Bay Ridge History
Straddled by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and boosted over New York harbor, Bay Ridge’s history highlights how developments in transportation have reshaped Brooklyn as a whole.
The Dutch West Indian Company bought the land that is now Bay Ridge from the Nyack Indians in 1652. Named Yellow Hook or Yellow Ridge for the color of the clay found there, the community pushed to rename it Bay Ridge after the yellow-fever epidemic of 1848 and1849 tainted its original name.
Wealthy businessmen and industrialists visited the area as a summer retreat, building mansions on the Bay Ridge bluffs that can still be seen today.
The neighborhood was transformed after power broker Robert Moses pushed construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, in opposition to ridge residents, 8,000 of whom were displaced for construction.
The bridge has since become a neighborhood icon for the widely diverse population.
How Bay Ridge Got Its Name
When Henry Hudson stood on the deck of the “Half Moon” (Halve Moen in Dutch) as he sailed into the harbor more than 400 years ago, he saw Staten Island to his left, and on his right, on top of a ridge on the Brooklyn shore, land that appeared to be in the shape of an owl’s head.
Today, the spacious Owl’s Head Park occupies that land above Shore Road in the neighborhood called Bay Ridge in Brooklyn’s southwest. The bay, of course, is what they called the harbor in those early days. The ridge is from the elevation left by the remnants of the last ice age, millions of years ago.
The water across to Staten Island now has been spanned by the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, named for the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano who sailed the route in 1524 on his voyage of discovery. The bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1964.
Bay Ridge was originally part of the town of New Utrecht and was known as Yellow Hoek, named by its Dutch settlers for the yellowish clay soil they found there. The Dutch West India Company had bought the land from the local Nyack Indians. But after an outbreak of yellow fever in the mid-19th century, the name was changed to Bay Ridge for its proximity to New York Bay and its glacial ridge, now Ridge Boulevard.
Henry C. Murphy, a mayor of the City of Brooklyn, a New York State senator and founder and editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, built his estate along that ridge.
The area originally attracted the wealthier residents, but after the 4th Avenue subway line (the R-train) was extended in 1915, it lured many Manhattan workers and it became more of a middle-class neighborhood.
South of 86th St. is the section called Fort Hamilton, named for the military base that occupies the southernmost portion of Bay Ridge. The fort was originally called the Narrows, when it was completed in 1831, but later was renamed in honor of Alexander Hamilton. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Abner Doubleday were at some time stationed at Fort Hamilton.