HISTORY OF A GROWING COMMUNITY
INFORMATION SUPPLIED BY JEFF NECKONOFF-CLASSICJEF@AOL.COM
THIS INFORMATION WAS WRITTEN IN 1976
For thousands of years, the Algonquin Indians, comprising approximately one hundred (100) different tribes, lived between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean and from Tennessee to Canada. Among the more famous Algonquin tribes living in the New York area were the Delaware and the Mohicans. Long Island contained thirteen (13) small tribes which were part of the Delaware people. The tribes included the Canarsee, Rockaway, Merrick, Massapequa, Secateg, Unkechag, Shinneconk, Montack, Manhanset, Corchaug, Setauket, Nissequong, and Matinecock.
Approximately six hundred (600) years ago, the Iroquois, a savage war-like nation, began to move into this territory and conquered the more peaceful Algonquin nation. At first, the Iroquois Nation or Confederacy, which was created by the famous legendary Indian, Hiawatha, consisted of five (5) tribes: the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onadaga, and Seneca. Hiawatha's purpose was to unite the Indians for peace among the Iroquois and for self-defense against other tribes. This famous Indian was immortalized by the poet William Wadsworth Longfellow.
The Algonquin Indians were different from their more aggressive neighbors. They lived in wigwams which were round huts made from bent sticks. For protection, their village consisted of several wigwams which were surrounded by large poles that formed a stockade. In order to obtain food, the Algonquin was more of a hunter of animals than a farmer. They especially hunted deer, using the skins for clothes. They did, however, plant corn to supplement their diets.
The Indians of this region wore a breechcloth, leggings, a robe, and moccasins. They were extremely proud of their thick long black hair and let it grow long, combing it with fat to give it a shiny look. Women let their hair hang down their backs to their waists. The men who were not warriors also let their hair hang in the same fashion. The warriors however, either cut their hair off completely or combed it in an "Algonquin Roach." This was a short narrow strip of hair going down the center of the head from the front to the back of the neck. The Sides of the head were completely shaved.
The Iroquois, although war-like and fierce, farmed for food rather than hunt. They lived in longhouses made of wooden poles with round tops, typically twenty (20) feet wide and one hundred and fifty (150) feet long. Many families lived in one longhouse. These homes, like the homes of the Algonquin, were surrounded by stockade fences for protection..
During the sixteen and seventeen hundreds (1600/1700), the Mohawk of the Iroquois Nation and the Mohican of the Algonquin Nation were constantly at war in New York. The Mohawk, which means "Savage Fighter" or "Man Eater", eventually defeated the Mohicans. This fighting later served as the background for many of the famous novels by James Fenimore Cooper, such as "The Last of the Mohicans."
The thirteen (13) tribes of Long Island were similar to the Mohicans in their life styles. They called Long Island "Seaawanhacy" (or Land of Shells). The tribe that lived on the western-most part of the Island was the "Canarsee" whose territory extended over most of Kings County and parts of Jamaica. There are several theories which suggest how the Indians obtained the name "Canarsee." One theory was that the Indians often took the names of animals, birds, or natural objects. Because of Jamaica Bay and other water inlets and passages, the marshland was always filled with ducks, turkeys, geese, pigeons, venison, and clams. With the coming of the French trappers, hunters, and fur traders, the word "Canarde" meaning "duck" was used to describe the land. It is therefore believed that the name "Canarsee" came from the French work "canarde."
A second theory was that the Algonquin Indians placed fences or stockades around their wigwams for protection. The word Canarsee means "fence" or "fort." A third theory suggest that the Dutch were excellent gardeners who grew beautiful plants, shrubs, and flowers. To protect them, hedges or fences ere placed around the gardens. The word Canarsie also means "hedge." Therefore, this community of "fenced land" or "hedges" was called Canarsie
On September 3, 1609, Henry Hudson, an English sea captain employed by the Dutch East India Company of Holland, sailed his ship the "Half Moon", with eighteen (18) crew members into a harbor off the Northeast coast of America. Hudson's mission was to find a quicker and safer route to the Far East for Holland's overseas trade markets and to found colonies for Dutch imperialism. Although his mission was unsuccessful, he unknowingly opened a new world. After a short period of time, a few of his crew members tried to go ashore in a small boat. One of them, John Colman, was killed in a surprise Indian attack. The small piece of sandy beach where they tried to land, and where Colman was later buried, was named in his memory and honor. It was called, through translation, "Coney Island."
The Dutch explorer Adriaen Block soon followed Hudson's example and sailed to the new world in the employ of a group of merchants. On his second voyage, in 1613, while anchored off present day Manhattan (New Amsterdam), his ship, the "Tiger," caught fire and burned. Captain Block and his crew, therefore, spent several months on the island while building a new ship which he named "The Restless." They were probably the first Europeans to have actually lived in New York for any great length of time.
