Orphan Houses of the Upper West Side

by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee

The Upper West Side, a suburb in the early to mid-19th century, provided an excellent location for an orphanage.  Land was cheap, the neighborhood’s country-like setting provided the fresh air children needed, and there was even space to grow food. 

New York’s increasing immigration in the 19th century expanded both poverty and disease in the city, leaving many parents unable to cope with caring for their children.  The children of the poor who were left to fend for themselves were viewed by the City’s reformers as a threat to civic stability. In his 1872 book about the city’s many benevolent institutions, the Reverend J. F. Richmond wrote: “Every great city contains a large floating population, whose indolence, prodigality, and intemperance are proverbial, culminating in great domestic and social evil. From these discordant circles spring an army of neglected or ill-trained children, devoted to vagrancy and crime, who early find their way into the almshouse or prison, and continue a life-long burden upon the community.”   A Police Chief called them “vagrant, vicious and idle children.”  The descriptive language used reflected the general outlook of New Yorkers toward the thousands of immigrants who came to the New York City in the 19th century and the moralistic tone of the Victorian age.

Religious institutions became the caretakers for many of these orphaned children. Starting in 1850, Catholic children were cared for in orphanages on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue in mid-town, and later moved to the Bronx. In 1860 the Hebrew Orphan Asylum was founded at Amsterdam Avenue at 137th Street. In 1837, the Colored Children’s Orphanage was built at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. This one became famous when it was burned during the draft riots of 1863. It moved to Amsterdam Avenue and 143 Street, and later to Riverdale.

South of our Bloomingdale neighborhood was the New York Orphan Asylum Society, organized by Isabella Graham in 1806. Initially, the group had an asylum in Greenwich Village. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, recently widowed, was an early supporter. By 1839, the Society relocated to a large facility at Riverside Drive at 73rd Street where they stayed until the end of the 19th Century. The organization re-located to Hastings-on-Hudson where they are still in operation today as Graham Windham. Their property on Riverside Drive was purchased by Charles Schwab, who built his French Chateau on the site.

Image from the Museum of the City of New York collection

This blog post will focus on four orphanages located in and near our Bloomingdale neighborhood: the Leake and Watts Orphan House, the New York Society for the Relief of Half Orphans and Destitute Children, Sheltering Arms, and the Children’s Fold.

The Leake and Watts Orphan House

The Leake and Watts Orphan House was on the grounds of today’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine at 110-112th Streets and Amsterdam Avenue. A portion of the Orphan House is still there.

New-York Historical Society photo
detail from the Dripps Map of 1867, NYPL Maps
Leake and Watts with a few orphans

The Leake and Watts Orphan House was created through the will of John G. Leake, a Scottish New Yorker of considerable wealth with a strong philanthropic inclination. Mr. Leake had no children so he decided to leave his fortune to Robert Watts, the son of his friend John Watts, if Robert would change his name to Leake. If Robert did not agree to the plan, the legacy would be used to erect and endow a building in the suburbs of New York City for the reception, maintenance and education of orphan children, with no regard to the religion of their parents, until the children reached an age to be put out as apprentices to trades. Robert did agree to the name change but died unexpectedly in 1829, and his father inherited his estate. Watts did not need another fortune, so he carried out the plan to build the orphanage, and named it after both of its benefactors.

The Leake and Watts board was formed in 1832, with representatives of the Protestant Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Reformed Dutch churches. In 1834, nearly 25 acres of land from 109 to 113th Streets between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues was purchased from the New York Hospital, which had excess land from the development in 1821 of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum grounds to the north and west. The Board hired Ithiel Town, a prestigious architect, to design the Greek Revival building, a portion of which still stands today on the Close of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The cornerstone was laid in 1838, and the Asylum opened in 1843.

The Orphan House was built to accommodate 300 children but the endowment income that supported the operation was never sufficient for that number. Children admitted were between three and twelve years old. There were about 200 children listed there in the 1850 federal census, but only about 140 in the 1880 census. An 1882 news article stated that, since its opening, the orphanage had cared for 1000 boys and 500 girls. Girls were not admitted until 1850.

The orphanage’s main entrance was from 110th Street, where a path led a visitor through a grove of trees. Descriptions of the site also mention a “fine lawn” extending from Ninth to Tenth Avenues. The Trustees owned other small pieces of land in the area, but these were sold off over the years as Morningside Park and the Ninth Avenue Elevated were built.

The four-story building had two wings: the eastern for boys and the western for girls. Their space included a chapel, a dining room, wash rooms and ironing rooms, two large playrooms, an office, a parlor for trustees and visitors, and rooms for the Superintendent who lived there with his family, as well as numerous other staff as listed in the censuses. There were classrooms, as the City’s Board of Education listed the site as one of its schools. Each story had a wide verandah with an outside stairway that was meant to be a fire escape. Later, there was a one-story building added that served as a kitchen and dining room.

The occupations of the staff living there listed in the 1880 federal census provide a window into the operation of the orphanage. The Superintendent and his wife, the Matron, headed the team. In 1880 there was an Assistant Superintendent, three cooks, one waitress, two farmers, one Assistant Engineer, five seamstresses, one nurse, four laundresses, five teachers, and three servants. In the photos, the children are wearing smock-type clothing which must have been the uniform that kept five seamstresses busy.

