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A Costly Undertaking

Brooklyn Eagle, July 16, 1893

Metropolitan Avenue in 1910 (photo courtesy of Art Huneke)

A Street Improvement in Progress That is Worth Noting

Five years hence the people of the eastern district will have, in Metropolitan avenue, one of the broadest and altogether the finest business and residential thoroughfares in the northeastern division of Brooklyn. The avenue named is now undergoing a wonderful transformation. It will include, when the improvements arranged for it are completed, what once was known as North Second street, extending from the East River to Bushwick avenue; the old Jamaica turnpike, from Bushwick crossroads to Middle Village, and various stretches of highway, without special names, leading directly into the ancient village of Jamaica. The avenue passes through the Thirteenth and Fifteenth wards, parts of the villages of Maspeth, Middle Village, St. John's, Denton, Richmond Hill and other settlements that are almost on a non-divergent line to Jamaica. It will be 100 feet in width from house line to house line, while the roadway between the curbstones will be 75 feet.

North Second Street was, half a hundred years or so ago, the business thoroughfare of the then villages of Williamsburgh and Bushwick. Over it the farmers, whose domains were in the valleys and high grounds of the Ridgewood range of hills ‒ which rise somewhat abruptly near Broadway at East New York ‒ on which the cemetery of the Evergreens and many another God's acre are located, as they extend in a northwesterly direction for a considerable distance up the island, forming its backbone ‒ hauled their vegetables etc., to New York and there sold for want of a nearer home market, which they now have in the Wallabout.

Grand Street at a later day was considered a better roadway from Bushwick, and because of this ‒ a short cut having been made to it from the Maspeth turnpike ‒ the older avenue was abandoned and the newer one became an important thoroughfare, gathering to itself much of business of Queens as well as much of the upper half of Kings county. But the street of late years has lost much of the trade it once commanded. The Wallabout market has induced the agriculturalists of the island to reach it to take less circuitous routes. The roads now favored are Myrtle and Bushwick avenues, Broadway and Washington avenue direct to the market. The building up of Broadway has also greatly lessened the value of business on Grand street.

Metropolitan avenue, which runs parallel to Grand street, lying two short blocks north of it, crosses it at Newtown creek, and while the Grand street line of road continues to Newtown, the Metropolitan highway strikes directly into the heart of the most productive of the farming lands of Queens and Kings. This also will help to take from its neighbor much of the business upon which it depends for existence. As a matter of fact, Grand street has seen its best day. It cannot recuperate; cannot, in a business way, rehabilitate itself. Manhattan avenue, in the Seventeenth ward, has absorbed very much of its Greenpoint trade, and that which it once held from the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth wards has been attracted to Bedford avenue, Broadway, upper and lower, and Ewen street. What will be left of it when Metropolitan avenue again comes into competition with it may not require much figuring ‒ that is as to financial results.

But there are yet some years of life left to Grand street. What changes may come to pass within that time cannot, of course, be foretold. This, however, may be said: The owners of realties on the line of Metropolitan avenue from the river to Middle Village ‒ an estimated distance of three miles ‒ have the fullest confidence in its future. With this belief the value of property has advanced ‒ boomed ‒ almost beyond precedent. An instance may be cited: Almost in the heart of Maspeth swamp which, bounded by the creek, Vandervoort and Metropolitan avenues, the ground a quagmire, a few lots were purchased about six years ago by a manufacturer upon which, without hindrance, he might dump refuse matter at a price that, at the time, was considered nominal. It was the unused fraction of an old meadow which high, inflowing tides often covered. A few weeks ago, Mr. Tuttle, the coal merchant, who has a large receiving yard adjoining this plot which is reached by canal boats penetrating the marsh, offered to purchase the seemingly valueless plot. He suggested $7,000 as a fair price. The owner declined the bid, intimating that the offer of twice that sum should not be considered his upset price. The swamp is being rapidly filled in and great warehouses and lumber, brick and coal yards, made approachable by canals fed by tide water through Newtown creek, are being placed on it. The aggregate cost of the improvements is enormous, of course, but in the interest of commerce, nothing in the way of expenditure is lost, while much is gained.

Metropolitan avenue within the limits of the city proper will undergo many changes before it can be accepted as perfect. Many of the old buildings which lined it have been razed to their foundations; others have been taken up and set back 30 feet; while several have had their front walls removed, their end and partition ones pared down until the prescribed lines were reached, and more modern facades put up. Many crooked places have been made straight ‒ in the North Second street section of it especially, the original designers of which were the kind that straggled through it in the old time while going to or coming from the meadows that were in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth wards, now cut up into rectangular blocks and streets, the former covered with factories churches, school houses, public halls and dwellings.

The regarding of the avenue is another consideration. In places the roadway will have to be raised nearly six feet. The street has been regulated and paved many years and yet whenever a rainstorm sets in that part of it lying between Union avenue and Roebling street is often made impassable. Between the avenue and the street named the grade will be built up quite five feet and eight inches. Of course this will necessitate changes in the grades of the streets crossing the avenue for several squares. Beyond the city line, in the townland of Newtown, the roadway is of uniform width until it reaches St. John's. It is quite hilly, however. It would be impossible to level and grade it at an expense that would not be considered altogether too onerous for the town to assume at this time, notwithstanding the fact that miles from the city boundary plots near the road are daily increasing in value and noticeable improvements are being made even beyond Lutheran village and cemetery. The road runs almost directly to Jamaica, as had been intimated. Within a year or two the Metropolitan avenue railroad, with its cars propelled and lighted by electricity, will have immediate connection with that village and the passenger traffic will be largely absorbed by it for the good reason that it will be the most convenient, cheapest and direct route for those living in the high grounds that make up the more southern division of Queens county, desirous of reaching the upper sections of Brooklyn and of New York city.

Few of the residents of the older wards of Brooklyn are acquainted with the rural beauties and the agricultural capacities of the valleys and high grounds which lie within an hour's ride of the city hall, forming the irregular belt or backbone to the island, and known as Ridgewood. These grounds rise quite abruptly in the more southern division of the town. Greenwood cemetery, Prospect park, and the ranges of land that extend to East New York, and thence in a northwesterly direction to Great Peconic bay, are included in the belt. Within it are hundreds of delightful, quiet retreats, all of them quite contiguous to the city, where one can while away a summer's day and consider the time not ill spent. To reach several of these attractive points, most of them beyond the cemeteries of St. John's, Lutheran, Cypress Hills, etc., take a ride in a Myrtle avenue steam car, starting from the neighborhood of Wyckoff avenue, a passage on the Metropolitan road to St. John, or by the Newtown route to that village and thence a tramp into the high grounds where will be found sylvan scenery of which few dream who reside in the thickly populated sections of the city and who enjoy their holiday outings by going upon this crowded and beaten tracks that lead to Coney Island and like resorts.