Ever wonder what Brooklyn looked like back when it was still a British colony? In the course of pulling some archival materials out of deep storage last spring, the Brooklyn Historical Society unearthed a copy of an extremely rare map of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, Bernard Ratzer's "Plan of the City of New York" from 1770. The find was akin to a miner striking a baseball-sized diamond - including the BHS one, only four copies of Ratzer's map are left - and occasioned a front-page story in the New York Times a few weeks ago detailing the extensive restoration process the BHS undertook. In response to popular demand generated by the article, the Society has just announced that the map will be on display in their lobby through May 1, 2011.
The beautiful BHS is well worth the trip, but for those who can't wait, the NYT has also put a web-enhanced Ratzer map online, from which the image above is copied (the BHS has some audio and video online here as well). The map is fascinating for many reasons, but as a hopeless Crown Heights homer, I can't help but point out that, while Franklin Avenue did not yet exist in 1770, the distinctive angles of Fulton, Flatbush, and Bedford still carve out the borders of the farmers' fields that preceded our neighborhoods. Just north of us, the little village of Bedford is visible as a cluster of buildings at the intersection of Fulton and Bedford, where the local school and library branches still bear the Bedford name (as does, of course, the rest of the area). All in all, it's a remarkable reminder that once upon a time, the neighborhood looked like this.