The Leake and Watts Orphan House was in the news from time to time throughout the 19th century. Most reports were positive about the happy children living there, and one reported a special occasion in 1847 when President James Polk visited the City. His carriage stopped by the site on his tour of New York City institutions and he addressed the cheering boys. On Sundays, Protestant Episcopal orphans were taken to St. Michael’s Church at 100th Street where church pews were set aside for them. Other churches also welcomed them at their Sunday services.

In 1845, the Trustees of Leake and Watts received permission from the State Legislature to “bind out” children to farmers, factory owners, and artisans in New York in order to teach the orphans a trade, so that they could support themselves as they reached adulthood. In 1847, the right to bind out was extended to include other states. These indentures began at age 12 and lasted three years for girls and five years for boys. Allegedly, the Superintendent stayed in touch with the orphans through correspondence and occasional visits. The Kings Handbook described this process as “finding a Christian home for the orphans.”

Leake and Watts Orphanage sold its land and buildings to the Episcopal Church in 1888 for $850,000 and moved to a 40-acre site in Yonkers in 1890.  The Cathedral initially used the orphanage building for construction offices and housing for employees. In 1892 they converted a portion of the building to a chapel. They established their Choir School there in 1901.

As the Cathedral and accessory buildings on the Close developed, the orphanage building began to be demolished. In 1949 the east wing came down to make a parking lot and a basketball court. For many years the building continued to be used but began to crumble. When I worked there in the 1990s, it housed the Cathedral’s Textile Conservation workspace and other functions. Because the orphanage building sits on what one day will be the Cathedral’s south transept, no one wanted to take on its preservation. However, in 2004, a restoration project began, and today the restored building is called the Town building in honor of its architect.

Leake and Watts building with one wing removed, 1950

The Leake and Watts Orphanage later changed its name to “Edwin Gould Services for Children and Families” and later took the name “Rising Ground” in 2018.

The Society for the Relief of Half-Orphans and Destitute Children

The Society was founded in 1836 by Mrs. William A. Tomlinson, whose widowed servant who told her of her difficulties in caring for two young children while she worked to support them. Mrs. Tomlinson and her sympathetic friends initially found a basement accommodation in Whitehall Street that housed 20 children.  To be admitted, one parent had to be dead, the child, age four to ten, had to be free of contagious disease, and the remaining parent had to pay 50 cents per week for board.

By 1837, the organization was incorporated with corporate powers vested in a board of nine male trustees who handled property and bequests. The “internal and domestic” management was given to a female board of managers. The age of the children taken into care was raised to fourteen years when the trustees were given the right to bind them out, or return them to their parent. The institution moved to West Tenth Street and later to its own building on Sixth Avenue. The Society was Protestant, but not denominational.

The Society relocated to 110 Manhattan Avenue at 104th Street in 1891. There are few mentions of the Society or its asylum in the newspapers of the time; nothing of note seems to have happened while they were located there.   

In 1910, the Society received a donation of a 178-acre farm in Windham, New York, which became a summer residence for children in care. Eventually, it became Windham Child Care, and then joined with the Graham Home for Children, and became Graham Windham in 1977.

New York City Tax Photo, late 1930s

Sheltering Arms

In 1864, Reverend Dr. Thomas M. Peters, the Rector of St. Michael’s Church on Amsterdam Avenue at 100th Street, formed Sheltering Arms to take charge of children during moments of family distress. Some of the children were half-orphans whose parent had to work, some had incurable illnesses, and others were true orphans, with no parents. Initially, Dr. Peters housed the children at his own home at 101st Street and the Boulevard, where he had purchased his large house and one and a half acres. (St. Michael’s history reports that Dr. Peters moved his own family up to 110th Street to the old “Whitlock mansion.”)  In 1866, Sheltering Arms built a nearby annex building.

Sheltering Arms children did not have to wear uniforms and were allowed to attend neighborhood public schools. Their parents did not have to surrender them to the institution.

However, by 1868 when the Boulevard was fully developed as a roadway, the property was reduced by eminent domain, and was moved to Manhattanville, where a new building was constructed by 1870. This was the first to use the German “cottage system,” separating the children into smaller groups called “families.” 

In 1944, at a time when most orphanages were closing down, and foster care became recognized as a better way to care for children without parents, Sheltering Arms merged with another organization, creating Sheltering Arms Children’s Services, which is still located today on East 29th Street in Manhattan.

New York City’s Parks Department acquired the uptown land and created Sheltering Arms Pool and Playground.

Sheltering Arms in Manhattanville

When Sheltering Arms was operating under Dr. Peters’ care, several children had to be rescued from two other Episcopal church organizations, the Children’s Fold and the Shepherd’s Fold, both operated by the Reverend Edward Cowley.  Cowley had started the two organizations with housing on Manhattan’s East Side, in order to accommodate children who were “orphans of unfortunates” who had died at City institutions on Ward’s, Blackwell’s, and Randall’s Islands.

Cowley’s organizations were paid $2 per week per child by the city. It’s unclear from the news accounts of the Cowley scandal if he formed the organizations to get the funding or if he was just a poor manager, but after an investigation by the newly formed Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Reverend Cowley was formally accused of starving one child, Louis Victor, and was sentenced to one year in prison and a $250 fine.

Cowley’s trial was sensational and included many details of child care during the 19th century. It also caused positive change in the way New York State allowed individuals to incorporate organizations that care for children.

Thomas Nast included Cowley in the cartoon pictured below and he became a character in a play with a mean-spirited orphan-master. However, the Episcopal Church never prosecuted him.  Reverend Peters took over the two organizations in 1877, housing the abandoned children in Bloomingdale homes and at Sheltering Arms.

