If you live in Bensonhurst – or the historically linked areas of Bath Beach, Dyker Heights, Mapleton and Bay Ridge – feel free to wish your respective hood a hearty 350th b-day.
According to the Brooklyn Eagle, on December 22, 1661 the town of New Utrecht – which at the time encompassed most of Southwestern Brooklyn, was granted a charter by the Dutch West India Company.
The English would take over the province of New Netherland just three years later, renaming it New York.
Prior to 1647, New Utrecht, named for the Dutch city of Utrecht, had been Nyack Indian land.
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In that year, the governor of New Netherland granted a deed for the land to Anthony Jansen van Salee, a very intriguing historical figure. Van Salee, a so-called “mulatto”, was the reputed half-Moroccan, half-Dutch son of a wealthy former head of state, New York’s first Muslim and ancestor to today’s high society Vanderbilt family.
From the Eagle:
In 1652, Cornelius van Werckhoven from Utrecht, Netherlands, built a house and a mill and the first European settlers moved in — Cornelius, his two children and their tutor, Jacques Cortelyou.
When van Werckhoven died in 1655, Cortelyou took over leadership of the settlement. He acquired land later occupied by Fort Hamilton, and divided the parcel into 20 plots of 50 acres each. Residents established the New Utrecht Reformed Dutch Church in 1677. The present building, erected in 1828, still stands at 18th Avenue and 83rd Street.
By 1738, New Utrecht had a population 282, of whom 119 were West African slaves. Throughout the 18th and most of the 19th century, the area was part of the bread basket for the growing cities of Brooklyn and New York. The raising of cattle and production of grains, along with cash crops like tobacco, were the town’s main industries.
In 1880, as land was being bought up by land speculators and suburban housing developers, the number of inhabitants reached 4,742. Today, the combined populations of the neighborhoods that once made up the town of New Utrecht probably exceed 300,000.
The completion of the Sea Beach, West End and Coney Island, and Culver railroads in the 1870’s helped bring about the eventual end of Southwestern Brooklyn’s agricultural era. The same rail lines that made New Utrecht’s urbanization possible continue to serve Bensonhurst’s commuters today as part of the New York City Subway system.