The story of these grounds is the story of a diverse group of people — from those who founded it, to those who worked here, to those affected by its presence in good times and bad — who have shaped this neighborhood for over 160 years.
Dating back to 1856, the Domino Sugar Refinery was once the largest and most productive sugar refinery in the world. At its peak of productivity, it refined 4 million pounds of sugar daily. This site was the “jewel in the crown” of the Domino Sugar empire that at one point produced up to 98% of the sugar consumed in the United States.
This site was also central to the growth of the surrounding Williamsburg area, to the industrialization of the Brooklyn waterfront and to the rise of New York City as a global economic powerhouse. In addition to sugar refining, many other areas of industry — from cooperages to candy companies, burlap bag manufacturers to railroad companies — flourished in Brooklyn during the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of manufacturing synergies with sugar production.
As a result of economic, political and global changes, industrial activity in Brooklyn began to drop off dramatically beginning in the 1950s. Closing its doors in 2004, the Domino Sugar Refinery was the last major active industrial operation on Brooklyn’s once bustling East River waterfront.
Decades of manufacturing displacement, relocation and closure contributed to a transformation of this waterfront and significant changes to the surrounding neighborhood.
Domino Park is a tribute to the story of this site and is dedicated to the diversity and resiliency of generations of Domino workers, their families, and their neighborhood.
The following pages feature a look back at the stories of some of the people who have contributed to this vital legacy.
The Havemeyer name is synonymous with sugar. In fact, starting with a single Manhattan refinery at the turn of the 19th century, the family would eventually build the largest sugar empire in history. In the mid 1850’s Frederick C. Havemeyer Jr. and William F. Havemeyer (who would later become a three-time mayor of New York City), opened a refinery on this site, eventually growing it to a size and scale unmatched by any other facility in the world.
In 1887, Frederick Jr.’s son, H.O. Havemeyer, established the Sugar Refineries Company, commonly known as the Sugar Trust. This monopoly dominated the sugar industry so powerfully that by 1907, the Trust owned or controlled over ninety percent of the sugar market in the U.S., before it was eventually disbanded by the government.
The “American Sugar Family”
The success of sugar refining here in Williamsburg attracted workers from all over the world. People came to Brooklyn to find work as engineers and watchmen, stenographers and scale-adjusters, sugar boilers and pipe-fitters. The early part of the 20th century marked a period of significant productivity and shared prosperity here at the Refinery.
Beginning in 1920, the American Sugar Refining Company chronicled the company’s global activities and celebrated the personal and professional milestones of its employees in the monthly publication, “The American Sugar Family.”
The magazine was published for several decades and aimed to spotlight “the countless incidents of happiness and usefulness in our life together,” such as the successes of the company’s bowling team, “The Sugar Bowlers,” or the achievements of the women of the inspection team in the Small Package Department.