Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brooklyn's Fulton Ferry Landing: Crossroads Of the World

This plaque installed on the dock at the Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn, celebrating Robert Fulton's steam ferry Nassau, says: "By 1868 One Thousand East River Crossings Daily -- Carried Fifty Million Passengers Annually."

That averages out to roughly 137 passengers in each ferry per crossing, 1,000 times a day, equaling about 137,000 passengers funneling into and off the ferries at Fulton Ferry Landing every single day.

To put this in perspective, Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan presently serves only 125,000 passengers a day. In 1860, New York City had 813,000 inhabitants -- only one tenth the number it has today, making this huge number of passengers even more remarkable.

Fulton Ferry Landing was truly the crossroads of the world 140 years ago. Walt Whitman memorialized the scene in his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.

Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers! Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta! -- stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!

Lines of horse cars would carry passengers from the ferries to all points of the city. In 1853, the Brooklyn City Railroad Company was incorporated. Twelve lines converged on Fulton Ferry, and extended out to the far-off towns of Greenpoint, Green-wood, East New York, Fort Hamilton, Hamilton Ferry, and more.

This is what old Fulton Street looked like in 1855 (looking south/east, with your back to the ferry). According to the excellent Whitman's Brooklyn site, where this image came from, most of the buildings on the left are still there.

The 1939 WPA Guide to NYC says, "In the early part of the nineteenth century there was a cluster of houses, taverns stables, shanties, and stores at Fulton Ferry. The region . . . blossomed into a pleasant residential neighborhood."

In 1869, construction of the Brooklyn tower of the Brooklyn Bridge began. Sadly, the construction of the bridge destroyed Fulton Ferry's beauty and "the neighborhood became a slum."

By 1939, old Fulton Street was "a sort of Brooklyn Bowery, with flophouses, small shops, rancid restaurants, haunted by vagabonds and derelicts."

City Joinery says, "It became a slum frequented by drunks and prostitutes, and the sweet residential atmosphere gave way to a dangerous and derelict no-man's land."

Today Fulton Ferry is home to such Brooklynesque pleasures as Bargemusic, Grimaldi's Pizza, the Ice Cream Factory and the River cafe -- and yes, the Waterfall and countless tourist buses.

Photos by MK Metz

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