Whatever happened to Ponkiesberg, Brooklyn?

CourtandpacificstreetssignToday the corner of Court and Pacific Streets is squarely in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood.

If you were standing here in the 17th century, however, you’d be in an enclave Dutch settlers called Ponkiesberg.

Ponkiesberg? Also spelled with an h at the end, it actually translates into “cobble hill,” says The New York Times, which explains that the name stems from the steep cobblestone road once at this corner.

Articles from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives supply more info.

PonkiesbergplaquePonkiesberg was the name of a “conical hill which was situated from sixty to eighty feet above the present grade of the streets,” a story from 1896 tell us.

“[A] circular road led up to the strange looking elevation, which many persons thought was the work of clever colonists rather than nature.”

Ponkiesberg the hill gave patriots an edge in the Revolutionary War.

A plaque on the side of Trader Joe’s, which now occupies the corner, states that from the Ponkiesberg fortification built here, George Washington was able to observe the fighting at Gowanus during the Battle of Long Island in 1776.

Maybe we’ll see a real estate rebranding of the neighborhood?

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8 Responses to “Whatever happened to Ponkiesberg, Brooklyn?”

  1. Frank Says:

    “Maybe we’ll see a real estate rebranding of the neighborhood?” –

    Maybe?!?! The developers will “re-brand” at least that part of the neighborhood before tonight’s first fireworks when they’ve read this.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I’m holding out hope because Ponkiesberg just doesn’t sound hipster enough!

  3. Frank Says:

    True, but when the “PONKIES” is taken out of “Ponkiesberg” and de-acronym-ized to “Place of Northern Kings in Evening Shade” they’ll never be able to keep up with the hipster-buyers wanting to get in and prove that they have money to burn. Taken a step further, how many investors with too much money would love to own part of a pro sports team called the “Brooklyn Ponkies?” What parents wouldn’t want their progeny enrolled in the city’s newest, most exclusive private school from which they’d be known as “Ponkieans” upon graduation? Think of the developers’ unrestrained, unfettered license to demand an exclusive ZIP Code! A new, elite Area Code! Unaffordable restaurants that close after one year when the celebrities have moved on! Their own “Barney’s in Ponkies” with concierge shopping service. This is what America is all about!! Celebrate the Fourth!! Up the Republic!

    You’ll have to pardon me, I think I feel breakfast coming back up…

  4. Sarah Says:

    I don’t know dutch, so I can’t personally verify the NYT’s translation; however, I beg to differ with their explanation “which explains that the name stems from the steep cobblestone road once at this corner.” If that were true, nearly every old neighborhood that was rich enough for some paving before asphalt was deployed would be Cobble something. IMO, Cobble Hill is called Cobble Hill because if you dig a bit, you hit cobbles and boulders. Early settlers would have learned that fast when they tried to dig for a basement or root cellar and when they broke ground. The last glaciers left a whole lot of cobbles, boulders, gravel and sand in a long pile in this area. In all the following neighborhoods, the elevation is provided by a big pile of glacial outwash: Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Highland Park…no bedrock outcrops to make these hills.

    But, the claim that Cobble Hill/Ponkiesbergh was called that due to the pile of ballast stones at the corner (another explanation not mentioned by the NYT) might also be true for this specific location…would probably be proved by finding the earliest use of the name Ponkiesbergh for the neighborhood. If it were earlier than the large shipping traffic in the 18th c., then it probably is named that for what’s in the soil.

  5. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Sarah may be right. In fact there are a couple hills in the Berkshires called cobbles, e.g. Bartholomew’s Cobble.

  6. local Says:

    Another story has it that the hill in question was actually one of a number of Native American mounds in the area, all of which were long-ago razed by subsequent developers. The mounds (while they survived) would have been man-made, and very distinctive, local landmarks meriting mention by residents and travelers. The hill in question pre-dated both wide-spread paving, and the presence of meaningful quantities of ballast-stone in what was still rural Kings County south of the hamlet/village of Brooklyn (sic).

  7. The slow fade of Brooklyn’s Times Plaza district | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Ponkiesberg, Greenfield, South Brooklyn, and countless other vanished villages and towns in Kings County, Times […]

  8. Fernand Braudel Says:

    In 1854, only one lifetime after Washington used Cobble Hill to observe the Gowanus fighting, a woman named Jennie Jerome was born there. We remember her today as the American-born mother of Britain’s Sir Winston Churchill.

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