East New York was once called Ostwout, or east woods. In the 1670s, farmers from Flatbush moved east seeking new land and renamed the area New Lost to contrast a part of Flatbush called Old Lots.
The area was once filled with Colonial forces just before the American Revolution’s Battle of Brooklyn began. Unfamiliar with the land though, the soldiers accidentally let British forces pass at the northwestern edge, by what is today the junction of Atlantic and Alabama avenues.
New Lots began to develop after 1835, when John Pitkin, a wealthy Connecticut merchant, bought the land north of New Lots Avenue and named it East New York because of its location in the metropolitan New York City area.
Pitkin built a shoe factory in the neighborhood, which was expected to attract other industries but the Panic of 1837 slowed its expansion.
After the Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1903 and Interborough Rapid Transit reached the area in 1922 though, East New York expanded. German, Italian, Russian, Polish and Lithuanian immigrants moved in, creating a dense population by the 1940s.
And then as neighboring Brownsville was changed by urban renewal, many African-Americans moved to East New York. Many long-time residents then left and the area fell into decline, in part because of corruption in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that led to foreclosures on housing.
Vacant buildings, arson, rioting and high unemployment scourged the neighborhood until the community began working to rebuild it in the late 1970s. Progress was slow, but with persistence and community policing, East New York regained its vitality.
How East New York Got Its Name
The neighborhood that is known today as East New York started out as Ostwout, Dutch for East Woods. It was settled in 1670 by a group of Dutch farmers who came from the Old Lots section of what is now Flatbush — and they renamed it New Lots.
The Schenk family was among the early settlers. Johannes Schenk built a stone house there in 1705 and his descendants lived there until 1906.
During the Revolutionary War Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, invading British forces came upon Howard’s Half-Way House at Atlantic and Alabama avenues. It was so named because it was
halfway for travelers headed to Long Island. The Redcoats pressed the innkeeper and his son to guide them through the area, thus allowing them to pass through the northwestern edge of New Lots and attack the American army from the rear, quickly forcing the Continental Army retreat across the East River.
New Lots was incorporated as a town in 1832, when it encompassed the villages of East New York and Cypress Hills and the area that later became Brownsville. It was annexed to the City of Brooklyn in 1886.
The area remained primarily rural until development began in 1835 through the enterprise of John R. Pitkin, a Connecticut merchant. Pitkin bought land north of New Lots Ave. and named the area East New York, since it was at the eastern end of New York City.
While the mantra for an expanding United States was “go west,” in Brooklyn, development progressed to the east.
A major catalyst was transportation. The Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1903 and the IRT subway reached New Lots in 1922, leading to population growth and development.
The neighborhood includes Starrett at Spring Creek, originally known as Starrett City when the huge apartment complex was built in 1972.
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.