How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village

Epidemics have shaped the growth and geography of New York. And one 19th century epidemic changed a neighborhood’s name, too.

That’s what happened with the Brooklyn enclave formerly known as Yellow Hook. This farming village overlooking New York Bay was originally part of the town of New Utrecht. It was located south of Red Hook, that other hook-shaped piece of land jutting into the water.

Yellow Hook was named by 17th century Dutch settlers for the “peculiar yellowish tint of the land,” according to a 1930 article in the Brooklyn Times Union.

But the name became something of a problem two centuries later, when outbreaks of yellow fever hit Brooklyn in the decade before the Civil War.

The disease was possibly carried to Brooklyn shores by the ships quarantined at Staten Island, according to Mrs. Otto Heinigke, a lifelong resident who was interviewed by the Times Union in 1929 and remembers the epidemic and the “dying shore-dwellers.”

Hundreds of people from Yellow Hook and neighboring Fort Hamilton perished, she said. After the outbreak died down, the “leading men” met at the Yellow Hook schoolhouse, which stood at today’s Third Avenue and 73rd Street, according to the newspaper.

A name change, they felt, would get rid of the negative associations Yellow Hook could have with the deadly, dreaded disease.

The group liked the name Port Lafayette, explained  Mrs. Heinigke, who was described by the Times Union as an “alert little lady” descended from a prominent local family and still living in a gas-lit mansion.

Mrs. Heinigke’s father was the one who came up with the official new name: Bay Ridge. “And so it was that when my father suggested the name ‘Bay Ridge,’ because the section overlooked the bay from a wooded ridge, they all seized upon it at once,”  she explained. “That is how the section got its name.”

As far as I know, the only remnants of the Yellow Hook name in today’s Bay Ridge is a restaurant called the Yellow Hook Grille. And I also heard that the local library has a historical marker explaining the abrupt name change.

[Top image: NYPL Map of the Battle of Brooklyn, 1776; second and third images: NYPL; fourth image: MCNY 58.84.2; fifth image: Brooklyn Times Union, 1929]

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5 Responses to “How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village”

  1. How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village | Dardo Tech Says:

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  2. How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village – Aumoelleux Says:

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  3. countrypaul Says:

    So can we expect Corona, Queens, to re-brand?

  4. How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village – Jeffrey Liss Says:

    […] Source: How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village […]

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