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Gravesend, Brooklyn facts for kids

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Quick facts for kids
Neighborhood of Brooklyn
Looking at Lower New York Bay from Gravesend (2012)
Looking at Lower New York Bay from Gravesend (2012)
Etymology: see below
Country  United States
State  New York
City  New York City
Borough Brooklyn
 • Total 1.144 sq mi (2.962 km2)
 • Total 29,436
 • Density 25,739/sq mi (9,937.9/km2)
 • White 52.8%
 • Asian 21.2
 • Hispanic 16.0
 • Black 8.4
 • Other 1.5
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 718, 347, 929, and 917

Gravesend is a neighborhood in the south-central section of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, on the southwestern edge of Long Island in the U.S. state of New York. It is bounded on the south by Coney Island, on the west by Bath Beach, on the north by Bensonhurst, and on the east by Homecrest and Sheepshead Bay.

Gravesend was one of the original towns in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. After the English took over, it was one of the six original towns of Kings County in colonial New York. Gravesend was the only English chartered town in what became Kings County, and is notable as being one of the first towns founded by a woman, Lady Deborah Moody. The Town of Gravesend encompassed 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) in southern Kings County, including the entire island of Coney Island, and was annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1894.

The modern-day neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community Board 11. As of 2010, Gravesend had a population of 29,436.

86th Telco bldg-Meucci Triangle
Art Deco Verizon building at Meucci Triangle, at 86th Street and Avenue U.


86th Telco bldg-Meucci Triangle
Art Deco Verizon building at Meucci Triangle, at 86th Street and Stillwell Avenue

The derivation of the name "Gravesend" is unclear. Some speculate that it was named after the English seaport of Gravesend, Kent. An alternative explanation suggests that it was named by Willem Kieft for the Dutch settlement of "'s- Gravesande", which means "Count's Beach" or "Count's Sand". There is also a town in the Netherlands called 's-Gravenzande.


The modern neighborhood of Gravesend lies between Coney Island Avenue to the east, Stillwell Avenue to the west, Kings Highway to the north, and Coney Island Creek and Shore Parkway to the south. To the east of Gravesend is Sheepshead Bay, to the northeast Midwood, to the northwest Bensonhurst, and to the west Bath Beach. To the south, across Coney Island Creek, lies the neighborhood of Coney Island, and across Shore Parkway lies Brighton Beach. The neighborhood center is still the four blocks bounded by Village Road South, Village Road East, Village Road North, and Van Sicklen Street, where the Moody House and Van Sicklen family cemetery are located. Next to, and parallel with the van Sicklen Family Cemetery is the Old Gravesend Cemetery, where Lady Moody is purported to be interred. Gravesend Cemetery's most exotic occupant is Egyptian émigré Mohammad Ben Misoud, who was part of a Coney Island attraction and was afforded a proper Muslim funeral upon his death in August, 1896.

Gravesend is served by three lines of the New York City Subway system. The services and lines, respectively, are the D train on the BMT West End Line at 25th Avenue and Bay 50th Street (facing John Dewey High School); the F <F>​ trains on the IND Culver Line at Kings Highway, Avenue U, and Avenue X; and the N W trains on the BMT Sea Beach Line at Kings Highway, Avenue U, and 86th Street. The Coney Island subway yard is in the neighborhood. Gravesend is patrolled by the NYPD's 60th, 61st, and 62nd Precincts.


Early history

Gravesend town brooklyn
1873 map of Gravesend by Alvin Jewitt Johnson
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Lady Deborah Moody memorial

The island and its environs were first inhabited by bands of the Lenape. The first known European to set foot in the area that would become Gravesend was Henry Hudson, whose ship, the Half Moon, landed on Coney Island in the fall of 1609.

The land subsequently became part of the New Netherland Colony, and in 1643 it was granted to Deborah Moody, an English expatriate who hoped to establish a community where she and her followers could practice their Anabaptist beliefs free from persecution. Due to clashes with the local native tribes the town wasn't completed until 1645. But when the town charter was finally signed and granted it became one of the first such titles to ever be awarded to a woman in the new world.

The town Lady Moody established was one of the earliest planned communities in America. It consisted of a perfect square surrounded by a 20-foot-high wooden palisade. The town was bisected by two main roads, Gravesend Road (now McDonald Avenue) running from north to south, and Gravesend Neck Road, running from east to west. These roads divided the town into four quadrants which were subdivided into ten plots of land each; the grid of the original town can still be seen on maps and aerial photographs of the area. At the center of town, where the two main roads met, a town hall was constructed where town meetings were held once a month. Today, Lady Moody is believed to be buried in Old Gravesend Cemetery.

