Miles away from the crowded, tumultuous streets of Manhattan, tourists and outsiders hardly consider that Brooklyn’s Coney Island has a digital ball drop New Year Eve. New Yorkers enjoy celebrating holidays. Manhattan has a “private” fireworks display in Central Park. Brooklyn has fireworks at Prospect Park and now Brooklyn adds Coney Island. While Times Square may be the star attraction, New Yorkers have their own ways of celebrating. And do we enjoy New Year’s Eve.
Manhattan’s Time Square continues to attract huge crowds witnessing the ball drop on New Year’s eve. Two innovations that would completely transform the Crossroads of the World debuted in 1904: the opening of the city’s first subway line, and the first-ever celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. The area was originally called Longacre Square for an area hotel. In 1904, Longacre Square is no more. Leaving Park Row, the New York Times Tower on West 42nd Street was under construction. The city changes the name to Times Square. While other areas enjoyed New Year celebrations, Times Square would be the largest draw.
With the new IRT subway rumbling beneath the sidewalks, electrical wiring was no longer on poles in the area. It was underground and electricity was an exciting show of its own. 110 years later, Brooklyn gets in the spirit with a digital ball drop at the Coney Island shore. It’s a morale booster and nightlife jolt to an area where urban blight spread from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. It’s a sign that things are changing for the better.
Coney Island was originally two separate islands that, with landfill, became a huge Brooklyn beach and entertainment area. The site was formerly an outer barrier island, but became partially connected to the mainland by landfill so it is a peninsula instead of an island.
The mainland was Brighton and, like nearby areas, was mostly wetlands and swamps. In 1868 entrepreneur William A. Engeman began to purchase land in the area and transformed a tract of marsh land and sand dunes into fairgrounds, hotels, and a bathing pavilion.
In the 1870’s elevated railroads were constructed to take people back and forth from Coney Island. There were several routes. What is now the F train, was originally part of the Culver line. The original Culver Line was opened by the Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad, along the surface of McDonald Avenue (then Gravesend Avenue because of Greenwood Cemetery) where it connected with horse car lines including the Vanderbilt Avenue Line to Coney Island, on June 25, 1875. By 1890, the elevated line was extended directly to Coney Island.
Until 1898, the borough of Brooklyn was a group of 6 separate towns, not part of New York. Coney Island was THE major tourist summer destination. Its amusement parks were legendary. New Yorkers often rented bungalows for extended stays.
After decades of neglect, Coney Island has become part of a vast renovation and restorative project, attracting more residents who have found other near-Manhattan Brooklyn neighborhoods places to call home. The LED ball drop at Coney Island will likely be a more intimate event than tourist-filled Times Square. Boardwalk bars and restaurants will open for the evening and host after parties to celebrate till dawn.
For over 20 years, Manhattan neighbors on the upper west and east sides have enjoyed an often overlooked event called the Emerald Nuts Run by New York Road Runners. It’s a 4K run in Central Park followed by spectacular fireworks.
Brooklyn residents, especially those when Brooklyn was one of the 6 cities in the borough, enjoy Prospect Park Fireworks on New Year’s Eve at Grand Army Plaza. The annual event starts with a pre-party at Grand Army Plaza, with free entertainment, and some light refreshments.
Apart from the tourists, New Yorkers really know how to celebrate New Year’s eve and Brooklyn has many areas to host them.
Manhattan’s Time Square will continue drawing the biggest crowds and, like the Central Park New Year’s Eve ritual, will remain the main event. It’s nice to know that people in Brooklyn have fun alternatives.
While tourists can jam streets along Broadway for a glimpse of the New Years ball drop, Brooklyn residents enjoy New Year celebrations that aren’t dwarfed by the Times Square spectacle. They are just off Manhattan. In many ways, Brooklyn is very much as cosmopolitan in New York flavor, with senses of more space and less media coverage. Many people find that attractive.
Coney Island remains miles away and a long ride from Manhattan. Some prefer not taking the subway at 2AM after the party. That is why, on December 31, Coney Island will remain a local affair for many years. Folks from Brooklyn won’t mind.