Many Brooklyn neighborhoods started out being bought by the Dutch, but when it comes to Flatbush, Dutch settlers purchased the land twice.
The Dutch originally acquired the land from the Canarsee Indians in 1652 but the Eskemoppas Sachem (chief) of the Rockaway Indians proclaimed that Flatbush belonged to them. To avoid conflict, Dutch settlers paid for the land a second time.
What are today New Lots, East New York and Cypress Hills were once all within Flatbush, but were considered the Ostwout, or east woods.
The arrival of the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railroad in 1878 made the land attractive to developers and the 1894 incorporation of Flatbush into the City of Brooklyn encouraged even more development. The neighborhood was thus converted from farmland to suburban enclaves.
Suburban developments and older row houses on side streets were left untouched as apartment buildings were built along Ocean Avenue, but between 1920 and 1940, almost all of the other land in Flatbush was filled with large apartment buildings. This new availability of apartments attracted residents and Flatbush became a busy shopping area.
After World War II, many of the children of original apartment dwellers moved out and others moved into the neighborhood’s large Victorian homes. Most of the Jewish population was then replaced by immigrants from the Caribbean, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Korea, Central America and Russia.
By the 1980s, one-third of all immigrants in Flatbush were Haitian and while it took time for peaceful coexistence between neighbors, it was eventually achieved.
How Flatbush Got Its Name
When the industrious Dutch came to settle New Netherlands in the 1600s, they acquired much of the land — especially that in Brooklyn — in trades or purchases from the native Indians. One of the areas thus acquired was then known as Midwout (Middle Woods) or Vlacke Bos, which translated from the Dutch as “wooded plain” or “flat bush,” which they bought from the Canarsie Indians. (As the story goes, the Rockaway Indians also claimed the land, so the Dutch paid them for it too.)
Today’s neighborhoods of East New York and New Lots as well as Cypress Hill were all within Midwout at the time but were considered Ostwout (East Woods).
In 1652, Midwout was granted a town charter by Peter Stuyvesant, then Director-General of New Netherland, but the area was little more than a frontier outpost and few Dutch families took advantage of the fertile land to make their homes there.
One of the more adventurous was Pieter Janse Hagewout, a farmer and cobbler who sailed to New Netherland aboard “De Bonte Koe” (“The Spotted Cow”) in 1660. He got a land deed from Stuyvesant and his family was among the first to settle Midwout.
In 1687, Hagewout’s son Leffert Pietersen bought 58 acres in the area now known as Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
During the Revolutionary War, Flatbush was the site of bloody skirmishes in the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn.
The arrival of the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railroad in 1878 made the land attractive to developers and when Flatbush was incorporated into the City of Brooklyn in 1894, the area changed from farmland to suburban developments. These enclaves included Vanderveer Park, Manhattan Terrace, Matthews Park, Slocum Park and Yale Park. As a whole, they were popularly known as Victorian Flatbush.
Smaller neighborhoods in Flatbush today include the planned communities of Prospect Park South, the Beverley Squares, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Ditmas Park, Fiske Terrace and Albemarle-Kenmore Terraces, as well as Caton Park and the Midwoods (South, West, and 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.