In the same way New Yorkers now take their subways for granted, New Yorkers at the end of the 1800s took their ferries for granted.
In the 1870s it was estimated that the ferries carried some 70 million passengers to and from Brooklyn each year. While the recent start of the East River Ferry connecting Greenpoint and Williamsburg to Manhattan has been seen as something of a revelation, it is only reinstating the very first service, one that was begun in 1642.
Once powered by horses, by the mid-1820s Steamboats (in the design of Robert Fulton who’s image can be seen on a tile in the Greenpoint Reformed Church) became the norm. While ferry service reached it’s zenith in the 1870s, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (it’s caissons made down the block by Webb and Bell) spelled the ultimate doom of the service. The Brooklyn Bridge was followed by tunnels and other bridges, and the ferry’s were all but out of business by 1924.
As of 2011 commuter ferries have returned to Northern Brookyn in the form of the East River Ferry which picks up commuters at the India St / Greenpoint Terminal. Besides granting Greenpointers access to travel by water, once the only way to travel, it also give them a view of their waterfront history, as it cruises by the remains of the Greenpoint Terminal Market, the site where the Monitor was built, and the Bushwick Inlet on its way to Williamsburg.
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