By, Melissa Danielle, Outdoor Afro NYC
The coldest day of the autumn season couldn’t keep a few adventurous Outdoor Afros from trekking out to one of North Brooklyn’s oldest neighborhoods: Greenpoint.
Once a thriving agricultural center, Greenpoint quickly became the hub of industrial manufacturing, establishing shipbuilding, oil refining, pottery, glassworks, and more along its waterfront. Today, this mostly working class neighborhood is home to NYC’s largest immigrant Polish and Polish-American population with a significant Latino presence.
In the last ten years, Greenpoint has experienced a wave of gentrification, as young professionals and creatives from nearby Williamsburg and the Lower East Side and East Village neighborhoods of Manhattan have moved in, taking advantage of affordable housing stock.
NYC residents pride themselves in maintaining their personal space (and very little eye contact), so much so that they often miss what’s happening around them, even the static occurrences. For example, even though four of the five boroughs are surrounded by water (The Bronx is the only borough attached to the mainland), the fact that Brooklyn is an island is often overlooked and undermined (Hurricane Sandy being a testament to that).
Hosted by Bronx River Sankofa’s and Outdoor Afro’s own Morgan Powell, our twilight walking tour began with the Dutch West India Company and ended with the American Civil War. Stops included the Eberhard Faber Pencil factory (once the largest maker of lead pencils in the country), George Pratt’s (founder of Pratt Institute) Astral Oil Works refinery and the apartment building constructed for its employees (one of the first affordable housing units in NYC).
We also saw the WNYC Transmitter Park (a former New Deal radio broadcasting station now home to a public waterfront park), highlights of residential and commercial architecture (Dutch stoops, Queen Anne, Neoclassical Revival), the Greenpoint Reform Church and the Dutch Reform Church.
Our final stop, McGolrick Park, was the site of a monument of heroic scale honoring the inventor, engineer, as well as the sailors of the USS Monitor, an ironclad warship instrumental in the battle of Hampton Road against the CSS Virginia during the Civil War.
Today’s Brooklyn barely resembles its agrarian and industrial past, but its monuments and relics still stand.