This month’s Map of the Month is a map accompanying an auction announcement for lots situated in the Village of Williamsburgh and the Town of Bushwick, as surveyed in 1842. It is a very good snapshot of how past and future existed side by side in the development of what would become Brooklyn. As can be seen immediately, the block and lot divisions of the future city—previewed in the standardized rectangular lots of the block bounded by Frost, Smith, Withers and Graham Streets—are countered by the irregular boundaries of the farms that still dominated this part of the Village along the Bushwick town line. The results are the splintered lots and partial blocks offered for auction. Some of the lots up for auction lay in both jurisdictions as the Bushwick town line cuts through the farm property on the upper right of our map. This scenario was repeated again and again as farmers and their heirs sold off land and streets were opened following the grid commissioned by the Williamsburgh trustees in 1827.
The map does not give the name of the landowner who has offered this land for sale, but the surrounding farms belong to William and Andrew Conselyea, members of a family long associated with Bushwick. Among the structures scattered on the map is the Conselyea farmhouse near the corner of Jackson and Smith Streets, which Henry R. Stiles described in his 1867 History of the City of Brooklyn as ‘a well preserved specimen of Dutch architecture.’ Another Dutch structure is the Bushwick Church located between Bushwick Avenue and Smith Street. We see here vividly the Dutch past as counterpoint to the future Brooklyn.
Williamsburgh, advantageously situated on the bustling waterfront of the East River and facing lower Manhattan, saw intense growth in the 1830s. A real estate bubble soon followed and the early 1840s (when this survey was conducted) was a time of recovery. Unfortunately, we do not know the results of this auction, but a consultation with an 1850 Map of the City of Brooklyn and the Village of Williamsburgh published by M. Dripps shows several structures neatly lined up side by side on Withers and Frost Streets near Graham Avenue. At some point the lots were sold and houses were built. This area was the easternmost border of Williamsburgh and perhaps because of its distance from the waterfront, avoided the worst of the speculation while witnessing a leisurely pace of development.
In 1851, what was known as the Village of Williamsburgh became the City of Williamsburg, losing its final ‘h forever. But it only enjoyed its existence as a city until 1855, when it was annexed by Brooklyn.
Interested in seeing more maps? You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Fri., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view most maps.