03 August 2009

The Carroll Gardens Almost-Non-Existent Norwegian Heritage Tour

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.


BestViewInBrooklyn said...

That's not a bad list. More and more of the buildings with Scandinavian words/heritage around Sunset Park are being defaced or replaced.

I didn't know that about PJ Hanley's. Good stuff.

suto said...

Check out Bay Ridge for a lot of Norwegian heritage in Brooklyn. From the Viking Fest, the crowning of Ms. Norway, the Norwegian store, etc. I also recall a Chinese Norwegian restaurant on 8th Ave. awhile back.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Type in "Norwegian" in the search box and you'll find entries on just those very subject, including a lost post about the Chinese-Norwegian restaurant.

Gloria Bayard said...

I lived at 380 Court Street from when I was born (1939) until 1963. The Salvation Army had a very significant ministry to Norwegian Merchant Seamen, especially during WWII and the years following when Norway had the largest Merchant Marine in the world. Their ships docked at the nearby waterfront and remained for several days for unloading and loading. Many of the neighborhood Italians were dockworkers. Gloria Bayard Hohn

Ed Stewart said...

If you look at the available census records for South Brooklyn throught the 1930s, you will find many Scandinavians living all through the area.
My grandfather, Edward Ryan, worked as a bartender in Hanley's when it was Ryan's (he was not related to the owner, who was from Limerick and Eddie's parents were from Clare) in the 1920s and 30s. He was born on Union Street above Columbia and grew up at 7 Fourth Place with many Norwegians. His best friend, Lars Ivarsen (spelling?) was killed in WWI. Eddie could speak a bit of passable Norwegian and they would introduce greenhorns from Norway to him at the bar as someone from the ole country.
Does anyone remember Skandia, the deli on Flatbush and 6th Ave?

Anonymous said...

Born in Bayridge in 1956 (Simonsen ) to Norwegian immigrants . There was a huge pocket of Norwegians in that neighborhood for decades. My patents made the suburban exodus in the '60s, but I know it's history!

Herb Johansen said...

Herb Johansen
I was born Aug. 1930, my parents had a two fam. house at 717-47 St.
Both of my parents were imigrents from Norway. During WW2, we had alot of seamen at the house, the booze shure ran like water.
What a time in history.

Laurie J. Hart said...

Hi Gloria. Thank you for this information. I think you and I are related. I recognize your name from my family tree. If your grandfather was Nikolai Nilsen from Kaade, he was the brother of my great-grandmother, Osine. I'd love to hear more about the old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Some of our ancestors actually lived in the Norwegian Salvation Army when they first came to America from Norway.

Laurie J. Hart said...

Gloria, I just noticed your old address was actually at this building! I would like to hear more about the building during the years you lived there. Where can I learn more about Norwegian life in America in the early to mid-20th century?