Reverend Cowley in a Nast cartoon

The Children’s Fold

One of the Bloomingdale homes the Reverend Peters was able to gain access to for housing the abandoned orphans of the Children’s Fold was the Valentine Mott mansion at the Boulevard (now Broadway) and 94th Street.  Dr. Mott, a famous New York surgeon, lived in Gramercy Park but had a summer residence in Bloomingdale. The first mention of the orphanage in the Mott mansion is in a June 1878 edition of an Episcopal Church newspaper, The Churchman, where it was reported that “ice cream entertainment” was enjoyed at an annual festival of the home. The newspaper reported, “The building was formerly the Mott mansion, an old-fashioned but comfortable and very commodious residence with pleasant grounds attached, shaded by large trees.” There were 65 children there, with room for 70.  The Matron, Mrs. Skinner, a widow with two children, is listed in the 1880 federal census. Her staff consisted of her adult daughter, five “servants,” and two errand-boys to handle the 65 children counted there.

Mott mansion from webpage of Gary’s Tours
View of Mott mansion, photo from the Museum of the City of New York

The New York Infant Asylum

For a short while in 1865-1866, thanks to the work of Mrs. Richmond, the wife of the third rector of St. Michael’s Church, the old Woodlawn Mansion at 106-107 Street near Broadway and West End Avenue became the New York Infant Asylum. Here, the staff cared for foundlings and abandoned children under two years old. The asylum also provided obstetrical care for unwed mothers, but only during her first pregnancy, as the Board decided that it was human to make one mistake, but immoral to make two.

The Infant Asylum was incorporated into other institutions and its history today is part of the complex of New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Moving Children to the Country

While not part of Bloomingdale history, one other method for dealing with the thousands of children who required care in the mid-19th century was to bind them out as apprentices on the many farms surrounding the New York area.  Recently, a friend shared a 19th century family diary with me, that of a western Massachusetts farmer named Franklin Williams. He writes in 1855, “May 3 in morning 5 a.m., arrived in New York. Stayed at the Western Hotel. Run about all day to get a Boy to take home but did not suit myself.“  The following day, he found one that suited him. The ten-year old parent-less boy was named William Farrell.

Mr. Williams mentions also that he visited Mr. Pease’s School, which provided the clue to where he got his boy. Mr. Pease was in charge of the Five Points House of Industry, another institution that had the legal right to bind out children as apprentices.  Mr. Williams only mentions his boy William once more, in 1857 when he “acted bad,” running away from a job but returning home late in the day.

Getting children out of the city was ramped up considerably when the “orphan trains” were invented. The Children’s Aid Society was formed in 1853 and soon developed a way of dealing with the uncared-for New York City children by shipping them to farm families in the Midwest.  Between 1854 and 1930, 150,000 New York City children were so relocated.  Not all of them were orphans; some were sent away by their parents who saw this as an opportunity. Unlike the indentured children, the biological parents could retain custody.  In recent years, as more people become interested in their family history, the history of the orphan trains has gained much attention.

Sources

www.ancestry.com

The Churchman Volume 37, page 650 June 15, 1878

Cook, Jeanne F. “A History of Placing Out: The Orphan Trains” Child Welfare Volume 74, No 1, January/February 1995

https://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2018/10/noble-remnants-leake-watts-orphan.html

Dolkart, Andrew Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture & Development New York, Columbia University Press 1999

Franklin H. Williams Diary 1852-1891 published privately by the Williams Family 1975 Sunderland, Mass.

https://www.graham-windham.org/

New-York Historical Society files

1885 New York City Charities Directory (accessed online July 12, 2022)

www.newspapers.com

Peters, John P. Annals of St. Michael’s 1807-1907 New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1907

Presa, Donald G. and Jay Shockley, “Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and the Cathedral Close” Designation Report New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, February 21, 2017

Richmond, John Francis New York and Its Institutions 1609-1871 New York E.B. Treat 1872 (accessed in digital format 4/11/22 at googlebooks.com)

Rivlin, Leanne G. and Lynne C. Manzo “Homeless Children in New York City: A View from the 19th Century” Children’s Environments Quarterly Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1988.

Smith, Catherine L. “Nineteenth-Century Orphan Asylums in New York City, A Tiered Migration North” paper written for Professor Dolkart’s class, April 14, 2020. Accessed online.

The New York Times archive, online.

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Bloomingdale Neighbor Augusta Stetson and the Church at 96th Street and Central Park West

The First Church of Christ Scientist, at 96th Street and Central Park West, will soon become the home of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Recent announcements of the conversion led me to look at the history of this imposing granite structure. It is a tale of two (or maybe three) women seeking power in the public sphere as they struggled to dominate in a new American religion, Christian Science. The church was the project of Augusta Stetson, who came to New York City in 1886 to establish the Christian Science church here, working at the behest of Mary Baker Eddy, the Bostonian founder.

Augusta Emma Simmons Stetson was born in 1842 in Maine and raised in a strict Methodist home. When she was 22 years old, she married Captain Frederick J. Stetson, a veteran of the Civil War, and a shipbuilder with an association with a company in London. The couple left the United States to live in London, and then in Bombay, India, and in Akyab, in British Burma, for a number of years.

