Bed-Stuy’s Many Neighborhoods

Hunterfly-road-houses 720W

The Hunterfly Road Houses are the last remaining vestige of Weeksville, one of the largest free black enclaves in America in the years leading up to the Civil War.

 

The city of Brooklyn grew from six smaller towns established by the Dutch and English settlers who were the first Europeans to come into the area. Eventually, those towns, Brooklyn, Bushwick, Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, and New Utrecht, through various reformations and annexations throughout the 1800s, consolidated into what is now the borough of Brooklyn.

As with the borough, many of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are divided into smaller areas with their own names and histories, none more famously than Bedford-Stuyvesant. As this area’s name implies, this is a neighborhood of neighborhoods. Bedford, dating to 1662, was a village within the township of Brooklyn.

Stuy Hts Image early 1900s

Stuyvesant Heights in the early days of the twentieth century.

Bedford was captured by the British early in the Revolutionary War and held to the end of that conflict. In the 1830s the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad opened, linking Bedford to the Atlantic Avenue ferries to Manhattan. The ease of access to the larger city made the Brooklyn an attractive destination for upper-crust Manhattanites looking to escape the expense, bustle, and noise there. (The wheel of time turns full circle.) These newcomers, not necessarily wanting to mingle with the lower-status “natives,” built their own fancier enclave a bit southeast of Bedford, which they named Stuyvesant Heights. They also built beautiful homes, a few of which still grace this section of Brooklyn, and that’s not counting the many brownstone row houses that line the streets of the entire Bed-Stuy area. The most well-known of the new residents was F.W. Woolworth, a retailer who made a fortune in a business that at one time had stores on virtually every Main Street in America.

Weeksville Map

A map of the Weeksville area, which extends from Bed-Stuy down into what today is Crown Heights.

Also in the 1830s, James Weeks, a free black man, bought a mass of acreage east of Stuyvesant Heights and divided it into plots that he sold to other black families. He named his development Weeksville. In the decade before the Civil War, Weeksville was the second largest community for free blacks in the country. It remained as a separate neighborhood into the 1930s, before being redeveloped virtually out of existence by growth of the entire borough, including the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, which at that time extended well south of Atlantic Avenue. (Most of what was Weeksville lies in what today is the eastern end of Crown Heights.) Four historic cottage buildings of the original area are all that remain, and they have been restored as the Hunterfly Road Houses, on Bergen Street between Buffalo and Rochester Avenues, which you can tour through the Weeksville Heritage Center.

lady-of-loreto-1930

Ocean Hill was a mostly Italian neighborhood in 1930. This photo show members of the Società Immacolata Concezione di Calitri outside Our Lady of Loreto church.

Around 1890 or so, the Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights neighborhoods became conjoined into Bedford-Stuyvesant. In recent years, the Heights name has been brought back to life with the gentrification of the whole of Bed-Stuy, both via a designation as a historic district and by real estate brokers who want to differentiate these blocks from the better-known and perhaps less attractive Bed-Stuy. Also in 1890, the eastern area of Stuyvesant Heights became its own section, keeping the heights vibe with the name Ocean Hill. Now more closely associated with Brownsville to the east, Ocean Hill remains officially a subsection of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Until the 1960s it was an Italian neighborhood, but in the post-World War II years of suburban sprawl, the neighborhood became a center of Afro-Caribbean culture. Today, the area is experiencing gentrification creep coming from the western sections of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick. And, Ocean Hill has a subsection of its own, Broadway Junction, the area surrounding the IND subway station from which the area takes its moniker.

So, whether you’re dropping the names Stuyvesant Heights, Weeksville, Ocean Hill, Broadway Junction, or Bed-Stuy, you’re talking about Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the most iconic neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn.

Bed Stuy Map Orange copy

A map of Bedford-Stuyvesant showing the names of the area’s numerous subsections.

 


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