In 1621, the Dutch leader William Ussenlenix founded the Dutch West India Company. His purpose was to compete with the Spanish in their quest for colonies and world empire. Through his new colony, he planned to colonize, for imperialistic reasons, New Netherlands. Two (2) years later, in 1623, a party of thirteen (13) settlers under the leadership of Captain-Director Cornelis Jacobson May, set out to settle in New Netherland. Sailing in the ship "New Netherland," the colonizers landed, and in 1624 settled Albany. The following year, 1625, Captain May was replaced by the new Director-General, Verhulst, who ruled for one year.
In 1626, Peter Minuit became the Director-General and Colonial Governor of New Netherland. That historic year, a small band of Canarsee Indians under the leadership of Sachem (chief) Penhowitz, were camping in New Amsterdam. Peter Minuit, who had become friendly with the Indians, offered to buy the land from them. The Canarsee Indians, although they did not own it, accepted twenty-four dollars ($24.00) in payment for Manhattan. (That amount has been recalculated and it is now believed that the Canarsee Indians actually received thirty-nine dollars ($39.00) for Manhattan Island.)
Two years prior to the sale of Manhattan, in 1624, people were settling in "Flatlands". Canarsie comprised a great part of that area. The Dutch preferred "Flatlands" because the land was both flat and fertile for good farming. It reminded them of home. Close proximity to the water was also extremely important for fishing and transportation. The official founding and chartering of this community, then called "New Amersfoort," however, did not take place till 1636 - three hundred and forty years (340) ago.
On June 16, 1636, Jacobus Van Corlaer bought a piece of land from the Canarsee Indian Chiefs Penhowitz and Kakaspettino called "Castuteeuw" or the "Center" or "Middlemost" part of the three "Flats." This piece of land is situated in present day Canarsie, approximately from "Rockaway Parkway to Paerdegat Basin and from Avenue M to Jamaica Bay. In the same year, two (2) Dutch partners, Andres Hudden and Wolfert Gerritse Van Covwerhoven, claimed over three thousand (3,000) acres of land which they called "New Amersfoort." New Amersoort was the first of five (5) Dutch towns to be established in present day Brooklyn. The towns were New Amerfoort (Flatlands, 1636), Breuckelen (1646), Middlewout (Flatbush, 1652), New Utrecht (1657), and Boswyck (Bushwick, 1660).
For many years the various tribes in New Amsterdam and Long Island paid tribute to the more powerful Mohawk Indians. This payment kept peace among the different tribes. When a band of Mohawk warriors went down the Hudson River to collect their spoils in 1642, the local Indians fled fearfully to New Amsterdam for protection. Several Dutch farmers had been killed at that time so the fleeing Indians were not warmly received.
Director-General Kieft had a bitter hatred for the Indians and had plans to massacre groups of them. Taking advantage of the confusion of the times, he seized the opportunity and a group of New Amersfoort settlers killed several Canarsee Indians. The Thirteen (13) Tribes of Long Island, who had been peaceful until that time, joined with the Mohawk, their traditional enemy, to fight the Dutch. After much fighting and hardship, the Long Island Indians wanted peace. Several Indians, therefore, were sent to Fort Amsterdam to make arrangements for a peace conference. The famous Roger Williams who fought for the concept of religious freedom and founded settlements in Rhode Island, was passing through New Amsterdam at that time. He helped arrange the peace conference.
Jacob Olfertsen and David DeVaries led a small group, representing the Dutch, to Rockaway where the meeting was to take place. When they arrived, they were greeted by an impressive group of three hundred (300) warriors and sixteen (16) chiefs under the leadership of Canarsee Chief Penhowitz. The Indians reminded the Dutch that when they had settled, they did not have much food or shelter; the Indians had helped them through the early years and cold winters. After several days of difficult negotiations, on March 25, 1643, a peace treaty was signed. A few months later, however, the fighting started again.
The English, who at that time had been colonizing along the Eastern seaboard, joined the Dutch in their fight against the Indians. Several Canarsee Indians were accused of killing some animals belonging to Dutch settlers. Before an investigation could take place, the Dutch, under the leadership of Captain John Underhill, attacked and killed over one hundred (100) members of the Canarsee tribe. Several Indians were captured and taken to Fort Amsterdam. A few of them died due to gun shot and knife wounds and one (1), to the horror of several witnesses, was beheaded. In 1645, although peace again had come, there was still much hostility. Therefore, in 1647, Kieft was replaced by Peter Stuyvesant who became Governor, Director-General.
