The following is the first of an eight-part essay about 19th century Greenpoint’s transformation from isolated farmland into a center of shipbuilding and waterborne commerce. In it, Gary E. Eddey interweaves the story of our neighborhood’s earliest industrialization with his own family history, focusing on his great, great-grandfather, Carnes Eddey – a shipwright from Greenpoint.
Understanding your family history can enrich many experiences. On a recent visit to the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, I saw something that made me stop and think about those who came before me.
On the grounds of the Mystic Seaport Museum sits a restored lifesaving station erected originally on Block Island, RI in 1874. Block Island, a community of about 1,200, sits 18 miles off the coast of Rhode Island and about 22 miles from Montauk Point. One of my ancestors, Leander Ball, was a carpenter who helped build many of the public and commercial buildings on the Island. My family always believed he helped build that very same station when he was a young man.
One item inside the station caught my eye – a metal device used to carry stranded sailors from shipwrecks to land. It was a strange looking piece of equipment, not very seaworthy looking. On top of the device was a large brass plaque stating it had been built by Thomas Rowland at his Continental Yard in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I immediately thought that it may have been worked on by my great, great-grandfather Carnes Eddey — when he wasn’t building ships.
The connection? Leander Ball’s daughter would marry Carnes Eddey’s son.
In the mid-1800s my great, great-grandfather, Carnes Eddey and his younger brother, Alfred, were two of the many ships’ carpenters who moved to the new “planned” community of Greenpoint to raise families and embark on careers as shipwrights.
After living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a few years, Carnes moved across the East River and built a house on Huron Street (which was recently torn down). It is unclear where in NYC and at what shipyard he and his younger brother started their careers. They may have initially worked in Webb and Bell’s yard, the Sneden Shipyard or perhaps a very small shipyard in Brooklyn owned by a distant uncle. But what is certain is that they eventually found a home at the Continental Works yard located on Bushwick Inlet and the East River at West and Calyer Streets.
On October 25, 1861 the brothers became a permanent part of Greenpoint history when they helped lay down the keel of the Monitor – America’s first ironclad warship – at the Continental Yard. Along with the rest of their crew, they worked tirelessly for 101 days to complete the vessel. When the ship was launched into the East River on January 30, 1862, it marked the culmination of the brothers’ careers. Carnes Eddy’s obituary in the New York Times noted that he had worked closely with naval architect John Ericsson building the Monitor.
The construction of the Monitor was a shining moment in Greenpoint’s history. But Greenpoint’s origins date back to a time long before any trace of its renowned shipbuilding industry even existed. How did this bustling neighborhood emerge in the first place? Had Greenpoint always been a center of innovative shipbuilding? To the contrary, Greenpoint in its early years was home to farmland, and little else.