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Williamsburg, Brooklyn - A Focused History

Williamsburg, Brooklyn - A Focused History

In 1792 real estate speculator Richard M. Woodhull purchased land surrounding North Second Street in Brooklyn, had it surveyed and then divided into city lots. His aim was to attract urban New Yorkers to what was then “the suburbs.” He established a horse ferry from the foot of North Second Street to Grand Street in Manhattan and opened a tavern. In 1800, he named the area Williamsburgh.

As it turned out, Woodhull’s business tactics were ahead of his time, and in 1811 he suffered financial failure. Subsequent ventures by other developers also failed – until roads were built in the early 1800s that connected the coast to the interior. Commuting became much easier, and interest in living and working in Williamsburgh increased.

Map of Williamsburgh, Brooklyn.

By 1827, Williamsburgh was incorporated as a village. A real estate crash in 1837 slowed development, but little by little, infrastructure was put in place to make Williamsburgh a city in its own right. On January 1, 1852, Williamsburgh received a city charter, but three years later it was consolidated into the City of Brooklyn. Upon consolidation, the “h” was dropped from the neighborhood’s name.

View of Williamsburgh, Brooklyn.

During the 1830s, Irish, German and Austrian capitalists established their businesses and homes in Williamsburgh. It became a fashionable resort that attracted such notables as Commodore Vanderbilt, Williams Whitney and railroad magnate James Fisk.

Domino Sugar refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Some of the largest industrial firms in the nation grew here, such as Pfizer Pharmaceuticals (1849), Astral Oil (later Standard Oil), Brooklyn Flint Glass (later Corning Ware) and the Havemeyer and Elder sugar refinery (later Amstar and Domino). Breweries such as Schaefer, Rheingold and Schlitz as well as docks, shipyards, refineries, mills and foundries opened along the waterfront. In 1851, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, Williamsburgh Dispensary, Division Avenue ferry and three new churches were established.

H. Brown, Purveyor of Teas, Coffee and Home Furnishings. Established in 1895.

With the building of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, thousands of Lower East Side Jews crossed the river to make their homes in Williamsburg. Between 1900 and 1920, Williamsburg’s population doubled. Immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe, including Lithuania, Poland and Russia. A large number of Italian immigrants settled in the North Side.

View of the Williamsburg Bridge, Brooklyn, New York.

By 1917, the neighborhood had some of the most densely populated blocks in all New York City. A single block between South Second and South Third Streets housed more than 5,000 persons. In the 1930s, large numbers of European Jews escaping Nazism fled to Williamsburg and established a Hasidic enclave.
From the mid-1930s to the 1960s, public housing projects replaced thousands of decaying buildings. In 1957, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway cut through the Williamsburg community (as well as Red Hook and Greenpoint), destroying huge numbers of low-income, single- and two-family homes.

Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York.

With the 1960s came thousands of Puerto Ricans, drawn by the many factory jobs. Through the 1980s the Hispanic community grew to include Dominicans and other Latin Americans. In 1961 Williamsburg had 93,000 manufacturing jobs; by the 1990s, the number had decreased to less than 12,000. The decline in manufacturing left thousands of Hispanics unemployed.

In South Side Williamsburg, the Hasidic community continued to grow. Tensions increased between the Hispanic and Hasidic communities over government money and housing. In recent years, there have been some improvements in relations between these two groups.

Since the early 1990s Williamsburg has become home to a new set of “immigrants,” which has altered the face of the neighborhood. Many artists, writers and performers were attracted to the (comparatively) low rents and large light-filled lofts of Williamsburg’s former factories. Galleries, restaurants and shops opened to cater to these new residents, making it a destination for many 20- and 30-somethings with a distinct sense of style and earning it the nickname “hipster heaven.
The area traditionally called Williamsburg is today occupied mainly by the Yiddish-speaking Satmar Hassidim, who continue to wear the traditional dress of their ancestors in Europe and adhere closely to Jewish religious law. North of traditional Williamsburg is an area known as South Side, occupied by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. To the north of that is an area known as North Side, traditionally Northern Italian, but now hosts increasing numbers of hipsters: artists and those who wish to associate with artists. So-called East Williamsburg is home to many industrial spaces and forms the largely black and Hispanic area between Williamsburg and Bushwick. Williamsburg, South Side, North Side, Greenpoint and East Williamsburg all form Brooklyn Community Board 1.

