The former Brooklyn Naval Hospital Cemetery is located in the southeast corner of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Established on the shores of Wallabout Bay, the Navy Yard served as America’s premier Naval shipbuilding facility from 1801 until 1966. Today the 300-acre industrial park is owned by the City of New York and managed by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC).
In 1824, the Navy purchased nearby land to build the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, which included the cemetery site. Opened in 1838, the Hospital became a leading center of medical innovation, developing new techniques in anesthetics, wound care, and physical therapy. The hospital closed in 1948, but the property remained in use as a Naval receiving station until 1990.
The Brooklyn Naval Hospital Cemetery was active from 1831 to 1910 and was the burial site for more than 2,000 people, most of them officers and enlisted men of the US Navy and Marine Corps. Among those buried were two Congressional Medal of Honor winners, a Fijian Chief and individuals from more than 20 different countries. It is estimated that roughly 10% of all the service members buried at the site were of African descent.
In 1926, the Navy relocated individuals buried in the cemetery to Cypress Hills National Cemetery. In the 1990’s, extensive archival and archaeological investigations of the site concluded that the remains of 987 individuals were recorded as being relocated, leaving hundreds of burials unaccounted for and potentially still at the site.
The Naval Cemetery Landscape is a project of Brooklyn Greenway Initiative to create a publicly-accessible green space which will revitalize the native plant and pollinator populations in the region and Its design includes a raised walkway to allow visitors to enter the space without disturbing the hallowed ground.
Learn more about the history and present development of this site and of the Brooklyn Navy Yard at BLDG 92, located at the corner of Flushing Avenue and Carlton Avenue.
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Design & Nature
The entrance to the Naval Cemetery Landscape acts as threshold to a wildflower meadow and sacred grove, framed by an undulating boardwalk and lifted above the hallowed ground. This experience evokes the histories of settlement and cultivation, life and death, while slowing the heart rate and connecting visitors with the stories of the site. The wildflower meadow, with more than fifty species of native plants, offers much needed fodder for the pollinators critical to the ecological health of the region. Initially established in a strict geometric arrangement, the plantings will eventually drift across the site, creating new patterns and establishing a self-sustaining, ‘open-ended’ ecology intended to draw people, birds, moths and bees in a rich celebration of life.
The Nature Effect
BGI was awarded The Nature Sacred Award from the TKF Foundation in order to undertake a study to explore how landscape immersion has restorative benefits that may positively affect life outcomes for urban residents who are often alienated from nature.
Human health and the environmental health are inexorably linked. Immersion in nature can provide the experience of a ‘getaway from normal life,’ relieve stress and help restore attention. There is a growing body of research documenting that the regular experience of nature-like settings positively impacts children’s intellectual, emotional and social development and of the restorative benefits of landscape immersion on people of all ages. According to research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology:
The quality of urban environments is increasingly recognized to contribute to human health and well-being. The supply and maintenance of health-promoting areas and elements within urban areas such as green spaces are suggested to support residents’ possibilities to cope with everyday stress and to have a beneficial effect on human health (Frumkin, 2001; Maas, Verheij, Groenewegen, de Vries, & Spreeuwenberg, 2006; Maller,Townsend, Pryor, Brown, & St Leger, 2005; Nilsson, Baines, & Konijnendijk, 2007).
The continuing urbanization process and pressures on existing green spaces, however, challenge the adequate provision of these areas. In urban planning processes, the health and well-being benefits of nature areas are not fully acknowledged and therefore, their provision is difficult to justify faced with competing land-use interests (e.g. Tyrväinen, Pauleit, Seeland, & de Vries, 2005).
In modern urbanized societies, acute and chronic stress, and insufficient recovery from stress, are recognized as an increasing problem and a cause for long-term effects on health (McEwen, 1998; Sluiter, Frings-Dresen, Meijman, & van der Beek, 2000). Stress is an important public health concern that is related to mental health problems such as burnout syndrome as well as cardiovascular, gastroenterological, immunological and neurological diseases (Nilsson, Sangster, & Konijnendijk, 2011).
- This study will evaluate how expansion of biodiversity and quantity of natural life will impact the physical and mental well-being of high school students and community housing residents.
- This project will test whether landscape immersion offers a cost-effective, equitable and accessible strategy for restoration of human health and well-being in urban contexts.
BGI and its team of researchers have partnered with The Green School of East Williamsburg and Brooklyn Community Housing and Services to develop the space and study the effects of nature on high school students and community housing residents.
The project’s research team, led by Denise Milstein, PhD,Director of Columbia University’s Masters Program in Sociology is collecting observations and data on the students and residents to assess their reaction and response to the natural space as it develops. The primary intent of the project is to evaluate the extent to which exposure to a natural site impacts people’s engagement with their surroundings, society, and school.
The research will result in a peer reviewed published article on the projects findings. It is one of six research projects funded by the TKF Foundation’s Nature Sacred Program nationally.
A goal of this project is to support an understanding that there is an economic benefit to society of providing nearby opportunities for landscape immersion that contribute to personal resiliency and as a result to life outcomes that are less costly to society.
Through partnership with Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC), Brooklyn Greenway Initiative has designed and completed the restoration of the site, which opened in spring 2016.
The project is a collaboration between BGI, BNYDC, the Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort), TKF Foundation as part of the National Open Spaces Sacred Places Initiative, Marvel Architects, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Columbia University, GRANT engineering, The Green School, an environmentally themed high school, and Brooklyn Community Housing and Services (BCHANDS), an operator of assisted living facilities for populations including the chronically homeless.
Funding has been provided by ConEdison, TKF Foundation, New York State Department of State under Title 11 of the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, Council Member Steve Levin, Former Council Member Letitia James.