After several years, due to the new tranquility that prevailed because of Stuyvesant, the Dutch were able to settle down to the happy chores of building their homes and communities. They began to raise children, farm their land and attend to their religious beliefs. In the year 1654, the Dutch Reformed Church was built on Church Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. It had been founded by the Rev. Johannes Megapohensis, paster of the Collegiate Dutch Church. Since that was the only church at that time in the area, the people in the surrounding communities worshipped there and had to pay for its construction. The New Amersfoort community contributed 120 guilders. Before this church was built, the people from New Amersfoort and Middlewout (Midwood) traveled to New Amsterdam to the Collegiate Dutch Church, founded in 1628, for religious services.
The first pastor was the Reverend Johannes Polhemus, who preached in homes, in barns, and in the open fields of New Amersfoort. When he preached in Middlewout, it was at the Reformed Church of Flatlands (also founded in 1654). This church, which is the third (3rd) oldest church in the United States, was located on Flatbush Avenue near Kings Highway. Nine (9) years later, in 1663, the New Amersfoort Congregation obtained its own church building.
At this time, the Dutch, who had again become friendly with the Canarsee Indians, persuaded them not to pay tribute to the other tribes, with the promise that the Dutch would protect them if trouble occurred. In 1655, the Mohawks, representing the Iropuois Nation, wanted to collect tribute from the Long Island Indians. The Thirteen (13) Tribes refused. With a sudden surprise attack, the Mohawks invaded Staten Island, killing close to one hundred (100) Indians. They then rowed to New Amersfoort in their canoes, and with savage ferocity slaughtered most of the Canarsee tribe. As a result of this vicious attack, the majority of the remaining tribe members scattered to different areas. This enabled the Dutch to settle in Canarsie without difficulty.
In Europe, during this period of time, England had grown greatly in strength. She was building a colonial empire and actively competed with other European nations for colonies and trade. This competition led to many wars. From 1652 to 1654, England fought a war against Holland over the Navigation Act of 1651. This act had stated that colonists could transport their goods only on British ships even though other countries charged cheaper rates. The attempt to begin this system called mercantilism caused the conflict which resulted in war.
King Charles II appointed his brother to the position of Lord High Admiral of England and ordered him to make the British Navy efficient. This was necessary since the Lord High Admiral, the Duke of York, planned to enforce the concept that no other nation would be permitted to colonize on the Eastern Coast of North America since that land belonged to England as a result of the explorations of John Cabot in 1497.
England constantly protested the Dutch holdings in New York. Now that they were at war, England, under her new Lord High Admiral, sent three (3) British war ships to seize New Amsterdam. Despite his fiery temper, the one-legged Dutch Governor, Peter Stuyvesant, surrendered without firing a shot. King Charles then appointed his brother, the Duke of York, to the position of Lord Protector. As a result, on September 8, 1664, all Dutch holdings, including Canarsie, became English possessions. The Duke, who then changed the name of the territory to New York, ordered his First Deputy, Sir Richard Nichols, to treat the Dutch with dignity and respect so they might live together with the English in peace.
The following year, 1665, the Canarsee Indian Chief, Wametappack sold the remaining lands owned by the tribe to the town of Flatlands. The land was sold for one hundred (100) fathoms of white wampum, one (1) coat, one (1) pair of shoes, four (4) axes, two (2) cans of brandy and a half barrel of beer.
Although things were relatively peaceful in New York, wars raged throughout Europe for economic supremacy. Mercantilism and imperialism had become a way of life. England and France were constantly at war with each other and with different nations. France fought against Spain and again England fought against Holland. From 1665 to 1667 economic rivalry sparked war. France and Denmark supported the Dutch against England. With the war's end, Holland, in exchange for other lands, relinquished her claims to New Amsterdam. In 1672, however, the fighting was renewed, this time with England and France opposing Holland. In August, 1673, after a difficult campaign, the Dutch seized New Amsterdam from the British and held it for over one (1) year until the English forces recaptured it. Peace came again in 1679.
THE 18TH CENTURY
The coming of the turn of the century marked much excitement for the New Amersfoort community. The infamous William Kidd, Captain Kidd as he was known, had allegedly buried treasure someplace on Canarsie Beach. He had purchased much land in New York and in 1690 fought against the French for the English in the West Indies. The Captain was constantly being rewarded by both England and the New York Council for his heroic deeds against the enemies of the British Empire. In 1691 he was employed by the British to fight pirates who plagued British ships in the Indian Ocean. Close to the turn of the century, Captain Kidd turned pirate and buried much treasure on Gardiner's Island located on the Eastern tip of Long Island. Although nothing has ever been recovered, legend has it that he also buried treasure in Canarsie. Unfortunately, Captain Kidd was hanged in England in 1701 before he could reveal the exact location.
