How Did Bensonhurst Get Its Name?


The Brooklyn, Bath and West End RR Elevated line’s Bensonhurst station in 1917. Photo via the New York Historical Society, uploaded by

To understand how Bensonhurst got its name, you must go way back to when the area was farmland.

One of the first landowning clans of southwest Brooklyn’s Bath Beach and Bensonhurst neighborhoods was the Polhemus family.

Come the early 19th century, the Polhemus sold their acreage to the Benson family, who were another landowning clan, descended from some of America’s earliest Dutch settlers. The Benson’s then proceeded to farm the area from the 1830s through the 1880s.

Then, in 1889, developer James Lynch bought the Benson’s land and turned the area into an exclusive resort, complete with trolley and steam rail access. The Benson’s gave Lynch their blessing in his endeavor, so long as he named the area after them.

An index map of Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea from 1895. Photo via NYPL

Thus was born Bensonhurst by the Sea, the short-lived title assigned to the beach town. To complete his paradise, Lynch added water and gas piping, built 1,000 villas, and planted 5,000 shade trees on his newly acquired property. In all, his resort was 350 acres and stretched from 78th Street to Gravesend Bay and from 20th Avenue to 23rd Avenue, according to NYC Parks.

“Bensonhurst by the Sea is the lengthy but euphonious title of a tract of land on the line with the West End Railroad that in the good old days of husbandry was known as the Benson farm,” a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from 1888 said of the resort.

A 1907 postcard from Bensonhurst by the Sea. Photo via Wandering NYC

After ten years or so, most of the villas built for Bensonhurst by the Sea were razed and the community’s farms were paved over. Simpler, more modern houses were built as affordable housing for Jewish and Italian immigrants escaping the poverty, crime and over-crowded conditions on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

That wave of residential development — much of which still makes up the fabric of the area’s housing — was enabled by the modernizations put in by Lynch and his now long gone seaside resort.

Clearly, the Benson’s surname has lived on in the neighborhood’s current incarnation.

About Author

Hannah Frishberg is a 4th generation Brooklynite and editor of the Bensonhurst Bean. You can reach her at [email protected], via Twitter @BensonhurstBean or via the Bensonhurst Bean’s Facebook.

  • Ted General

    Hi Hannah, nice story. Do you know why “Hurst” was added to the Benson name?

    • Shaun

      “Hurst” means hillock or a sandbank in the sea.