A Short History
Crown Heights North was originally settled by the Lenape, or Delaware tribe. They were replaced by Dutch settlement in the late 1600’s, joined by the English, who continued to build the town of Bedford Corners, and greater Bedford, which includes most of Crown Heights North and Bedford Stuyvesant. By the Revolutionary War, most of the largest landowners were descendants of the original Dutch settlers. However, there has always been an African-American presence. The Lefferts families, the largest landowners in Brooklyn, were also the largest slaveholders, using slave labor for their vast farming operations.
By the mid-19th century, the majority of residents were English speaking Protestants. Weeksville, an independent and successful African-American town, formed the neighborhood’s eastern border. Speculative housing and improved transportation opened up the area further, attracting a wealthy upper middle class community. There were soon wealthy German Jewish residents, as well as German Catholics, wealthy Irish homeowners, and a sizable Swedish population. Between 1890 and 1910, Crown Heights was one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. In the beginning of the 20th century, large scale immigration would bring working class Irish, Russian Jews, and Italians. It was also the beginning of the Caribbean migration into the neighborhood.
By the 1920’s and ‘30’s, apartment buildings were replacing the mansions and huge estates in Crown Heights and the neighborhood was solidly middle class. It would remain that way, becoming more racially and ethnically mixed. There are records of African-Americans buying houses here since the 1920’s, and by the 1940’s, the numbers were growing. The establishment of the IND “A” train in the 1930’s brought people from Harlem directly to Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, establishing the largest black community in Brooklyn. Significantly, large numbers of immigrants from English speaking Caribbean countries began to buy homes in here, with their French and Spanish speaking neighbors next door in Flatbush, creating the largest Caribbean community outside of the Islands.
By the end of the 1960’s, aided by the rush of the white middle class to the suburbs, Crown Heights was almost entirely an African-American and Caribbean community. Home ownership, passed down through generations insured that the homes and churches and institutions would survive whatever economic and social upheaval would follow. Today, we are experiencing a renaissance, as the beauty of Crown Heights, the convenience of public transportation, and the neighborly manner of its residents are bringing new investment into the community to join with those who have long called Crown Heights home.