There’s No Neighborhood in Brooklyn Called “Fort Hamilton”

bay ridge fort hamilton
Southern Bay Ridge, aka “Fort Hamilton”

“Fort Hamilton is perfect for laying family roots,” read a headline in yesterday’s AM NY. Only problem? There is no such place, though it’s said to be “located in the southwestern corner of Brooklyn” and “geographically part of Bay Ridge.” “People who I know refer to themselves as living in Fort Hamilton,” the district manager of the local community board told the paper, but surely they must be people who live on the army base? Because I’ve lived in Bay Ridge for 30 years, and I’ve never, not once in my life, heard someone refer to themselves as living in Fort Hamilton—not even all the people I know who live over on that side of the neighborhood.

I mean, I’ve heard other people try to call it that. It’s a post office designation: the neighborhood’s main branch, on Fifth Avenue and 88th Street, is called the Fort Hamilton Branch; the Bay Ridge Branch of the post office is a rinky dink storefront on Fourth Avenue near the Bay Ridge Avenue subway stop. And there’s a Fort Hamilton branch of the library. And the actual Fort is a popular namesake: there’s the local high school, and Fort Hamilton Parkway, which runs all the way to Kensington.

You also see it identified as a neighborhood on subway maps. I think that powerful influencer is then responsible for the neighborhood appearing, say, on the popular Ork poster (designed by a Chicagoan!). Then you start seeing Yelp telling you that restaurants and bars are in “Fort Hamilton,” and if you didn’t know any better because, say, you weren’t raised in Bay Ridge, or hadn’t spent many years of your life here becoming a member of the community, you might start thinking Fort Hamilton was a legit neighborhood in the sense that the people who live there and around there would recognize it as such. They don’t, and more people who draw maps or write newspaper articles might know that if they came down to visit more than once in their lives, to eat at Tanoreen or snap a photo of the Verrazano Bridge before calling a cab (because who rides the R train so far?) to get the heck out of here.

That said, I like the idea of dividing Bay Ridge in half. Too often in Brooklyn recent history, large swaths of the borough have been written off as a “neighborhood” because those doing the designating didn’t really care about those places; how else could you justify calling hundreds of square blocks a “neighborhood”? What commonalities could all those residents share? Bay Ridge is a big neighborhood, stretching from 65th Street to 101st, from Shore Road—numerically the equivalent of Negative First Avenue if Narrows Avenue is 0th Avenue—to Seventh Avenue, almost 300 square blocks. (I mean, the math is actually far messier, because blocks turn up and disappear, end and begin; this is just to give a very rough estimate.) That’s a lot of blocks!

And there is a different character to the southside of Bay Ridge. As a northsider, any time I travel down there it’s almost like visiting a new community: the people I see are all people I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, people who don’t walk up to our side of the neighborhood to visit our bars and restaurants. While sharing cultural similarities, Bay Ridge residents occupy too much space. So I propose, acknowledging our shared history and common values, that we divide Bay Ridge in half, sharing 86th Street and using it as the demarcation—between North Ridge and South Ridge. As long as we can forget all this “Fort Hamilton” business.

UPDATE: “Fort Hamilton” is a very old-school distinction. Back before Robert Moses’s BQE made 65th Street feel like the border of Bay Ridge, the neighborhood extended well into present-day Sunset Park, which is why the official Bay Ridge Post Office is actually on 55th Street and Seventh Avenue, well outside of its present-day boundaries (and why you’ll still see a laundromat or bodega in Sunset Park every once in a while with “Bay Ridge” in its name). When the northern boundary of Bay Ridge receded, I imagine it felt less necessary to have a separate name to distinguish the southern end from the reduced north. Today, it would be unthinkable, for example, to argue that the Verrazano Bridge wasn’t actually in “Bay Ridge,” and you would hear very, very few people under the age of 60 ever refer to that part of the neighborhood as “Fort Hamilton.”

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart