Ephemeral New York: Brooklyn Heights’ Fruity Streets

Ever-entertaining website Ephemeral New York offers a fresh reminder on the naming of Brooklyn Heights’ Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple streets, which has been long been a fruitful part of neighborhood lore.

In its April post, the webbie offers:

“The Columbia Heights section of Brooklyn Heights might be the most beautiful enclave in the borough. The most charming part? Probably the three quiet, pretty streets named after colorful fruits.

The botanical names are a little odd for Brooklyn—and they can be attributed to Lady Middagh, a local resident during the turn of the last century who was a descendant of one of the first families to settle and farm here.

“Prior to her nomenclatures the streets were named for the aristocratic families of the neighborhood,” explains this NYC Parks website. “She found this pretentious and so removed the street signs and put up those of her own fruity design.”

The city took hers down and insisted on keeping the official street names. But Lady Middagh was pretty tough. She refused to give up and replaced the city names again. “Eventually, the city made her choices official, but ironically, named a street after her own family, which remains today.”

In 1997, the city completed Fruit Street Sitting Area, a small park linking Columbia Heights to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. There’s also a less interesting explanation for the names, reports this 1993 New York Times piece: “One tale is that the Hicks brothers, who originally owned the land, sold exotic fruits in the area, and named the streets to honor this occupation.”

Brooklyn Magazine offered a similar story in July 2012… Likewise an archived story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. And BHB’s own Karl Junkersfeld posted a video clip on the evolution of Columbia Heights.

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  • Jeremy

    The Lady Middagh story is bunk. The Hicks brothers story is closer to the truth.

  • ClaudeScales

    I likewise doubt the Lady Middagh story, but once heard one concerning the Hicks brothers, unrelated to the street naming issue, that may be too good to be true. Back before Fulton’s steam ferry opened the Heights to development, farmers in the area would take their produce across the East River by boat to a market on the Manhattan side. Each farmer had a different colored banner on the boat. The Hicks brothers were known to have the best produce, so people waiting at the market would try to spot their banner. When someone saw it, the cry would go out, “Here come the Hicks!” This supposedly was the origin of calling farmers “hicks.”.

  • phinatti

    How interesting. Like the Sambucca story and the three beans in the drink… lol

  • elw_ny

    Folk etymology can be fun, but the actual origin for “hick” seems to be much older. Here’s one explanation:

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=1006052635737

  • ClaudeScales

    As I said, I suspected it was too good to be true. Nevertheless, I thought it worth retelling, with that caveat.

  • whodiditandran

    From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. This is probably where the Lady Middagh story got mashed up. http://tinyurl.com/brfkz7l

  • Jeremy

    Excellent find.

    The “Yankee doctor” on Washington Street is probably Dr. Charles Ball, who had a house on the corner of Washington and Sands around the time the streets in the Middagh farm were laid out, pre-1820. (By the 1820s he had moved up to the Heights – in Francis Guy’s paintings of the Ferry area, you can see Ball’s house off in the distance up the hill at top right.)

    Remember that there was still some lingering antagonism between the old-timey Dutch and the Yankee “newcomers” in Brooklyn in this period. Still, why Ball would’ve been running around changing the street signs from John to Henry will probably remain a mystery.

  • whodiditandran

    Maybe for Henry VIII?