The toddlers are coming! Historian: Planned pre-K is on mass Revolutionary War grave

Raise a glass to the Battle of Brooklyn!
Painting by Domenick D’Andrea

He has a bone to pick with this pre-school!

The city wants to erect a new Gowanus pre-kindergarten on land where soldiers fought the Battle of Brooklyn more than two centuries ago — and the bodies of hundreds of American heroes may still be buried underneath, claims one Kings County historian.

“It’s known to be an area where the battle of Brooklyn was fought,” said Brooklyn Heights resident Bob Furman, author of “Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of America’s First Suburb” and president of the Brooklyn Preservation Council. “There’s lots and lots of historical evidence and they know about it.”

The School Construction Authority wants to install a 180-seat educational institution for four-year-old scholars on a vacant lot at Ninth Street between Third and Fourth avenues, according to plans it filed last Friday.

But Furman believes that site may be the final resting place of the Maryland 400 — members of the First Maryland Regiment, who were more or less obliterated in a courageous rear-guard action that held off the Red Coats long enough for Gen. Washington to flee with the remnants of the Continental Army.

Furman claims the whole area is full of Revolutionary-era corpses, and he has been itching to dig up the hallowed ground for years.

In May, Furman and his preservation pals petitioned the state to purchase the land and transform it into a commemorative park called Marylander Memorial Park, which earned letters of support from a host of local pols — including Borough President Adams, every Brooklyn member of the Assembly, and several state senators — as well as then-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

But some historians think Furman is as mistaken as Gen. Washington was believing the British would attack from Bay Ridge while they snuck in around the back — the Maryland 400 could be anywhere, said one local expert, and there is no evidence pointing to an empty lot on Ninth Street.

“It seems unlikely there would have been Revolutionary War soldiers buried in that area,” said Kim Maier, executive director at Old Stone House, where many of the Maryland 400 soldiers died and was later reassembled in Park Slope as a museum to memorialize the heroes. “Nothing indicates it is; no primary source documentation.”

Ironically, the proposed school construction could settle the debate once and for all.

If the state finds a prospective school site is of historical significance, it is required to first perform a detailed archeological survey — though a spokesman for the state’s Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation office said it hadn’t determined whether the Ninth Street lot would require such a study, as the School Construction Authority hasn’t submitted its plans yet.

But one local pol said he doesn’t believe there is enough evidence to warrant a time-consuming investigation that could delay the new educational nursery for months in a school district that desperately needs more seats.

“I support the SCA’s plan to move forward, and I don’t believe that further investigation is needed here,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope), who worked with the city to find a location for the new school. “I think what would serve those kids best is to have a school on Ninth Street, where they could go to the Old Stone House and learn about this battle rather than not have any school seats at all.”

Brooklynites can offer the city their opinion on the proposed school until Dec. 13. After that, the Council will vote on the project.

Send your two cents to:
New York City School Construction Authority
30–30 Thomson Ave., Long Island City, New York, 11101
Attention: Ross J. Holden

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.