The Stetsons returned to Boston in the 1880s when Mr. Stetson’s health declined. Augusta enrolled in the Blish School of Oratory with the idea she could earn money to support the couple by giving public lectures.  She sought to become an elocutionist at a time when the public lecture circuit was popular. For her to consider entering the public sphere during Victorian timeswhen women were expected to stay confined to home dutiesspeaks to Stetson’s drive to become a public figure and a leader. She is described in many biographies as tall, elegant in appearance, with a charismatic personality and a resonant voice. 

In 1884, Stetson attended a lecture by Mary Baker Eddy. Soon, she was recruited by Mrs. Eddy to receive the 3-week training at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, founded by Mrs. Eddy to teach the metaphysical healing she named Christian Science. Mrs. Eddy had developed her new religion over the past 20 years, seeking to provide help to people with physical ills at a time when medicql professionals were often unable to do so.

Soon, Mrs. Stetson was dispatched to New York City to help organize Christian Scientists there. By 1890, she formally organized the First Church of Christ Scientist with herself as the ordained pastor. Later, that title would be changed to “reader” by the church. The following year, she organized the New York City Christian Science Institute. But others were at work organizing in New York City also, especially Laura Lathrop, who became Stetson’s rival. In 1891, Lathrop established the Second Church, opening her white marble building in 1903, several blocks south of Mrs. Stetson’s site. (It took until 2005 for the two congregations to join each other.)

Mrs. Stetson’s invalid husband eventually came to New York in 1899 to live with her, but he died in 1901. Those years were very busy ones for her. There were increasing alarms about the practice of Christian Science, especially from doctors. Some resulted in legal cases that were reported in the press. Mrs. Stetson was increasingly viewed as a rival to Mrs. Eddy. Mrs. Eddy used a male Board of Directors to try to bring Mrs. Stetson in line. They used the mechanism of changing their rules to deal with her. In 1902 the Board limited the term of a “reader,” the name given to a Christian Science pastor, to three years. But Stetson continued in her dominant role, dubbed “Fighting Gus” by some, and managed to raise all the money needed to build the church at 96th Street. But attacks on her grew, and sometimes reached the newspapers. She was called a dictator who eliminated dissidents in her congregation and then tried to ruin their reputations. 

The cornerstone of Stetson’s church was laid on November 30, 1899. The contents included a letter from Mrs. Eddy, copies of books and pamphlets published by the society in Boston, the names of the members of the First Church, a number of gold and silver coins, and a copper cent of 1866, the year that Mrs. Eddy wrote her text establishing the church. 

Initially, the church was to cost $500,000, but it grew to over $1 million as design changes were made, including the use of Concord granite and the installation of two elevators.

The First Church of Christ Scientist was dedicated November 29, 1903. Stetson used the occasion to flaunt her accomplishment of raising all the money needed, unlike her rival Latham, who had a mortgage on her church.

The church building was a symbol of a congregation seeking respectability. As the 1974 Landmark Commission report says “nothing was spared in the creation of the building: the architects were prestigious (Carrere & Hastings) …and the finest material, white Concord granite, was used.”  The church seated 2,200 and had a large reading room above the auditorium. Long walnut pews lined the sanctuary’s marble floor. The congregation was made comfortable with heating vents in the floor and natural light flooding in through the large windows and skylights. Numerous chandeliers made of gold hung from the ceiling. Famed artist John LaFarge made the stained glass window above the main entrance.  The best source of interior views now is the photos placed at this site.

The year after the church was dedicated, her devoted congregation raised the money to build Augusta Stetson a mansion just behind it, at 7 West 96th Street. (In some articles it is designated as Number 9.) Designed by Hunt & Hunt the architectural firm of Richard Morris Hunt’s two sonsthe marble mansion had a one-story portico with marble columns at its side entrance.

In 1909, the First Church’s overflowing crowds caused Stetson to begin work on creating another branch on Riverside Drive at 86th Street. However, this violated the guidelines set by the Boston Directors of the Church and the plan was dropped. That same year, following another investigation into Mrs. Stetson’s “unorthodox views” and practices, including giving false testimony in a court case, the Boston Board of Directors revoked Mrs. Stetson’s license as a Christian Science teacher and practitioner, excommunicating her from the church.  When Mrs. Eddy died in 1910, many expected Stetson to return to head the church, but she did not. Instead, she kept her mansion, and kept her title as the principal of the New York City Christian Science Institute.

Stetson continued to publish pamphlets on her views of Christian Science, and then began attacking the “Mother church” in Boston as exhibiting “spiritual decline.” Many people in New York City continued to follow her, with as many as 800 attending her lectures. In 1918, she formed a Choral Society as part of the Institute, and took on an interesting cause: changing the third stanza of the “Star Spangled Banner” because the original verse was too militaristic and un-Christian. She composed a new anthem which was sung during World War I.

In 1921, Mrs. Stetson was in the news again regarding her suit against the First Church to stop them from erecting a brick wall ten feet from the rear of the church (labeled a “spite wall”), shutting off her home from light and air.  

Stetson purchased a radio station in 1925, broadcasting five times a week. Unfortunately, she promoted ugly propaganda, popular at the time, that was anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic and about preserving the United States’ white supremacy and traditional American virtues.  

Although she had claimed immortality, Augusta Stetson died in 1928 in Rochester, New York, while visiting her nephew. Her residence was demolished soon after, and an apartment building replaced it in 1930.

As for the First Church of Christ Scientist, it continued with a congregation that shrank over time, as did many churches. The Crenshaw Christian Center East, a nondenominational church from Los Angeles, purchased the building in 2004 and held services there for a decade. In 2014, a developer purchased the building with the intention of converting it into condominiums. That project failed. Now, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan plans to convert the space and join the neighborhood’s other important institutions.

