History of the Gowanus Canal

The Rise of the Gowanus Canal

As Brooklyn grew and industrialized in the 1800s, so did the need for navigational and docking facilities. Recognizing the opportunity a canal would bring to Brooklyn, New York State authorized the construction of the Gowanus Canal in 1849.

The canal was completed in 1869 and extended the industrial transportation route of the Erie Canal and New York Harbor into Brooklyn. As a result, the canal became the hub of Brooklyn’s maritime and commercial shipping activity.

Businesses and industry quickly sprang up along the canal’s two-mile length. It was a hub for Brooklyn’s maritime and commercial shipping activity including cement works, machine shops, chemical plants, shipbuilders, incinerators, and Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP). Paint, ink, and soap factories were built. Warehouses, tanneries, coal yards, flour mills, and other businesses needed to support the new modern economy appeared.

The thriving Industrial Revolution brought growth to the banks of the Gowanus and the canal served as the conduit for building materials, including much of the borough’s now iconic brownstone. By World War I, the Gowanus Canal was the busiest industrial and commercial canal in the United States, transporting more than six million tons of cargo annually.

The Canal Today

By the middle of the 20th century, the industrial activity along the canal decreased dramatically. Most of the manufacturing facilities had left, prompting many areas around the canal to transition to commercial and residential use. These changes resulted in much less canal traffic and a growing desire for alternative uses of the canal, including recreation.

Regardless of its ultimate use, we all want to see a cleaner and healthier Gowanus Canal.