The Benson Family: Putting the ‘Benson’ in Bensonhurst

Egbert Benson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States

Have you ever wondered how Bensonhurst got it’s name? Before Bensonhurst became a neighborhood of semi-detached houses and apartment buildings it was farmland, and the Benson family was one of its largest landowners. Two of the most prominent and interesting members of the family were Egbert and Arthur Benson.

Egbert, born in New York City in 1746, was a delegate to the Continental Congress and the first Attorney General of New York State. He was member of the New York State constitutional convention, which ratified the United States Constitution in 1788. A genuine Founding Father, Egbert was also one of the founders of the New York Historical Society.

Arthur W. Benson helped finance construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (Photo Credit: Colleen Murphy)

Arthur W. Benson, born in 1798, started the Brooklyn Gas Light Company in 1823. It was one of the firms that would eventually merge to become Brooklyn Union Gas. In recent years it was acquired by Key Span and is now part of National Grid USA. If the Bensons of the Revolutionary War era were alive today they might not be very enthusiastic about the multinational corporation; its headquarters are in London.

In 1869 Arthur was one of only nine individual investors in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1835 he had begun to purchase land near the old family farm in the Kings County town of New Utrecht. New Utrecht was one of the six original towns that would later form the Brooklyn we know today. It included the modern day neighborhoods of Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Borough Park.

Between 1830 and 1840 Arthur began to sell parcels of the land to developer James Lynch on the condition the land would bear the family name. The newly created suburb, which was a gated community called Bensonhurst by the Sea, stood roughly where Bath Beach is today. Bensonhurst was planned as the ideal suburb. Peaceful, with ocean breezes, large beautiful homes and an easy commute to both Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn via the Brooklyn, Bath and West End Railroad. Decades later this rail line would become the BMT West End Line of the New York City Subway, now served by the D train.

Bensonhurst and the surrounding area was home to quite a few popular and upscale clubs of the time, including the New York Canoe Club, Bensonhurst Tennis Club, Bensonhurst Yacht Club, and Atlantic Yacht Club. There was a push to make Bensonhurst compete with Coney Island as a tourist destination. To this end racetracks, amusement parks and hotels were builtĀ  but were unsuccessful at luring the Coney Island masses. Bensonhurst by the Sea, with less than 10,000 residents at the time, would remain a tranquil bedroom community.

Postcard from 1907 still using a variation of the name Bensonhurst by the Sea

In 1894 New Utrecht was annexed by the City of Brooklyn. The name Bensonhurst by the Sea, no longer a gated community, was shortened to Bensonhurst. Before long many of the large homes, including the Benson family homestead, would be razed to build brick row houses and apartment buildings for immigrant families, mostly Jewish and Italian, who were escaping the filthy and crowded conditions of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The Bensons would hardly recognize the Bensonhurst of today. They might marvel at the sheer number of people and nationalities now calling Bensonhurst home. While there is little physical evidence left from that era, the Benson family name lives on.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Benson Family: Putting the ‘Benson’ in Bensonhurst

  1. Montrose Morris

    Great job! I’ve enjoyed all of your articles. I came across your site a couple of times while doing research, and didn’t realize this was yours. Much success to you.

  2. Louise

    I think your article about Bensonhurst was great and I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Pingback: Bensonhurst Architecture: The Art Deco Style | Wandering NYC

  4. great article, was fun finding this during my week living in bensonhurst!

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  7. Josh Rubin

    I stumbled on your site doing some research on my house history. I live in an 1860s frame on 14th between 5th-6th aves. Arthur Benson bought the old Richard Berry farm following Berry’s death in 1848. The Berry farm ran from the mouth of the Gowanus up to what is now PPW, from 12th Street to the midline between the properties on 14th and 15th. Benson had the farm surveyed and subdivided and then sold off lots in groups. Benson sold our lot with several others in 1849 to Robert Shannon, publisher at the time of the Brooklyn Independent.

    Richard Berry was the son of Walter Berry, who bought the land from Cornelius Van Duyne after the revolutionary war. Walter Berry was married to Rachel Bergen. Walter died in 1813 when he was gored by a bull he owned and was fattening.

    Some of this is in the Bergen geneology, some in the Stiles history and some gleaned from title history.

    P.S. Hi, Montrose!

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