Strolling Through History Down Canarsie's Lanes & Alleys
Nestled between Canarsie's busy streets are hidden alleys that tell the story of the community's history. Some alleys have been paved over and built upon. Some have missing signs. Others remain intact and unpaved.
If you have a chance to stroll by these lanes, try to envision what Canarsie may have looked like a century ago and imagine what it was like to live in when it was a quiet country village during simpler times.
New homes have popped up on some of these old lanes, and sit side by side next to decades-old homes. Many alleys were formerly cow paths and dusty lanes.
A good place to start a tour of local alleys is the Canarsie Cemetery. The original cemetery was located behind the old Methodist Protestant Church on East 92nd Street, on land that the Remsen family donated to the Town of Flatlands. When the town fathers realized that the plot behind the church was not large enough, in 1880 the town acquired additional property from the Remsen estate, and from merchant Theodore Winterberg, to be used as a burial ground. This became Canarsie Cemetery, which is located off of Church Lane and Remsen Avenue. Over the years, many remains were moved to the new cemetery, but the remains of approximately 80 people may still be interred at the original cemetery site.
The burial sites of several prominent local families and founding fathers of Flatlands and Canarsie can be found in Canarsie Cemetery. Gravestones bearing names like Lott, Matthews, Remsen, Schenck, Skidmore and Stillwell are scattered throughout the cemetery, and are proof of Brooklyn's rich history. Many Canarsie alleys are named after founding fathers.
One of the more well known alleys is Church Lane, which borders Canarsie Cemetery, as well as the Church @ The Rock, which was formerly known as the Methodist Protestant Church of Canarsie, and later as Grace Church - the oldest local church, founded in 1839. The original name of Church Lane was "The Road to Lott's House," named for Judge John Lott, whose home was on East 86th Street facing the road. What used to be one of the longest roads in Canarsie, stretched from East 83rd to East 92nd streets. Today, Church Lane runs between East 92nd and East 86th streets. The portion between East 86th-87th streets is still unpaved. Judge Lott's house was torn down about ten years ago and replaced by condos. It was in this house that the Methodist Protestant Church of Canarsie was established. The Lotts were a Dutch family who settled in Brooklyn in the 17th century. One of their homes - the Lott House - is one of the last remaining "Dutch-style farmhouses" in the city on East 36th Street in Marine Park.
Holmes Lane is still a dirt road that runs from East 95th to East 96th Street between avenues K & L. The earliest Holmes listed in the Canarsie directory, Emmanuel Holmes, was as a fisherman. Rev. Jeremiah Holmes founded the Plymouth Congregational Church in 1880. At the time, the church was on East 92nd Street, between J and K, and was known as St. Paul's Congregational Church. In 1892, it was renamed Plymouth Congregational Church and was relocated to Rockaway Parkway and Baisley's Lane when Rev. Samuel Silkworth succeeded Rev. Jeremiah Holmes as the pastor.
Rev. Holmes was the uncle of Reverend Bert Holmes, who served for many years as the pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church. Rev. Bert Holmes' family, some of whom fought in the Civil War, lived in Canarsie from the early 1800s. In the 1960s, the church was once again relocated to East 96th Street, between Flatlands Avenue and Avenue J, to clear the site for Canarsie High School's athletic field.
Beach Place runs from East 88th to East 89th streets between avenues K and L, but there is very little history known about this tiny pedestrian-only alley that is lined with grass and nice homes. It is perhaps one of the prettiest lanes in Canarsie.
Another narrow lane adjacent to Beach Place is Stillwell's Place, which runs from East 87th Street to Remsen Avenue, between avenues K & L. (It becomes Stillwell Place off Remsen Avenue). The Stillwell family settled all over Brooklyn, but was prominent in Coney Island where a main thoroughfare is named for them. According to Ira Kluger, co-president of the Canarsie Historical Society, there are no records of which particular Stillwell the alley is named after. It should also be noted that Lester Stillwell co-founded the Canarsie Courier in 1921.
END OF PART ONE
Read Part Two in next week's issue.