During the next seventy-five (75) years, the sparsely populated community of Canarsie suffered the same hardships as the rest of Colonial America at the hands of the British. It was no great surprise when the Revolutionary War started that Canarsie would be one of the first areas affected. Although the fighting started on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, the country had not claimed its independence until June 7, 1776 after Congress passed a resolution calling for autonomy. Thomas Jefferson was asked to write a Declaration of Independence and on July 4, 1776, Congress adopted Jefferson's declaration and the United States of America became an independent nation. Within a month, England moved to crush this rebellion.
On August 22, 1776, a fighting force consisting of 23,000 well trained and disciplined British regulars and 9,000 professional Hessian mercenaries in more than 300 war ships manned by 10,000 sailors dropped anchor between Staten Island and Sheepshead Bay, only a few miles from Canarsie. Sir Admiral Lord Richard Howe commanded the British Army. Nancy Cortelyou, watching the British in their outstanding red uniforms, stood on top of the highest point in Gravesend (Sheepshead Bay) and waved her red petticoat as a signal that the British Navy had anchored and the soldiers were landing.
General Howe decided that it would be advantageous to divide his army into three (3) groups. The first group would take the Shore Road on the West while the second group would march down the Flatbush Road in the center; both would move directly to Brooklyn Heights to attract the attention of the Colonial Army. The third group, the largest of the three, would take the eastern route that went into Flatlands. Its purpose was to travel to Jamaica through East New York and move behind the Colonial Army at Brooklyn Heights, trapping it in a cross fire. General Howe went with the third army unit whose infantry was led by General Clinton, cavalry and artillery by Lord Percy, and heavy infantry by General Cornwallis. This Draconian power, over 15,000 troops, marched through Flatlands. It was said that "the Red Coats were so thick in Flatlands that you could walk on their heads.
On August 27, 1776, the "Battle of Long Island" which was fought in Brooklyn Heights, began. Although General George Washington had fully prepared his small army of 9,000 troops, they were overwhelmed by the massive British legions. Two (2) days later, General Washington was forced to retreat. During the duration of the Revolutionary War, Canarsie, like the rest of New York, fell under British control. The Dutch churches were used as hospitals and prisons. The horses and cattle of the Canarsie residents were confiscated and used by the British Army.
THE 19TH CENTURY
In 1783 peace had come. The small population of Canarsie settled back to a quiet life of farming and fishing. In 1817, Brooklyn had become an incorporated village and in 1830, Jim deWilt, also known as "Jim the Wild Man," last of the Canarsee Indians, died. Mrs. Anthony Remsen made the shroud that this lone survivor of a once great and proud Indian tribe was buried in.
Canarsie, due to its somewhat secluded location and sparse population, had, at times, been a meeting place for pirates and smugglers. On the evening of November 23, 1830, twenty one (21) year old William Johnson and his older brother were awakened by loud knocking on the front door of their Canarsie home. When they opened the door, two (2) men appeared and asked for the load of a horse and wagon so they could carry something from a boat to the beach. The Johnson brothers agreed. Two (2) hours later, the men returned and asked for a place to sleep for themselves and a young boy.
The following morning, the men paid the Johnsons with a bag containing Mexican coins, warned them not to tell anyone of their visit, and then asked for a ride to Manhattan. Due to a storm, however, they had to stop at the Samuel Leonard's Hotel in Sheepshead Bay. William Johnson, extremely suspicious of the men, notified the Justice of the Peace, Van Dyke, who arrested them. The two (2) men, Wansley and Gibbs, provoking investigation by their mysterious behavior, were turned over to the United States authorities. It was learned that they were pirates, later tried for their crimes, and on April 22, 1831, hanged. These two (2) men, captured by the Canarsien William Johnson, were the last two (2) pirates to be hanged in New York. William Johnson lived in Canarsie for almost eighty (80) years, but neither he nor the other residents were able to locate the hidden treasure.
The year 1834 was marked by Brooklyn's becoming a city. A few years later, in 1839, the Grace Protestant Church, then called the Methodist Protestant Church, was built on Canarsie Lane at the corner of the Old Road. The land was donated by the Old Squire Remsen. The church apparently was constructed in connection with a Sunday school by Ralph Van Houten. In 1842, when it was finally completed, the Reverend Frederick Dickerman became the first pastor. The church, located at 1280 East 92 Street, has served the residents of the Canarsie Community for over one hundred and thirty-seven (137) years.
One year later, in 1843, John Remsen donated land to the town of Flatlands to be used as a burial ground. Located off Church Lane, it was later called the Canarsie Cemetery.
