Midwood lies between the original Dutch town of Flatbush and the English town of Gravesend. Because of its thick forests, the Dutch called it Midwout (middle woods).
The neighborhood became known for its rich film history after it attracted the Vitagraph film company in 1906, which opened a studio at Locust Avenue and East 15th Street. Silent movies and cartoons splashed onto its screens in Midwood and in 1925, Vitagraph opened a second studio in Hollywood that was bought out by Warner Brothers. Live telecasts of The Cosby Show were filmed in the old Vitagraph studios in the 1980s.
Midwood was discovered by would-be residents after the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit line of the subway opened in 1908 and the Interborough Rapid Transit line was extended there in 1920.
The area became densely settled and eventually attracted large numbers of Orthodox Jews who helped shape Midwood to how it looks today. Already-large houses were expanded to accommodate families with many children and many homes were converted to shtieblech, which serve as small synagogues.
How Midwood Got Its Name
A strange thing about Bath Beach: It doesn’t really have a beach.
It did at one time, of course, which explains part of its name. The “Bath” part refers to the famous spa and Roman baths in Bath, England.
Bath Beach was a portion of the Dutch town of New Utrecht when it was settled in 1652, part of a purchase of land by Cornelius van Werckhover for the Dutch West India Company. He made the deal with the Canarsie and Nyack Indians and named it after his home city in the Netherlands.
In the mid-19th century, freed slaves were given parcels of land in Bath Beach and created one of the first African-American settlements.
The neighborhood developed with the opening of the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island steam railroad in 1862 to connect with the horsecar system of the City of Brooklyn. The Ulmer Park amusement center, with rides and a dance hall, was built by Ulmer Brewery (of Bushwick) in 1893, but lasted only about six years.
The extension of the subway system in 1916-17 brought new settlers, mainly immigrants, to the area, which gained a reputation as a retreat for the wealthier families, with mansions built to face Gravesend Bay. But the market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression changed that to a great extent.
Growth was revived later, especially with the completion of the Belt Parkway around the southern edge of Brooklyn in 1939.
And the beach? It was paved over for construction of the Shore Parkway in the 1950s.
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.