Gerritsen Beach was originally part of the town of Gravesend, named for Wolfert Gerritsen van Kouwenhoven, who in 1629 was offered the land from the Dutch West India Company.
In 1665, his descendent Hugh Gerritsen built a house and tidewater mill on Gerritsen Creek, now part of Marine Park, and 100 years later, his descendants are said to have used the mill to grind flour for George Washington’s troops in the American Revolution.
With Gerritsen Beach still primarily rural, William C. Whitney, secretary of the Navy under President Grover Cleveland, bought 67 acres of land in the neighborhood in 1899 and renovated a 150-year-old mansion for a racing lodge.
A land speculator then bought 1,100 lots near the Shell Bank Creek in 1920 and in 1923, doubled his investment by selling them to Realty Associates. The firm transformed what were some squatters’ bungalows and by the late 1920s, they were so popular that some of their owners winterized them to live there year-round.
Larger two-story homes with back yards were eventually built and by the 1930s, Gerritsen Beach had more than 1,500 homes.
How Gerritsen Beach Got Its Name
Residents of this quaint beach community in southeastern Brooklyn were wise to choose “Gerritsen” from the lengthy moniker of the man whose legacy they commemorated.
Wolfert Gerritsen von Kouwenhoven — there are various spellings — was born in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, in 1579, and in 1625 was hired by the Dutch West India Company to manage some farms in the New World colony of New Netherland.
In 1629, the company offered a group of Dutch farmers 15,000 acres of land across the East River from New Amsterdam. The land included today’s Gerritsen Beach, the peninsula in southeastern Brooklyn which carries his name.
But it was a descendant of his, Hugh Gerritsen, who, in 1665, built a house and tidewater mill there on Gerritsen Creek (now part of Marine Park). The mill stood there until 1931, when it was destroyed by fire.
In the late 1800s, the area was still primarily rural except for some squatters’ bungalows. But investors soon saw its potential. In 1899, William C. Whitney, President Cleveland’s secretary of the Navy, bought 67 acres of land there and others followed. It became a popular summer resort and boating community.
Its boundaries are Knapp St. and Shell Bank Creek on the west to Burnett St. and Gerritsen Ave. on the east, Avenue U on the north and Plumb Beach Channel 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.