History of Williamsburg

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Williamsburg Bridge viewed from South 6th and Berry Streets circa April 28, 1937. source: [1]


History of Williamsburg

Early History

The Dutch West India company purchased the land that would become Williamsburg from Native Americans in 1638. In 1661, the town of boswijick (later in 1664 known as Bushwick) was founded by the company and included Williamsburg. In 1802, Williamsburgh was named after Colonel Johnathan Williams, who surveyed the property for Richard M. Woodhill. The area grew rapidly and by 1852 became an independent city.

Growth as a City

The former Domino sugar refinery on the waterfront. Source [2]

During the early 19th century some of the biggest industrial firms in the U.S began here, such as Pfizer Pharmaceuticals (1849), Astral Oil (later known as Standard Oil), Brooklyn Flint Glass (later Corning Ware), the Havemeyer and Elder sugar refinery (later Amstar and Domino). As well as D. Appleton & Company, U.S. publisher of Alice in Wonderland and Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. Breweries like Schaefer, Rheingold and Schlitz along with docks, shipyards, refineries, mills and foundries opened along the waterfront. In 1851, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the Williamsburgh Dispensary, the Division Avenue ferry and three new churches were established. At one point during this period Williamsburg contained 10% of the wealth in the United States. Wealthy New Yorkers, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jim Fiske built mansions along the shore here. In 1855, the City of Williamsburgh along with the town of Bushwick became a part of Brooklyn. It was at this time, the "h" from the end of Williamsburg was dropped.

The dome of the Williamsburg Savings Bank. Source [3]

Part of New York City

Brooklyn became a part of New York city in 1898, which allowed Williamsburg to establish closer connections with the other boroughs. Construction on the Williamsburg bridge, the second to cross this river, began in 1896, and the bridge opened on December 19, 1903 at a cost of $12,000,000. At the time it was constructed, the Williamsburg Bridge set the record for the longest suspension bridge span on Earth. After it opened, an influx of people- mostly second generation Americans and wealthy immigrants from the lower east side came to settle in Williamburg. As an after effect, Williamsburg became the most densely populated area in New York city, which in itself was the most densely populated city in America.

Hasidic Population

Hasdic women greeting one another. source[4]

Williamsburg has a population of thousands of Hasidic Jews, most of whom are Satmar Hasidic. It is one of the fastest-growing communities in the world, as its families have a large amount of children. “According to the principal of the Satmar United Talmudical Academy and Beis Rochel Schools, the Satmar Rav Joel Teitelbaum, founded his day school in 1947 with seven boys, and girls' day school in 1947 with a dozen girls. Bolstered by the children of Holocaust survivors who settled in New York over the next decade, the Satmar Williamsburg school had 700 girls and 700 boys in their schools twelve years later in 1959.” The school is almost completely Satmar hassidic. The other hassidic groups in Williamsburg formed their own school networks. “In 1974, there were 3,500 students (until age 18) in New York's Satmar institutions - an increase of two and a half times in fifteen years. In 1998, some 25,000 students were spread throughout various Satmar schools in the greater New York area”. At present day, there are over 60,000 Satmar hasidic people living in Williamsburg, and the population continues to grow.

According to sources "The Satmar community of Williamsburg has eight to ten male births and the same number of female births, each week. Each year the community celebrates between 300 and 400 weddings. Satmar hasidim study almost exclusively in Yiddish in their schools. Of the nearly 200,000 Satmar adherents worldwide, over 70,000 live in Williamsburg, over 30,000 live in Kiryas Joel, 20,000 in Borough Park, and another few thousand in Monsey."

Articles discussing the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge

The Williamsburg Bridge under construction circa 1902. source: [5]

Brooklyn Eagle of February 15, 1902

The Brooklyn Eagle of February 15, 1902, in their article entitled, “Highway Out of Manhattan,” discussed the construction of this bridge will “properly handle the people that will want to avail themselves of the five elevated railroads in Brooklyn.” It also read, “by this system, one half of the trains can go over the new bridge.” Again, it said that “this movement of trains will divert the greatest number of people from the Brooklyn Bridge,” thus easing up traffic constrains.

New York Times of December 19th, 1903

The New York Times of December 19th, 1903 presented statistics comparing and contrasting the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges. Ultimately, the article was constructed in such a manner that would make any dissenter of the Williamsburg Bridge recant and concur the Williamsburg Bridge was an asset to both New York City and Brooklyn. The only areas in which the Brooklyn Bridge surpassed that of the Williamsburg was in length of land spans, height above water at center.

New York Times of August 4th, 1915

The New York Times of August 4th, 1915 covered the construction of the Williamsburg bridge from the perspective of bridge Commissioner Kracke, and President Rowe. The title of the article is lengthy, and reads: “City Gets Offer to Run Bridge Cars: Three-Cent Line Would Like to Operate on the Williamsburg Span: Asks Ten-Year Contract: At End of That Period the City Would Own Cars, Tracks, Depot, and Elevators, Proposal Says.” Pretty self explanatory, right? To further the argument for the construction of the bridge, the article stated that the city would "install elevator service at the Brooklyn end of the bridge…so that the vast army of factory employees, male and female, employed near the water front who are compelled to utilize this bridge in going to and coming from their work may be saved the long walk which they now have to take."

A depiction of 1915 Williamsburg. Source [6]

New York Times of October 14th, 1907

The last article read was found in the New York Times of October 14th, 1907, whereupon I came across the first article I believed portrayed a negative consequence to the construction of the Bridge. Entitled, “Threat to Abandon Seven Ferry Lines: The Brooklyn Ferry Company of New York, Which Operates 7 Ferry Lines between Manhattan and Williamsburg, Unexpectedly Announced Last Night that Service Would be Discontinued.” Again, another self-explanatory title, airing grievances over the cutting of jobs and services, questioning the use of these Ferries after service would be suspended.


Check Out these Articles discussing the Bridge:

Sources for the History of Williamsburg:

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