E 4th Street Garden
East Fourth Street Community Garden
The dedicated local residents of the East Fourth Street Garden Association have tended this site, formerly known as the Windsor Terrace Kensington Veterans Memorial Garden, since they first organized it in 1979. The garden, incorporated in 1981, has come to serve a central role as a gathering place in this community. The East Fourth Street garden has funded its operations and special projects through dues collection, flea markets, and two Mollie Parnis Dress Up Your Neighborhood Awards.
The distinction of “neighborhood” has changed over the years as populations and real estate pressures have redrawn the lines in this section of Brooklyn. Although originally part of the town of Flatbush, Windsor Terrace was subsumed under Kensington during the early part of the 20th century. The area includes Community Board 7 and Sunset Park. Windsor Terrace sits between Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery, with Seventh Avenue and Prospect Park South to the north and Caton Avenue to the south.
Gowanus native tribes first inhabited this locale well before European settler John Vanderbilt took the land to build his farm. Developer William Bell bought the land in 1849 after Vanderbilt's death. Bell divided it up as the village of Windsor Terrace, inaugurating the legacy of the residential neighborhood, which remained isolated until after the Civil War (1861-1865). New railroad lines to Coney Island provided direct public transportation to a rapidly expanding list of attractions: restaurants, hotels, bathing pavilions, shops, amusement rides, race tracks, theatres, and as always, the beach and the ocean.
By 1884, Windsor Terrace had 100 residents and a schoolhouse, and by 1888, a local fire department. With the early 20th century construction of 25 two-family homes and two apartment buildings, Irish immigrants flocked to the area. Italian immigrants arrived soon after that, the neighborhood expanding with mostly civil servants: policemen, firemen, and teachers. These residents communicated through a network of friends and family to rent and sell their properties, keeping the population a fairly intimate one.
Such community oriented thinking persisted through the many changes of the next century. Established on city property, the East Fourth Street Garden uses land originally cleared of homes for the construction of the F subway line in the 1930s. Transit builders changed their plans, running the line underground where the Windsor Terrace branch of the Public Library now stands. In 1998, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) surrendered the Fourth Street garden between Fort Hamilton Parkway and Caton Avenue to Parks. This arrangement safeguards the garden’s status as a green space while leaving the administration largely in the hands of its community developers.
The Garden Association has recently completed a new concrete lining for their pond, in the back corner of the lot near the vegetable plots. Also contained within the wrought iron gates are a compost heap, a picnic area, a rock garden, a sundial, and benches. Garden members buried a time capsule in 1998 not to be opened for 25 years. Members and local school children collected current memorabilia, toys, newspapers, and family histories to preserve for the next generation's enjoyment.