Context History Of South Williamsburg
Photo taken by Laura Casas Fortuño.
Southside Williamsburg’s history can be traced back to 1520 when the land was home to native Lenilanape and Canarsie Indians. By the 1800s, land speculators began to divide large areas of land into smaller plots. In 1802 the area was renamed Williamsburgh, and 25 years later became a part of the Town of Bushwick. Early industrialization began in the 1820s when ferry service began operating, allowing new housing and factories to spring up in the Southside. In 1854 Williamsburg was annexed into Brooklyn and became a part of the Eastern District. As the Civil War neared, Williamsburg became a major manufacturing hub, employing thousands of primarily German and Irish immigrants. As industry grew, so too did new commercial corridors along Bedford and Grand Streets.
By the turn of the century, Brooklyn, and thus Williamsburg, had been consolidated within the City of New York. Upon the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, many Jewish Eastern Europeans migrated from the crowded and dilapidated tenements of the Lower East Side to the new "New Law" tenements of Southside. The Immigration Act of 1924 slowed immigration until WWII when a new group of immigrants, Puerto Ricans, began moving to the area. Meanwhile, an ever growing desire for a suburban lifestyle met with an increase in automobile popularity, and resulted in the construction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The expressway caused a large section of the neighborhood to be demolished, and led to urban renewal plans that caused disinvestment and depopulation in the area. The results were devastating and led to increased crime and other ills throughout the 1960’s and into the 1980’s.
Despite these hardships, notable community groups like Los Sures and El Puente formed in the area in the 1970s and 1980s. They concentrated their efforts on improving the overall livability of the area by rehabilitating buildings for affordable housing and targeting crime and marginalization. In turn, the area gradually began to improve and ultimately gentrified, bringing in new residents to the area. By 2005, the city rezoned Williamsburg/Greenpoint for large-scale residential development. Southside continues to evolve and is a mixture of both old and new.
For an online prezi slideshow of our context histories please click the link below.