P.S. After I posted this piece, Vita Wallace, who handles the Bloomingdale History Group’s Library Collection, notified me that she had a copy of a real estate brochure that was created when the First Church of Christ Scientist was put on the market for sale. She has now uploaded it to the BNHG’s site, and here it is here. This piece has several photographs of the Beaux Arts interior of this beautiful building before it was gutted.

Sources

Swenson, Rolf “ ‘You Are Brave But You Are A Woman in the Eyes of Men’: Augusta E. Stetson’s Rise and Fall in the Church of Christ Scientist” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Spring, 2008, Volume 24, No.1, pp75-89

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607-1950. Cambridge, MA.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971

Benowitiz, June Melby Encyclopedia of American Women and Religion, Vol 2. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2017

McDonald, Jean A. “Mary Baker Eddy and the Nineteenth Century ‘Public’ Woman: A Feminist Reappraisal” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Spring 1986, Volume 2, No 1, pp 89-111

Newspaper databases at the New York Times and newspapers.com

http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/

www.untappedcities.com.

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Post #7 Bloomingdale Goes to School 1790s and early 1800s

This is the seventh and last (for a while) in this series exploring colonial and post-Revolution Bloomingdale written by Pam Tice, Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee member.

As parents cope with educating their children in this complicated time, it’s been interesting to look back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when schooling was handled quite differently. It was not until 1842 that the Board of Education was formed, bringing the schools closer to what we have today. This post looks at how children were educated before the emergence of a “school system.”

When New Amsterdam was founded, schooling children was the responsibility of the Dutch Reformed Church. When the British took over the colony in 1664, they kept the same practice, keeping the Dutch Reformed Church schools and adding the Church of England’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to oversee education. In 1709, Trinity School, a Bloomingdale School of today, was founded by Trinity Church, the Anglican church in downtown Manhattan.

After the War of Independence, the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves established the African Free School for the children of slaves and former slaves; by 1827, that system had grown to seven schools.

The Free School Society was established in 1805, modeled on the African Free School. Later, it became the Public School Society. These schools were for poor white children of any religious background whose family was unable to afford private, paid education. These free schools, along with the religious-oriented charity schools, received public funding in 1795 and continuing for a number of years.  

The stated ideal of the separation of church and state took a while to catch on in the early years of United States. First, public funding of church charity schools was withdrawn. Eventually, by the mid-19th Century, legislation specifically prohibited denominational religious instruction in public school classrooms.

It is against this background that educating children in the early years of Bloomingdale can be discovered. The wealthy merchants who established their “country seats” here no doubt had private tutors for their children who taught them in their own homes.

The school masters who taught Bloomingdale children had to advertise their services, as reflected in 1794 when Asa Borden took an ad in the Daily Advertiser newspaper announcing that he was continuing as usual in Bloomingdale teaching literature, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, English grammar, while “paying strict attention to the morals of his pupils.” He promoted the “salubrious situation of the place” that education would be better in the countryside where there were no vices to distract his pupils. He mentions Moses Oakley and James Striker among those who could recommend his services, and offers “genteel boarding” near the school —- although the location is not specific.

One of the often-told stories about the West Side is about a tutor—King Louis Philippe of France. When he was a young man, long before he became King in 1830, he had to leave France during the Reign of Terror (1793-94) and supported himself by teaching. King Louis Philippe taught at the Somerindyke residence where Broadway and 75th Street are today.  His sojourn in our neighborhood is commemorated in this print from an 1860s Valentine’s Manual.

In Stokes’s Iconography of Manhattan Island, Volume 5, there is a reference to a school in Bloomingdale in 1797. James Striker and others referred to as the “trustees of School 30 in Bloomingdale,” petitioned the Common Council for funding to meet the gap between those who were paid subscribers and “parents who are unable to pay tuition.”   Their problem was the gap between those who supported the school in summer but “removed to Town in winter,” leaving the less-wealthy parents who lived in the area year-round to cover the costs.

In 1805, another advertisement refers to an “Academy” established in Bloomingdale. In 1804, a Mrs. Martin advertised a school in Bloomingdale for the summer season between the five- and six-mile stone, near Alderman Harsen’s. This school was one for young ladies as boarders or day-scholars.

In 1811, two advertisements refer to “Mr. Derry’s” school at the six-mile stone with boarding available for boys at the parsonage of the Bloomingdale Reformed Church.

As the village of Manhattanville developed starting in the 1800s. It was a project of a returning Loyalist, Jacob Schieffelin, who purchased property there. In 1806, he established the Manhattanville Academy and often cited it in real estate advertisements. This 1809 advertisement for the Academy gives the details of the education a child might receive there:

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, built in 1807 on 10th Avenue near 100th Street as a “summer chapel,” established a “charity school” in 1815. This school received public funding until 1824, when it was withdrawn but the school struggled to continue, with the son of the Rector teaching for free.  In 1824, there were 48 children in the school—22 boys and 26 girls—showing the number of children in the Bloomingdale neighborhood who were not able to attend a fee-based school.

In 1826, a committee was appointed to report on the expediency of establishing schools in the 12th Ward which included the Bloomingdale neighborhood; James De Peyster served on it. The St. Michael’s charity school was soon adopted by the Public School Society, and the local committee searched for funding to build a school. They purchased a building lot on 82nd Street between 10th and 11th avenues but did not actually erect a building until 1830. This school became Public School Number 9 in the City’s emerging public school system. In an 1843 report on the city’s schools, all the schools were described as three stories in height, with the exception of the small School 9 in Bloomingdale.