On August 21, 1844, Canarsie obtained its own school district, Number 3. Ten (10) years later, in 1854, Brooklyn and Williamsburg united to form one (1) community. Shortly after, on November 1, 1860, Canarsie was reorganized as the Union Free School District. Its school was built on the Road to the Shore on the side of the burial ground.
With the coming of the Civil War, many Canarsiens fought for their country and the cause of freedom. Joining together with other men from Brooklyn, they saw action in various parts of the country until the war ended, bringing with it the end of slavery.
Mr. Charles Phillips was typical of the brave Canarsiens who fought in this "War Between The States." He enlisted and served in Company 1 of the 47th New York Regiment. The regiment was sent to Washington, D. C. for organization and training in 1861. While in Washington, Mr. Phillips had the honor of seeing the sixteenth (16th) President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. After a while, the 47th Regiment was sent to Annapolis and from there to the South. After his three (3) years of service were over, he reenlisted and remained on the front until the end of the war. Charles Phillips, who was born in 1843, died at the age of eighty-nine (89) on February 22, 1932. He was buried at the Soldiers' Plot in the Canarsie Cemetery.
PARTIAL LIST OF HEROIC CANARSIENS WHO FOUGHT IN
THE CIVIL WAR AND ARE BURIED IN THE CANARSIE CEMETERY.
NAME COMPANY BORN DIED AGE
David Baisley Co. G 115 Regt. N. Y. Vol. 1846 1922 76
Benjimen Bannett Co. 1 127 Regt. N. Y. Vol. 1839 1919 80
Janeway Bogart Co. 1 127 Regt. N. Y. Inf. 1844 1912 68
Alfred Geslin Co. G 173 Regt. N. Y. Vol. 1845 1921 76
George Van Houten Co. 1 127 Regt. N. Y. Vol. 1830 1887 57
John Van Houten Co. 1 119 Regt. N. Y. Inf. * * *
Philip Van Houten Co. 1 127 Regt. N. Y. Vol. 1844 1901 57
William Newberry Co. D 127 Regt. N. Y. Vol. 1835 1914 79
Charles Phillips Co. 1 47 Regt. N. Y. Inf. 1843 1932 89
*This information was not readily available.
In the 1870's a large number of German immigrants moved into the Canarsie community. In 1876, the Rev. C. Dickout of East New York organized a German Evangelical Reformed Church. One Hundred Eleven (111) years ago, in 1877, they built a church called the Canarsie Reformed Church on Conklin Avenue and East 93rd Street. Due to the strong Dutch influence and population, however, this church was known as the Dutch Reformed Church of Canarsie. Two (2) years later, the German Lutherans built their own church on the next block, known today as the Saint Matthews Church of Canarsie. The following year, the Plymouth Congregational Church was founded and was located on East 95th Street.
THE 20TH CENTURY
In 1880, the Holy Family Church, the first Roman
Catholic Church Canarsie was built.
The church building was a small wooden
structure that stood on the corner of Rockaway
Parkway and Flatlands Avenue. In 1935, the
Reverend Vincent O. Genova began to serve
at this church as a priest and Pastor.
In 1948, Vincent O. Genova was elevated to the
status of Very Reverend Monsignor by Pope Pius XII.
Under his leadership, this church was expanded
and transformed into two (2) square blocks that
contain a school with a large auditorium and Youth Center, a new convent and a new Rectory, in addition to the beautiful new church building. When the new
church was being planned, Pastor Genova was able to obtain 12 hand-carved wooden statues of the Twelve Apostles, which came from a centuries old church in Spain which had been torn down after the civil war in that country, to be placed around the Sanctuary in his new church building.
In the early 1960's, Monsignor Genova was again honored, this time by Pope John XXIII, who made him a Right Reverend Monsignor.
During his 38 years of service to the Canarsie
Community, the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Genova playeda major role in community activities. He not only helped to establish the Our Lady of Miracles Parish Church, but was instrumental in planning and developing St. Jude Church and Parish. This good man was active in creating an ecumenical spirit to Canarsie by taking an active role in bringing Jews
and Christians together in community work.
When Monsignor Genova died in 1973, his death was a great loss to the community.
In 1886 and 1894 Brooklyn joined with some other towns of Kings County and in 1897 consolidated with New York and became the Borough of Brooklyn.
With the coming of the twentieth (20th) century, Canarsiens wore high button shoes, attended silent films, received their education in a small wooden school house, read the Frank Merriwell stories, and hoped that President Theodore Roosevelt's "Square Deal" would be beneficial both for them and the nation. Canarsie, whose population reached three thousand (3,000) people, was a suburban community in which everyone knew everyone else. It had one of the finest oyster beds on the entire Eastern seaboard. Farming, fishing, clamming, and boating were among the major occupations of the community residents.
