Brooklyn sits on the western tip of Long island, and the first Dutch settlers arrived in the area in 1625 only 12 years after a trading post was established on Manhattan Island. The village of Breuckelen was established in 1646, named after Breukelen in the Netherlands. After the British took over the area in 1664 the name was anglicised to to Brockland which over time evolved into Brooklyn. Growth led to city status 1834 and over the following decades growth was accelerated by the incorporation of nearby towns and cities including the City of Williamsburgh and the Town of Bushwick. The resultant mixed heritage means that the road layout does not have a standardised grid pattern, which is part of the charm of modern day Brooklyn. The Borough of Brooklyn now has a population of around 2.5 million, nearly a million more than Manhattan.
Willow Street, Brooklyn Heights
If you want to get a feel for Brooklyn, then a walk around Brooklyn Heights is a must. Located on a bluff that runs along the East River, Brooklyn Heights was the site of the first battle between Washington’s Continental Army and the British after the Declaration of Independence. The British won the battle and imposed heavy losses on the Continental Army, but Washington managed to organise a retreat across the East River. By the early 1800s fast steam ferries across the river had begun the process of integrating Brooklyn with Manhattan, with Brooklyn Heights turning into a commuter suburb of New York. Victorian commuter houses still abound in Brooklyn Heights and one of the best views of Lower Manhattan can be seen from the bluff along the East River.
Japanese Hill & Pond Garden, Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Brooklyn is tied to Manhattan by a swathe of bridges and subway lines, making travel easy for commuters living here at the western end of Long Island. It is out here that the City established the Botanic Garden that every major world city must have. Founded in 1910 on a 16 hectare (39 acre) site the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a wide range of plant life and gardens in many different styles. This picture shows the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden designed in 1915 by landscape architect Takeo Shioto. The garden was restored in 2000.
Brooklyn Museum of Art
A subway journey of only half an hour from Midtown Manhattan can take you to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The museum traces its roots right back to the Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library founded in 1823 in Brooklyn Heights to educate young tradesmen. In 1843 it formed the Brooklyn Institute by merging with the Brooklyn Lyceum and a few years later it announced plans to establish a permanent gallery of fine arts. The Brooklyn Museum opened in 1897 in this building designed by architects McKim, Mead & White. The museum has a permanent collection of more than one-and-a-half million objects spanning the ages from ancient Egypt to modern art.
Boathouse & Prospect Lake, Prospect Park
Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s answer to Manhattan’s Central Park, indeed it was designed by the same people, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Land for the park was purchased in 1860, but the Civil War put the park on hold. Construction of the 237 hectare (585 acre) park began in 1866. The major features of the design were a Long Meadow, a wooded area called The Ravine, and a 24 hectare (60 acre) lake. We visited the park at the height of summer, only to find that the lake was covered by a layer of green weed. We found Prospect Park much quieter than Central Park, a rural oasis in the city with no overlooking skyscrapers.
Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch, Grand Army Plaza,
At the main entrance to Prospect Park, Olmsted and Vaux designed a an oval shaped plaza originally called Prospect Park Plaza. In 1889 the Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission decided to build a memorial at the centre of the plaza. Construction of the triumphal arch commenced later that year and was completed in 1892. The design of the arch was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In 1926 the plaza was renamed Grand Army Plaza.
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Coney Island boardwalk
On the south coast of Brooklyn at the end of a long subway ride stands Coney Island, once known as ‘the playground of the world’. In the early 20th Century Coney Island was famed for its amusement parks such as Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park. What happened to them? They succumbed to the fire and rising land prices, so one by one they closed down and were built over. The amusements left at Coney Island are a pale shadow of its heyday, but it is still worth the trip especially to see the quirky museum. Click Tab 2 to see one of the few old buildings left, the derelict Child's Restaurant.
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