1901: Photo of woods south of today’s Foster Avenue

My other blog is a series of observations about life in West Midwood as it is lived today…or maybe not…And how West Midwood’s existential crisis, created by naming itself in relation to somewhere else, would be solved by calling itself Argyle Heights…or Rugby Ridge…or Wuthering Westminster… Anything to suggest elevation since we are up to 40 feet above sea level here in our beautifully hilly Victorian Flatbush enclave, complete with nine dead ends. Argyle Heights is where it’s at, baby.

And why is West Midwood located NORTH of Midwood? Glad you asked. Here’s why:

A 2009 New York Times feature on Midwood noted with some degree of puzzlement that “the neighborhoods known as Midwood Park, West Midwood and South Midwood are all actually north of Midwood proper” and left it at that – possibly prompting thoughts that this was just another example of the inherent absurdity of life. But there is a logical explanation for this geographical quirk.

In 1898 the Germania Real Estate & Improvement Company bought 100 acres of the John A. Lott woods extending from Flatbush to Coney Island Avenues and from Foster Avenue to Avenue H, with the exception of a four-square-block area known as Fiske Terrace. They dubbed their entire expanse “South Midwood” because it lay south of the old Dutch village of “Midwout” (once centered around Church & Flatbush Avenues). And according to Henry Meyer, Germania’s president – who lived on Newkirk Avenue – the name “South Midwood” sounded more “euphonious, historic and suggestive” than “South Flatbush.” And so, our neck of what literally was an empty woodland until the 20th century would be known as “West South Midwood” for its first 50 years in order to distinguish it from the other new neighborhoods east of the Brighton rail line. Indeed, a T. B. Ackerson brochure describing construction on Westminster Road in 1903-1904 referred to the block as “Westerly South Midwood.”

On the other hand, the Midwood area was originally known as Manhattan Terrace (Avenue J area) and South Greenfield (Avenue M area) until well after the entire South Midwood tract had been fully populated. The emergence of “Midwood” to describe the area south of the LIRR cut paralleling Avenue H partially derived from the new neighborhoods of East Midwood and Midwood Manor, built soon after ours, which insisted on defining themselves in relation to Germania’s very successful development. The introduction of the Midwood telephone exchange covering a large swath of homes from Cortelyou Road to Avenue U probably also played a role. And let’s face it: “South of South Midwood” just didn’t have the proper pizzazz. Frankly, if realtors had just called it “Far Midwood” this entire explanation could have been avoided.

Anyway, it wasn’t until the 1960s dawned that we dropped the “South” and started calling ourselves simply West Midwood. Why? Because we no longer had to worry about being confused with another nearby neighborhood association that had stopped functioning in the mid-1950s. Strange but true: Parkville, the older neighborhood to our immediate west, first appropriated the name “West Midwood Community League” in 1917 for its domain – a broad area extending from 18th Avenue to Washington Cemetery. Odd. They had every right to call themselves “West Flatbush,” since Parkville originated before the Civil War as a village in the town of Flatbush. But they did not. My considered opinion is that it was the same reason Henry Meyer gave: better to live amidst woods than among flat bushes. The word “Midwood” had become the “Heights” of its day – property owners knew the word “Midwood” sold! And by the way, in a final oddity, Parkville was originally known as Greenfield. Its developers then moved on to develop the Avenue M environs, thereby creating South Greenfield which, of course, is now part of Midwood. Isn’t life strange?

1891: Today’s West Midwood circled in yellow. The greenery was known as Lott’s Woods