An 1873 map shows rural Brooklyn on the cusp of big changes

I can’t help but get lost in the Beers Map of Gravesend. Drawn in 1873 by cartographer Frederick Beers, it’s an impressive survey of one of the original six towns of Brooklyn—founded in 1643 by English-born Lady Deborah Moody and her group of Anabaptist followers, according to heartofconeyisland.com.

What amazes me most is how rural this pocket of southern Brooklyn was in the 1870s—and how much change was right on the horizon. (If you can’t magnify the map above, try visiting this link.)

First, look at that craggy shoreline of Coney Island. At some point, as Coney transitioned into the beach resort dubbed the People’s Playground in the next few decades, all those inlets and little islands were filled in and straightened out—including Coney Island Creek, making Coney no longer an island.

And what about these villages with names like South Greenfield, Unionville, and Guntherville? Unionville was actually in New Utrecht, according to a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article. Guntherville, perhaps named after a landowner on the map named M. Gunther, must have been a similar farming hamlet.

South Greenfield “was a very quiet and peaceful farming community, and remained that way for half a century,” states the Kings Courier in 1960. Then the Vitograph film studio opened there in the early 1900s, ushering out the farms and bringing some short-lived movie-making glamour to the area.

Names of landowners appear in very small print, familiar ones to Brooklynites today like Emmons, Cropsey, Stillwell, Van Sicklen. Geographical names have a rural feel. There’s a Hog Point (or Pit?) just north of Sheepshead Bay. Indian Pond is on the New Utrecht border.

Big resort hotels on the ocean like the Oriental haven’t arrived quite yet, though the railroads are there—soon to bring upper middle class Manhattanites to Coney Island and not-yet-named Manhattan and Brighton Beaches.

But already by this time, Gravesend is a recreational area. Boat houses are on Gravesend Bay; small hotels dot the countryside. Coney Island Road (not yet Avenue) has Newton’s Grand Central Hotel. The Prospect Park Fair Grounds is a horserace track flanked by Floyds Hotel and Bretells Hotel.

The hotel action on the seashore was active as well: the Point Comfort House, Union Hotel, Beach House, Washington Hotel, and Ocean Hotel. I don’t think any made it into the 20th century, but they helped put Gravesend on the map as a place of relaxation, leisure, and the latest amusements for pleasure seekers.

[Map: Wikipedia; fourth image: NYPL]

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6 Responses to “An 1873 map shows rural Brooklyn on the cusp of big changes”

  1. ForceTubeAvenue Says:

    I, too, can spend hours looking at maps like this. I noticed a Polhemus property, and wonder if the owner was a descendant of the first clergyman in Brooklyn, also a Polhemus. Thanks for sharing the map.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Polhemus is an unusual name, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Polhemus on the map is a descendant. I love this map so much I actually own a print of it—looking at it (and other old maps) is a pleasure!

  2. Shayne Davidson Says:

    Whenever I read about Coney Island in the 19th century I think about Kate Leary, who died there. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/162313984/kate-leary

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Wow, I’d never heard of her or her husband! I need to read up on them; a very interesting pair in the underworld of Gilded Age NYC.

  4. Scott Schubert Says:

    And soon after this map, our little lighthouse in Coney Island would be born!

  5. Mark Says:

    I noticed the Old Wyckoff House (near the shore of Coney Island). Anybody know something about that? I only knew about the “current” Wyckoff House.

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