Atlantic Basin

Theme curated by: The Red Hook WaterStories Team
In 1834, Brooklyn is incorporated as a city, but most of Brooklyn is still farmland and woods, except for a suburb that is now Brooklyn Heights. At that time, Red Hook is a watery place, with tide mills ponds, corn fields, orchards, the Bull Creek canal and middens (large piles of oyster shells, the remains of a long history of Lenape meals). Almost no one lives here.

That changes abruptly in the late 1840s when the canal is filled, and the Atlantic Dock Company builds a man-made harbor with granite warehouses. The Atlantic Dock (also called the Atlantic Basin) was envisioned by Col. Daniel Richards, a developer who set Red Hook on the path to becoming one of the world's major commercial ports. While living in upstate New York, Richards saw the powerful economic effects resulting from the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Looking to capitalize on it, he moved to Brooklyn to build a terminus that could handle all the boats and products coming down the Canal.

Then as now, change triggers NIMBY complaints. The lament is that the maritime action ruins the pastoral view, so “nice” people are moving away from Columbia Street.

During the next century, Atlantic Basin is always packed. Freighters, tugs, barges, grain elevators, and passenger ships cram the place. A major step in the abolition of slavery takes place here when the slave ship ERIE is sold at government auction, impounded for breaking laws against shipping humans for the slave trade. President Abraham Lincoln is involved in the matter and uses it as a national example. The Captain of the ERIE Nathaniel Gordon is executed for his crime, the only American to receive this punishment. Later in the 1800s and 1900s, refugees and waves of immigrants arrive by ship including the first Puerto Rican community in the city.

Several modernizations erase the Victorian cobblestones and looming brick and granite warehouses. Today’s Atlantic Basin of sprawling asphalt and flimsy metal sheds arrives in the late 1950s and early 1960s when about half the waterspace is filled (the water used to reach almost to Imlay Street) and the last historic buildings are leveled. This modernization is promptly out-of-date because the introduction of containerization means that piers designed to handle break-bulk cargo (stuff in barrels and sacks and on pallets) have less and less use. The waterside freight railroad chugs along until the late 1980s.

Freight activity picks up again in the early 2000's filling the Pier 11 shed with cacao beans under management by ASI (American Stevedoring Inc), but real estate speculation and plans for the cruise terminal soon flatten the freight story.

WHO OWNS AND RUNS THIS NOW?

Atlantic Basin was part of the Red Hook Container Terminal (RHCT) until 2005, when the City said they needed it to support the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal that was being planned for Pier 12, the pier along the Buttermilk Channel.

The current “Atlantic Basin” has more asphalt than water and runs south from RHCT to Wolcott Street, and east to Imlay Street and includes Pier 11 (our home) and its warehouse, along with Pier 12 and its warehouse (converted into to the cruise terminal). Most of the site (minus a chunk along Imlay Street that the City owns) is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a bi-state agency, and rented to the Economic Development Corporation of New York City (NYC EDC), a non-profit that does major economic planning and real estate management for the city. The EDC rented the Pier 11 shed to Phoenix Beverage who, a few years later, sold their beverage distribution business and became the stevedoring company that now runs RHCT.

Atlantic Basin is home to a quirky-as-Red-Hook combination of users. The shed tenants include the Secret Service, businesses renting party supplies and box trucks to the film industry, a recycler of glass and plastic bottles, a firm installing internet cables, a restorer of vintage cars and others. The Pier 11 boat tenants must represent the most diverse array of boats on a NYC pier: our historic oil tanker, a tall ship, replica paddle wheeler, tour boats and dinner boats, a formerly sunk ferry, and the rusty remains of a 1931 yacht that is being brought back to life.

PortSide NewYork is located on the historic ship MARY A. WHALEN at the south end of Pier 11. The historic name for the south end of the basin is “Clinton Wharf,” and on June 1, 2017, service starts on the NYC Ferry that has a dock on Clinton Wharf. That ferry is likely to transform Red Hook, just as Atlantic Basin transformed Red Hook in the 1850s.

Below are some Atlantic Basin WaterStories. Many more can be found by browsing the "subject" Atlantic Basin in the top menu, or by following tags.

More content coming over time! Check back for updates!