In 1901, the Saint Alban's Episcopal Church was built on Farragut Road. Five (5) years later, in 1906, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company opened a sand pit on Avenue J and East 99th Street. From that time until 1939, when it closed, over one hundred (100) trolley cars were buried there. The trolley burial ground was later the site of new two (2) family homes.
On May 30, 1907, the Golden City Amusement Park opened its doors on Seaview Avenue and Canarsie Road to a record crowd of twenty-five thousand (25,000) people. They came from all over the city to visit the park and enjoy its activities along the shore front of Jamaica Bay. In addition to the beer, soda, seafood, hot dogs, and other assorted refreshments, the people played games and enjoyed the boat ride, the fun house, the merry-go-round, the roller coaster, the whip, the tunnel of love, and dallied in the penny arcade. A boxing arena was one of the most exciting attractions. Outside the park, located near the train station, the famous Music Hall owned by Mr. Husman contributed to the festive atmosphere.
Although P. S. 114 was constructed before the turn of the century, the present building went up in 1907. The Ryder School, as it was called, is located at 1077 Remsen Avenue. It served Canarsie children from grades 5A - 8B. Today, like all public elementary schools, it services children from kindergarten to grade 6.
Public School 115 was also built before the turn of the century but reconstructed in 1922. The school, which is located on East 92nd Street and Avenue M
had only four (4) classrooms and an office for the principal, Mrs. Catherine R. Callahan. The small building served children from grades 1A - 4B. Mrs. Tuttle, who was almost seventy (70) years old, taught the first grade. Mrs. Morganstern taught the second grade, Mrs. Nislosky the third grade, and Mrs. Buton the fourth grade. There were only ten (10) to fifteen (15) students in each class.
On October 18, 1907, the N. S. Ford Post No. 161 U. S. V. presented to P.S. 115
a new American Flag to fly atop the school. Several years later, an extremely active Parent-Teacher's Association began to hold meetings. Although dues were only five (5) cents each month, they raised money for children who could not afford shoes, by having an apron sale. Under the leadership of Mrs. John Whittaker, Mrs. Ford Rethan, Mrs. William Sellars, and Mrs. Gustava Hugelemeyer, leaders of the P. T. A.,
these poor children were able to attend school during the cold winter months.
The Jewish population of Canarsie began to grow rapidly during the 1920's along with the Italian population. Although the Italian people had a place to worship, the Holy Family Church, the Jewish population did not. Therefore, to meet the needs of the people, three (3) temples were constructed during that period. They were the Ahavas Achim Anshe Canarsie on Glenwood Road and East 95th Street, the Kevelson Synagogue on Avenue L and East 96th Street, and the
A.A.A. Sfard on East 94th Street and Avenue L. Among the newly arrived Jewish families were the Simons. William and Esther Simon moved to Canarsie around the turn of the century and owned the candy store on Rockaway Parkway and Avenue L.
One of their sons, Moe, who loved music, began writing songs. Under his stage name, Marty Symes, Moe Simon wrote: "I Have But One Heart," "Darkness on the Delta," and "No Greater Love." At that time, also, Canarsie saw the birth of a community newspaper. The "Canarsie Courier," established in 1921, reported local news.
During the 1920's, however, while the nation listened to the songs of Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra on Columbia records, gloom and despair hit Canarsie. The waters of Jamaica Bay were declared polluted, ruining the clamming and fishing businesses. The oysters and fish died, causing serious unemployment. Various areas were used for land filling and garbage dumping. In 1926, however, the difficulties seemed to be resolved when the City of New York spent $513,000 to build Canarsie Pier. It was realized, apparently, that Manhattan's waterfront facilities would eventually be exhausted and new ports had to be constructed. The geography of Canarsie seemed ideal. Three (3) years later, the Depression struck the nation and the Canarsie Project was never completed.
On January 11, 1932, the Canarsie Library opened its doors to the public on Conklin Avenue and East 92nd Street. Miss Mildred Rice was the librarian. Since Canarsie was a rapidly growing community with a population of over twenty-five thousand (25,000) people, within a few years the library had to be moved to larger quarters. On January 4, 1937 it was relocated on Glenwood Road and East 95th Street.
A year after the first library was built, on January 15, 1933, as America enjoyed the voice of Rudy Vallee, and idolized Tarzan, Tom Mix, Buck Rogers, and Dick Tracy, the first cargo shipment left Canarsie Pier on the Barge "Anna R." This first cargo, consisting of five hundred (500) tons of scrap iron, was transported to a freighter bound for Japan. The project to make Jamaica Bay one of the largest seaports in the world was again under way, but never fully materialized, probably due to the Depression. Many Canarsiens tried to forget the nation's problems and their own problems by enjoying bicycle riding on the dirt track located between East 92nd Street and East 94th Street and from Avenue K to Avenue L. There was a large flag pole in the center of the track and the residents of the community enjoyed the races, especially when Guiler, McAvoy, Kerns, McDonald, or the Tyndalls raced.
