A Glimpse Into The Past Of An Underrated Borough

Authored by Annelisa J. Purdie

This map, from the NYPL Firyal & Pincus Map Division, is the fourth in a series of forty plates. The atlas was first published in 1886.

This map, from the NYPL Firyal & Pincus Map Division, is the fourth in a series of forty plates. The atlas was first published in 1886.

As a third-generation Brooklynite, I knew that I wanted to find something that represented my borough as a part of my AS-L project. Brooklyn occupies a unique place in the cultural memory of New York City. It is a rich cultural hub with a long history, and a “flavor” that is instantly recognizable to those who visit the borough. Even with current concerns over gentrification, Brooklyn has still managed to hold on to the things that make it an attractive spot for residents and visitors alike.

At the same time, the borough does not receive as much attention as the other, more famous parts of New York City. While at the Map Warper site, I was told that there were many Brooklyn maps that needed to be rectified. Some of the residents are unaware of the historical significance of their neighborhood. As a resident, I have a vested interest in making sure that this history is preserved.

This map is part of a book called Robinson’s Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, New York. I did some research on the cartographer, Elisha Robinson, and wasn’t able to find much in the way of biographical information. However, I did manage to find a substantial collection of his maps on the NYPL Digital Collections website. Robinson was self-published, operating out of an office on Nassau Street. One of the first things I noticed is that he refers to Brooklyn as a “city” rather than a “borough.” Until 1898, Brooklyn was a separate municipality, and operated with all of the authority that that position entailed (Manbeck, Neighborhoods, 12). It is fascinating to think that at the time, residents viewed Brooklyn through the lens of an autonomous city. Having known the area only as a borough, I wonder how it must have felt to incorporate.

The map represents at area at the intersection of two neighborhoods in Brooklyn; Park Slope and Boerum Hill. Both areas are renowned for their housing structures, such as brownstones, and the numerous cultural centers that educate others about Brooklyn, such as the Brooklyn Musuem, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Those particular structures are not present on the map, as they were not built at the time. However, I noticed that the Gowanus Canal, which features prominently here, is still in existence. Many of the residential blocks are still around as well. These two neighborhoods are also known for their independent businesses that make up a loyal customer base.  Some of these businesses are still operational.

As a volunteer Map Warper, I hope that through my work, I am able to shed light on this fascinating borough, charting the changes from over 100 years ago to the present. By conducting research and volunteering my time to rectify this artifact with the present maps, I am fulfilling the Vincentian model of service to the community. Additionally, by providing context for this historical object, I fulfill the Vincentian mission of building bridges, and helping others to discover more about what exists in their area. For myself, as well as others, learning about the history of an area can instill a sense of pride in their community.


Angel, Christine M. Information Representation through the Vincentian Lens of Transparency: Providing the Under and Misrepresented with A Voice within Our Cultural Heritage Records. 2013. Retrieved from: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VkY3xbRv1Ikuny5LApVmVWmSiZ81OTtUyJ6aSl_I3xo/edit?pref=2&pli=1

Benardo, Leonard & Weiss, Jennifer. Brooklyn by Name: How the Neighborhoods, Streets, Parks, Bridges and More Got Their Names. New York: NYU Press, 2006.

Grenier-Snyder, Ellen. Brooklyn: An Illustrated History. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Manbeck, John B. The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Merlis, Brian & Rosenzweig, Lee. Brooklyn’s Park Slope: A Photographic Perspective. New York: Israelowitz Publishing, 2006.

Younger, William Lee. Old Brooklyn in Early Photographs, 1865-1929. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1978.

Primary Source

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. (1886). Plate 4: Bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Bond Street, Schermerhorn Street, Flatbush Avenue, Fifth Avenue, President Street and Court Street. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-0b6e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Pidgeon, Roger, & Robinson, Elisha. Robinson’s Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, New York: Embracing all Territory within its Corporate Limits, from Official Records, Private Plans, and Actual Surveys. New York: E. Robinson, 1886.