thousand Germans fleeing land shortages, unemployment, famine, and political and religious
oppression,"13 growth, new
with over 1,350,000 immigrating to the United States. To accommodate this German neighborhoods or “Little Germanys,” also known individually as
“Dutchtown,” developed, including Kleindeutschland, east of the Bowery and north of Division Street in Manhattan and outside the city in the Eastern District of Brooklyn (Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint). By 1860, Germans in New York City numbered more than 200,000, accounting for one quarter of the city’s total population. They represented the first large immigrant community in American history that spoke a foreign language. In the 1870s and 1880s, dislocations caused by the growth of the German Empire brought more new immigrants to the United States while thousands of American-born children of German immigrants established their own homes in these neighborhoods.14 Germans established new neighborhoods in Yorkville in Manhattan and Steinway in Queens, and existing German neighborhoods, such as Williamsburg and Bushwick, expanded. New York City’s German population increased in the 1890s, reaching a peak of over 700,000 in 1900. After that, many Germans and German-Americans migrated to suburban areas outside of New York City, resulting in the reduction of the city’s German population to under 590,000 by 1920. During the same period, many of the Germans that remained in New York moved from older neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn to newly developed areas like Ridgewood. New York City’s German population grew again during the 1920s as many Germans fled economic and political turmoil in Europe.
Immigrants from Germany and their descendants have contributed greatly to New York City’s culture in areas such as religion, politics, business, labor, publishing, the arts, philanthropy, and local cuisine. By settling in areas with such a high concentration of fellow countrymen, it was easy for the Germans to maintain their culture and customs, which included German-speaking churches and synagogues, German newspapers, singing societies, Turnverein,15 and beer gardens. German New Yorkers formed numerous socialist political associations, such as the Workers’ League and the Socialist Labor Party. Germans helped to form the American Federation of Labor, in which Adolph Strasser and Samuel Gompers were prominent. Many of the city’s breweries were established by Germans, who also operated hundreds of beer halls and wine gardens in German neighborhoods, especially in Brooklyn’s Eastern District. Germans were also well- represented in the building trades, including in the practice of architecture,16 and created their own banking, savings, and loan institutions. Several publishing houses and newspapers were
Encyclopedia of New York, 463, as cited in Scheffel Hall Designation Report.
By 1880, the city’s German population constituted about one third of the city’s total.
15 A Turnverein is a gymnastics society founded in Germany based on the teachings of Prussian nationalist, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. In America, especially in cities where large German populations settled, “the principal German organizations, other than the churches, for maintaining cultural and social traditions were the singing and gymnastics societies know respectively as the “Gensang Vereins” and the “Turn Vereins” (Gesang = singing; turn = gymnastics; verein = club or society) established not long after the arrival of the first significant numbers of Germans in the late 1840s and early 1850s.” (Robert L. Dyer, “The Boonville Turner” from Boonville an Illustrated History, available on-line (3/5/08) at: http://www.undata.com/turnerhall/thhist.htm.) No title, Brooklyn Eagle (December 31, 1856), 3; Landmarks Preservation Commission, (Former) Colored School No. 3, later Public School 69 Designation Report (LP-1977), report prepared by Donald Presa (New York: City of New York, 1998).
16 German-born architects working in New York included William Schickel (1850-1907), Detlef Lienau (1818-87), Leopold Eidlitz (1823-1908), Alexander Saeltzer (date undetermined), Alfred Zucker (b.1852), and Louis Berger (b.1875), who was a prolific Ridgewood architect and the designer of the earliest buildings in the Ridgewood North Historic District.