Brooklyn Basin - The Basin that Never Was.

The “Brooklyn Basin” is another one of those big plans for Red Hook that did not happen.  The plan appeared on maps as if it was built - with no indication of its aspirational status -  leading people in the 21st century to think that the thing existed. Here’s the real story.

The Brooklyn Basin was envisioned as the sister to the Erie Basin and was to be located south-west of the Erie Basin, nearer the mouth of the Gowanus Canal. The divider between the two basins was to be Columbia Street. (The area of Columbia Street that extends into the water also is known by old-timers as  "Long Dock.")  Beard and Robinson's plan for Erie Basin, as approved by the government, included the Brooklyn Basin as part of the design.  The outlines of the outer breakwaters and bulkheads of Erie Basin were completed in 1864, but construction never began on the Brooklyn Basin.

That did not keep it from appearing on many official maps of the era.  Confusing the history more, the area where the basin was to be built was referred to as the Brooklyn Basin into the early 1900s.

In 1907, there was speculation that C.W. Morse, a steamship magnate, might purchase and develop the area.  At that time The Brooklyn Eagle described the Brooklyn Basin as "including several acres of water extending in the direction of the Gowanus Canal as far as the Poillon Shipyard, which, with the Downing and Lawrence Shipyard, alone separate it from the Canal."  The basin was been used for storing lumber and sailing vessels, but as no piers or warehouses were built, the Eagle argued that it was a clean slate for a major shipping concern.

Like many other visions for the basin, this one did not come to pass. 

The 1920 annual report of the Port of New York marks the conclusive end for the fading dream of the Brooklyn Basin as “when Clinton Street was extended by the old City of Brooklyn [and thus] the basin was narrowed.”   (The City of Brooklyn merged with NYC in 1898, so the extension of Hicks street would be sometime prior to that date.) Thereafter, continues the report, the area was “known as Columbia Basin.”   Later, one half of the basin was filled and the other half dredged and deepened for the New York State Barge Canal Grain Elevator and Terminal, completed in 1922.

It was hoped that the Grain Terminal would bolster New York's grain trade; but, by the outset, there was not enough grain being shipped by barges to make the large grain storage elevator successful. The Terminal, with its huge concrete grain storage silos, came to be known as a magnificent boondoggle. The Port Authority of New York and NJ took over control of the elevator in 1944 and decommissioned it in 1965.


<a href="">Map encompassing Red Hook</a>..., by M. Dribbs, 1869

Map encompassing Red Hook..., by M. Dribbs, 1869

Source: Sheet 5: Map encompassing Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Gowanus Canal, Map of the City of Brooklyn... Published by M. Dribbs, 1869. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed July 31, 2020. View File Details Page