2013-05-16 / Other News

Little Old Canarsie: The Next Generation – Those Who Shaped The Community

By Ken A. Rogers

When my family lived in the Glenwood Housing Projects, three o’clock in the afternoon was the best time of the day. My dad worked on Manhattan’s West 14th Street when the Chelsea Market and the surrounding area was truly the Meatpacking District. He would leave our apartment at 4 a.m., hours before we awoke. He would be home by 3 p.m. and, while Mom prepared dinner, Dad took us kids to the playground on Ralph Avenue and Farragut Road. In the early to mid 1950s, we did not have cell phones, computers or Xbox. Daytime television was mostly soap operas or other programs for the housewife. Our source of entertainment was almost always outside.

When I went to elementary school, we were living on Flatlands 10th Street. This was in the early 1960s and it was still a time of innocence in America. Children were allowed to leave the school building during the lunch hour. The walk down Seaview Avenue took me about ten minutes, then another twenty minutes to down the sandwich and glass of milk Mom had waiting for me.

Ken and his sister Sue. Ken and his sister Sue. Then ten minutes back on Seaview Avenue leaving enough time to run around the Curtis Estabrook P.S.272 schoolyard and playground before returning to the classroom. In middle school, John Wilson JHS 211 basketball courts became my second home. When I became a student at Canarsie High School, Russ Donovan, Eddie Troise and myself spent many an afternoon on the handball courts — this was before there was a football and track field. When we were not on those courts, we would go and challenge the players on the courts of Bildersee JHS 68.

As a kid, I knew which playgrounds had the best swings or which schoolyard had the best basketball and handball courts. I did not pay attention to the names associated to those places. Even though I did not care who they were, these people made important contributions to the community I called home. I would like to thank Mary Craig and my friends at the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation for the following information.

When Canarsie was still an independent village, in the Town of Flatlands, Dr. Curtis Estabrook (born in 1845) served the poor and needy of the area. “Doc” Estabrook and his horse-drawn buckboard wagon making house calls and providing medicine to those who could not afford it was a fixture in Canarsie for over 45 years. When Brooklyn annexed the Town of Flatlands in advance of the merger with New York City, it was proposed to rename Canarsie in honor of Estabrook.

John Marshall Wilson (1847-1914) was a Civil War veteran, Justice of the Peace for the Town of Flatlands and president of the Canarsie Village Board of Education. Judge Wilson was credited with obtaining funds to prevent the smallpox epidemic in Manhattan and Williamsburg from spreading to Flatlands and Canarsie. Judge Wilson died, at the age of 71, in the same Canarsie house he was born and, except for his service during the war, spent his whole life here.

Dr. Isaac Bildersee (1887-1952) was a controversial figure in post World War II New York. At the time, plans were already in the works to fill the marshlands of Canarsie. New York City was experiencing an influx of Jewish immigrants who survived the Holocaust. As Emma Roland Matthews wrote in the Canarsie Courier before World Wars I and II, it was not unusual for churches to hold Christmas pageants and parties at local public schools. In December of 1947, Superintendent of Brooklyn Schools, Isaac Bildersee, issued an order that banned the singing of Christmas carols with strong religious connotations in all Brooklyn Public Schools.

The order also banned any religious symbols, decorations or references to the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. Bildersee defended the action as an act to protect all religious groups from “offense.” Federal and State courts agreed with Bildersee citing that the United States and New York Constitutions grant the right to religious freedom and public schools are required to maintain a separation between church and state.

There are many places in Canarsie that are rich in historical significance. If there is a place or name you wish to be researched or have an interesting story or tidbit about Little Old Canarsie, please contact me through the Canarsie Courier or at Parsonsi@optonline.net. Since the days the first Dutch settlers set foot in the area, people from all over the world have come to call Canarsie home.

This history does not belong to me or to others who lived here in days bygone. The history of Little Old Canarsie is the story of all of us.

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