When Crown Heights was Crow Hill

Neighborhood names are always changing. The area known today as Crown Heights—developed about a century ago on either side of Brooklyn’s grand Eastern Parkway—was once the site of a small outpost of shanties and piggeries known as Crow Hill.

It’s main landmark: the imposing Brooklyn Penitentiary, sometimes called the Crow Hill Penitentiary, which stood on Carroll Street between Nostrand and Rogers Avenues from 1846 until 1906.

The Crow Hill moniker remains something of a mystery. An 1877 Brooklyn Eagle article states, “The name Crow Hill was derived from the fact that in the trees which are scattered over this ridge, crows, who preyed on the neighboring farmers, found a retreat.”

Other sources say the penitentiary inmates were also referred to as crows. Then there’s a third explanation:

“Most historians agree that the name Crow Hill was coined in derogatory reference to the black community of Carrville and Weeksville, whose residents were sometimes known as “crows,” writes Henry Goldschmidt, author of 2006’s Race and Religion Among the Chosen People of Crown Heights.

Tags: , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “When Crown Heights was Crow Hill”

  1. AdrianLesher Says:

    The name is still in use.

    http://www.crowhillcommunity.org/
    http://www.yelp.com/biz/crow-hill-bistro-brooklyn
    http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2008/11/crow_hill_reach.php

    Although it appears that the Crow Hill bistro is no longer open.

    http://nostrandpark.com/2010/09/03/is-crow-hill-bistro-closed-for-good/

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the links. I think it’s a recently revived name though. Nice to see these old neighborhood names back in circulation.

  3. Allan Nevins Street Incident Says:

    “Most historians agree” is nonsense; sources?

    Indeed, I daresay not a single accomplished historian has seriously researched the etymology of Crow Hill, which almost certainly does NOT have implied or explicit racial connotations.

    ANY evidence to the contrary is welcome.

    Not that racism was unknown in 19th century Brooklyn; to the contrary, it was commonplace but this is hardly an example of it, though it satisfies some people to think so and they need not continue the difficult work of REAL history.

  4. Robert Thomas Says:

    My father was born in crow hill, and growing up as a boy, he remembered indians living in the area in the early 1900,s.He lived on Prospect Place between Buffalo and Ralph Avenues.I was born there,and lived there until i was 21 years of age.My wife and I both graduated from Thomas Jefferson High school.
    Bob Thomas

  5. alexsommer Says:

    Just did some research on the “Crow Hill” neighborhood name and made a map based on the Brooklyn Eagle article: http://planyourcity.net/2014/04/03/strolls-upon-old-lines-crow-hill-and-some-of-its-suggestions/

  6. What a Bar With Decorative Bullet Holes Really Means | MEDIAVOR Says:

    […] Heights concerns the use of the name “Crow Hill,” a 19th-century term for the area that may have been a derogatory reference to the neighborhood’s black population. There’s a Crow Hill […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: