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East New York

Brownsville and East New York are neighborhoods of eastern Brooklyn delineated in great part by the Bay Ridge branch of the Long Island Rail Road. In the north, Brownsville runs from East New York Avenue, on the Bedford-Stuyvesant border, south to its border with Canarsie at the railroad; East New York begins at the railroad and continues east to the Queens line at Ozone Park, with the neighborhoods of Highland Park and Cypress Hills to its north and Jamaica Bay on its south. The southeast section of East New York is called New Lots after Dutch farmers who were getting crowded out in Flatbush struck east and formed new community here in the 1670’s.

Though the Dutch established some homes and farms in Brownsville and East New York in the 1700s, the area did not gel as a community until the early-to-middle 1800s. East New York was developed by John R. Pitkin, a Connecticut merchant beginning in 1835; at the time, this was the easternmost town in greater New York City, though not yet a part of the city proper. Brownsville is named for Charles S. Brown, who subdivided it in 1865.

Like many parts of NYC, Brownsville and East New York have been occupied by many nationalities. In the 1850s Germans predominated in East New York, to be followed by Italians, Russians and Poles in the early 20th Century and then by African Americans in the late 1950s. Brownsville attracted Jewish residents from Manhattan’s Lower East Side as early as the 1890s and by the Twenties, it was known as “The Jerusalem of America.” It has been the home base of Murder Incorporated, the organized crime family that included Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano; Margaret Sanger‘s first birth-control clinic; and has been home to Joseph Papp, Danny Kaye, and Mike Tyson. The area became impoverished and dangerous in the 1970s, hitting rock bottom after the lootings and riots during the 1977 blackout, but has been on a slow comeback trail, with major chain stores opening on Pitkin Avenue, joining Slavin’s Fish Market, which has been on Belmont Avenue for about 80 years.

 

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