Bushwick got its name from the Dutch, but like most New York neighborhoods, it’s had quite a few makeovers since then. Long a center of Hispanic life, in recent years it’s become home to a growing Hipster population fleeing Manhattan rent. Before either of them, Bushwick was a center of German-American life in New York City. Beginning in the late 1800’s, immigrants from Germany and Austria, Catholic and Protestant, came to the area in large numbers. For immigrants fleeing an overcrowded Manhattan, Bushwick was the equivalent of country living. They built many of the impressive buildings that still dominate the neighborhood . Oldtimers remember Bushwick’s many “b’s: breweries, bakeries, beer gardens, and brass bands. One of the bastions of German Catholic life for many years was St. Leonard of Port Maurice Church, located on Jefferson and Wilson. December 18, 1871, marks the dedication of that church. Tradition has it that the parish was named for the son of Leonard Eppig, owner of the Eppig brewery. St. Barbara’s, built in 1893, was named fior his daughter.) The parish grew quickly. By the turn of the century, a beautiful French Gothic church replaced the simpler structure of early days. There were 15,000 parishioners and a parochial school of 1,000 children taught by the Sisters of St. Dominic. Mass was in German, and students learned many of their prayers in German. Altogether some 26 German parishes have been founded in the Brooklyn Diocese, 15 in Brooklyn and 11 in Queens. Demographic change and declining enrollment led to the closing of St. Leonard’s Church and School in the 1970’s, but theirs is a story worth commemorating and preserving.
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