In 1812, the Bloomingdale Union Academy, five miles from the city, was established.  It was described as being under the inspection and direction of an Association of Gentlemen, a list that includes a number of property owners of Bloomingdale, including James Striker. The advertisement in 1814 mentions a large house next to the Academy, occupied by “Mr. John M’gregor, Sen., as a boarding house for the accommodation of scholars.”

The fees of the Bloomingdale Union Academy are an interesting detail:

For instruction in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Grammar, and Geography 28 dollars per annum and 3 dollars as entrance money—each quarter’s tuition is to be paid in advance. For instruction in the Latin and Greek languages and Mathematics, 40 dollars per annum and 5 dollars entrance. The children whose parents live at a distance can be accommodated with board in the house belonging to the Association at a sum not exceeding 500 a year, exclusive of washing, mending, beds and bedding. Washing and mending can be obtained at a cheap rate in the neighborhood.

Also in 1812, an Ursuline Convent was announced near the six-mile stone on the Bloomingdale Road. This Catholic order was founded in 16th Century Italy, and dedicated to the education and spiritual development of young women. The advertisement for the Convent sought young ladies of all denominations, offering a “polite and virtuous education.” The subject list was long: English and French languages, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and the use of globes, history, chronology, grammar, poetry, and every species of plain and variegated needlework, together with music, drawing, and dancing. The advertisement in the Mercantile Advertiser on September 12, 1812, sought only twelve students in the next three months.  The effort to establish an Ursuline convent in Bloomingdale failed, however, attracting no postulants, and the Ursulines established themselves in the Bronx later in the 19th Century.

In 1819, another Boarding School under the direction of Rev. William Powell was advertised five and a half miles from the City, adjoining the seat of William Jauncey. At that time, Mr. Jauncey was the owner of the old Apthorp mansion. Students would range in age from six to sixteen. An interesting description of discipline is in this advertisement:

The discipline of the School will be mild and parental, yet sufficiently energetic to induce attention and habits of industry; and the refinements of polished life shall be recommended and encouraged by the most kind and liberal treatment.

This essay ends my research on Bloomingdale in the early years of the 19th Century.

Sources

Stokes, I. N. PhelpsThe Iconography of Manhattan Island Volume 5 New York, Robert H. Dodge, 1928

New York City Public Library Blog post: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2014/10/20/researching-nyc-schools

Peters, John Punnett Annals of St. Michael’s, Being The History of St. Michael’s Protestant Episcopal Church, New York for One Hundred Years 1807-1907  New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907

Kaestle, Carl F. “Common Schools before the ‘Common School Revival’; New York Schooling in the 1790s”  History of Education Quarterly Winter 1972, Volume 12, Number 4  pp. 465-500

Newspaper articles from www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com.

https:/nycemetery.wordpress.com/2020/10/09/ursuline-sisters-burial-grounds/

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Post #6 Along the Bloomingdale Road After the Revolution: Taverns and Tavernkeepers

This is the sixth post exploring colonial and post-Revolution Bloomingdale written by Pam Tice, Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee member.

New York City had a “tavern culture” starting in Colonial times. Taverns came in every shape and size and were owned by a range of residents, both elites and non-elites. The City profited from the licenses granted to tavernkeepers, issuing 314 in 1761. Taverns were male bastions where heavy eating, drinking and singing songs took place. Taverns provided a convenient place for politics and even government meetings. Horses and even slaves were advertised for sale through tavern owners. Fox hunts were organized by tavernkeepers in rural settings, like Bloomingdale.

The tavernkeepers and their taverns described here were found in newspaper articles from the time after the Revolutionary War to the early decades of the 19th Century.

Benjamin Stout

Benjamin Stout’s name first appeared in the 1790 census, listed next to/near Charles Apthorp and James Striker which clearly put him in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. He was next to Moses Oakley. Both men had slaves, four for Stout, two for Oakley. Who were they?

My research found Benjamin Stout to be a tavern owner, but his tavern appeared to be one called the “Plow and Harrow at the Fresh Water” in the Out Ward, placing him in downtown Manhattan. He was licensed in 1758; an article in 1760 referred to him as a “noted tavern keeper.” In his essay on New York’s Loyalists, historian Christopher Minty, in writing about the Delancey family before the Revolution, mentions Mr. Stout’s tavern as one of the gathering places the Delanceys used to build their case for election to the New York State Assembly in 1768, when they tried to win against the Livingstons.

I found a copy of Mr. Stout’s will, written in 1783 and “proved” in 1788, naming his oldest son as one of the Executors. Thus it appears that it was the younger Mr. Stout operating a tavern in Bloomingdale in 1790.  An April 1791 Daily Advertiser (newspaper) article answered my question: “Benjamin Stout has opened a public house at the place belonging to James McEvers, where every kind of refreshment will be furnished to all who chuse (sic) to regale themselves at that inviting and truly pleasant summer retreat.”  (McEvers was Apthorp’s brother-in-law who had died soon after he built his house in Bloomingdale; his property may have moved back to Apthorp ownership.)

