In the mid-19th century, Brooklyn’s Walt Whitman noted the “pull-down-and-build-over-again” spirit of his hometown, which was beginning its transformation from a collection of towns and villages to a united urban city.
Part of that transformation meant renaming older streets—to commemorate contemporary heroes, for example, or fix confusing street names that go back to when each individual town or village had its own street grid.
Some of these renamed and obsolete street names still remain carved into the corners of old tenements. Take this one above, marking Macomb Street and Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.
Macomb Street? Named for an early New York merchant and land surveyor, the road was renamed Garfield Place after the assassination of President Garfield in 1881 “at the requests of residents who said Macomb Street was often confounded with Macon Street,” wrote the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1883, referring to another street in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Then there’s this engraved sign, noting Third Street and North Sixth Street in Williamsburg. My hunch is that as Williamsburg developed and grew, having two number streets intersect was probably confusing.
The solution: rename Third Street Berry Street (after the first mayor of Williamsburg during its tenure as its own city), which it remains today.
Back up to Greenpoint again, Franklin Street used to intersect with Madison Street. What happened to Madison? It was rechristened Oak Street—perhaps because there already was another Madison Street in Bedford Stuyvesant.
That might also be the case with this tenement corner carving, putting us at State Street and Powers Street in Boerum Hill. Powers Street is now Third Avenue, a change likely necessitated to avoid getting mixed up with Powers Street in Williamsburg.
[A big thanks to Ephemeral reader Force Tube Avenue for sending in these photos of old Brooklyn street corners!]