Why Red Hook WaterStories?
Red Hook WaterStories looks forward as much as back.
PortSide NewYork presents history to learn about the past AND to aid planning in our neighborhood of Red Hook - and other NYC waterfronts.
Recent media stories often say that Red Hook is cut off by having water on three sides. That view of water is very new.
For centuries in Red Hook - and in this harbor - water was an asset and a connector.
Use of the waterways (maritime activity) is a like a language New York City has forgotten.
We lost it some 50 years ago, and along the way, lost track of the history of our own waterfront. The term “waterfront” in NYC is used now to talk about (and plan) the land next to the water, rarely the water/waterways themselves.
Threading through the Red Hook WaterStories project is the colorful story of the people of Red Hook.
A changing rainbow of immigrants populated this place, relating in large part to the United Nations of ships that docked here. From 1850 to 1960, Red Hook was awash with sailors from around the world. There were people toughing it out in hardscrabble shanty towns, inventive industrialists and visionaries of urban planning, large families in teeming tenements and living on cargo barges. People were so stuffed in here during some eras that “hallboys” rented space behind curtains on stairway landings, and building lots had front and back houses. (A few back houses survive). The stories include gangs, swaggerers, the self-made and the desperate. There are many strivers - some wealthy, some not - who came with the idea of remaking Red Hook (yes, that tendency predates the last 20 years).
PortSide will be exploring more individual histories in future updates to Red Hook WaterStories. The goal of Red Hook WaterStories 1.0 is to establish major trends, forces and issues.