, 1959, with ground breaking ceremonies on August 14.[123]  The Authority planned to take full control of the bridge no later than 1967.  Initial work involved the demolition and removal of Fort Lafayette, and the reconstruction of military installations at Fort Hamilton.[124]   Preliminary work also involved the relocation of the Dover Patrol monument.  Erected in 1931, the obelisk honors the Dover Patrol which kept shipping lanes open between Britain and France during the First World War.  For bridge construction, it needed to be moved from a bluff overlooking the Narrows to a park near Hundred-First Street and Fourth Avenue some three hundred seventy feet away.  The task was completed by placing the thousand-ton structure on rollers.[125]

On April 9, 1962, Moses presided at a ceremony as a fifty-ton section of fabricated steel was hoisted to a concrete pedestal for the six hundred ninety foot Brooklyn tower.[126]  The spinning of the bridge cables that crossed the Narrows commenced in March of 1963 and concluded in August.[127] [128]  In all, there are four cables stretched across the bridge, two on either side.  Each cable contains 26,108 wires.  The wires were carried across the bay eight at a time.[129]  In late October of 1963, the first deck section was lifted from a barge and raised onto the cables.[130]  The roadway skeleton was finished by January of 1964.[131]

Dover Patrol Monument, John Paul Jones Park (May 26, 2013)
Dover Patrol Monument, John Paul Jones Park (May 26, 2013)
Rodman Cannon, John Paul Jones Park (May 26, 2013)
Rodman Cannon, John Paul Jones Park (May 26, 2013)

The architecture of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was provided by the century’s master bridge builder and designer, Othmar Hermann Ammann.  Born on the Rhine River city of Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Ammann also worked on the Golden Gate, Bronx-Whitestone, Triborough, and Throgs Neck.  On August 29, 1962, a commemorative bust was unveiled at a dedication ceremony for the lower deck addition of the George Washington Bridge, which Ammann was a consultant.[132]

The physical work on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was performed by boomers, men who went anywhere to be part of a new building boom.[133]  Between 1958 and 1964, New York was planning a number of projects and bridges such as the double-decking of the George Washington Bridge and the construction of the Throgs Neck Bridge.[134]  In his book The Bridge, Gay Talese described the superintendent of the Narrows span construction.  Like many other bridge workers, John Murphy, known as “Hard Nose” or “Short Fuse,” was a lifelong boomer who had worked on the George Washington Bridge thirty years earlier.  Before joining the Verrazano undertaking, Murphy was the superintendent of the fifty-nine-story Pan Am Building.  He was selected by the United States Steel’s American Bridge Company to head the Narrows endeavor.[135]  American Bridge was one of three steel companies involved in what would be the sixty-sixth bridge over a New York navigable waterway.  The other two companies were Bethlehem Steel and Harris Structural.[136]

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened on November 21, 1964.  Ceremonies were held in Brooklyn beginning at 10:45 a.m.  A motorcade then crossed the span and additional functions were held in Staten Island.  The bridge was opened for traffic at 3:00 p.m.[137]  In adverse indifference, Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority chairman Robert Moses purportedly did not invite ironworkers to the event.  In response, boomers attended a memorial ceremony for the men who lost their lives during construction.[138]  On November 25, the seventy-five year old ferry service that ran between Brooklyn and Staten Island was discontinued.[139]  The new span not only made the service obsolete, it ended the golden period of bridge building in New York.[140]

The ultimate edifice was erected, the longest suspense span in the world.  It eclipsed the former title-holder, San Francisco’s Golden Gate, by sixty feet.[141]  In total, the crossing cost an estimated $324-million, with a main span length of 4,260 feet and complete overall expanse, with approaches, of 13,900.[142]  While the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge displaced many Bay Ridge residents, it is now part of the landscape of the community and is a vital part of interstate transportation.

Sixty-Ninth Street Pier (May 26, 2013)
Sixty-Ninth Street Pier (May 26, 2013)


Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton currently contain a diverse mix of working-class residents.  Ethnic backgrounds are predominately Italian, Irish, or Arab.[143]  Although Norwegian stores and athletic clubs once lined Eighth Avenue near Leif Ericson Park, only a few remain.  The Norway Times newspaper moved out of Bay Ridge as well.  However, every May since 1951 thousands of Norwegian Americans return to Bay Ridge to march in the parade celebrating Norway’s Constitution Day May 17, 1814.[144]

