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Grand Ferry Park, A Place That Matters

williamsburg grand ferry park

Grand Ferry Park, located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was nominated to the Census of Places that Matter for providing public access to the waterfront for nearly one hundred years.

In the hopes of creating a suburb of Manhattan, real estate speculator Richard M. Woodhull purchased 13 acres of land in Brooklyn. In 1802, Woodhull launched ferry service that ran from the foot of his parcel at North 2nd Street to Grand Street, on the Lower East Side.

The new neighborhood surrounding the ferry landing was called “Williamsburgh,” after the surveyor of the site, Colonel Jonathan Williams.  A relative of Benjamin Franklin, Colonel Williams was the first superintendent of West Point, the Chief Engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers and a member of Congress representing Pennsylvania.

With a swelling population of 31,000, Williamsburgh was chartered as a city in 1852.  However, just three years later, the City of Brooklyn annexed its northern neighbor and simultaneously dropped the “h” from its name.  In 1903, the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge allowed for a new means of transportation between the city and its suburb, and by 1917 Williamsburg had become the most densely populated neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Despite the growing population, the Grand Street Ferry stopped running in 1918 and never resumed.  Efforts to turn the unused dock into a park, providing neighborhood residents with a much needed connection to the water, began in the 1970s.  In 1997, this land was deeded to the New York City Parks Department in order to secure its ongoing use as a park.

Grand Ferry Park recently underwent a nine-month rehabilitation that included the introduction of new landscaping and native plant swales (vegetated drainage ditches) designed to slow storm water runoff and direct it into the river. One of the most dynamic features of the park is the treatment of the shoreline.  “Rip-rap” boulders, arranged along the water to protect against erosion, also allow visitors to have a direct experience with the East River.