Wallabout’s unassuming presence, woven quietly into the fabric of a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn Waterfront, bears little resemblance to the prominence it once held during much of the 19th and 20th century. Wallabout’s roots date back to the arrival of the Belgians and the Dutch in 1624, who named the bay upon which they settled waal-bogt or “bend in the river.” During much of the 17th and 18th century Wallabout remained mostly rural until the beginning of the Revolutionary War, when the British seized Wallabout Bay and utilized it for their takeover of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Wallabout became infamous as the docking area for the British prison ships holding American soldiers and sailors throughout the war. Over 11,000 prisoners died on those ships, only to be dumped overboard or buried in shallow graves on the shore. Today, the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument in Fort Greene Park holds their remains and honors their memories.
After the Revolutionary War ended, much of the Wallabout area was purchased by John Jackson. As the years past, the US government began buying property from Jackson in an effort to construct a permanent shipyard in New York. The Navy Yard was officially established in 1801 as one of the nation’s first five naval shipyards. By the mid-1800s, the Navy Yard had grown to become the area’s largest employer. The Navy Yard operated as a federal shipyard for over 165 years, holding a very prominent piece of Wallabout’s history. Its rise brought prosperity and growth to the neighborhood. Many more details regarding the history of the Navy Yard can be found here.
The Navy Yard’s prominent role in Wallabout’s history often overshadows the rise and fall of the Wallabout Market. After the conclusion of the Civil War, Wallabout slowly began experiencing another transformation. As the Navy Yard was continuing to grow, many warehouses and factories that were used for Civil War-related activities began being used for food-related businesses. The rise of the food industry was aided by the close proximity of Williamsburg’s sugar refineries, in addition to the transportation network that featured ferry service, wide roads, and in the 1880s the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the Myrtle Avenue trolley line. A pop-up market began taking shape in Wallabout in the 1880s, featuring wholesale meat and produce and was constructed between Washington Avenue and Ryerson Street. This market soon began to expand and Brooklyn decided to commission an architect to build a more permanent physical market to meet the increasing demand. William B. Tubby was hired for the job, and designed and built what became known as the Wallabout Market. The Wallabout Market eventually became so large that it was ranked as the second largest wholesale food market in the world. For more information on the history of the Wallabout Market click here.
After the decommissioning of the Navy Yard in 1965, Wallabout slowly fell upon hard times. Many warehouses and factories both inside the Navy Yard and along its walls fell vacant and into disrepair. For decades Wallabout transformed into a much quieter neighborhood, and it looked as if the area’s rich past held more prominence than did its future prospects.
Beginning in the 1990s, Wallabout’s pulse once again began quickening. The area began experiencing a commercial and residential development Renaissance, with the Navy Yard once again playing a crucial role in the reversal of Wallabout’s fortune. The Navy Yard’s resurgence took hold largely because of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp (BNYDC), a non-profit entity that is managing the Yard. The City of New York took note of BNYDC’s success in securing industrial and manufacturing tenants for the Navy Yard during the 1990s and funded major upgrades to the Yard’s infrastructure starting in 2001. This investment has led to the largest expansion of activity at the Yard since WWII. Today, the Navy Yard is home to the largest concentration of manufacturing jobs and green businesses in all of New York City. Employment at the Yard will more than double in the next few years, jumping to 16,000 people by 2020. More information can be found on the current state of the Yard as well as its future prospects here.
Now that the BNYDC has re-established a bright future for the Yard, the streets of Wallabout outside of the Yard have begun to also transform in recent years. Retail tenants such as Brooklyn Roasting Company have opened locations in the area, filling commercial space that was previously abandoned. Recent residential developments such as Navy Green have begun sprouting outside the Yard and are seeing strong buying interest. While Wallabout is transforming and writing a new exciting chapter of its history, the City of New York and BNYDC have done an excellent job preserving the history of Wallabout for future generations. The City of New York has established a Wallabout Historic District to officially preserve some of the Civil-War era homes that are still standing in the area. BNYDC has opened Building 92 in the Yard, which contains a museum dedicated to revealing Wallabout’s history.
For more information on all the current developments taking place in Wallabout please check out our Main page. We hope to see you around the neighborhood!