Carroll Gardens—once South Brooklyn—has a deep Italian heritage. Everyone knows that. You can still see thriving examples of it everywhere you look. It also once had a prosperous Irish population. This is less well known. Finally, a lot of Norwegians once lived in these environs. This is hardly known at all.
I take an interest in the area's Norwegian past, because my ancestry is half Norwegian. And I've gotta tell you, you have to look have to find evidence that any Norsemen ever breathed air around here. But I have looked hard over the years. For what it's worth, here's what I found. It ain't much.
NORWEGIAN SEAMAN'S CHURCH: The center of Norwegian Brooklyn culture once stood at the northwest corner of Clinton and First Place. It's still there, of course, just converted to apartments some time ago. This is the church's second location, the first having been on Williams Street (now Pioneer) in Red Hook. It was built in 1865 as the Westminster Presbyterian Church. When the Norwegians took over, a large Norwegian style pulpit was installed and an old anchor was placed on the lawn. About a half century ago, during one of the King of Norway's rare visits to America, this was the only stop he made in New York City.
NORWEGIAN SAILORS' HOME: Walk north on Clinton to the southwest corner of Carroll. Here, in the old Greek Revival building where the Guido Funeral Home is now, the Scandinavian Sailors' Home once stood. It wasn't a rest home, but a kind of hotel where sailors could stay when in port. Marriages and christenings also took place here. Here's an account of one Gunnar, who stayed there in 1906: "I am staying at the Scandinavian Sailor's home, which I prefer to many other lodgings for many reasons. Firstly the seamen living there are mostly decent and able people. Secondly the food is good. To every breakfast we get oat porridge with whole milk and egg and ham. Further we get hard bread and crisp bread. Here in America they mostly eat a kind of soft white bread, which one soon get fed up with." Then again, 1908, the New York Times described the "dingy, smoke-filled back room" of the place. Different perspectives.
HANS S. CHRISTIAN MEMORIAL KINDERGARTEN: Walk up to President Street and turn right, toward Court. The squat, pale, classical buidling at 236 President Street was built as in 1897. It was named in honor of Hans Christian, a Norwegian immigrant, a prominent Gowanus lime and brick merchant. It's now a private residence and the words "Christian Memorial" have been chipped away from their place above the doorway. You can still see their shadows. (I just blogged about this last week, if you want to know more.) Christian himself lived across the street at 231.
FRELSESARMEEN: Walk to Court, and turn right. Frelsesarmeen is the curious word carved at the top of the Eileen Dugan Senior Center at 380 Court Street, on the west side of Carroll Park in Brooklyn. Frelsesarmeen is the Norwegian name for Salvation Army, and that's what this building was once. I've never met anybody who remembers the address functioning in that way, though. The Senior Center was founded in 1974. In Carroll Park across the street, there's a monument to soldiers from the area who fell during World War I. If you give the list a scan, you'll find many Scandinavian names.
P.J. HANLEY'S: Keep walking down Court to Third Place. Called by some the oldest bar in Brooklyn, Hanley's was born in the 1870s as a Norwegian tavern. It went the Irish pub way in 1898 after Jack Ryan bought it. He ran it for 60 years. P.J. Hanley entered the picture in 1956, and he sold it to his two nieces in the mid-90s.