Between the Gowanus Canal and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway lies an oasis of quiet streets with long gardens fronting handsome brownstone row houses. The residential area known as Carroll Gardens was until the 1960s considered a neighborhood of South Brooklyn, a nomenclature that is now falling out of use in favor of the smaller neighborhoods that formed that area.
Before there were streets, there was an Indian path along what is now Henry Street. Native American Indians sold a tract of land to Dutch farmers Adrianse Bennet and Jacques Bentyn in 1636, and it was around the area of Carroll Gardens that development first began. Docks and warehouses were constructed in Red Hook, and a plan was made to dredge the Gowanus Creek and drain its surrounding swamps to form a navigable inland waterway. To facilitate the transportation of bodies from Manhattan to Green-Wood Cemetery, the Hamilton Avenue Ferry began service in 1846. These factors encouraged developers of the 1860s to build the residences that are now among the most sought-after homes in Brooklyn. Carroll Park, laid out in the late 1840s as a private garden for the use of surrounding homes, became a public park in the 1850s. Although the pattern of deep-fronted gardens was planned in the 1840s, many of the houses were not built until the 1870s and 1880s, when developers such as William J. Bedell and John Layton began constructing brownstones, taking a unified approach to design that led to an architecturally homogeneous neighborhood.
Irish Americans settled in the neighborhood in the early 19th century, and around the turn of the 20th century Italian immigrants began to arrive, many from the town of Bari on the Adriatic. Italian-owned businesses, statues of the Virgin Mary in front gardens and other details still reveal the Italian influence in the neighborhood. A small Norwegian community settled in the area in the early 20th century but later moved away, with some of its residents resettling in Bay Ridge.Many Carroll Gardens residents worked on the Red Hook docks or at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which closed down in 1966. Since the 1960s, young professionals have been increasingly drawn to Carroll Gardens. Smith Street, now a fashionable shopping strip, harbors upscale restaurants and stores. Today, many homeowners in Carroll Gardens enjoy the use of small aboveground backyard pools in the summer months.
The Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal, built in 1889, provides one of the principal means of entry into Carroll Gardens. It is the oldest retractile bridge in the country, and was designated a New York City landmark in 1987, undergoing extensive restoration in 2003.
Historically, several important churches have provided a focus for religious and community life. St. Paul's Episcopal Church, St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church and South Congregational Church among others were the subject of numerous articles in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle before the newspaper folded in 1955.
The Carroll Gardens Branch of Brooklyn Public Library, which opened in a splendid Carnegie building in 1905, provides another strong community resource.
Visitors walking through present-day Carroll Gardens would know immediately that this is an Italian neighborhood, but they might be surprised at the mix of young and old, working class and professional residents. The spacious beauty of the streets in this corner of New York City surprises and delights and the calm and friendly atmosphere makes this one of Brooklyn's most desirable neighborhoods.