Bay Ridge is easily accessed by the New York City subway at four stops: Bay Ridge Avenue, Seventy-Seventh Street, Eight-Sixth Street, and Ninety-Fifth Street/Fort Hamilton.[145]  It also features some beautiful New York City parks.  Fort Hamilton’s John Paul Jones Park, named after the “Father of the American Navy” who said “I have not yet begun to fight,” features a Revolutionary-era Rodman cannon and the Dover Patrol monument.[146]  In addition, Shore Road Park boasts tennis courts and a dozen baseball fields as well as spectacular views of the Narrows.  It also houses the Narrows Botanical Gardens.  Since 1995, a community of volunteers maintains the small, yet charming, conservatory.[147]

The former location of the Brooklyn to Staten Island ferry terminal, the Sixty-Ninth Street Pier, comprises a location for fishing, a September 11 memorial, and an eco dock.  The dock, which opened in September of 2013, provides a docking area for small boats and a kayak launch.[148] The Harbor Defense Museum at Fort Hamilton military base contains shore defense guns, a Confederate mine, and a piece of the net used to protect the harbor from German U-boats in the First World War.[149]

On a local scale, since 1976 the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, although no longer the longest suspension span in the world, is the starting location for the annual New York City Marathon.[150]  On a national level, the Narrows and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was the gateway for the occasional sail of tall ships from New York Bay to the Hudson River.  The first Operation Sail event, a tie-in with the New York World’s Fair, was held in 1964.[151]  Another such event was part of the Bicentennial celebration in 1976.[152]  The most recent commemorated the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812 and the Star-Spangled Banner.[153]

Narrows Botanical Garden (May 26, 2013)
Narrows Botanical Garden (May 26, 2013)


Next page: Greenpoint: A Short History of Rail Service


[1]Benjamin F. Thompson, History of Long Island: Containing an Account of the Discovery and Settlement (New York: E. French, 1839), 66-67.

[2]Marcia Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide (Brooklyn: Brooklyn Historical Society, 2003), 1-2.

[3]Meyer Berger, “About New York: Navigator of Upper Bay Found Natives Of 1524 Gave Good Directions,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 16, 1958,

[4]Henry Isham Hazelton, The Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 1609-1924 (New York: Lewis Historical, 1925), 1092-1094.

[5]Brian Merlis and Lee A. Rosenzweig, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 1870-1970 (Brooklyn:,Israelowitz Pub., 2000), 5.

[6] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1092.

[7] Ibid.

[8]Merlis and Lee, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 5-7.

[9]Peter Scarpa and Lawrence Stelter, Bay Ridge (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009), 1.

[10]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 3-6.

[11] Merlis and Lee, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 7.

[12] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1093-1094.

[13]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 7.

[14]Scarpa and Stelter, Bay Ridge, 1.

[15]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 7.

[16] Ibid., 7-10.

[17]Scarpa and Stelter, Bay Ridge, 1.

[18] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1094.

[19]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 4.

[20]Merlis and Lee, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 147.

[21]Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1097.

[22]“The Name of Bay Ridge Brooklyn,” Brooklyn Eagle, Aug 14, 1873.

[23]Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1097-1099.

[24]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 12.

[25]Ibid., 4.

[26]Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1094.

[27]Merlis and Lee, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 15.

[28]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 12.

[29]Ibid., 5.

[30]Merlis and Lee, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 148.

[31]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 19.

[32]Ibid., 14.

[33]Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1096-1097.

[34]Merlis and Lee, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 142.

[35]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 33.

[36]Ibid., 15.

[37]Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1099-1100.

[38]Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 4, The Bay Ridge and Manhattan Beach Divisions; LIRR Operation on the Brighton and Culver Lines (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 1-5.

[39] Ibid., 5-7.

[40]Ibid., 8.

[41]Ibid., 10.

[42]Ibid., 16.

[43]Ibid., 19.

[44]Ibid., 29-30.

[45]Ibid, 31.

[46]Ibid., 60.

[47]Ibid., 88.

[48]Ibid., 90.

[49]Ibid., 93.

[50]Ibid., 156.

[51]Ibid., 112.

[52]Ibid., 200.

[53]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 15.

[54]Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1100.

[55]Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 15.

[56]Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, 1101.

[57]Merlis and Lee, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton: A Photographic Journey, 23.

[58]Leonard Benardo and Jennifer Weiss, Brooklyn by Name: How the Neighborhoods, Streets, Parks, Bridges, and More Got Their Names (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 149.

[59]Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, 165.

[60]Ibid., 173.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., 188-189.

