The Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is one of the earliest settled locations in America. The town of New Bedford was formed in 1662 by Dutch settlers, who were the first Europeans to arrive here, well before any Englishmen. It was at the intersection of two early cartways that settlers and natives alike used to travel up and down and the length of Long Island. The north-south road ran along what is now Bedford Avenue from Mespat, later called Newtown (now parts of Elmhurst, Maspeth, and all of Long Island City and Astoria), through New Bedford to the town of Flatbush and beyond. The east/west road started at the East River and ran generally along what is now Fulton Street through Jamaica and on out to Montauk.
Because of its location at this crossroads, the New Bedford was of strategic importance during the Revolution, and the British captured it early in the Battle of Brooklyn and held it to the war’s end. The town was incorporated into the greater city of Brooklyn in 1854. The area first began to grow with the opening of the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad in 1836. This line connected Bedford with the East River ferries and made getting to and from Manhattan a relatively easy trek. Much of the area remained empty, however, until the 1880s, when a construction boom lasting into the next decade built up ninety percent of the current row houses.
As in other areas of Brownstone Brooklyn, the styles of Renaissance and Roman revival, Queen Anne, and neo-Grec abound, including single-family, two-family, and many multi-family homes of four and five stories. Some well-to-do New Yorkers moved into the southern part of Bedford in the 1890s and early twentieth century, perhaps most notably, F.W. Woolworth, and built mansions and large townhouses along and near Stuyvesant Avenue. Feeling somewhat elevated in status vs. the surrounding area and wanting their section to sound more elegant, they called their little corner of the world Stuyvesant Heights.
In the period between the World Wars, the large stock of affordable housing in Bedford began attracting middle class residents in higher numbers. It was in the early 1930s that the entire neighborhood came to be known as Bedford-Stuyvesant. Then another transit improvement brought a new influx of residents. In 1936, the IND subway lines opened along Fulton Street, providing easy, cheap and fast access to and from Manhattan. The new arrivals included many African-Americans, some from overcrowded and expensive areas of Harlem and others coming north in the early days of the Great Migration. Unfortunately for many of these newcomers, a lack of skills and/or opportunities kept them from procuring good-paying jobs. By the mid-1950s, the area had become blighted and riddled with crime, anger, and despair, a volatile combination that exploded into several conflagrations during the fight for civil rights in the ’60s and again during the famous New York City blackout in the ’70s.
About the only thing that stays the same in New York City is the high speed at which things change, and Bed-Stuy today is a beehive of real estate activity. The huge stock of brownstone townhouses and brick multi-family housing there has caught the eyes and dollars of young professionals who, like those who came before them, can’t afford the price of homes in Manhattan or elsewhere in Brooklyn. Investors, too, are following the scent, and area housing prices have seen a big upswing in the last decade. In just the last four years, home values have skyrocketed. In the first half of 2013, the median sale price (msp) of one- and two-family homes in Bed-Stuy (within a half-mile radius of Quincy St. and Malcolm X Blvd.) was $555,000, and the average price per square foot (ppsf) was $236. By the same period in 2017, the figures had almost doubled, to $1,024,995 msp and $438 ppsf, each class of property almost doubling in value. For three- and four-family buildings, the prices were $591,650 (msp 2013) and $1,367,500 (msp 2017) and $192 (ppsf 2013) and $427 (ppsf 2017), each figure more than doubling in four years. This has been a boon to long-time resident homeowners who now have an asset worth much more than they ever might have expected. It is also the source of some friction, as many renters in those multi-family buildings feel vulnerable to sudden, unaffordable rent increases, the very roof over their heads under threat.
You know you’re living in a hot spot when you’re now buying your morning bagel at a coffee roaster rather than a bodega, or when it’s no longer strange to see a loaded double-decker tour bus glide down the avenue, and Bed-Stuy residents are experiencing both of these phenomena. Despite a legacy feeling of uncertainty for some, without question, these days Bed-Stuy is riding high.