RED HOOK POINT, Thirty Years in the Slums, 1872
Origin and Progress of Tinkerville, Bunkerville, Slab City, Sandybank and Texas — Peculiarities of their Populations.
Transcript of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 2. 1872 article:
Origin and Progress of Tinkerville, Bunkervillle, Slab City, Sandy Bank and Texas — Peculiarities of Their Populations.
There is scarcely a ward in Brooklyn does not contain within its precincts dens so infamous in their character, and in the character of the inhabitants, that the more respectable portion of the community would start back in horror at the idea of breathing the atmosphere tainted by their proximity
In some immorality, unbridled and unfettered, bears away; in some thieving and dishonesty (of every kind) prevail, while in others the pallid faces, tattered garments, bleared eyes, and shriveled bodies, bear uncertain testimony to the degrading effects of dissipation and in more than one case can be found the assassin and murderer, ignoring altogether petty crimes as beneath their notice ; also, garrotters, gentlemen of the road and slungshot, beside a host of minor evidences of the existence of the predatory art. In any country in the world it is a difficult thing to get a combination of all these accomplishments in one vicinity, so that Brooklyn, as having the advantage in that respect, deserves special notice, for she can boast of having within her boundaries localities where (going still further) every crime that mind could conceive has been perpetrated whence the perpetrators of crime committed elsewhere sprung.
RED HOOK POINT
stands out in bold relief as being the grand central and amalgamated cesspool and sink of low life in Brooklyn. As almost everybody knows, it is situated at the end of Van Brunt street, and takes in a wing on either side composed of several streets. Previous to describing the Red Hook of 1872, it will be of interest to many to take a retrospective glance at Red Hook in 1842—just 30 years ago. How many changes have taken place In Brooklyn since 1842!
In 1842, there stood on the Red Hook Point, or rather a portion of it, a powder house (or factory), which was situated at the foot of what is now knows as Wolcott street; there was also (what was then a rarity) a "stone" house, situated in or about where now stand King and Van Brunt streets. At that time (1842) the locality referred to was nothing but a swampy meadow, rendering it essentially necessary for the neighboring inhabitants to do their marketing by daylight or if by chance benighted, to keep a sharp look out for the lurking assassins who infested the neighborhood at the time, and whose knife was ever ready to seek its sheath in the heart of the homeward bound traveler, whose purse offered even a slight remuneration for the trouble Incurred. At that time there was a high hill or bank of earth where now Partition street is situated, and there boats were kept for accommodation of the lovers of the oar or sail, and scups for the amusement of the merry little ones. The stone house already referred to was occupied by a German named King, whose daily occupation consisted in delving the familiar hook into the numerous dumping heaps, and following his vocation as a scavenger and ragpicker. Mr. King realized a fortune and eventually became a property holder where he once picked rags in the neighborhood, hence the name of King street.
There were a few shanties, rudely constructed to suit the exigencies of the times, at the foot of Van Brunt and Wolcoit streets, inhabited principally by Germans, whoso occupation was guided by the fortunes of the period. The Atlantic Basin had not, as yet, been shaped, and the tide came up to where now stand rows of houses. About 1843, the Atlantic Dock Company laid out their basin and in view of pushing the work on engaged a number of laborers at the rate of seventy-five cents a day. The work progressed, but as if to establish a precedent for strikes of future dates they became dissatisfied with this pay, and demanded eighty-seven cents per day. This was refused.
At last the Atlantic Dock Company got weary of the attempted monopolization of labor introduced by the Irish, and sent to Germany for substitutes. In the Fall of 1846 two cargoes of Germans arrived in Brooklyn in response to the call, and gladly availed themselves of the free passage and fifty cents per day offered them by the Atlantic Dock Company. On the arrival of the Germans such a disturbance was raised by the Irish that the
MILITARY HAD TO BE CALLED OUT,
and eventually what at first appeared to be an insignificant row, terminated in a genuine and bloody riot. The military were stationed along the face of the hill, from Hicks to Clinton street, and a lively time they had of it for over a week. Captain Ferry, who is now in command of the Third Precinct Station House made his debut in the first riot he ever saw in Brooklyn, which was the one that occurred at the Atlantic Basin. When that riot was suppressed the Germans went to work, and to accommodate them a row of shanties was erected along the line of Van Brunt street that now is.
This was the first permanent colonization of Red Hook Point, and it was by Germans. As soon as the Atlantic Dock Company succeeded in their enterprise they encouraged the shipping interest, and the famine of 1848 coming on in Ireland drove thousands of her sons and daughters to the shores of America. Numbers of them settled in Brooklyn and some of them betook themselves to Red Hook Point where they "squatted."
In 1846 (or about that time) the Atlantic Dock Company owned nearly two-thirds of the land on the present locality of Bed Hook Point. The President of that Company was the Honorable J. S. T . Stranathan and although having been the first workers on the basin and having been their own worst enemies in depriving themselves of employment, the Irish were destined eventually to become the people of the soil —is this way: Mr. Stranahan and a Mr. Carmichael contracted to cut away all the rising ground known then as Bergen Hill, and in carrying this out Mr Stranahan employed a large number of Irish laborers. The latter worked away, and in compliance with their instructions deposited the soil that they had taken away upon the swampy meadows then west of Hicks street that now is. So that all now in existence west of Hicks, and south of Harrington are made streets, formed of the earth taken from Bergen Hill. The Irish who were employed upon the work settled upon the Atlantic Dock property, owned by Mr. Stranahan.
