The following is the second 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.
Greenpoint, the small northwest section of Brooklyn just north of Bushwick and directly across the river from Manhattan’s 14th Street, began life as a peaceful and somewhat secluded farming community. It is often included in discussions of historic Bushwick but just as often has its own chapter in histories of Brooklyn.
The East River frames the community on its western border and Newtown Creek sits to its north. For approximately 150 years the moist soil of Greenpoint was fertile enough to provide abundant food to the growing city across the river. The five families that initially farmed this area used their own skiffs to bring the produce to market. Various historians have concluded that from the time New York was settled until about 1835, Greenpoint’s function, in part, was to support growth on Manhattan Island by supplying fresh produce. Shipbuilding would become its next cottage industry and arguably it’s most important when, in the mid-1830s, Greenpoint found it could put its real estate to better use.
Stemming from the interests of the owners of the Novelty shipbuilding yard and an individual by the name of Neziah (Hezekian) Bliss, a shipbuilding community developed where rows of crops once grew. In fact, Greenpoint became the first planned shipbuilding community that included shipyards as well as housing for the shipwrights and their families. Eventually, most of the Manhattan-based shipyards would move across the East River to Brooklyn.
Neziah Bliss’ career was too broad and eclectic to summarize here. In middle age he became the superintendent of the Novelty Shipyard on 14th Street in Manhattan. According to a wonderful history published by the Greenpoint Savings Bank, his claim to fame was establishing the town of Greenpoint.
The establishment of Greenpoint was not, however, his first goal. He planned and built the neighborhood after failing to convince the U.S. government to move the Brooklyn Navy Yard to his Manhattan property. He originally thought that since Greenpoint was not at all developed, the government would dissemble the Navy Yard and transport it west to Manhattan by way of Newtown Creek. Those plans fell through, and in 1835 he began laying out the streets and encouraging shipbuilders to move across the East River to utilize the sandy beaches of Newtown Creek for launching their new vessels. Greenpoint’s first homes appeared in 1839.
In 1850 the first of twelve private shipyards took up residence in the neighborhood. Hence, Greenpoint’s new function was to support the country’s shipbuilding business. Its older function of supplying produce became the responsibility of farms on Long Island.