Red Hook Building Company
The Red Hook Building Company was the brainchild of Col. Daniel Richards, a man who grew up in upstate New York. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825 and had a powerful economic effect, Richards was inspired. He saw great potential for Red Hook, Brooklyn as a center for trade and housing.
In the late 1830s, he formed the Red Hook Building Company, a publicly-owned real estate development concern with a plan to develop all of Red Hook. It promised that by developing the area, much of which was still underwater, the property value would quadruple.
In 1838, with the goal of gaining more backers for the project, a proposal was printed that laid out the vision and provided reasons why the venture should be a great success. Note that when the proposal refers to "the proximity to the business center of New York," New York means Manhattan as the current New York City was not yet consolidated, meaning Brooklyn was still an independent city.
This analysis was based on a comparison of Red Hook's potential to Southwark, a waterfront section of the city of London, England. The proposal claimed that Red Hook and Southwark had similar benefits: they could both be used for residential and commercial shipping accommodations.
To raise money, shares of the company were sold to the public. The stock certificates looked similar to today’s dollar bills. See one below.
Property was purchased, but the venture never got off the ground. Major parts of the vision, in part embodied by the Atlantic Basin aka Atlantic Dock (1841) and the Erie Basin (1864), did eventually come to be.
Col. Daniel Richards led the creation of the Atlantic Basin and was also an important force behind the creation of the Gowanus Canal (completed in the 1860s) which triggered development of Park Slope.
In the map of the plan (shown below), all of Red Hook is a grid of streets, which is not at all what Red Hook looked like in 1838. At that time, there were still large areas of water and marsh within what is the modern footprint of Red Hook. There was also no Atlantic or Erie Basin at the time.
The Hamilton Avenue Ferry, which is shown as part of the propsal, started service in 1854 with backing by Atlantic Dock and the Green-Wood Cemetary.
Select text from the Proposal.
(A pdf of the full original is linked below)
"The advantages of Brooklyn as a place of residence, as well as for commercial purposes - in view of its proximity to the business centre of New York - its facility of intercommunication - its beauty of situation, its pure and wholesome water and general salubrity and healthiness, have already been alluded to. Red Hook enjoys all these in common with Brooklyn (excepting that more direct intercommunication which improvement may be expected to introduce by means of an additional ferry) and has eminent advantages of its own - is, from contiguity to the river, nearer the business section of New York than a large portion of Brooklyn ...
For mechanical and manufacturing purposes it would seem to be in all respects well adapted. The connexion of the East River, across the Hook with Gowanus Bay, by converting a natural water course into an improved canal, easily constructed at moderate cost and for which the legislature have granted a charter, will afford for these purposes a position, which, in reference to comparative and positive advantages can rarely be found." (p.18)
"Can there be any doubt that the 264 lots extending from the South Ferry to Red Hook Point, will be required at almost any price, in view of the increasing foreign and inland trade of the City of New York? ... how shall the growing trade of the interior be accommodated [with] the enlargement of the Erie Canal? ...Where shall they find a vacant post to hold there fasts, or wharf to land there cargoes?" (p. 19- 20)
"The conclusion, therefore, becomes almost irresistible, that the waterfront owned by the Red Hook Building Company, by parity of reason, must also become valuable and give large returns for improvement." (p. 21)