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Old Gravesend Cemetery

The religious freedom of early Gravesend made it a desirable home for ostracized or controversial groups, such as the Quakers, who briefly made their home in the town before being chased out by New Netherland director general Peter Stuyvesant, who was wary of Gravesend's open acceptance of "heretical" sects.

In 1654 the people of Gravesend purchased Coney Island from the local natives for about $15 worth of seashells, guns, and gunpowder.

In August 1776 Gravesend Bay was the landing site of thousands of British soldiers and German mercenaries from their staging area on Staten Island, leading to the Battle of Long Island (also Battle of Brooklyn). The troops met little resistance from the Continental Army advance troops under General George Washington then headquartered in New York City (at the time limited to the tip of Manhattan Island). The battle, in addition to being the first, would prove to be the largest fought in the entire war.

Popularity and success

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Gravesend remained a sleepy Long Island suburb. Then, with the opening of three prominent racetracks (Sheepshead Bay Race Track, Gravesend Race Track, and Brighton Beach Race Course) in the late 19th century, and the blossoming of Coney Island into a popular vacation spot, the town was transformed into a successful resort community. John Y. McKane was attributed to all of this. He was a Sheepshead Bay carpenter and contractor who rose to become the Gravesend town supervisor, chief of police, chief of detectives, fire commissioner, schools commissioner, public lands commissioner, superintendent of the Sheepshead Bay Methodist Church, head tenor of the church choir, and Santa Claus at the annual Sabbath school Christmas celebration. From the 1870s to the 1890s McKane cultivated Coney Island, which was then part of the township of Gravesend, as a pleasure ground, participating in the construction both physically and politically. As town constable, he expanded the Gravesend police force considerably and personally patrolled the beach himself often. Despite his honest beginnings, McKane quickly became a dishonest politician. It was during McKane’s reign that Coney Island came to be known by many as "Sodom by the Sea".

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Marlboro Houses, a public housing project
Oil-soaked 'Mud Lines Industrial Canal' in Gravesend Bay, 1973. Photo by Arthur Tress.

McKane also made Gravesend's politics corrupt by allowing any and all people, even non-U.S. citizens and dead people, to vote; seasonal migrant workers, criminals, and even corpses buried in the town cemetery were eligible to vote in Gravesend under McKane's new rules, and many of them voted, except for the corpses. On the eve of the 1893 election, William Gaynor, a lawyer running for Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice, decided to test McKane's methods by dispatching over 20 Republican observers to examine the Gravesend voter registries and oversee the voting in all six districts of the town, as he was entitled to do by law. However, when the observers reached Gravesend town hall at dawn on election day, McKane, along with a large group of policemen and cronies, confronted them. When the observers balked and produced injunctions from the Brooklyn Supreme Court McKane supposedly declared "injunctions don't go here" and ordered the men away. A scuffle ensued and five of the observers were beaten and arrested. This event raised great outrage. Early in the following year, McKane was sentenced to six years in Sing Sing. He was released near the end of the century and died of a stroke in his Sheepshead Bay home in 1899. The removal of McKane paved the way for Gravesend and Coney Island to become part of the city of Brooklyn, which they did in 1894. It also allowed George C. Tilyou, who rivaled McKane in office, to create one of Coney Island’s first amusement parks, Steeplechase Park, the opening of which ushered in Coney Island’s golden age.

Coinciding around the same time, in the late 19th century, Gravesend served as a testing ground for the Boynton Bicycle Railroad, the earliest forerunner of the monorail. The BBR consisted of a single-wheeled engine that hauled two double-decker passenger cars along a single track; a second rail above the train, supported by wooden arches, kept it from tipping over. The engine and cars were only four feet wide and were capable of speeds far greater than the much bulkier standard trains. In 1889, the BBR began running a short route between the Gravesend stop of the Sea Beach Railroad (near the intersection of 86th and West Seventh Streets) and Brighton Beach in Coney Island, a distance of just over a mile. Despite the smooth and speedy ride the BBR offered riders, it ultimately failed and the test route fell into disuse, along with the Boynton train itself and the shed that was built to house it.

Later years

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Gravesend in Hurricane Sandy's aftermath

Although Coney Island continued to be a major tourist attraction throughout the 20th century, the closing of Gravesend’s great racetracks in the century’s first decade caused the rest of the old town to recede back into obscurity. Most of it became a working- and middle-class residential Brooklyn neighborhood. In the 1950s the city constructed the 28 building Marlboro Houses, located between Avenues V and X from Stillwell Avenue to the Gravesend Rail Yards. It is run by the New York City Housing Authority.

