Sheepshead Bay Piers

Sheepshead Piers

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

These piers, which lie along Emmons Avenue between Ocean Avenue and East 26th Street, are located in a neighborhood named for a fish native to the Atlantic coast all the way from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico. The silvery, black-banded Sheepshead fish, a member of the porgy family, is so called for its teeth, which resemble those of sheep. Sheepshead Bay’s name most likely dates back to 1844, when Benjamin Freeman built the first hotel in the area, The Sheepshead.

The Canarsee Indians, Sheepshead Bay’s original inhabitants, lived here largely undisturbed until almost 150 years after European settlers arrived in nearby Gravesend in 1643. In the eighteenth century, the Wyckoff and Lott families established homesteads and built farms in the area. The Henry and Abraham Wyckoff House, built in 1766, still stands today on the corner of Kings Highway and East 22nd Street. One Wyckoff family home is the Pieter Claesen House, built in 1652 in what is now Flatlands, Brooklyn and believed to be the oldest surviving home in the City. Restored in 1982, the Pieter Claesen House is now a public museum. The Hendrick I. Lott House, built in 1720 and enlarged in 1800, is another landmark home in Flatlands, standing on East 36th Street. Fishing in the bay became popular in the early 1800s, and little cottages soon dotted the rim of the inlet. Cool coastal breezes and fresh seafood began to lure tourists in the middle of the nineteenth century, when Sam Leonard’s Hotel and Tappen’s Hotel were built. The opening of Ocean Avenue provided the first direct route to the area. In the 1870s, a large farm subdivided for development and began a trend that led to the construction of more than 400 houses by the end of the century, along with shops, churches, and a post office.

After the Coney Island Jockey Club, founded in 1880, opened the Sheepshead Bay Race Track, gamblers flocked to the area. Legend has it that the nearby Holwell Mansion was one of the first tipster rackets, where timers watched trial races and sold information to bookmakers. In 1911, the racetrack also served as a runway for the Vin Fiz, piloted by Calbraith P. Rodgers, when it made the world’s first transcontinental flight. The Sheepshead Speedway replaced the track when the Jockey Club disbanded in 1915. The famous automobile track was demolished in 1919, and replaced with housing. The City revitalized the neighborhood in the 1930s, with improvements such as the widening of Emmons Avenue and the modernization of buildings by the bay. In the 1950s, brick apartment buildings replaced the wooden houses, and by 1960, Sheepshead Bay was the fastest growing community in Brooklyn. Today, it is still a popular destination for recreational fishermen, and seafood lovers enjoy its excellent restaurants.

The City of New York built these concrete piers for $180,000 in 1936. The former Department of Ports and Trade then had jurisdiction over the ten piers. The first nine provide berths for charter fishing boats and a fuel tender, while Pier 10 serves as a landing site for excursion vessels. In the early 1990s, the Economic Development Corporation completed a $13 million renovation that included the installation of water and electricity at every berth as well as improvements in pavement, railings, lighting, and seating. In 1994, Parks assumed jurisdiction over Piers 1-10.

Currently, many daily fishing trips leave from the Sheepshead Bay Piers. More than twenty vessels offer morning, midday, and evening trips to fish for porgy, fluke, sea bass, and bluefish. Many fishermen who prefer keeping their feet on dry land drop their lines right off the piers.

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