Moses Oakley

Mr. Oakley appears in Bloomingdale’s federal census in 1790 and 1800 as a slave owner, but my research did not identify him as a property owner. Newspaper articles revealed that he was a tavernkeeper. In 1797, three articles told the story: in February, a “well known farm” of 53 acres was advertised for sale in Bloomingdale, noting that it was “now in possession of Mr. Oakley.” In April, a Thomas Palmer announced he would be opening “Bloomingdale Inn and Farm, lately occupied by Mr. Oakley.” In June, Moses Oakley advertised to his “friends and public” that he would be at “his new and pleasant situation” with a view of the Hudson River at the 5.5 mile-mark.

However, by 1802, an advertisement, noting Mr. Oakley as an innkeeper, deceased, offered his “situation” the lease of a large two-story house with twelve rooms, one a handsome ballroom, a good cellar, dairy, kitchen, barn and other out-houses. There were sixteen years left on the lease. Another advertisement revealed the lease to be with Jacob Harsen, which explains the location first given at between five and six miles from the city, as that was where the Harsen property was located, and named “Harsenville” by some historians. What appears to be the same location—since Mr. Oakley is referenced—became the Shakespeare Inn in 1803, and the Pelican Inn in 1808 under the management of Mr. Becanon. In 1808, Mr. Becanon hosted a group of Masons, the New Jerusalem Lodge, who marched from the Inn to St. Michael’s Church, and back to the Inn for dinner, to celebrate the Festival of St. John the Baptist.

In 1809, the innkeeper is named as Thomas Rogers, whose career in Blooomingdale is discussed below.

Oakley Tavern — A Greatorex sketch

Thomas Palmer

Mr. Palmer appears to not have lasted long in Bloomingdale. After advertising his takeover of the Oakley site in April, he then advertised as “The Old Bloomingdale Inn and Tea Garden” in June, 1797, perhaps expanding his appeal to women who were out for an afternoon’s carriage ride. However, by November, the site, at six miles from the City, was a “Beefsteak and Oyster House,” as pictured below. (Remember, what looks like an “F” in this image is an “S.”)  By January, 1798, Mr. Palmer was offering a lease of the site.

In May, 1798, Mr. Daniel Mayer advertised that he would be running the Bloomingdale Inn and Tea Garden (occupied Lately by Mr. Palmer) and that he would be providing a “neat carriage and a good pair of horses” to bring his guests uptown. The carriage would leave Water Street near Peck Slip at 3 pm in the afternoon and return there at 7 pm in the evening. This was the only mention of Mr. Mayer.

Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers—not to be confused with the William Rogers who purchased property in Bloomingdale later—appears to be the operator of the “Old Bloomingdale Inn” after Mr. Palmer. In 1802, there was an advertisement for a gold watch lost at his tavern; in 1803, another advertisement called the place “the Old Bloomingdale Tavern” and located it at the 6-mile mark. Also in 1803, more details about the Inn emerged: that the house could accommodate eight to ten gentlemen who would pay $6 per week to have a single room, and $5 per week for a room with two single beds. In 1805 a guest there advertised for a “runaway Negro boy.”

The use of the term “Old Bloomingdale Inn” suggests that this might be an old structure. I thought it might be the oldest of the two houses owned by the Humphrey and Nicholas Jones, in particular the Beverhoudt-built stone house sold to Humphrey Jones in 1752. By 1798, this site was owned by Robert Kemble; perhaps he leased one of the houses and occupied the other. Much later, in the mid-19th Century, this house became the Abbey Inn.

In 1815, Thomas Rogers appears again, advertising that he is opening his old establishment, the “Bloomingdale Old Inn.” He “fancies his liquors and accommodations” will give general satisfaction to the gentlemen who “favor him with their company.”  He notes in his advertisement, “No ladies admitted without gentlemen.”

John S. Taylor

In 1806, Mr. Taylor announced that he was giving up his grocery business in downtown New York and will move to Bloomingdale to the tavern “recently occupied by Mr. Rogers”.

In January, Mr. Taylor posted the following advertisement:

On November 11, 1807, Mr. Taylor posted the following advertisement:

John S. Taylor, at Bloomingdale, has a large full grown WILD FOX, which he proposes to let loose on Tuesday, the 17th inst. At 10 o’clock in the forenoon. Fifteen Couple of Hounds are already engaged, and it is supposed 18 couple will start the chace (sic)

This wasn’t the only time an advertisement for a fox hunt was discovered in my newspaper research. In 1791, there was one advertised at Mrs. Day’s at the nine-mile stone. In 1805, one was advertised at Mr. Hunt’s tavern at the five-mile stone. Mr. Hunt’s Tavern, a bit south of our Bloomingdale neighborhood today, was also the site for Republican Electors to meet, in 1806 under the chairmanship of Mr. Valentine Nutter and another time under James Striker.

In 1809 when Mr. Rogers was operating the Pelican Inn, he announced a fox hunt in November featuring two “beautiful foxes,” and the hounds of a Mr. Roberts, a noted sportsman of New Jersey. An excellent dinner would be provided after the hunt.

Sources

McPartland, Eugene P. “Colonial Taverns and Tavernkeepers of British New York City” New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Record Volume 103, Number 4 (October 1972)

Minty, Christopher F. “Republicanism and the Public Good” New York History Volume 97, Number 1 (Winter 2016), pp 55-81.

Newspaper articles at www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com.

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Post #5 Bloomingdale Grows and Prospers 1790-1820

This is the fifth post on colonial and post-Revolution Bloomingdale written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group.

New York City had to recover from the Revolutionary War after George Washington marched back to downtown Manhattan in November1783.  The city became the United States Capital until 1790, when it moved to Philadelphia.  Population growth was strong from 1790 to 1820 when Manhattan’s population grew from 33,131 to 123,706, and doubled again by 1830.

