Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Fort Greene neighborhood was a quiet, rural area dominated by four large farms owned by prominent families in the district. By the mid-nineteenth century, these large farms were subdivided and the land sold off for development. However, before the district was developed as a middle-class residential area, it was the site of a controversial shantytown as well as a hospital, poorhouse, and cemetery—public institutions often relegated to the fringes of cities in the 19th century. Despite these impediments, development continued and the major building period in this district occurred between 1855 and 1875. Most of the buildings in this neighborhood are three- and four-story row houses designed in the Italianate and Queen Anne style. There are also examples of the neo-Grec style, prevalent in the 1870s, present in the district as well.
A prominent landmark of the district is Fort Greene Park. Known as Washington Park until its current name was adopted in 1897, Fort Greene Park is the oldest urban park in the United States and was the site of a fierce battle between the English and the American forces at the beginning of the Revolution. Its conversion to a park is attributed to the poet Walt Whitman, who, in his role as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, argued that the land be set aside for the enjoyment of the less affluent. By 1867, the park, however, had deteriorated so significantly that the City Commissioners felt obliged to redesign it. The commission was given to Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, whose plan emphasized the long, sloping fields and views of Manhattan through the use of lawns and curved, intersecting walks. Within the park is the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument, which contains the tombs of the American prisoners who died in British prison ships during the Revolution. Designed by McKim, Mead and White, it has a monumental stairway leading to the vaults, which are surmounted by a 200-foot Doric column topped by a twenty-two-foot urn. It was inaugurated on November 14, 1908. ©2014