In 1982, an African-American transit worker named Willie Turks was beaten to death in Gravesend by a group of white teenagers. The relationship between the predominantly African-American population of the Marlboro Houses and the predominantly white surrounding neighborhoods remained a point of tension through much of the 1980s.

On December 25, 1987, white youths beat two black men in an apparent "unprovoked attack." In January 1988, in protest of this event specifically and a climate of racial violence in general, Al Sharpton led a march that proceeded from the Marlboro Houses to a police station by way of Bath Avenue; along the way, the 450 marchers were met with chants of "Go back to Africa" and various racial epithets.

Beginning in the 1990s, with an influx of Sephardi Jews (mostly Syrian Jews), the northeast section of the neighborhood saw the development of upscale single-family homes at prices upwards of $1 million.


Dahill Av and Kings Hwy Brooklyn
Dahill Road and Kings Highway

Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Gravesend was 29,436, an increase of 179 (0.6%) from the 29,257 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 731.83 acres (296.16 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 40.2 inhabitants per acre (25,700/sq mi; 9,900/km2).

The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 52.8% (15,535) White, 8.4% (2,469) African American, 0.1% (41) Native American, 21.2% (6,250) Asian, 0.0% (1) Pacific Islander, 0.1% (41) from other races, and 1.3% (383) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 16.0% (4,716) of the population.

In the 2020 census data from NYC Dept. Of City Planning, West Gravesend showed there were between 20,000 to 29,999 white residents and 26,700 Asian residents showing both their populations to be almost equivalent and there were between 5,000 to 9,999 Hispanic residents. South Gravesend has between 10,000 to 19,999 white residents and has between 5,000 to 9,999 Asian residents, but showed each the Hispanic and Black populations to be under 5000 residents. East Gravesend overlapping to Homecrest showed a higher proportion of white residents of between 30,000 to 39,999 with Hispanic residents of between 5,000 to 9,999 and as well as Asian residents of between 5,000 to 9,999. The affordable housing NYCHA development Marlboro Houses located right on the borderline of Gravesend and Coney Island holds a significant concentrated community of Black residents even though some Asian and Hispanic residents also live within the housing development as well.

Historic demographics

Gravesend's earliest European settlers were predominantly English and Dutch. Slavery was legal in the colony, and many settlers had enslaved African Americans as workers until after the American Revolution, when New York gradually abolished the institution. African Americans continued to work and live in Gravesend after the abolition of slavery, clustering near the BMT Brighton Line at East 16th Street.

The now-defunct Gravesend Race Track opened on August 26, 1886 and hired mainly black workers, who tended to live nearby. Later, there was a surge in Irish, Italian, and Jewish residents, immigrants and their descendants who moved out from Manhattan. Chinese, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Russian, Ukrainian and West Indies immigrants are the most recent residents to share this neighborhood. The largest group is thought to be Italian American and named for Gravesend's Italian community is a professional soccer team, the Brooklyn Italians who play in Gravesend's John Dewey High School football stadium. Of the Italian-American community, Sicilians (especially from Castellammare del Golfo), make up the largest specific region of people.

In 2008, The New York Times reported that the neighborhood had become particularly popular among Sephardic Jews. It was among several Syrian Jewish communities of the United States. The New York Times also reported that in the 2012 presidential election, a precinct in Gravesend was one of the few parts of New York City carried by Mitt Romney, with 133 votes to just 3 for Barack Obama.


John Dewey HS 13 acre campus
John Dewey High School's campus viewed from Bay 50th Street


  • Big Apple Academy
  • John Dewey High School
  • Lafayette High School (now Lafayette Educational Complex)
  • Touro College
  • PS 95 The Gravesend
  • PS 216 Arturo Toscanini
  • PS 212 Lady Deborah Moody
  • PS 721K Brooklyn Occupational Center
  • IS 281 Joseph B. Cavallaro
  • IS 228 David A. Boody
  • Shostakovich School of Music
  • PS 215 Morris H. Weiss
  • PS 238 Anne Sullivan (Pre-K - 8)


The Brooklyn Public Library's Gravesend branch is located at 303 Avenue X near West 2nd Street. It opened in 1962 and was renovated in 2001.


Gravesend is served by three New York City Subway corridors. The services and lines, respectively, are:

  • D train on the BMT West End Line at 25th Avenue and Bay 50th Street;
  • F <F>​ trains on the IND Culver Line at Kings Highway, Avenue U, and Avenue X; and
  • N W trains on the BMT Sea Beach Line at Kings Highway, Avenue U, and 86th Street.

The Coney Island Subway Yard is in the neighborhood.

The B1, B3, B4, B64, B82, B82 SBS lines operate through Gravesend.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Gravesend (Brooklyn) para niños

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