[63] Joe Greenstein, “New York Cross Harbor–Smoother Sailing ahead?,” Trains 60, no. 7 (July 2000): 50-63,

[64]“L.I.R.R. Says Loss on Freight Grows: Car-Handling Cost is Put at Nearly 2 Times Revenue,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 13, 1970,

[65]“L.I.R.R. is Selling Track Air Rights: Large Co-op is Planned at Bay Ridge in Brooklyn,” New York Times (1923-Current file), November 14, 1962,

[66]“Co-op is Rising over the L.I.R. Tracks in Brooklyn,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 20, 1970,

[67]Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, 189-190.

[68]Edward C. Burks, “Rail Plan Called an Aid to Freight Service Here: U.S. Rail,” New York Times (1923-Current file), December 16, 1975,

[69]Leslie Wines, “Waterfront Rail Yard’s Wake-up Call,” Crain’s New York Business 10, no.21 (May 23, 1994): 18,

[70]John Rather, “L.I.R.R. is Studying Larger Role for Freight,” New York Times (1923-Current file), December 15, 1991,

[71] William C. Vantuono, “LIRR’s Freight Comeback,” Railway Age 194, no. 8 (August 1993): 97,

[72] Glenn Jochum, “LIRR Freight Debate Escalates,” Long Island Business News 13 (March 27, 1995): 1,

[73] Anonymous, “Anacostia & Pacific Awarded LIRR Freight Concession,” Railway Age 197, no. 12 (December 1996): 22,

[74]“NYA Stations Served,” Anacostia & Pacific Company, Inc, accessed on November 22, 2013,

[75]“Long Dark Road: The Bay Ridge LIRR Branch,” Forgotten New York, accessed on November 24, 2013,

[76]“Waterfront Rail Yard’s Wake-up Call.”

[77]Sharon Reier, The Bridges of New York (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2000), 141.

[78]Edward M. Young, The Great Bridge: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (New York: Ariel,1965), 10.

[79]“$100,000,000 Span To Jersey Planned: Bridge Proposed by Lindenthal Would Link Fifty-Seventh Street and Union Hill, Part of Great Project Elevated Freight Line on Eleventh Avenue, Tubes under City, and More Piers Sought,” New York Times (1857-1922), February 8, 1920,

[80]Marie De Montalvo, “Port Relief Promised: New Authority at Work on Ways to End Congestion. Delivery the Railroad’s Work. Why the Harbor is Congested. Electrical Delivery System Proposed,” New York Times (1857-1922), August 28, 1921,

[81]“Links Terminals to Solve Port Problem: Port Authority Plans Quicker and Cheaper Delivery and Transshipment of Goods Here,” New York Times (1857-1922), January 1, 1922,

[82]“Staten Island Tube Started by Hylan: Ground Broken at Bay Ridge for Brooklyn Shaft of Estimate Board’s Tunnel, Crows Sees Ceremony Mayor Calls Proposed Tunnel of Port Authority a ‘Joke’,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 15, 1923,

[83]F.A. Collins, “Tunnel at Narrows as New City Gateway: Land Shafts Sunk for Project Passenger and Freight Tubes — Would Open Direct Route between Brooklyn and the West, Relieving Congestion in Manhattan and the Harbor,”New York Times (1923-Current file), April 27, 1924,

[84]Reier, Bridges of New York, 141.

[85]Young, The Great Bridge, 10-12.

[86]Anonymous, “Robert Moses 1888-1981,” Parks & Recreation 36, no. 12 (December 2001): 21,

[87]Reier, Bridges of New York, 143.

[88]Young, The Great Bridge, 10-12.

[89]Reier, Bridges of New York, 24.

[90]“Excerpts From Proposal to Meet City’s Bridge and Highway Needs for Next 2 Decades,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 17, 1955,

[91]Joseph C. Ingraham, “Rural Staten Island Views Span to Brooklyn as a Mixed Blessing,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 18, 1955,

[92]Robert Moses, “New York Has a Future: The Case for its Continuing Prosperity,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 30, 1955,

[93]Murray Schumach, “Narrows Bridge Held a Vital Link: Moses Warns Staten Island its Future Depends Greatly on Span to Brooklyn Warns on Island’s Future,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 14, 1957,

[94]“Narrows Bridge Bill Offered,” New York Times (1923-Current file), February 20, 1956,

[95]George Cable Wright, “Narrows Bridge Gains in Jersey: Senate Passes Bill Virtually Assuring Construction of the $220,000,000 Span,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 13, 1956,

[96]“Moses and Army Agree On Narrows Span Site,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 1, 1957,

[97]Joseph C. Ingraham, “Moses Bars Train on Narrows Span: Mocks Idea of Transit Link from Kings to Staten Island as Absurdly Expensive,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 9, 1956,

[98]Charles G. Bennett, “Span Approaches Approve by City: Narrows and Throgs Neck Routes are Advanced by Planning Commission,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 20, 1957,

[99]“Bay Ridge Plea Presented,” New York Times (1923-Current file), September 19, 1957,

[100]“Bridge from Jersey to Brooklyn Sought,” New York Times (1923-Current file), February 24, 1958,

[101]“Harriman Vetoes Bill on Narrows: Measure Calling for Use of Parkway Route to Span in Brooklyn is Rejected,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 2, 1958,

[102]Reier, Bridges of New York, 145.

