The following is the third 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.
We have read that Greenpoint transitioned from a fairly small, peaceful farming community to a hub for American shipbuilding, thanks to the influence of Neziah Bliss in redesigning the area to attract major shipbuilders. Here are some interesting statistics concerning New York shipbuilding in the mid-1800s:
New York was a prolific producer of ships. In Manhattan, there were 33 shipyards on the East River alone. In Greenpoint, as mentioned previously, there were as many as 12 shipyards and an additional yard across the Newtown Creek in what is now Long Island City. There were even more on both sides of the Hudson River.
At mid-century, these shipyards employed thousands of shipwrights, including Carnes and Alfred. In 1855, the shipyards on Newtown Creek hired about 600 workers to build a variety of mostly wooden ships. During the Civil War, the Continental Works in Greenpoint employed, by some estimates, as many as 1,500. As many as 3,500 worked annually at the Manhattan and Kings County shipyards between 1830 and the start of the yards’ decline shortly after the Civil War. At one time, Bliss’ Novelty Works used over 1,000 men. A new community was needed to house these workers, and Greenpoint was one of the areas chosen for development.
Novelty Works, a Manhattan shipyard on the East River, sat at the former Burnt Hill Point on 12th through 14th Streets. Its first maritime project, a steamboat called the Novelty was built in 1826. It was fueled with anthracite (Reading) coal – a novel method at the time. In addition to steam ship engines, the Novelty Works also built fire engines, most of those for the City of New York.
After Bliss was hired by Novelty, he reportedly changed the direction of the company, by increasing its shipbuilding activity. Goodbye fire engines, hello maritime contract work, which included building the turret of the Navy’s first ironclad, the U.S.S. Monitor. The rest of the ship was built across the East River, at Greenpoint’s Continental Works shipyard, where the two Eddey brothers worked.
Although the Novelty Works only built the turret for the Monitor, they were awarded contracts for some of the later monitor class vessels in their entirety. 67 monitor-class ships were built for the Navy in the years after the first launched at the Continental Works yard. Several were built at the Novelty works and at least seven were completed at Continental. Although none were particularly seaworthy, at least one saw action as late as 1898.
Much has been written about the building of the Monitor and the reader can find numerous references on the Internet or at a library. But the Monitor’s story forms only as small part of the larger story of Greenpoint’s growth into a full-fledged neighborhood.