Gerritsen Creek, the Mill, and the 
Whitney Mansion

Originally Gerritsen Creek extended almost as far as what is now Kings Highway, and the area around it and other creeks along that part of the southern shore of Brooklyn consisted of marshes. Before Gerritsen's mill was built, the area was the location of a wampum industry. Piles of shells from that activity could be found along the banks of the creek into the late 1940s. During the time of the Dutch settlers, it was known as the Strom(e) Kill ("storm creek"). Mid-nineteenth century maps label the current Gerritsen Beach area as "Gravesend Neck." Key features shown on these maps are Garretsen's Creek, Plum(b) Island (later Plumb Beach), Pelican Beach (later Manhattan Beach), Dead Horse Inlet, and Barren Island. On the east, Gerritsen Creek leads into Mill Creek, John's Creek, and eventually Jamaica Bay. To the west of Gerritsen Creek is Cedar (Tree) Creek and Shellbank Creek, the three connected on the south by Broad Creek. To the southwest, Hog Creek separates the future Gerritsen Beach from Plumb Island.

One of the earliest European settlers of Gravesend, Hugh Garritson was granted property there in 1645, and the land west of Gerritsen Creek became known as Hugh Garretson's Meadow. Garretson's tide mill, built between 1688 and 1756, was located between what is now Avenue V and Whitney Avenue at Burnett Street. The creek was dammed just above the mill to allow it to operate. The mill stopped working around 1890 when a wooden bridge was built over the creek at Avenue U. In 1925, the mill was purchased by the city, and in 1935 the Parks Department restored it. A few months later it was   destroyed by fire. The pilings of the dock where the barges carrying the grain loaded were still visible in Gerritsen Creek in the late twentieth century, and a round stone that may have been the millstone can be seen on  the shore of Barren Island.

Gerritsen's farmhouse was about 150 yards from the creek. Around 1830, the Gerritsen family built a mansion in the Georgian style. The property changed hands several times, eventually being bought by William C. Whitney in 1890. Whitney renovated the manison to live in during the racing season. He also built stables, barns, and servants' quarters. The mansion was demolished around 1936 owing to the development of Marine Park, but the carriage house was converted to a private residence.

The Gravesend, Brighton Beach, and Sheepshead Bay racetracks flourished in the 1890s but declined during a New York ban on gambling. The Gravesend track was demolished in the 1920s. The Sheepshead Bay track was later used for auto racing and eventually converted to building lots in the early 1920s. Concrete blocks that supported the grandstand could be seen around Nostrand Avenue until around 1960. 

Reference: Merlis, Rosenzweig, and Miller, Brooklyn's Gold Coast: the Sheepshead Bay Communities (Brooklyn: Sheepshead Bay Historical Society, 1997).


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Last changed: March 09, 2005