Col. Daniel Richards was a visionary developer who set Red Hook on the path to becoming one of the world's major commercial ports. Inspired by the powerful economic effects resulting from the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Richards moved from…

An artist's rendering of a possible future Red Hook that never was. The birds-eye view of the Atlantic Dock was possibly done for the Atlantic Dock Company to promote their vision of what Red Hook could be. The two statements printed on the map…

The Atlantic Dock Company brought over workers from Germany to build the Atlantic Basin after the Irish workers who had begun the job demanded better pay.  On April 15, 1846 newspapers reported on a riot between angry Irish and the newly arrived…

Construction of The Atlantic Dock - a massive, man-made harbor for deep water ships, began on June 3, 1841.  The erection of stout stone warehouses and towering grain elevators that could handle products coming down the Erie Canal began in 1844 and…

In the latter half of the 1800s, grain was king in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Boats loaded with grain would float down the Erie Canal, then down the Hudson River to the grain storehouses of Atlantic Basin, and later, in an even bigger way, Erie Basin. …

Atlantic Basin around the end of the Civil War. The sidewheel steamer is the TEAZER, formerly the Confederate blockade runner BAT. The propeller steamer FAH KEE is beyond her. The warehouses, with grain elevators, are lining Commercial Wharf.  The…

Grain elevators once towered in Atlantic Basin, as can be seen in the etching published in Harper's Magazine in 1871. They were used to transfer grain from ship to warehouse or ship to ship. They frequently unloaded the canal boats that…

The Atlantic Basin was the home to hundreds of Erie Canal boats during the winter months. Families, including children, lived on the the boats, tending their floating homes, until the ice melted and they could begin shipping produce again.

The India Wharf Brewing Company was formed in 1880 to brew beer, ale, and porter. Their initial capitalization was $1,000,000. According to Wine and Spirit Gazette of that year, the company was formed with a plan to share profits with liquor dealers…

Clinton Wharf is on the southwest side of Atlantic Basin. It was probably named in honor of DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York and father of the Erie Canal.The three piers shown [indicated in yellow] were all covered.Funk-Edye & Co., operators…

The Atlantic Dock etched by Charles Adams Platt (1861-1933) in 1888. A three-masted schooner tied up to a pier dominates the left side of the image

Mr. Stewart is one of the largest produce merchants at the Atlantic Basin. He was also predominant at the Washington Market in Manhattan. His produce boats provided seed potatoes to the farmers of Long Island, from the India Wharf and Central…

In 1890, Mrs. A. M. Hamilton, a widow, was interviewed in Atlantic Basin, and celebrated by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as being equal to any man running a canal boat.  Beginning in the mid-1820s, canal boats brought produce from the nation's interior…

This newspaper article is a notice of sale for the Atlantic Basin and the piers directly north and south of it. The various Brooklyn dock and warehouse companies including the Atlantic Dock Company merged into a trust called the Brooklyn Wharf and…

Red Hook was feasting on mackerel, late October of 1901. A school of the fish reportedly chased by bluefish and porpoises had found their way into Atlantic Basin. Fishermen lined the piers, catching the mackerel with makeshift poles and any kind of…

"Steamers Loading Exports in the Atlantic Basin" One of a large series of picture postcards published by the Brooklyn Eagle in the early 1900s.  In addition to steamers, numerous barges - both square and Dutch style of rounded ones - also fill the…

The New York Dock Company Railway moved cargo to and from ships, local warehouses and factories.   It also ran a carfloat - a solution to getting trains from the mainland to the island of Brooklyn. Barges would float freight cars from terminals in…

Photo of Barber Lines & Co at Pier 36, Atlantic Basin.Herbert and James Barber started their company in 1886, incorporating as Barber & Company in 1902.  The company had several subsidiaries and off-shoots including the Barber Steamship Lines…

Construction on Pier 11 began in 1956. According to this newspaper article the three berth pier was estimated to cost nearly 7 million dollars. The project resulted in the demolition of thirteen Civil War era warehouses in the area. Text of…

In the late 1950s the Atlantic Basin was altered to make it more suited for cargo trucks.  To do this roughly the back half of the basin was filled in and a new long metal warehouse shed, with raised loading docks, was built.  This is what stands…

"Taking a Dive: These Red Hook youngsters, hit by the summer heat go down for the count from the piers at Atlantic Basin" (Caption from the Brooklyn section of the New York World-Telegram and the Sun). Kids have been swimming off the piers of Red…

An aerial view of Atlantic Basin, ca. 1965. In the foreground is the rail car float; several cargo ships are in the background. Neither the buildings nor the car float exists today.

Joe Ruggiero, aka “Joey Chips” since he always shows up at a party with a bag of chips, is a WWII vet who is still driving in 2016. He served as a Bosun Mate on the Navy vessel  THURSTON and participated in 6 D-Days in 4 years including Normandy,…

Atlantic Basin is Port Authority property. It is leased to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). Two of the piers are operated under and NYCEDC program called DockNYC. DockNYC is operated by BillyBey, part of the NY Waterway…

The MARY A. WHALEN, a re-purposed oil tanker, is the flagship of the non-profit PortSide New York (creators of Red Hook WaterStories). She is docked in historic Atlantic Basin.