When Captain John Smith sailed up the Patapsco River in 1608, he used the adjective “pleasant” twice in one sentence to describe the waterways we live on. A teacher may have marked him up for redundancy but clearly he liked what he saw.
One of the first places the explorer would have laid eyes on as he sailed up toward the basin that became our Inner Harbor was a horseshoe-shaped peninsula now known as Brooklyn.
Today, many Baltimoreans may think of Brooklyn as an afterthought. A place you may notice from the highway on the way out of town.
Or they confuse it with neighboring Brooklyn Park in Anne Arundel County.
In that way, Brooklyn sometimes feels like the Staten Island of Baltimore City. The part of town everyone forgets about. An island of houses surrounded by heavy industry.
The truth is, Brooklyn, Baltimore is still a pretty easy commute to a lot of useful places, and a decent place to land. No wings needed.
My grandfather once said that the difference between Baltimore and DC is that folks move to the district for four or eight years (with changing administrations), while Baltimoreans don’t leave neighborhoods for 40-80 years. For someone who grew up in city neighborhoods to the north, the appeal of exploring different blocks is undeniable.
Brooklyn is named after Brooklyn, New York, and by some accounts is the second oldest “Brooklyn” in the country, for whatever that’s worth.
The property had been designated as part of Baltimore County, and sometimes parts of Anne Arundel County, since the mid-1600s when it was primarily owned by ancestors of notorious British coup-artist and short-termed leader Oliver Cromwell. The Cromwell clan operated successful plantations and shipbuilding ports on the peninsula.
In 1853, Robert and Josiah Cromwell formed The Patapsco Company, which planned to use the land for industry and reserved the right to build an adjacent town for employees and their families. Legend has it that one of their employees, R.W. Templemen, named the town after the borough in New York because it was similarly separated by water from the main urban areas across the river.
The streets were laid out in a grid with plans for what became Garrett Park between 2nd and 4th streets. The docks were loaded with ships packed with fresh, local produce to bring to the markets upriver until the company began building a toll bridge connecting Light Street with Anne Arundel County, known colloquially as The Long Bridge, which became a popular fishing and picnicking destination as well as an easier way to get produce to market.
The Patapsco Company changed hands and became The Patapsco Land Company. Its new leadership, William and Josiah Pennington, envisioned the development of a much larger town named after themselves, which was intended to rival or even dwarf Baltimore City to the north.
It didn’t happen.
By 1918, Baltimore would annex the thriving residential and industrial center, which was becoming internationally known for its shipbuilding facilities. In 1940, Bethlehem Steel won a contract with the US Military to build the “Liberty” and “Victory” cargo ships that would be in use throughout World War II, making Brooklyn the largest shipbuilding port in the world.
The decline and subsequent closure of the steel mill as well as other major industrial employers like General Motors hurt the working-class community, as it did many blue-collar Baltimore neighborhoods, but Brooklyn perseveres. The neighborhood retains a small-town feel, with three or four generations of families sharing the same streets, waterfronts, and green space. The community is overseen by multiple neighborhood associations and non-profit organizations including The Greater Baybrook Alliance, Action Baybrook, and Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn.
Brooklyn may be a neighborhood often overlooked by the rest of the city, but that is part of the charm and all the more reason to visit and explore.
During a recent visit to Brooklyn and nearby Curtis Bay the neighborhoods showed plenty signs of life.
The Filbert Street Community Garden in neighboring Curtis Bay was a fruitful community agricultural spot that evokes memories of the peninsula’s farming roots. Not far away is the Cherry Hill Recreation Center, an enormous $23 million recreation facility under construction.
From there, visitors can try Fred & Margie’s Inn (“The Place To Eat Where Nice People Meet”), an old school neighborhood watering hole where the bartender, Sara, takes care of her guests (which included the author and his mother). Throughout our stay, she proceeded to greet each of her customers, all of whom were regulars and more than happy to talk about life in Brooklyn. Great chili and macaroni salad, too.
I sat next to Patrick Tran, who owns a dry cleaning shop and was waiting for his son to finish soccer practice. It wasn’t long before he offered to buy us a drink. “Places like this,” Tran said, waving around the room, “they keep the area together when a lot of times it can feel like things are falling apart.”
Another regular, Ted Murphy or “Pop” as he is known by the neighborhood, joined our conversation. Ted keeps a pantry for the use of the community. Being bilingual, he has focused on the growing Hispanic immigrant population. “A lot of people consider Brooklyn the outskirts but in truth, we are Baltimore City. We are the same place. Unfortunately so many of us down here just stay in our houses because of the crime in the streets.”
This was the overall sentiment while hanging out in Brooklyn: People loved their peninsula, its location, and waterways, but lamented its neglect.
On our way back uptown, we hit up the newly relocated Diablo Doughnuts, which reopened on Hanover Street after closing the doors of their Fells Point location. The donuts were just as fantastic in Brooklyn as they were in Fells Point.
If you rarely make it down there, take a hike across the river sometime. Even if The Long Bridge doesn’t exist anymore. Just take Hanover Street.
Since you opened your piece with a quip about sentence structure:
“It wasn’t long before he offered to buy my mother and *me* a drink.”
Good catch. Fixed! Thank you, dude.
It opened with a quip about bad syntax. Not something fictional like “bad grammar”.
but thanks for even reading it!, much less having actual thoughts about it! I really do appreciate it! I hope you keep reading and I hope that writing about neighborhoods will become a cool discussion.
If Fred and Margies is in Brooklyn then where does Curtis Bay begin? I grew up on the 1300 block of Pontiac and we always knew that anything on the “backside” of Ben Franklin was the bay.
They all use a combined neighborhood representation these days. See above.
Great article! Hopefully some of our elected officials will read it and remember that the city line doesn’t stop at the Hannover St. Bridge.
I agree about the official’s interest!
Fred and Margies is a nice place to visit nice food and dj and karaoke ???? sometimes my parents had a bar called Cox’s Pub in south Baltimore and that was a nice place .I like places like Fred and Margies .
Great article Timmy! It was an honor meeting you and sharing a “drink or drinks” with you and your lovely Mother.
She is lovely. Likewise, my man! Thank you!
Thanks for providing the history of Brooklyn and some of the color and flavor of a part of Baltimore that many locals tend to ignore, or only see from a distance while driving on the Harbor Tunnel Thruway.
Let me know if there is a neighborhood you would like to see next!
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