Avenue U in Gravesend, Brooklyn

The other Gravesend across the pond in Brooklyn, New York

Friday, January 11, 2013
9.30 AM

There’s 3,500 miles separating Gravesend, UK, and Gravesend, USA but would the two places share more than a name? Anna Dubuis found out…

There’s 3,500 miles separating Gravesend, UK, and Gravesend, USA but would the two places share more than a name? Anna Dubuis found out…

A town with a name such as Gravesend can be misconstrued, conjuring imagery of tombstones and the dead.

However, like its Kent counterpart, the neighbourhood of Gravesend in America has nothing to do with a cemetery.

The area, which sits on the southern shores of New York City’s Long Island, has the Atlantic Ocean lapping at its coastline as the sea sweeps its way up towards Manhattan.

It was on those waters that a woman named Lady Deborah Moody arrived from Wiltshire in December 1645 and founded the town.

Rather than borrowing its name from England, Gravesend in Brooklyn was titled after a town in Holland called s-Gravenzande.

The settlement had been colonised by the Dutch and later granted to Lady Moody and her followers. The name-sharing with the Kentish Gravesend is pure coincidence.

Today, Gravesend across-the-pond is part of the Brooklyn borough of New York City and is a densely-populated residential area.

There are more than 181,000 people living in the gridded streets while the western side of the neighbourhood features a rocky pier and harbour lining Gravesend Bay.

It is a quiet end of town that stays out of the headlines, except for some serious real estate, as Joseph Ditta, a librarian at New York Historical Society, explains.

“What seem to generate the most interest are the insanely high prices paid for some homes in the area occupied by a concentration of wealthy Sephardic Jews,” says Joseph.

In the Sephardic area, two main avenues are lined with vast houses with elaborate hedges and porches.

Earlier this year, a five-bedroom Mediterranean-style house was put on the market for $14 million, becoming the largest, most expensive residence for sale in the whole of Brooklyn.

Described in the listing as “a palace in the middle of Brooklyn”, it featured a multi-level art nouveau staircase, a Vienna-imported, hand-etched crystal chandelier, a marble bath and five bathrooms.

It is a sharp contrast to the price of homes in our town, which averaged £308,152 for a detached property last year.

Joseph describes his home town as “historic and serene”. There are a number of “excellent” Mediterranean and Italian restaurants, and with the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team and Brooklyn Nets basketball team, sport is high on the agenda.

Gravesend proper, which is slightly inland and sits on higher ground, avoided the worst of last year’s hurricane Sandy.

Given English local councils’ appetite for town-twinning, I wonder why our Gravesend hasn’t been paired with the one over there.

With a little research it turns out there was once some kind of partnership.

More than 30 years ago, a Gravesend councillor, Peter Dyke, visited the American Gravesend and an official entry was made declaring: “To designate June 9th, 1979, as Gravesend, Brooklyn, New York, and Gravesend, England, Twin Communities’ Anniversary Day.”

However, that link disintegrated over the years leaving just a name to bond the two.