The hipster center of Williamsburg radiates from the strip of Bedford Avenue near the Bedford Avenue Station on the L train, the first stop from Manhattan. Since their settling in, ex-Manhattanites and hipsters from around the nation insist on calling their area Williamsburg, despite the fine distinctions natives make.


On May 11th, 2005 the city passed a mammoth rezoning of the North Side and Greenpoint waterfront from manufacturing and low density residential to high density residential with a set aside (but no funding) for the creation of open waterfront park space. The land is being rezoned to permit luxury high rises, high-end retail, a proposed waterfront park, and privately owned riverfront promenades. Proponents of the rezoning seek to gentrify and recast an area currently characterized active warehouses and light industrial, some smaller residential buildings, and a handful of mammoth obsolete manufacturing buildings. The projected increase in the area population is estimated to be 40,000 new residents with an expected correlated increase in property values and real estate tax revenue. Critics of the rezoning have contended that the rezoning will change the existing community's character (Manhattanization) and force out existing residents, and that the plan lacks of adequate provisions for public transportation or public safety infrastructure to accommodate the projected new residents.
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2010-04 April - Time Out New York: Best Indie Shops

2010-04 April - Time Out New York: Best Indie Shops

Find sleek styles, bold colors and cool graphics in [this] contemporary housewares shop. Nothing here is clunky or unwieldy, and most of the items fit just right in small apartments. Look for that perfect pop of color in Abode’s many bowls, serving trays, linens, bedding and rugs from eco-friendly brands like Goldiehome, Paper Cloud and Teroforma.

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2010-03/04 March/April - Modern Luxury Manhattan

2010-03/04 March/April - Modern Luxury Manhattan

Building Blocks: A Design Scene Grows in Brooklyn by Michael Silverberg, March/April 2010, page 44.

A trip to some of the latest and greatest in NYC design is just a short Town Car ride away. Abode New York: Bright and cheery modernism, from handmade industrial-felt bowls ($75) to inviting reclaimed-oak hooks ($20.50), is the order of business at this reasonably priced Williamsburg storefront.

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2009-05/06 May/June - Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts

2009-05/06 May/June - Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts
Abode NewYork is a minimalist, eco-chic furniture and houseware boutique that sources local designers, woodworkers, and artists such as Alex Gil, David Zachary, Domestic Aesthetic, and White Bike Ceramics. As a result, many of their products have a fresh young feel. Eco-friendly furniture made of sustainable materials is paired with whimsical décor items. It’s a great place to go for tasteful gifts for friends who want to find a little quiet and stillness. Continue reading

2015-03 March - Lonely Planet Traveller

2015-03 March - Lonely Planet Traveller

March 2015 Lonely Planet Traveller - 15 Fun Things To Do in New York by Orla Thomas/photos by Sivan Askayo. 

Three Ways to See New York: Abode New York in Williamsburg is the heartland of hipster homewares, and looks like it could be the home of a stylish local.  Our top pick to take home is a charcuterie board carved with an accurate subway map.

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2016-07 July - TravelMag.com: New York City / Williamsburg

2016-07 July - TravelMag.com: New York City / Williamsburg
This design store walks a fine line between upscale and affordable with an array of furniture, accent objects and other house wares that would make it possible to furnish your whole apartment in an afternoon outing. Standouts include Duane Hosein’s limited edition art prints that meld people, animals and nature together with a whimsical flair; a wooden charcuterie board in the shape of Manhattan’s subway map and wall paper so trippy it might make you feel like you’ve fallen into another dimension. Continue reading
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