Tell me more about Red Hook Lane
November 20, 2007 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Calling all Brooklyn history buffs. Tell me more about a specific aspect of Red Hook Lane.

While at a bar this evening, a man told me a story about Red Hook Lane, in Brooklyn, NY, that I'd like to confirm. In essence, his story was that what is left of Red Hook Lane today is part of a much longer trail that dates back to Native American people, who used it as a pathway between the East River and Jamaica Bay (specifically, the Flatlands). He said that, as early as the 1500-1600's, Native Americans would catch clams in one or the other body of water, and then use what became Red Hook Lane as a way to get to the other body of water. As they walked, he says, they shucked the clams they had caught, thus creating a pathway of crushed shells that became so well ground up that it became a permanent pathway. Subsequently, in the 1700's, Red Hook Lane played a relatively important role in in Washington's defense of Brooklyn Heights, and in the late 1800's, was sacrificed to Brooklyn's annexation by New York, and the subsequent "grid-ization" of downtown Brooklyn, by becoming Court Street.

I've been able to confirm the Revolutionary War and later history of Red Hook Lane online. I'm more interested in this man's story about its origins during the 1500's and 1600's, particularly with regard to the story about the Native Americans and the clams. Anybody have an online resource confirming the veracity of this part of the story that will save me a trip to the public library? Google yields the later history of the lane, while referencing the earlier Native American history in the most general terms. Thanks.

FWIW, I liked the story and it brightened my evening enough that I bought the guy a beer
posted by lassie to Society & Culture (6 answers total)
Not really helping, but I've heard the same story - At least this isn't something just one guy made up, unless we happened to hear it from the same guy...
posted by pupdog at 8:27 PM on November 20, 2007

The Ferry Road on Long Island (.pdf) may be of interest (see page 5 and onwards in particular). No mention of the clam shucking, although it does give some detail on Red Hook Lane and surrounds during the period you reference.
posted by brain_drain at 8:35 PM on November 20, 2007

Response by poster: brain_drain, I really enjoyed what I've read of your link, and will print it up for my morning commute (to the environs of Red Hook Lane, as a matter of fact), but I'm going to continue looking for mentions of this clam shucking habit the Native Americans had.

pupdog, I'll send you my guy's first name in your Mefimail. Tell me if it's the same as your guy -- that would be really funny.
posted by lassie at 8:49 PM on November 20, 2007

I believe Mark Kurlansky tells this tale in his book "The Big Oyster" except, obviously, it's oyster shells, not clam shells. New York City was once oyster heaven, and there were beds in every body of water around the city and Long Island. Pollution killed them all, but there were once even huge mounds of oyster shells visible along the waterfront, where locals would just walk up to the water, pull out some oysters, eat them, and discard the shell. Imagine, an oyster in NYC for free, let alone $2!

Unfortunately, the closest I can find to an excerpt confirming this (the book is on my list, and I've heard this tale, but can't confirm he actually covers it) is this from a NYT excerpt:

"We know that the Lenape ate copious quantities of oysters because oyster shells last a very long time and they left behind tremendous piles of them. These piles, containing thousands of shells, have been found throughout the New York City area. Archaeologists call them shell middens. The most common marker of a pre-European settlement anywhere in the area of the mouth of the Hudson are these piles of oyster shells, sometimes as much as four feet deep, sometimes buried in the ground, sometimes piled high. The early-seventeenth-century Dutch were the first to note the shell middens. One such mountain of oyster shells gave Pearl Street, originally on the waterfront in lower Manhattan, its name. Contrary to popular belief, the street was not actually paved with oyster shells until many years after it was named for a midden. The Dutch found another midden at what is now the intersection of Canal Street and the Bowery and called it Kalch-Hook, Shell-Point. . . ."

posted by raconteur at 9:09 PM on November 20, 2007

By any chance was it this guy you were talking to? If not, I'm sure he could corroborate the story (I won't post his email here, but it can readily be googled).
posted by Urban Hermit at 9:59 PM on November 20, 2007

Here's an article about it on Forgotten NY.
posted by anaelith at 4:44 AM on November 21, 2007

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