The now mostly residential neighborhood of Flatlands was once a sparsely populated marshland settlement.
One of the original six towns of Brooklyn, Flatlands was once so large that it held what are today Marine Park, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Georgetown, Canarsie, East Flatbush and Starrett City.
Dutch settlers acquired the land from the Canarsee Indians in 1636 and developed settlements near what are today Kings Highway and Flatlands Avenue. These enclaves had formed New Amersfoort until the English conquered in 1664 and renamed it Flatlands.
It remained agricultural until the 1830s and former slaves who had farmed the land made up 20 percent of its population when New York State abolished slavery.
The area began to grow slowly after the Brooklyn City Railroad Company extended horse car service to Kings Highway in 1875 and Flatbush Avenue was completed, giving Flatlands residents access to Downtown Brooklyn. Then in 1893, Flatbush Avenue streetcars were electrified and developers began building suburban houses that attracted a diverse population.
The automobile however, really transformed the area. Because Flatlands was not connected directly to any of the borough’s subway lines, once residents could buy cars, the neighborhood began to fully develop.
How Flatlands Got Its Name
In early June of 1636, Jacob Van Corlaer bought a large expanse of land called from the Canarsie Indian chiefs Penhawitz and Kakaspettino. The land was bought for “8 fathoms of duffle cloth, some wampum, 12 kettles, and an assortment of 25 tools.”
It is thought to be the earliest recorded grant of land to an individual in the New World.
At virtually the same time, an adjoining tract, centered around today’s Kings Highway and Flatbush Ave., was purchased by Andries Hudden and Wolfert Gerritsen van Kouwenhoven (let’s call him, simply,Wolfert Gerritsen). Within weeks, other lands near them were grabbed by New Netherland Director-General Wouter Van Twiller.
In 1647, these villages formed the town of New Amersfoort, named after a town in Holland and the home of Wolfert Gerritsen. It was one of Brooklyn’s original five towns. In 1661, its residents were granted the right of local rule.
Three years later, the English took over New Netherland and changed the area’s name to Flatlands, because of its low-lying terrain jutting into Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay and cut into by creeks and small bays.
At the time, it encompassed a huge area in southeast Brooklyn, including what are today Marine Park, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and Georgetown, Canarsie and East Flatbush.
Flatlands, a farming area, was almost destroyed during the Revolutionary War when fields and farms were burned as residents fled the invading British.
In 1896, Flatlands became the last town to be annexed by the new City of Brooklyn.
Because the neighborhood was not directly connected to the city’s subway lines, it developed late, primarily with the advent of the automobile.
Today its boundaries are Nostrand Ave. on the west, Ralph Ave. on the east, Avenue H on the north and Flatlands Ave. on the south.
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.