Each week during the pandemic I’ve selected a neighborhood to discover via bicycle. Everyplace I go I find a trove of incredible history.
A few weeks ago it was Fort Greene, which is a short walk from downtown Brooklyn. It’s a clutch of charming brownstones and townhouses that surround a park of the same name.
The area is named for Nathaniel Greene, one of George Washington’s generals who defended the area against the British.
What I found incredible is how many famous Americans touched this small patch of land.
There was Greene himself, of course. The fort he built and defended was named Fort Putnam. It was reoccupied and named for him during the war of 1812.
The city turned the area into a park at the urging of the famous poet Walt Whitman, at the time the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle.
The park was designed by non other than Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, of Central Park fame.
The giant Doric column that sits atop the hill in the park was designed by the legendary architecture firm, McKim, Mead and White. It was unveiled in 1908 in a ceremony by president-elect William Howard Taft.
The monument is dedicated to the 11,500 Americans who were captured by the British and died on prison ships in New York harbor, another fascinating and largely forgotten story.
The men and women interred by the British died in droves and were hastily buried on shore.
The bodies were discovered in the early 1800s by workers building the Brooklyn Navy Yard. One observer said the bones were “as thick as pumpkins in an autumn cornfield.”
The remains were later moved to a vault in the park.
Many of the brownstones that surround the park have some features common to Brooklyn townhouses, such as the planters that set on ledges in the front, a detail not typically found in Manhattan homes. Fort Greene has a large number of wooden frame houses and a surprising number of houses that stand alone, with driveways and front and backyards.
Whats amazing is they are a couple blocks from the industrial waterfront. They couldn’t feel farther away.
On the avenues there are great red brick buildings which give Brooklyn a distinct character.
The corners are dotted with small cafes and bars, most of which were closed for coronavirus when I visited. They give the neighborhood a feeling of community.