[103]Ibid., 141.

[104]“Upper Bay Bridge Opposed by Tobin,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 20, 1958,

[105] Charles G. Bennett, “Moses Scores Lag on Narrows Span: Warns Mayor that Inaction on Approach Can Lead to Abandonment of Project Hits ‘Pressure Groups’ Triborough Chairman Calls Liberty Bridge Proposal ‘Not Worth Considering’,” New York Times (1923-Current file), September 20, 1958,

[106] “Foes Begin Fight on Bridge Route: Cashmore Tells Estimate Board He Opposes 7th Ave. Link for Narrows Span Community Loss Cited Bay Ridge Residents Back Attack, but Proposal is Referred for Study,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 23, 1958,

[107] “State Bares Study on Narrows Bridge,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 25, 1958,

[108] Charles G. Bennett, “Moses Criticized on Bridge Plans: Bay Ridge Residents Assail Narrows Span Approach before City Plan Unit,” New York Times (1923-Current file), July 1, 1958,

[109] Charles G. Bennett, “Approach  is Fixed to Narrows Span: Plan Board Rejects Urgent Bay Ridge Objections to the 7th Ave. Brooklyn Route,” New York Times (1923-Current file), August 14, 1958,

[110] Paul Crowell, “City Hall Favors Bay Ridge Route: Estimate Board Informally Approves Approach to Narrows Bridge Nov. 21 Vote is Hinted,” New York Times (1923-Current file), October 24, 1958,

[111] “Bridge Vote Due Today: Action on Brooklyn Approach Slated by Estimate Board,” New York Times (1923-Current file), December 30, 1958,

[112] Gay Talese, “Bay Ridge Seethes over Bridge Plan: Housewife and Dentist Chafe over Approval by City of Staten Island Span 7,500 to be Uprooted Most in Way of 7th Avenue Approach Uncertain on Where They Will Go,”  New York Times (1923-Current file), January 1, 1959,

[113] “Bridge Tests Begun: Pile-Driving Marks Start of Narrows Span Construction,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 16, 1959,

[114] “Work Progresses on Gowanus Road: Demolition of Buildings for Reconstruction near End,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 9, 1959,

[115] “City Acquires Title to Bay Ridge Sites on Route to Bridge,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 30, 1959,

[116] “Design is Speeded on Narrows Span: Bridge, to be Completed 1964, Expected to Spur Staten Island Growth,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 11, 1959,

[117] “Moses Asks Veto of Narrows Shift: Changing Brooklyn Route Will ‘Cripple’ Bridge Plan, He Tells Governor,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 24, 1959,

[118] “Moses Renamed Power Trustee: Protests Expected in Senate on Governor’s Keeping of Chairman Through ’64,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 21, 1959,

[119] Berger, “About New York.”

[120] “Governor Backs ‘Verrazano’ Span: Favors Naming of Narrows Bridge for the Explorer — Italian Honored Here,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 18, 1959,

[121] “Verrazano it is, in Bridge’s Name: Governor Signs Disputed Designation into Law — Many on S.I. Piqued,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 10, 1960,

[122] “Hyphen is Added as Compromise in Name of Span to Staten Island,” New York Times (1923-Current file), August 7, 1959,

[123] Gay Talese, The Bridge (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 29.

[124] “Narrows Bridge to Start June 17: Completion of Span Linking Brooklyn to Staten Island Expected early in ’65 2 Sponsors Reach Pact Triborough Authority to Get Full Control by ’67,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 28, 1959,

[125] Ronald Maiorana, “1,000-Ton Obelisk to be Moved 370 Feet on Rollers in Brooklyn,” New York Times (1923-Current file), January 19, 1961,

[126] “Tower in Brooklyn for Bridge is Begun,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 10, 1962,

[127] “Spinning of Cables Begins on N.Y.’s Narrows Span,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 8, 1963,

[128] “Cable Spinning Completed for the Verrazano Bridge,” New York Times (1923-Current file), August 29, 1963,

[129] Young, The Great Bridge, 70.

[130] Ibid., 84.

