26 JANUARY 16, 2020 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE WAY IT WAS
Ridgewood’s ‘building boom’ set
BY THE OLD TIMER
Just a few decades ago, if you walked down most
streets in Ridgewood — particularly the area between
Myrtle and Irving Avenues — you’d see block
aft er block of textile mills and other industries. The
hum of weaving machines was audible to anyone
passing through the area on a busy work day.
Ridgewood was, at one point, home to hundreds
of small textile mills that have disappeared from
the scene — their plants and jobs shipped out to
other states and countries as companies sought to
For many years, these mills — along with other
industrial factories that closed down for the same
reason — remained vacant and fallow, like unused
farmland. Some landlords chose to let the properties
sit until new opportunities came along — namely,
changes in zoning laws that would allow them to
repurpose the factories for other uses.
Over the last decade, many of the former Ridgewood
factories have been transformed into artist
loft s and other apartments, accommodating the
arrival of a new generation of residents. Many of
these folks are young professionals who’ve come to
the area in search of more aff ordable housing, close
to the subway — both of which have always been
abundant in the community.
These professionals brought with them a new vibrancy
to Ridgewood; some of them opened up new
cafes, workspaces and other businesses across town,
bringing new life to the local economy.
Some longtime Ridgewood residents might bristle
at all the change and their eff ects. Yet, if you look at
the history of the neighborhood over the past 125
years, change and the arrival of new residents have
been the constant trends.
The neighborhood has evolved many times over
Rural life in Ridgewood at the start of the 20th century is depicted in this photo.
Ridgewood Times archives/Courtesy of the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society
through the decades — but the most radical transformation
occurred 120 years ago, at the dawn of the
Hard as it is for many fellow old timers in Ridgewood
to witness life without textile mills and other
industries, it is even more diffi cult to imagine the
community in a largely rural state.
But that’s what our neighborhood was back in
1900 — bustling with family farms from one corner
of the area to the other. Within 20 years, almost all of
them would be gone — and a new urban community
would rise in its place.
“The Great Building Boom” in Ridgewood was well
documented in the Greater Ridgewood Historical
Society’s 1976 book, “Our Community: Its History
and People.” It’s out of print now, but The Old Timer
is fortunate enough to have a copy on hand.
What follows is an excerpt from the society’s account
of the birth of modern-day Ridgewood:
By 1900, a great wall of buildings had slowly crept
eastward from Brooklyn and also from the north, and
was ready to consume what was left of old Newtown
Township. The builders looked with great anticipation
at the almost fl at and solid, good earth of Ridgewood.
Here was a vast space to build in.
Many Germans who lived in Yorkville and in Williamsburgh
were looking for greener pastures. Even
in those days, Williams was turning into a slum
area. Yorkville in Manhattan was congested. Their
inhabitants had their eyes on something brand-new
and sparkling, and the builders were ready to accommodate
Much of the population of nearby Brooklyn and what
was Ridgewood at that time was German. It stood to
reason that those who would fi ll up the vacant spaces
would also be German. So when the building began,
there wasn’t any great time lost on sentimentality.
Between 1900 and 1912, the Wyckoff, Van Sise,
Fleckenstein, Meyerrose and Debevoise farms all
disappeared and were speedily overlaid with cement
The early Ridgewood builders were a group of men
who specialized in the Greater Ridgewood area — but
that isn’t surprising, considering that builders usually
concentrate within certain neighborhoods. These
Ridgewood builders were practical men, most of whom
had probably been raised on farms themselves.
The people who purchased their houses were themselves
mostly immigrants, as were the tenants who
rented apartments within the new structures. Most
had come from farms. They’d known farms all their
lives. So who needed a farm anymore?
The city was becoming the thing: a beautiful brick
building with air shaft s and dumbwaiters and modern
plumbing, and a private stall in the cellar for storing
one’s equipment. A city apartment, especially a new
A knitting mill operated for many years at this site on Weirfi eld Street in Ridgewood
Photo via PropertyShark/Christopher Bride