The Brooklyn shoreline, circa 1746. Brooklyn Historical Society collection.

Path Location: 17

Water’s Edge

The shore of Brooklyn Bridge Park — the edge where land meets water — has had its own rich and varied history.

Before Breuckelen

Originally a beach at the foot of a hill (upon which present-day Brooklyn Heights sits), this natural shoreline sat southwest of the muddy tidal shallows of Wallabout Bay# and north of a coastal area of marshy inlets, islands, and peninsulas known as Red Hook.

Lenape people probably used the beach as a landing as they traveled by canoe across the East River to the island of Mannahatta. The shore also marked the start of a Lenape walking trail leading east across Long Island, part of which eventually became Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

A Tiny Waterfront Town

The area became the site of Brooklyn’s first ferry landing, established around 1642 by farmer Cornelis Dircksen. During the British colonial era#, the landing was the center of a rural town variously called “Breuckelen” or “Brookland,” a small but growing community of homes, market buildings, breweries, slaughterhouses, workshops, inns, and taverns. From there, Kings County farmers sailed their crops across the East River to feed the growing city of New York.

Artifacts Underfoot

In the late 18th century, Brooklynites began to reshape and expand this shoreline. Archaeological remnants of this work — buried treasure from earlier eras of Brooklyn’s history — lie beneath your feet when you walk or ride through Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Pieces of a Revolutionary War-era wooden ship may be buried near the foot of Joralemon Street, evidence of waterfront maritime activity in the late 18th century.

The remains of a flour mill (circa 1850-1910) have been unearthed southwest of the intersection of Furman Street and Old Fulton Street. So have bulkheads# for the Catherine Street Ferry landing (circa 1850-1912) at the foot of Main Street.

Reshaping the Shoreline

In the 19th century, property owners extended the waterfront further out into the East River by sinking timber bulkheads past the water’s edge and filling them with stone and earth. In 1836, the city of Brooklyn established a permanent water line along the shore to mark the outer boundary for these new piers.

After the Civil War, at least 41 warehouses were built over old and new land along the west side of Furman Street. Many timber bulkheads, piers, and factory foundations still lie beneath the park.

A Changing Waterfront Infrastructure

Additional ferry structures, warehouses, factories, and pier sheds filled this waterfront by 1900, as sailing ships and steamships unloaded the world’s cargoes here on the Brooklyn shore.  The New York Dock Company, which controlled most of the area after 1901, added new buildings (most of them now gone) as well as rail spurs and tracks.

Finally, between 1958 and 1964, the Port of New York Authority built Piers 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 as part of its Brooklyn Marine Terminal and pushed the waterfront out even further.

Today, Brooklyn Bridge Park continues to reshape this terrain, while vestiges of earlier Brooklyn waterfronts remain hidden under walkways and new plantings.