Industry and Commerce
'Stables near Havemeyer and South 4th Street. Circa 1885.' Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York Photo Collection.
In 1835 industry began to develop in Williamsburg after David Dunham, known as the “father of Williamsburg,” established ferry service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, allowing commuters the flexibility to work in Manhattan and live in the burgeoning suburb of Williamsburg and vice versa. The availability of land and the ferry access between the two islands made Williamsburg an ideal place for manufacturing facilities. Larger industry found a home along the waterfront, while smaller businesses such as distilleries operated in the houses of families, all supported by the growing population resulting from the new ferry.
By the 1860s Williamsburg had become a magnet for Irish and German immigrants seeking work in new manufacturing facilities, many of which catered to supplying armaments for the Union Army during the American Civil War.
By the war’s end in 1865, the Southside neighborhood still retained much of its residential look, although new commercial strips lined with storefronts, local businesses, and merchants peddling their wares filled the streetscape and sidewalks. Grand Street in particular had become a popular marketplace for members of all classes. A local Board of Trade established by Elwin Piper, prominent department store owner on Grand Street, had helped to bolster the bustling retail corridor with repaving and transit improvement initiatives.
With new found wealth pouring into the area, Williamsburg was changing quickly. By 1875 banking headquarters such as the Williamsburg Savings Bank began to proliferate in Southside. For amusement the Southside played host to a handful of performing arts venues including the Novelty and Grand Theatres. The turn of the twentieth century brought more changes when the construction of Williamsburg Bridge was completed. The bridge provided easy access between Williamsburg and Manhattan, much like Dunham’s earlier ferry. This meant many Eastern Europeans living in the Lower East Side began to move to the area. Southside Williamsburg soon became an enclave for different cultures, which brought even more new business such as Jewish pushcart vendors, a business trend that lasted until the 1930s.