A large proportion of this property belongs to what is known as the Francis B. Cutting estate, comprising 490 lots, each of which averages from $12 to $20 a lot, per annum for ground rent. This property lies principally about Richards, Delevan, Van Brunt and Commerce streets.
About 1830 Mr. William Beard and Jeremiah P. Robinson, with ex-Mayor Hall, bought a quantity of land,
EIGHT ACRES FOR $ 17,000 ,
and sold a portion of it afterward to the Boston Dry Dock Company for half a million of dollars. After Mr. Beard purchased the property, had applied to the legislature and obtained leave to reclaim a portion of property then submerged, but now the site of some of the finest warehouses in the world, beside offering a site for the Erie Basin now in course of completion.
And yet the very people who participated in adding these improvements to Brooklyn, live to-day in such a state of barbarism and filth, that the entire aspect place is a spectacle revolting in the extreme.
This state of things may be due to the fact that the Irish brought from their native land their innate love for a "drop of the craythur" and no sooner obtained a foothold of the soil of America, than whisky stills were flourishing broadcast in Red Hook Point. To such an extent was illicit distillation carried on, that a very fair living was made by a number of land sharks who went around at night and levied blackmail upon the law breakers, forcing their doors open and informing them that they were revenue officers. Red Hook was then the Irishtown of late years. In Red Hook Point some of the worst murders that have ever been recorded were committed by its denizens. One poor fellow was dispatched in a most barbarous manner in years gone by, he having had his stomach completely cut out by some ruffians who laid in wait to rob him.
So dangerous did the locality become that it was found requisite to send down fourteen men under the command of Captain Ferry, to preserve the peace in the vicinity, and thus the three sub-precincts of police were established at first. At this time the river thieves were enjoying a rich harvest. As a proof of the extent of their depredations, a schooner was moored in the stream, laden with sugar. In the afternoon her crew went ashore, and in the morning they were saved the trouble of unloading her, the pirates having despoiled the vessel of every pound of the luxury. Nor is Red Hook Point to-day without a strong percentage of river thieves, who prowl around at night, or in the daytime if they get the chance and steal anything from an inch of rope to an anchor and sell it to the nearest Junkman, the 'latter being generally as unscrupulous in buying the stolen property as the thief in purloining it.
Which euphonious appellation was given to the place in consequence of the number of settlers who jogged along with the old cry of "any pots or kettles to "mon" through the day and met in solemn conclave at night to discuss the shape for a worm and still over some of the choice liquor of their own manufacture. Tinkerville was as necessary to the welfare of the community as an iron foundry is to the successful running, of a steamer and the most exorbitant prices wore asked and obtained for the materials requisite for producing the loved "Potteen." This village was and is still situated about Columbia, Richards, and Van Brunt Streets, and in days gone was governed by a tall and gaunt looking fellow nicknamed "Holy Dick," owing to the fact that in his dealings with his customers where he mended one hole he generally left the article, whatever It might be, in such a state that two more were certain to require his further service before the week was out.
This village of
Is situated on the F.B. Cutting estate,' and is thoroughly Bohemian in the character of its inhabitants.
The next section of Red Hook is
or Bunkerville, another famous locality, situated about Hoyt and Bond, Fourth and Fifth streets, it is rather difficult to ascertain why it was named Bunkerville, put the appellation, of Slab city is due to the fact that the "slabs" of timber with which the principal number of the surrounding shanties are constructed, come originally from there, these slabs being the outside portions of the heavy logs of timber which were requisite for the works going on in the neighborhood.
Slab City has nothing to-day to characterize it particularly, with the exception of the fact that degradation, filth, poverty and wretchedness prevail every where in the neighborhood. Here also tragedy and comedy may be found side by side, in the case of a young girl, 16 years of age, whose body lay cold in death from the effects of drink, while in the same, room lay a monstrous sow grunting dissatisfaction at the apathy shown its appetite by the owners. The rest of the family were drunk.
Next to Slab City comes
A visit to the locality is well worth the consideration of a stranger. It owes its name of Texas to the fact that where it is situated, near the Hamilton avenue Bridge, a tough fight was made by the laborers on the work progressing in the vicinity, about 1842, when the strike already referred to was in progress.
Another municipality in the neighborhood is a little realm in itself called
presided over by its Queen, "Red Mary," whose experience as a Teutonic ragpicker, in a region of ragpickers, entitles her to royal precedence. Sandy Bank extends from Hamilton avenue to Grinnell Street. In this locality, the inhabitants, principally Germans, live in a state bordering upon the barbarous, ignoring the marriage tie altogether. Another settlement, one of the Red Hook Point estates is
SLICKVILLE OR SLEEKVILLE,
comprising the neighborhood sat the foot of Hamilton avenue, Luqueer, Nelson and Hicks streets, and situated on the locality of what was formerly known as the "old ginger mill crook." At the present day the inhabitants living here are kept perpetually in a state of swampy desperation. Frequently they are obliged-to-row to and from their residences, built on crutches, in boats when the tide is high, and not infrequently all the domiciles are built upon wheels, so that should the rising waters surprise the inmates they can not only take up their bed but their house and walk.
Potteen = illegally distilled Irish whiskey, from the Irish word meaning little pot.