The Brooklyn waterfront has changed a great deal over the years, exactly what this fascinating new exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society explores and explains. You’ll see sections honoring the women who worked of the waterfront, including at the Brooklyn Navy Yards, the effects of gentrification and climate change, and items invented and produced on the Brooklyn waterfront.
It took four years of research and development to bring to life the vibrant history of Brooklyn’s coastline through interwoven stories of workers, industries, activists, innovators, families, neighborhoods, and ecosystems.
Appropriately, the new Waterfront exhibit is housed in Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO, the only history museum in the waterfront DUMBO neighborhood, instead of at the main BHS location in Brooklyn Heights.
The Brooklyn Waterfront exhibit opens Saturday, Jan. 20.
Here’s what you’ll find when you visit, and we encourage you to visit:
Landfilling the Shore is a floor-to-ceiling sculptural installation of more than 80 archaeological artifacts and fragments excavated from the ground beneath Empire Stores in the 1970s, at the exhibit entrance.
At Water’s Edge: A seven-minute multimedia experience introduces visitors to the waterfront’s dynamic history through ten historical moments, leaving them exhilarated by their time travels.
History in Motion: This installation makes the visitor the star. Using Kinect technology, “History in Motion” drops visitors into ten historic paintings and photographs, records them interacting with historical figures and objects, and weaves their actions into a 60-second movie starring themselves that can be shared on social media.
Brooklyn Bivalves tells the unlikely story of oysters and sewage. The 600 pounds of oyster shells featured in this installation were donated by the Billion Oyster Project.
An Unfree Waterfront highlights the moving and untold stories of three enslaved Brooklynites and their struggle for freedom along the shoreline.
The Walled City: Centered on a large-scale 1879 image of Brooklyn’s coastline, this section immerses visitors in the sights, sounds, and smells of Brooklyn’s 19th-century warehousing district. Visitors explore hidden stories vital to understanding the culture and history of the Walled City – from Walt Whitman’s waterfront trysts to hidden graves near the present-day Brooklyn Navy Yard.
A Laboring Family: Visitors become historians themselves and hunt down details in documents and genealogical records to trace the story of one 19th-century Empire Stores dockworker, Michael Harkins, and his family.
Made in Brooklyn: This object display in the museum’s restrooms highlights some of the iconic products made along Brooklyn’s coastline, including Chiclets Gum, Domino Sugar, and Benjamin Moore Paint.
Factory Women honors centuries of women workers along the waterfront. Visitors explore artifacts and listen to oral histories of female Navy Yard workers during World War II; a dress-up experience lets kids don work clothing and try their hand at shipfitting.
After Industry: Visitors explore salvaged materials and graffiti from the once-abandoned Empire Stores building. Oral history and video installations tell of the waterfront’s mid-century economic decline and its 21st-century rebirth.
Waterfront Neighborhoods Magnet Wall: Using magnets of buildings, bridges, animals, landmarks, and more on a ten-foot illustrated landscape, kids and adults can create their own whimsical waterfront while learning about Brooklyn’s many coastal neighborhoods.
Rising Waters: A touchscreen video installation features historians, business owners, politicians, scientists, and activists who explore key questions about climate change and sea level rise.
BHS DUMBO is the historical society’s new second location; a 3,200SF satellite space inside Empire Stores, a renovated 19th-century warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The warehouse, constructed in the late 1860s, once housed coffee, sugar, animal hides, and other commodities when Brooklyn was one of the largest commercial waterfronts in the world. Empire Stores stood shuttered for decades and reopened in 2017 as a revitalized public space featuring restaurants, retail stores, and offices.
Information for visiting:
Waterfront at BHS DUMBO (55 Water Street, Brooklyn) is open Tuesday-Thursday from 11 am to 6 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 8 pm, and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm.
Suggested admission will be $10 for adults, $6 for seniors and teachers, and free for members and students of all ages.
Brooklyn Historical Society was founded in 1863, and is a nationally recognized urban history center dedicated to preserving and encouraging the study of Brooklyn’s extraordinary 400-year history. The main site is in Brooklyn Heights, housed in a magnificent landmark building designed by George Post and opened in 1881.
Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO, opened in 2017 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Today’s BHS is a cultural hub for civic dialogue, thoughtful engagement, and community outreach