Welcome to my genealogy blog. Ancestors I Wish I Knew is a combination of genealogical information and stories about individuals in my family tree. The focus is on those from my Cochrane, Eitelbach, Merrett, Minarcik and Richards lines and their descendants.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Brooklyn: History and Ancestors

Current View of Brooklyn

I have not blogged in a while for a couple of reasons.  First, I was visiting some long-time friends and once I returned home, I needed to complete a presentation for my Learning in Retirement group.  In that group we take a topic and then each one of us does a presentation on some part of the topic that appeals to us.  The topic for the winter was Cities.  After some thought and with the urging of some members, I decided to focus on Brooklyn, New York.  My family had roots there, I grew up there, and I realized I knew very little about the history of Brooklyn.  As I did my research, I was amazed at how I could connect the history of Brooklyn with the activities of some of my ancestors.

During the 1800’s Brooklyn’s population increased greatly and it moved from being a farming community to an industrial city.  The population increase was due to people moving in both from New England and from Europe, particularly Germany and Ireland.  That fit with what I knew about my family’s Brooklyn roots.  My father’s family, the Richards, settled in Dedham, Massachusetts in 1634.  Edward Richards, the immigrant ancestor, acquired a great deal of land that for many
Early Downtown Brooklyn
generations was subdivided and left to various heirs for farms.  However, by the mid 1800’s the amount of land that would be inherited was not enough to sustain a farm.  That led to individuals moving to other locations.  I had always wondered why the Richards came to Brooklyn, so I was interested to learn that many New Englanders resettled in Brooklyn.  My great uncle, Abner Richards moved to Brooklyn in the 1850’s and my great grandfather, Abiathar Richards, moved there by 1860 to live with his brother and remained in Brooklyn for the rest of his life.  My mother’s family, the Eitelbachs came to Brooklyn in a second wave of immigration from Germany in the 1890’s.  They too settled in Brooklyn where there was a large Germany population, and probably more importantly where my great grandmother’s brother, Franz (Frank) Huelster had already settled.

You cannot talk about Brooklyn without talking about the Brooklyn Bridge.  One of the reasons the bridge was built was to make it much easier for the people in Brooklyn, who worked in Manhattan, to get to work.  If the river was rough or frozen, the ferries that took them across the East River did not run.  My great grandfather, Abiathar Richards, lived in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn and
Fireworks Over Brooklyn Bridge
worked in Manhattan, but I never gave much thought to how he got there.  In fact, until I read about the reasons for building the bridge, I never thought about it at all.  So after 1883, when the bridge opened, he no longer needed to take the ferry, he could go across the bridge in a horse-drawn vehicle.  What I do remember is my grandmother telling me that she walked over the bridge on the first day it was opened.  She would have joined the more than 150,000 who also walked across the first day.  I wonder if she also was able to see the fireworks that were displayed that night.

When I was young, it was a treat to go to Coney Island and ride on the carousel or when I was older to go to Steeplechase.  My mother, however, said that when she was young, they went to Luna Park.  Luna Park opened in 1903 and was illuminated with over 1 million lights, quite an achievement at a time when public light was not common.  Included in the original park were rides, like trips to the moon or under the sea, replicas of different counties like Switzerland, and re-creations of events like the destruction of Pompeii.
Luna Park
As time went on, newer rides were added, e.g. a roller coaster, bumper cars, Tilt a Whirl, etc.  Luna Park burned down in the 1940’’s.

If I could talk to these ancestors, I would like to ask the Richards and Eitelbachs, why they moved and more specifically, why they moved to Brooklyn.  I would like to ask my grandmother about her experiences when the Brooklyn Bridge opened, and my mother about exactly what she did when she went to Luna Park.

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