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Ridgewhat?

May 30, 2013 1:30 PM | 3 comments

Early last year we received a generous donation of some 650 postcards depicting all manner of the visually mundane so typical of that epistolary medium: a statue of U.S. Grant attended by a shadow and a cloud; the empty interior of Johnny Johnston's steakhouse on Church Avenue; and this one from 1908 -- a few kids, black dog in tow, palling around on the street.

There's nothing much remarkable about this postcard, at least from the standpoint of this non-deltiologist, but what did catch my eye is the location of this particular street scene:

That's: Woodward Avenue West from Gates. Brooklyn NY. Now, anyone familiar with Brooklyn's borders, let alone nyc.gov's handy mapping tool, will know that this address is in Queens (Ridgewood, to be exact), not Brooklyn. So what gives? An honest mistake by the Albertype Company, printers of the card? A clue in some deep Queens/Brooklyn border dispute mystery? Or just the sort of fuzziness of definition we might expect from the borough's fringes? My guess is that it's likely the latter, but I wanted to see what our materials in the Collection had to say about Ridgewood and whether or not it's part of Brooklyn, part of Queens, or part of both. The first place I looked was the map case.

This map, from 1859, gives a pretty good idea of how built up Bushwick was -- just four years after its consolidation with Brooklyn and Williamsburg -- compared to the environs of its Queensboro neighbor, making the border between the two boroughs hard to miss. Nevertheless, like Harold, I made use of a purple (albeit virtual) crayon to highlight the division for you. Dropping down from Newtown Creek you can see that the boundary line sort of strafes the neat Bushwick grid until it hits the Cemetery of the Evergreens. On the agricultural Queens side you'll see the names Maspeth, Melvina, East Williamsburgh and Ridgewood, all of which were individual villages or sections of the larger town, Newtown.

Just five years later, however, the division between developed Brooklyn and rural Queens is less conspicuous; farmland having been converted to orderly city blocks. Brooklyn was, in a sense, moving into Queens. From his book, the Illustrated History of Greater Ridgewood, George Schubel, editor of the Ridgewood Times, writes:

From the most authoritative sources, it seems that the name "Ridgewood" was originally applied to the territory in Kings County beginning at about Hamburg Avenue [present day Wilson Avenue] and extending to what is now the borough line of Kings and Queens Counties. As the population increased and new stretches of land were opened for real estate purposes across the borough line, the name "Ridgewood" persisted, despite the fact that here in this new territory, the officially established name was East Williamsburgh and the township name, "Town of Newtown."

So in spite of what New York Magazine might think, East Williamsburgh actually is in Queens... or, well, was. Here's a close-up of the area from an 1873 F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island. That's East Williamsburgh at Metropolitan Avenue (Williamsburgh & Jamaica Turnpike) and Fresh Pond Road, a decidedly Queens-y intersection.

But if I had to guess why that postcard of kids loitering at Woodward Avenue and Gates Avenue is identified as Brooklyn NY, I'd say it's because to the people living there it simply felt like Brooklyn. This Queens part of Ridgewood had more in common with its Brooklyn counterpart than with the surrounding farmland and cemeteries. For many years Woodward Avenue was one of the last developed streets in the area, as you can see from this 1902 map.

But anything more than my mere speculations about how Ridgewood, once an area of Brooklyn, became a neighborhood of Queens... well, I'll leave that to the librarians at Queens Public Library.

 

Comments

6/4/2013 2:11:03 PM #

My Grandmother lived on Gates and Knickerbocker and she said she lived in Ridgewood "Brooklyn"

Paula

6/5/2013 5:17:41 PM #

Hello!

Excellent post.

I think you are missing what I believe to be the correct explanation, from my general readings on the topic.

The reason almost all postcards, photos, etc. of Ridgewood are listed as "Brooklyn, New York" is because Ridgewood was served by Bushwick's Brooklyn post office. I.E. mailing addresses were "Brooklyn, NY" even though politically/geographically said locations were in Queens. This is analogous to many places today where the "Postal City" on one's address is not the same as the actual municipal jurisdiction.

Much of the confusion about whether Ridgewood "switched" boroughs or some such is actually confusion about, simply, postal addresses. Until the late 70s, Ridgewood was served by Brooklyn's 11227 ZIP code. As you see from the maps posted, at the time of development Ridgewood was much easier to service from adjacent Bushwick for mail than Queens County P.O.s further afield across less developed territory.

Ridgewood Beat

6/5/2013 5:38:27 PM #

Actually, the reason old postcards and photos list Ridgewood QNS locales as "Brooklyn, NY" are simply because that was what the mailing address said. Until the late 70s, Ridgewood was served by Brooklyn P.O. and shared a ZIP code with Bushwick. Your address would say "XX-XX Fresh Pond Road, Brooklyn, NY" even though you might be standing clearly in political/geographic Queens. The reason, as you can see from your maps, is that it was easier to have reliable mail service from developed adjacent Bushwick than further flung rural outposts in neighboring Queens.

On another note, much of what is now considered Bushwick was historically considered "Ridgewood, Brooklyn", as far into Brooklyn as Hamburg Ave (Now Wilson Ave, renamed in reaction to anti-German sentiment during WWI). See map here: www.facebook.com/photo.php ... that border seemed to gradually creep so that today many consider there to be no "Ridgewood, Brooklyn" left, but the Ridgewood Times still covers stories with bylines in "Ridgewood, Brooklyn", which they consider to be the area between Wyckoff Ave and the boro line (AKA Wyckoff Heights).

Ridgewood Beat