A view of Downtown Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset. Image via MusikAnimal/Wikimedia Commons
Downtown Brooklyn is a commercial and cultural hub as well as a residential neighborhood, but it also harbors a number of unexpected secrets. On its way to becoming the cosmopolitan mecca it is today, the neighborhood experienced a chaotic history that can still be found written in its streets and floating around in the air.
10. The Brooklyn Detention Complex
Downtown Brooklyn might mostly be a pleasant residential and cultural hub, but it is also home to a functioning prison. Located at 275 Atlantic Avenue, the Brooklyn Detention Complex can hold up to 815 male inmates.
Its origins stem from the depths of the seedy tangle that is New York City bureaucracy. Built in the 1950s, the prison closed in 2003, but to fund its renovation, ex-city comptroller Bill Thompson allegedly cut a deal with City Hall, approving a $34 million renovation project. In exchange, the city dropped the lawsuit that had been raised against him. Once adequately funded, the prison reopened in 2012. Some prisons are physical and others are capital. This detention complex is both.
9. Underground Railroad Safe Houses and Churches
Image via Wikimedia Commons by
New York City was home to many important abolitionists, and Brooklyn especially was an active hub of abolitionist activism in the 1850s and 60s. Many Downtown Brooklyn houses and churches functioned as safe houses on the Underground Railroad during this time. In 2007, Duffield Street was renamed “Abolitionist Place” by the City of New York. Buildings believed to be safe houses include 223, 225, 227, 231, 233, and 235 Duffield Street, in addition to the African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church located in MetroTech Center.
Plymouth Church, located on the border between Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights, is an especially important landmark: Henry Ward Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, began preaching there in 1847, and invited important figures including Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Charles Dickens, and Walt Whitman. Later Martin Luther King, Jr. would recite early versions of his “I Have a Dream” speech there.
8. Walt Whitman Garnered Support for the Creation of Fort Greene Park
Fort Greene Park. Image via Fort Greene Park Conservancy
Walt Whitman worked at the Brooklyn Eagle in the mid-1800s, but he lost his job due to his support for the Wilmot Proviso, a bill that proposed banning slavery in America’s newly acquired Mexican territory.
During his time with the magazine, Whitman argued for the opening of more green public spaces, and eventually successfully appealed for the creation of Fort Greene Park. Today, in his honor, you can embark on a Walt Whitman walking tour of Fort Greene Park. The poet and icon also spent time in Green-Wood Cemetery, at the Brooklyn Navy Yards, and more.