- In 1645 the streets of New Amsterdam, at the southern tip of Manhattan, were muddy and
raucous with the sound of livestock and fowl. On a small path, north of town, young girls washed linen in a stream where
today Maiden Lane crosses lower Manhattan. And, after three long years of bloody conflict with the Algonquin Indian tribe,
a peace settlement had finally been achieved between the Indians and the Dutch Colony.
It was in that year (1645) that Dirck Volckertsen bought a peninsula of salt marsh, meadows and sandy beachline from the Dutch
West India Company. Volckersten, known as “Dirck the Norman”, built a house atop a small knoll which stood just west of the present
day intersection of Calyer and Franklin Streets. The house, as was typical of early Dutch settlements, bore the influences of
contemporary Dutch architecture. Construction materials were limited, and so Dirck Volckersten took the stones from the fields,
and the wood from a nearby forest to build the house.
- By 1777, as the American Revolution raged, four new homesteads were built on the quiet and isolated land. Two homesteads were
owned by brothers (Abraham and Jacob Meserole), while the other homes were owned by Jacob Bennett, Jonathan Provoost, and
Jacobus Calyer. Each of these houses abutted a plot of farm land, and their harvests were brought by family boat to market
at the southern end of Manhattan.
The landscape of the point, in these early years, was significantly different than it is today. Steep bluffs, some 100 feet
tall, dropped into the East River between Java and Oak Streets. Just north of present day Huron Street, formed by the outflow
of Newtown Creek, a scraggly point of marsh grass extended out into the river, giving the point its name. That point is now
gone, as are the many streams, with fish and blue crabs, that drained the marshes and fed Newtown Creek.
Much of this change can be attributed to the arrival of Neziah Bliss, a resolute visionary.
In 1834, after having purchased some 30 acres of land, Bliss had this southern portion of Greenpoint surveyed. Although
surveyed for streets and lots, the first house was not constructed until late fall 1839. The interim between survey and
construction might best be explained by the isolation of Greenpoint. Prior to the completion of what was named the Ravenswood,
Green-Point and Hallet’s Cove turnpike, access to the land of Greenpoint was, at best, inconvenient. The turnpike ran along
present day Franklin Avenue. As with the land survey, the turnpike was predominantly funded by Neziah Bliss.
Across the river, New York City was a burgeoning metropolis. Beginning in 1820, an enormous and overburdening influx of
foreigners poured into the United States, and the preferred port of entry was New York Harbour. With the vast influx of
foreigners, as well as a depression settling on the cities inhabitants, crime and poverty skyrocketed. By 1832, cholera
joined the army of ills besetting Manhattan. Cholera was shortly followed by fire and insurection. It is of no surprise
then, that following completion of the Ravenswood, Green-Point and Hallet’s Cove turnpike that Greenpoint's population
With the opening of the turnpike in 1839, Neziah Bliss next set out to establish a ferry service between Greenpoint
and Manhattan. Up to this point, all conveyeance between Greenpoint and New York City, was conducted on a system of privately
owned skiffs. By 1848, Bliss had procured a lease from the City of New York, and by 1850 an established ferry system departed
from the base of Greenpoint Avenue to 10th street on Manhattan.
Concurrent with the opening of the turnpike and the ferry service, the formerly isolated community of Greenpoint transformed into a
center for shipbuilding and shipwrights. Shipbuilding facilities sprouted all along the Greenpoint waterfront, as did
houses to house the shipwrights that worked in them. By 1850, twelve seperate shipyards lined the Greenpoint waterfront,
employing thousands of workers.
In response to the turnpike, shipyards, and the influx of new inhabitants, the town of Greenpoint soon developed.
In 1848 the first school of Greenpoint opened near Kent and Manhattan Avenue. The first general store opened on
the turnpike (present day Franklin and Freeman streets) in 1850, with the installation of gasslights to the
town in 1854. Saint Anthony's church, which stands as a kind of emblem of Greenpoint, was erected in 1874.
In 1862, the most famed of all the ships assembled in Greenpoint was launched from the Continental Iron Works yard
(located at Calyer and West Street). This was the USS Monitor, the world's first ironclad, turreted warship, measuring
173' long and displacing over 900 tons. On March 9th, 1862 the USS Monitor engaged with
the CSS Virginia in one of the most significant naval battles of the Civil War. Although niether side decisively won the battle,
naval warfare was forever changed: the history of wooden warships had ended.
Other industries established themselves contemporaneous with the shipbuilding industry in Greenpoint, including printing, pottery, gas,
glass, rope, pencil and iron manufacture and production. In 1867, the Astral Oil Works refinery was built (the Astral Apartments
were later built to house its employees). Soon followed the American Manufacturing Company, with its interconnecting
pedestrian bridges that still cross above West street today. In 1872, Faber Pencils also opened a factory in Greenpoint
(between Greenpoint Avenue and Kent Street, on Franklin).
Although the Greenpoint shipbuilding industry declined following the Civil War, other industries remained, and
bouyed its economy.