In 1935, Public School 242 was built on Flatlands Avenue and East 100th Street. The school was named William Seward Elementary School in the memory of the late statesman and Governor of New York State. The following year, Eugene Keough was elected to Congress and served the community for the next thirty (30) years. The end of the 1930's brought with it much protest from the Canarsie community as it became a dumping ground for both garbage and bodies. The infamous "Murder Incorporated" of East New York and Brownsville used the Canarsie marshland as a burial ground for its victims.
In 1939, the last of the Golden City Amusement Park, much of which had been destroyed by a fire in 1934, was torn down to make room for the Belt Parkway. The Circumferential Highway, as it was then called, had its Rockaway Parkway exit completed in 1940, bringing with it new life to the community.
During World War II, Canarsie remained a quiet community with many of its men, as in previous wars, enlisting in the service of their country. After the war, however, a new and great boom came to the area. The Jamaica Bay Houses were constructed in 1946 and 1947 to accommodate the returning veterans, for there was a severe housing shortage. The project was the largest in the city. The swamps were drained and dried and the marshland was filled in to make room for the "Quonset Huts." They housed over eight thousand (8,000) people. Local commerce prospered from the new residents of Canarsie. The "Huts" which were opened on June 20, 1946, resembled the Long Houses of the Iroquois Nation who lived on that land several hundreds of years earlier, except that they were made of metal instead of wood. They were between sixty (60) and one hundred and fifty (150) feet long and from fifteen (15) to twenty (20) feet wide. Each hut had two (2) apartments of three (3) to four (4) rooms and rented for thirty one (31) to thirty six (36) dollars. Preference for these apartments was given to veterans who returned from World War II.
In 1951, the Breukelen Houses, a city housing project, opened. The thirty (30) houses ranged from three (3) to seven (7) stories high. Two (2) years later an elementary school, Public School 260, the Breuckelen, was built. Today, although the school is located within the District 17 Planning Board boundary, it is in the District 19 Community School Board District. The following year, 1954, the Jamaica Bay Houses were closed. In 1955, a twenty-three (23) building project called Bay View Houses, overlooking Jamaica Bay, opened. In that same year, between Breukelen and Bay View, Sidney and Harry Waxman built Seaview Village, a complex of one(1) and two (2) family homes resembling the Long Island communities. The Waxman homes, on plots of 42 x 100, sold for less then fourteen thousand (14,000) dollars. It was during this period of time that Jimmy Little, a Canarsien, became famous as one of the stars on the Phil Silvers television show.
In 1957, Public School 272, the Estabrook School, on Seaview Avenue and East 102nd Street, was built to accommodate the children of Bay View and Seaview. The school was named in memory of Dr. Curtis R. Estabrook (1850 - 1922), an eminent physical and humanitarian who worked and took care of the poor and needy in the community. A year later, the population of Canarsie reached sixty-four thousand (64,000) and Junior High School 211 was erected on East 100th Street and Avenue J. The Hon. Judge John Wilson, for whom the school was named, was a Canarsien who fought in the Civil War and later became President of the Canarsie Board of Education. Judge Wilson's activities helped to prevent a smallpox epidemic. He also aided residents in heating their homes during a coal strike by retrieving coal from a sinking ship off the coast of Canarsie. In 1959, the Seaview School, Public School 279, was built on East 104th Street and Avenue J. The name of the school was later changed to the Herman Schreiber School. He was the first principal of the school.
In 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President of the United States, Alan B. Shepard Jr. Was the first American to fly in space, and Leonard E. Yoswein was elected to the State Assembly representing the Canarsie community, which he served until 1969 when he became a judge. The City of New York, traditionally, is a Democratic city, and one of the most influential Democrats in the city, the Hom. Meade Esposito, during the early 1960's moved his club, the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, to Canarsie. Politically, this was greatly advantageous to the community for he and his co-leader, Mrs. Shirley Weiner, used their influence to improve life in Canarsie.
Educationally, 1964 was a great year for the Canarsie community. Three (3) new schools were built to meet the needs of the increasing young population. Public School 276 was built on East 83rd Street and Avenue K, Isaac Bildersee Junior High School 68, on East 82nd Street and Avenue J, and Canarsie High School, the community's first High School, was built on Rockaway Parkway and Avenue K. Mr. Carl Cherkis, who was the first principal of Canarsie High School, had the privilege of being one of the few principals to open three (3) different schools - an elementary school, a junior high school, and a high school. Two (2) of those schools were in Canarsie. In 1958 Mr. Cherkis became the first principal of Junior High School 211 and in 1964 he became the first principal of Canarsie High School.
