Borough Park is home to nearly 300 synagogues and 50 religious schools, or yeshivas, but its status as an enclave of Orthodox Judaism was a long work in progress.
Like many other Brooklyn neighborhoods in the area, Borough Park’s original status as lush farmland was part of the town of New Utrecht.
In 1887, Electus B. Litchfield bought land in the area and built cottages in a development he called Blythebourne. Its residents were mostly of Protestant descent and the first synagogue in the area wasn’t built until 1904 when Russian Jews began resettling from Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Low-rise apartment buildings eventually followed a growing population when the New Utrecht trains were elevated, giving better transportation to the area after World War I.
Borough Park then attracted more Jewish residents by the mid-1920s and Blythebourne was eventually integrated into the neighborhood.
About half the population was Jewish until Hasidic Jews, primarily from the Bobover sect from Poland, came during the Depression. This migration caused Italian residents to relocate to Bensonhurst and Hispanics to Sunset Park.
Jews displaced in Crown Heights and Williamsburg from the 1957 construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and those immigrating from the uprising in Hungary helped build Borough Park’s modern population that is almost entirely comprised of Hasidic Jews.
How Borough Park Got Its Name
The name Blythebourne is not especially familiar to Brooklynites, yet it played a major role in the birth of the neighborhood of Borough Park, which is often spelled Boro Park by its residents.
Originally, this neighborhood, between Prospect Park and Bay Ridge in southwestern Brooklyn, was part of the Dutch town of New Utrecht. It was primarily rural, with local farms and horticultural nurseries, well into the 19th century.
In 1887, Electus Litchfield, an architect and builder, bought some vacant land west of New Utrecht Ave. and created a community of cottages he called Blythebourne, for the Scottish words for “happy home.” He advertised the location of his homes as “the most accessible, agreeable and improving vicinage on Long Island.”
An adjacent community was founded in 1902 by William H. Reynolds, an entrepreneur and state senator, who bought a tract of land north of Blythebourne, then subdivided the area into 400 lots for sale. He called his new neighborhood Borough Park.
In the mid-1920s, largely because of a real-estate boom, Borough Park grew to the point where it encompassed Blythebourne.
The construction of the New Utrecht Avenue elevated line, now the D train, spurred the area’s growth after World War I.
Since late in the 20th century, Borough Park has mainly been the home of Orthodox Jews. Many came in 1956 after the Hungarian uprising, and more in 1957 with the building of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which displaced many Jews from Crown Heights and Williamsburg.
The small community of Mapleton, which developed in the 1910s, is now a section of Borough Park.
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook.
He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism.
He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.