09 October 2007

Talkin' Wallabout Blues

Wallabout Bay is small body of water along the northwest shore of Bruykleen a/k/a Brooklyn, between the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, opposite Corlear's Hook on Manhattan to the west, across the East River.

Walt Whitman lived in Wallabout. He wrote the first edition of “Leaves of Grass” at his home at 99 Ryerson Street; it was there he hung out and drank beers with his boys Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

The Wallabout became the first spot on Long Island settled by Europeans in May 1624, when several families of French-speaking Walloons opted to build homes there, having come across on the Dutch ship New Netherland.

Starting in 1637, the Wallabout served as the landing site of the first ferry across the East River from lower Manhattan. Cornelis Dircksen, the lone ferryman, farmed plots on both sides -- near to where the Brooklyn Bridge now spans -- to best employ his time on either bank of the river.

A feudal system of land tenure was suspended in 1638, and the small settlement became a colony of freeholders: after a ten-year period of paying the Dutch East India Company a tenth of their yield, colonists would own their farmland. ("Bruijk" means "to use" and "leen" means "loan" in Dutch.) The humble "Bruykleen Colonie" expanded out from the Wallabout to become the city of Brooklyn.

The area was the site where the infamous British prison ships moored during the American Revolutionary War (most horrific of which was the HMS Jersey), from about 1776-1783. Over 10,000 soldiers and sailors died due to deliberate neglect on these rotting hulks, more American deaths than from every battle of the war combined. Though their corpses were buried on the eroding shore in shallow graves, or often simply thrown overboard, local women collected remains when they became exposed or washed onshore. The nearby Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Fort Greene Park houses remains of the prisoners and overlooks the site of their torment and death.

The bay eventually became the site of the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Gabriel Furman, in his Notes Geographical and Historical, relating to the Town of Brooklyn, in Kings County on Long-Island (1824), traces the name from the Dutch "Waal bocht" or "bay (or bight) of the Walloons", referring to the original French-speaking settlers of the local area.

Walt Whitman's house at 99 Ryerson Street still stands. Its yellow aluminum siding belies its age, and there’s no marker indicating its historic significance.

The Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership would like to change that. Read more about them, here.

from Andrew Cusack:

“New York's Wallabout Market was once the second-largest market in the world. From about 1884 onwards, vendors would gather in this district adjacent to Wallabout Bay in Brooklyn and sell their various wares. It was then that the market vendors had been banned from Fulton Street for making too much noise, and so took up their trades further down by the Wallabout Canal, next to the New York Naval Shipyard, more commonly known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard (founded 1801, decommissioned 1966).

The market featured permanent two-story brick structures designed in a nostalgic Dutch style, commemorating the Netherlandish origins of New York and Brooklyn, centered around an open plaza known as Farmers' Square where stalls were erected. The centerpiece was a tall clock tower, seen at right and further below.

The market buzzed with activity from about midnight until just after dawn, by which time trading had died down. During the majority of the daylight hours the vast market stood empty.

Wallabout Market was an unfortunate victim of World War II when the Navy Yard expanded to seven times its previous size, gobbling up the land the Market was built on. New York's primary market today is in Hunts Point – the largest terminal produce market in the world – though Brooklyn still has its own terminal market at Foster and Remsen Avenues between 83rd and 87th. ”

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