Gerritsen Beach
Brooklyn's Quaint Fishing Village

 by Irma Stillufsen

When Henry Hudson anchored in Gravesend Bay in 1609 and associated with the Canarsie (Algonkin) Indians, then returned to his native Holland to make known his discovery, the West India Company took charge of letting it be known that Holland had a stake in the New World. He immediately set to work with promises of land grants to adventerous young people who were willing to settle the new land.

Among these young men was Wolfert Gerritsen, who journeyed to the New World and received a grant in 1636. Little did Gerritsen know that 300+ years later this large expanse of property would still carry his name.

The company did not want any trouble with the Indians, so they paid for the land with the Indian exchange sewan, which was the blue part of a clam shell.

When Wolfert Gerritsen saw the flat land that had been partly cultivated by the Indians, it reminded him of his native Holland. Also, being an adept businessman and miller by trade, he recognized the possibilities of transporting his flour by boat to other parts of the Gravesend Township where his property was located.

The English were also doing some land claiming, and one Lady Moody, an Indian fighter and civic worker of the period went about uniting the property owners, who agreed to establish the Township of G r a v e s e nd, which extended from Gerritsen's  Meadow to Coyne's (Coney) Island.

Gerritsen went to work and built his home and grist mill at Gerritsen Creek, which today is part of Marine Park, and known to some Gerritsen residents as 'back creek."

And if we today are plagued by taxes, according to the Minutes of the Common Council 1675-1776, it may help to know that Garrett, the Miller, (there are various spellings) had to pay an assessment and tax for defraying charges of a new dock.

Gerritsen's home and Tide mill were handed down from generation to generation. During the Revolutionary War the Hessians, on their way to Long Island, seized the property and forced the miller to grind flour for them.

Gerritsen's house and mill caught fire during the 1940's and was destroyed. Up until the early part of the twentieth century Gerritsen's virgin land lay barren, except for a small group of bungalows built by squatters at the foot of Gerritsen Avenue.

In the early 1920's a real estate company saw great possibilities for development and decided to purchase part of the property, and kept the Gerritsen Name. One of the streams was dredged out to form a canal. The sand from the dredging was sucked in to fill the parts of land where other small streams were located. The waters of Shell Bank Creek, which ran Adjacent to the property, were dredged out also, and the sand used for fill. Roadways were made and graded.

The next problem was to divide the property into lots. Because the land was straight with no curves, Gerritsen Park, Inc. decided to make the lots almost square in the first section to be sold, as was the practice at that time, in order to get the most out of the land. The avenues were of average width, but the streets were laid out as pedestrian streets, European style. The streets were privately owned by the real estate company.

The next questions were: how to supply the people with water electricity, and transportation facilities. The company built a private water works system, supplied their own electricity, and succeeded in getting a private bus company to operate buses to the Brighton Avenue U Subway Station.

When they were ready to sell the lots, which measured 40X45 feet, to build bungalows, they advertised in the newspapers. Within a short time, the section was completely sold out, and a colony of one-story peaked roof bungalows without backyards was established, in the southwestern part of what was formerly Hugh Gerritsen’s Meadow. The residents were middle class people who could afford to own a summer home.

The new homeowners enjoyed watching the beautiful sunrises and sunsets along the waterfront, and the fascinating fury of the sea during the tempestuous storms. Many of them decided to convert their bungalows into all-year-round homes.

When Gerritsen Park, Inc. saw the summer colony developing into an all-year-round one, they decided to build larger two story buildings in the next section they planned to open.

As this experiment proved successful, when the third section was sold, the lot shapes were changed to the shape of oblong parcels of land. This gave the owners a little more room in the rear of their homes. The streets in these three sections were owned by the real estate company. The sections were characterized by narrow streets and odd shaped lots. The fourth and last section developed had two story houses with cellars, average city wide streets which were not privately owned, and the lots were the standard 20X100. Within a decade about 1,500 houses completed the development.

At this point it is a necessity to mention the name of (the late) Agnes Kennedy, who had  been an untiring active civic worker for fifty-five years, and who led and organized the first parade of the Gerritsen Beach Property Owners Association back in 1922 along Gerritsen Avenue. The writer knows - because she was the Mascot of the organization in the parade.

Today Agnes Kennedy is still an active civic worker, and many residents of the community owe her a debt of gratitude for the information she has given them from research in the Hall of Records to help them keep their homes. She is presently a member of the Board of Directors, a Past President, and Secretary of the Gerritsen Beach Property Owners Association. 

During the depression, Agnes Kennedy was instrumental in getting a Child Health Station established where free milk was given by the city for hungry babies.

Some commercialization crept into the community in the Northerly section during the years. The people became lax in their civic endeavors, but in spite of that Tamaqua Fishing Station is somewhat romantic - with the party boats loaded with citizens who alight with bags of fish and their equipment weighing them down.

Later the busy captains and mates cheerfully wash down their boats, and. good-naturedly deride one another.

The healthy, happy, sun-tanned children that live in Gerritsen are very active. The smaller ones dig in the sand while their older brothers and sisters are swimming in the privately owned community beach. There is a snack bar - and the G.B. Property Owners Ass'n now own a bungalow on the beach which they expect to convert into their own snack bar and rest rooms, in place of the rented portable rest rooms they now use. By the age of six most children can swim, and they have instructions and contests yearly. The best swimmers in the local high school pool are always from Gerritsen.

Some youngsters own rowboats, or boats with outboards, and begin fishing while they are young.

The modern Gerritsen Beach School built in 1953 during the Wagner Administration is attended by the children. A park, playground and recreation field are located by the school. At present, a new $500,000 athletic field is being built by the city on the easterly side of Gerritsen Avenue in Marine Park opposite Everett and Florence Avenues. The GB Little League, Pony League and GB Hurricanes (football) have been using the undeveloped park fields for many years. Men in the community cleared the land for them and erected bleachers and fences, and marked the field out for sporting activities.

This article originally appeared in the Gerritsen Gazette

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Last changed: March 09, 2005