When you describe the history of New York, you begin to realize that it is inextricably tied to the sea. Just recently we told you about a boat graveyard in Staten Island that has to be seen to be believed. And in fact, New York Harbor has been witness to some of this country’s most important nautical history, from New York’s rise as a trading port for the Dutch and the British, to the millions of immigrants who caught their first glimpse of their new country by boat at Ellis Island.
But no area of New York City has a more famous reputation in American naval lore than the borough of Brooklyn. Not only is Brooklyn home to one of the most historically important shipbuilding yards in the U.S., the borough was host to one of the fiercest battles of the Revolutionary War and is also the birthplace of one of history’s most famous ships.
If stories of bloody battles, abandoned admirals’ mansions and a little Civil War ironclad called the Monitor sound interesting, click below to keep reading…
The Battle of Brooklyn
If you remember your U.S. History, you probably already know about famous events in the American fight for independence like the Boston Tea Party. But did you know one the first major battles of the Revolutionary War was fought in Brooklyn? In August of 1776, British troops invaded Brooklyn by sea, coming ashore with over 30,000 troops near the area of Gravesend Bay. The American forces in the area quickly moved to slow the British advance, staging a small counter-attack at a site known as the Old Stone House. The house, and Brooklyn, was lost to the British, but luckily the American forces lived to fight another day. Interestingly, a recreation of the original 17th Century Dutch farmhouse sits not far from the site of this famous conflict. On the first floor visitors can visit a gallery commemorating the battle.
The U.S.S. Monitor
The bloody U.S. Civil War was a watershed for military innovation, including one of the first naval battles between two armor-plated ships, the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Merrimack at the Battle of Hampton Roads. The Monitor held its own in the battle thanks to a unique design with a single rotating gun turret and a streamlined shape below the waterline. Even though the battle took place on the Virginia coast, the uniquely designed Monitor was constructed in Brooklyn. The ship was built at the now defunct Continental Ironworks in the Greenpoint section of the borough. The famous vessel is commemorated in the area with its own street name (Monitor Street) and a statue at Monsignor Mcgolrick Park.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard
Arguably no shipbuilding yard in the United States played a more important role in U.S. naval history than the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The government first purchased the site in the early 1800’s, commissioning it as a U.S. Navy shipyard. At its peak during World War II, the Yard employed around 70,000 workers and was responsible for the construction of such famous vessels as the battleships U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Missouri. While the Yard’s importance has faded, you can get a unique sense of the site’s history if you’re up for some adventure. Along the edge of the Navy Yards sits Admiral’s Row, a strip of abandoned and decaying mansions that once housed naval officers and their families (pictured above). The mansions’ tall fences, barbed wire and large warning signs offer a “spooky” backdrop for some photos and an easy walk. You can find the site at the corner of Navy Street and Flushing Avenue near the neighborhood of DUMBO.