Seen as a place to lay down roots and hang up Christmas lights, Dyker Heights is a neighborhood that has kept families in low-rise homes and mansions for generations.
In 1643, 200 acres of what is today’s Dyker Heights were acquired by Anthony Jansen van Salee as part of the Dutch town of New Utrecht.
After the Battle of Brooklyn, the area remained occupied by British troops until the end of the American Revolution.
Its development began to speed up in the 19th century when fishermen of Scandinavian heritage from Bay Ridge settled. The subway then reached the neighborhoods around Dyker Heights and Irish-American residents joined them.
During the 1960s, Italian-Americans who had the means to move into the neighborhood’s large houses came as well and developers began to construct one and two-family homes to replace mansions that could no longer be maintained.
How Dyker Heights Got Its Name
Anthony Jansen van Salee — a Spanish-born Muslim son of a Dutch pirate — was living near Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, when he sailed to New Amsterdam in 1630, at the age of 22. Probably with his father’s fortune, he became a landholder and farmer and acquired 200 acres here in this southwest corner of Brooklyn in 1643, when it was part of the Dutch Town of New Utrecht and mostly woodland.
Dyker Heights probably was named for the two Van Dykes (originally Van Dyck), Jan Thomasse and Hendrick Thomasse Van Dyck. Scions of an original New Utrecht family, they built the dikes to drain the marshland and divided and developed the area in 1719. Patriarch Thomas Jansen Van Dyke was one of the founders of New Utrecht in 1657, when the town was divided into farms of 50 acres each.
But the area wasn’t really developed until the 19th century.
In the late 1820s, Brig. Gen. Edward De Russy, the military engineer who built Fort Hamilton, built the first home here atop a 110-foot hill with a view of the harbor — thus the “Heights.”
Then, developer Frederick H. Johnson, anticipating the annexation of New Utrecht by Brooklyn in 1894 and New York City in 1898, purchased property there, intending to develop it like the adjacent Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea. Following Johnson’s death in 1893, his son Walter Loveridge Johnson organized the Dyker Heights development company. Beginning in 1896, he built luxury suburban homes with views of the bay.
Key parts of Dyker Heights today are the Dyker Beach Golf Course extending to the Belt Parkway and Dyker Beach Park on Gravesend Bay.
But the neighborhood probably is best known for its Christmas holiday displays every December, when the neighborhood becomes “Dyker Lights,” with homes decked with grand Christmas decorations that lure Brooklynites and international tourists as well.
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.