Street Beat: Grand Street and Its Long Lost Ferry

Posted on: February 28th, 2013 at 11:52 am by

[1860 .Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views]

[The Grand Street Ferry, 1860 .Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views]

Before bridges and tunnels, before Williamsburg lost its “h” and had a bridge eponymously named, there was a ferry. Multiple ferries, actually, but for now we are only concerned with the Grand Street Ferry that ran from, yep, Grand Street to Williamsburg.

I was well on the way to delving into another Street Beat, but felt it very necessary to first indulge in some insanely dope ferry pics from a bygone era. History of the Grand Street Ferry herewith.

[Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views]

[View From the Grand Street Ferry; Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views]



[Manhattan - Between East and Broome Streets - Grand Street Ferry Terminal.] (1922]


In 1802, Richard Woodhull, spurred by the idea of creating a residential suburb of Manhattan, began a ferry service from today’s Metropolitan Avenue to Corlear’s Hook across the East River. He purchased 13 acres of land surrounding the ferry and named the area Williamsburgh around 1810, after Colonel Jonathan Williams (1750-1815), the original surveyor of the site.

In 1811 Woodhull went bankrupt, but the idea of Williamsburgh was viable; Noah Waterbury built the neighborhood’s first distillery in 1819, and David Dunham (ca. 1790), called the “Father of Williamsburgh,” began operating a steam ferry in 1827. During the mid-1800s, wealthy professionals frequented the private clubs, beer gardens, and resorts abounding in the neighborhood, while companies like Pfizer Pharmaceutical and the Havermeyers & Elder Sugar (now Domino Sugar) Refineries laid their roots in the area.

By 1852, Williamsburgh’s population had grown to 31,000, and it was chartered as a city. The City of Brooklyn annexed Williamsburgh three years later and dropped the “h” from its name. The opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 provided an easy route for the city’s newest Eastern European immigrants to leave the cramped Lower East Side of Manhattan, and by 1917, Williamsburg was the most densely populated area of Brooklyn.

The Grand Street Ferry ceased operations in 1918, and the abandoned landing became one of the few stretches of Williamsburg shoreline accessible to the public. …Grand Ferry Park, opened officially on July 9, 1998…A red brick smokestack rising above a circular pattern of cobblestones was part of a molasses plant that Pfizer Pharmaceuticals used in the early 20th century for work that led, eventually, to the large-scale production of penicillin. The cobblestones were salvaged from the section of Grand Street where the park was constructed.


[Wikipedia] ( I don't normally use Wiki, but this map shows the ferry route)

[Ferry Route/Photo: Wikipedia]

People have called me an adventurer – a good portion of what I discover about NYC history is because of my penchant for exploration.

There’s another NYC lover and explorer out there who has done us a tremendous favor by climbing down a questionable wooden ladder to showcase what is left of the Williamsburg side of the Grand Street Ferry stop. Far be it from me not to shout a fellow NYC wanderer, or in this case, Scout. Check out his pics here. They are awesome.

Good? Okay. So why is Grand Street grand?

Well, because James de Lancey Jr. (more often spelled “Delancey” of  Delancey Street) planned it that way.

See, Delancey had a farm and on that farm he had a road and an orchard (Orchard Street) and oh that road! It was to be the grandest and most extraordinarily wide leading up to his estate from our favorite Corlear’s Hook. It was his “Great Square.” See it below:

[NYPL Plan of CIty of NY 1767]

[NYPL Plan of CIty of NY 1767]

We are definitely going to visit Delancey Jr. in great depth in another Street Beat.

This man was connected to Stanton and Rivington (and his rebels) and so many more whose names our streets bear. Too bad he was a loyalist and ended up leaving his beloved estate, farm and roads behind for greener pastures in England. But his grand pathway remains. To this very day it is grand in its own way…What do you like most about this street?

(If I haven’t said it in a while – thanks for reading, Boogie-ers. Go ‘head and grab yourself a sticker as a thanks from us)


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