[131] Reier, Bridges of New York, 147.

[132] “Master Bridge Builder: Othmar Hermann Ammann,” New York Times (1923-Current file), August 29, 1962,

[133] Talese,The Bridge, 1.

[134] Ibid., 4.

[135] Ibid., 53.

[136] Reier, Bridges of New York, 146-147.

[137] “Dedication Ceremonies to Begin in Brooklyn,” New York Times (1923-Current file), November 21, 1964,

[138] Reier, Bridges of New York, 147.

[139] Joseph C. Ingraham, “Staten Island Ferry to End Brooklyn Runs: Displaced by Bridge over Narrows that Opens Tomorrow,” New York Times (1923-Current file), November 20, 1964,

[140] Reier, Bridges of New York, 147.

[141] Talese, The Bridge, 4.

[142] Young, The Great Bridge, 101.

[143] “Bay Ridge,” New York Media LLC, accessed on November 24, 2013,

[144] Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 26.

[145] John B. Manbeck, The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn (New York: Citizens for NYC, 2004), 5.

[146] Benardo and Weiss, Brooklyn by Name, 144.

[147] “About Us,” Narrows Botanical Garden, accessed on November 30, 2013,

[148] “Gentile Inspects Eco Dock at 69th St. Pier,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, accessed on November 30, 2013,

[149] Jerry Cheslow, “If You’re Thinking of Living in: Fort Hamilton,” New York Times (1923-Current file), February 3, 1991,

[150] “History of the New York City Marathon,” TCS New York City Marathon, accessed on November 30, 2013,

[151] “1964,” OpSail, accessed on November 30, 2013,

[152] Reiss, Bay Ridge Fort Hamilton Neighborhood History Guide, 25.

[153] “2012,” OpSail, accessed on November 30, 2013,

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28 thoughts on “The History of Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

  1. First job out of H/S worked as apprentice iron worker for Harris Structural Steel on the Bklyn towers right to the top. Was then hired by American Bridge which was the erection unit of U.S.Steel for the cabeling & was awarded a medallion for the years worked. Wonderful memories of great piece of history which are irreplaceable in real life experience. Tempus Fugit.

  2. Thanks for this great story. I do have a question though, is it possible the date of Jacques Barkeloo as settling in 1620 is incorrect? I thought the Barkeloo brothers came over much later in the mid to late 1600’s


    1. Thanks for the comment. The source I got that from is the book Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 1609-1924. I am going to recheck the date in case I made an error. It does sound pretty early.

      1. Thanks for your reply Derek. I descend from The Van Barkeloo clan ( William Jansen Van Barkeloo) and I just recently begun researching this line. I’m finding non-genealogical work such as yours to be great sources of information for me. I found a copy of the book you referenced ” Boruoghs …..” on Amazon, it will be a great addition to my collection.

    1. Confirmed: In the book (Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 1609-1924) it states that Jacques Barkeloo first settled in the area in 1620 (page 1094) so I am going to go with this. Although I do agree it is very early indeed.

  3. From shore road to 2nd ave, it’s named 70th st. Then from 2nd Ave to 7th Ave the street is named Ovington Ave. Then from 8th Ave to 12 ave (?) it’s 70th street, again. But somewhere there it’s Ovington Ave again but it replaces 68th Street (not 70th street) on 13th Ave. Why is that? Same stretch of street but the name changes back & forth?

    1. I don’t have a definitive answer but when the grid system came into being back in early twentieth century Brooklyn and Queens street names were changed to numbers. Sometimes old names were kept, probably because residents were used to it.

  4. A long time resident of Bay Ridge, I’m thankful for the many historic things that I now know that at the time I was living there I didn’t know. It’s like a trip back in time.

    1. I was a long time Bay Ridge resident,, my son went to St Pats grammar school. If I remember correctly there was a White Castle with drive through and a car wash. Might be wrong but that’s what I remember!

      1. The White Castle and car wash were between 4 and 5 avenue on 92st, we are trying to remember what was before KFC on 92 and 5 Ave across from White Castle, thank you for you feed back

  5. Just saw the question about KFC/ White Castle. In the early 1960s it was a used car/parking lot. Used to park there and
    get the subway to the city. There was also a scene in Saturday Nite Fever shot there when it was a White Castle.

  6. I am surprised there is no mention of the Barkaloo Family Cemetery in Bay Ridge at Narrows Avenue and Mackay Place, and also adjacent to Xaverian High School. When I was a youngster in the 1940s, the cemetery was rundown and spooky, but now it is renovated and well-maintained. A Google search will reveal much more info and photos of Barkaloo.

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