Walking East 3rd Street: The Dry Dock & Corlears Hook

Walking East 3rd Street is a collaboration between GVSHP and the students in NYU’s Fall 2012 Intro to Public History course. Each pair of students was tasked with researching the cultural history of one particular block of East 3rd Street and sharing with us something fascinating they discovered along the way. All posts in the series are written by students.

The sixth and final post in the series, by Shannon Elliott, Maggie Lee and Jason Smith, focuses on East 3rd Street between Avenues C & D.

East 3rd Street between Avenues C & D

During the 19th century, the Lower East Side transformed from farmland to a functioning and prosperous merchant neighborhood. East 3rd Street between Avenues C and D was an ideal place for merchant families to settle and invest in the growing shipping industry.  This block is part of what is referred to as the “Dry Dock Neighborhood,” which fell between 3rd and 9th streets and between Avenue C and the East River.  Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, this neighborhood contained brick row houses that were meant to be single family dwellings to be occupied by the merchant class.

This is an image of the East River shore in 1876, which is looking northeast from the uncompleted Brooklyn Bridge, all the way to Corlears Hook.

One of the main shipping yards was Corlears Hook which was built in the 17th century by Dutch settlers.  The shipping yard was named after Jacobus van Corlaer who owned the land.  In the 18th century, he sold the land to William Beekman and it became known as Crown Point during British rule.  In the 19th century, it became a shipping hub in New York City.  The first “true” ocean steamship was built and housed at Corlears Hook; the Savannah weighed 350 tons and sailed from Georgia to St. Petersburg. The voyage was the first trans-Atlantic steam voyage and Captain Moses Rogers commanded the ship for its voyage. Between 1830 and 1840, many experiments were conducted and alterations were made to improve the Savannah. Steam boats would become bigger and more efficient as demand increased.

As Corlears Hook was a bustling port, an economy based around ships and shipping sprung up around it. In 1830, there were fourteen shipping yards between Corlears Hook and 4th Street, which meant that hundreds of journeymen ship carpenters, caulkers and ship joiners worked there. In addition, there were also several sawyers, smiths and sub-contractors with smaller shops and yards in the neighborhood. Some of these contractors either built houses on or lived on East Third Street.   Charles Dodge, a widely known and respected ship carver, built buildings #285 and #287. Robert Malcolm, who was a wholesale flour merchant, lived in building #287. Simeon Price was a blacksmith and lived in building #312 from 1843 until 1903.

Charles Dodge, a widely known and respected ship carver, built buildings #285

In addition to various shipyards and shops, Corlears Hook was also a well-known Red Light District in the early 19th century.  The port was reportedly often full of criminals, thieves and prostitutes. In fact, some might say that the origin of the term “hooker” refers to women prostituting themselves at Corlears Hook. It is believed that in 1839, there were approximately 90 brothels in the surrounding neighborhood.

As the neighborhood expanded and tenements became overcrowded, the need for a park became increasingly clear. In 1893, Corlears Hook was purchased by the City in order to build a park. It would be called Corlears Hook Park and opened in 1905.  As a result of the closing of Corlears Hook, the shipping industry naturally slowed and merchant families began to move uptown into what became more prosperous neighborhoods.

In 1893, Corlears Hook was purchased by the City in order to build a park. The park would be called Corlears Hook Park and it open in 1905

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Dana Dana was GVSHP's Programs and Administrative Associate from 2010 to 2013.