The Plymouth Congregational Church, founded in Canarsie in 1880, was located on East 95th Street between Avenues J and K. The church was removed to make room for Canarsie High School's new athletic field and relocated on East 96th Street between Avenue J and Flatlands Avenue. Rev. Bert Holmes, pastor of the church, grew up a block away from where the high school now stands. His family, which had members fighting in the Civil War, lived in Canarsie since the early 1800's.
In 1966, with the retirement of Eugene Keough, Frank Brasco was elected to Congress and served until 1974 when he was replaced by James Scheuer. In 1968, the old 69th Precinct was torn down and a new one was erected on Foster Avenue and Rockaway Ave.. The following year Monroe Cohen, an attorney and Seaview Village resident, was elected to the City Council replacing the beloved Hon. Sam Curtis who had passed away. That same year, Stanley Fink was elected to the State Assembly representing the 39th District, since Assemblyman Leonard Yoswein had become a judge.
In 1970, the Canarsie community received its second high school, South Shore. This school was possibly the largest in the nation as it had an enrollment of over 6,000 students. That same year, John Brockington, who lived in the Bay View Houses signed a professional football contract to play fullback with the Green Bay Packers. John Brockington attended Thomas Jefferson High School because when he was of high school age, Canarsie had not yet received a high school of its own. In 1972 Lloyd Free graduated from Canarsie High School. He was a member of the school's City Championship Basketball Team and a few years later signed a contract for the Philadelphia 76's.
A few years later, and after much dedication and devotion to his community, the Hon. City Councilman Monroe Cohen suddenly died of a heart attack while standing across the street from Canarsie High School, the school he helped have constructed for the teenagers of Canarsie. Shortly afterwards, Herbert Berman was elected to that position. In 1975, the community's newest house of worship was built, the Sephardic Jewish Center, on Flatlands Avenue and East 94th Street.
The coming of 1976 brought much excitement with it, as it marked the two hundredth (200th) birthday of the nation. The country was filled with nostalgia, pride, and a feeling of great accomplishment. On March 6th, the Canarsie High School Basketball Team was rated number one in the country. For a second time, the team won a City Championship with an undefeated season. During this same period of time, Hollywood released a motion picture called "Hester Street." Steven Keats, formerly Steven Keitz, from the Bay View Houses, is one of the film's stars. He attended Public School 115 and the High School of Performing Arts. When he was on Broadway, he played in "Oh Calcutta," " Catch Me If You Can," and "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest."
On March 12, 1976, Mrs. "Nana" Barnett celebrated her ninety-ninth (99th) birthday. She moved to Canarsie in 1911 from Amityville, Long Island. In 1790, George Washington traveled through Long Island to thank the residents for their support and loyalty during the Revolutionary War. He stayed in Huntington at the Zebulon Ketcham's house. This was Mrs. Barnett's great, great, grandfather. When she was twelve (12) years old, in 1889, she visited relatives in Huntington, and sat in the same chair that General Washington sat in. On her ninetieth (90th) birthday, she received a card from President Richard Nixon. Mrs. Barnett's memories of Canarsie are beautiful as she recalls a quiet community where everyone knew everyone else and could depend on everyone. For her, this friendly environment has not changed.
On April 27, 1976, Howard Babbush was elected to the State Senate, replacing the Hon. A. Frederick Meyerson who had become a judge in Criminal Court. Mr. Babbush, who is also the Vice President of the District 18 Community School Board, is a long-time Canarsie Resident and Attorney. For him, like Mrs. Barnett, this friendly community has not changed.
Today Canarsie, strong in tradition, is three hundred sixty nine (369) years old. Its rich borders span approximately three hundred and twelve (312) square blocks. Starting at Jamaica Bay on the south, it moves to Paerdegat Basin and Ralph Avenue on the west and then to Ditmas Avenues, Avenue D and Linden Boulevard on the north, and then down Louisiana Avenue to Fresh Creek Basin on the east. Conveniently located just ten (10) minutes away from Kennedy International Airport and forty (40) minutes away from Manhattan. Canarsie is extremely close to the heart and pulse of the greatest city in the world.
Spanning over three (3) centuries, it is a combination of the old and new, the traditional and modern. It is a combination of a small suburban community and part of a major metropolis. Canarsie's proud traditions are deeply rooted in the American culture and heritage. Canarsie is truly the personification of our great nation.