Bloomingdale grew and changed during this time also. The first census in 1790 shows the property owners: the de Peyster brothers, near where Columbia University is now, the Striker family at 96th Street, Charles Apthorp in the West 90s, the Harsens, Somerindykes and Cozine further south.  Moses Oakley and Benjamin Stout, both designated slave owners, are also in the early censuses. My research shows them to be tavern owners, which I’ll cover in a separate essay. The large estates of the Bloomingdale property owners may have had estate managers or workers who were not enslaved, since there are other names listed in the early censuses. These people must have led quiet lives, as there are no newspaper articles or other records that would allow the researcher to identify them.

Many historians cite the continuing epidemics of yellow fever between 1793 and 1805 as one of the reasons Bloomingdale’s population grew. No doubt that is true. The frightening outbreaks in downtown Manhattan had a more measurable impact on the development of Greenwich Village. Numerous banks, newspapers, and other businesses moved there along with the post office and the customs office. If a family had the means to do so, leaving the city for the countryside was necessary to avoid what the newspapers often called “the prevailing fever.”

Yellow fever developed in many east coast cities, starting in the West Indies, and moving north on ships. New York began to develop its public health response during the 1790s and the first decade of the 19th century; funds were allocated to help families. The Common Council purchased Brockholst Livingston’s 4-acre estate known as Belle Vue, and a hospital to quarantine victims was developed there. Mr. Livingston had an estate in Bloomingdale too, named “Oak Villa,” in the West 90s near Mr. McVickar.

By 1800 there are numerous others settled in Bloomingdale. Many slave owners were also property owners. We can identify Robert Kemble, who purchased the Jones estate in 1798. Two additional de Peysters, George and James, joined Nicholas. James was his brother and George was his son. Later, in 1810, Gerard de Peyster, son of James, would be listed. Nicholas’ very large estate, formerly the Adrian Hoaglandt land, was sold off over time to other owners. In 1796 he sold the portion known as Strawberry Hill to George Pollock, an Irish linen merchant, beginning the development of the estate known as Claremont. In 1805 Nicholas de Peyster sold his land to the south to Gordon Mumford, who had served as Benjamin Franklin’s private secretary when Franklin was representing the U.S. in Paris. Mumford returned to New York and became a successful merchant, establishing his country seat in Bloomingdale.

John McVicar who owned land in what had been the Delancey estate prior to the Revolution, around West 84th Street, was described as one of New York’s “merchant princes.” Mr. McVickar is remembered for his generosity in offering hospitality to the rector of the new St. Michael’s Church during one of the summer yellow fever epidemics. His land also contained the popular small pond found on early maps where the Bloomingdalers skated in winter.

John Clendening, the subject of an previous blog post, settled into Bloomingdale with his property further east, at 104th Street. By 1810, Mr. Jauncey had purchased the Apthorp property, and by 1811 William and Ann Rogers owned the Kemble property. Poor Mr. Kemble became bankrupt with one account of his troubles stating that he was left with only his watch as he settled his debts.

Another Bloomingdale property owner, William Seton, also became “a bankrupt” in the late 18th Century. This fate was one of the fears of the merchants of New York, along with the yellow fever epidemics. Before there were laws governing the state of bankruptcy, one could be thrown into debtor’s prison. Mr. Seton died suddenly in 1798 and his son, William Magee Seton, struggled to maintain his father’s business. He sold property, including the 22 acres in Bloomingdale, advertised as between Robert Kemble and Nicholas de Peyster, in the early years of the 19th century. William Magee Seton’s wife was Elizabeth Bayley Seton, the first American to become a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Her religious conversion and struggle brought on by her family’s bankruptcy and illness sheds a light on the life of the New York merchants and the precarious nature of their businesses as they brought products into the New York market.

Property sales in Bloomingdale reflect a trend of people purchasing smaller country estates. The larger estates of sixty acres or more were now broken into smaller ten and twenty acres or less with land available for cultivation. Very often an advertisement mentions the “respectable New Yorkers” who lived close by, as the de Peysters did in 1807 when advertising a house and land for sale, noting that Governor Clinton had spent the previous summer there. When the City’s first guide book was published in 1807, the area was important enough to mention in a description of the Bloomingdale Road where there were “numerous villas with which Bloomingdale is adorned.”

During this time, Bloomingdale’s rural landscape became an attraction for those who owned horses and carriages, where an afternoon drive through the hills and valleys of the Bloomingdale Road brought great pleasure. Later in the 19th Century when circulating the carriage drives of the newly-built Central Park, writers would look back with nostalgia on the pleasures of driving through Bloomingdale. The taverns of the early 1800s, and “watering places” that became the Abbey, Burnham’s and Striker’s Bay hotels were all part of the enjoyment of the countryside so close to the city.  Bloomingdale’s buildings and roads were the subject of numerous sketches made in 1875 by Eliza Pratt Greatorex in the folio volume she produced with her sister: Old New York: From the Battery to Bloomingdale. After the Civil War, many of these structures disappeared in the post-war building boom. Thanks to Greatorex, we have these images today.

Greatorex image: along the Bloomingdale Road
Greatorex image: Bloomingdale VIllage

Mr. Pollock’s home just north of where Grant’s Tomb is located today is the site of a gravestone left there by the family and still part of our landscape now. His son, St. Clair Pollock, a five-year-old child, was killed there, perhaps playing on the Hudson’s rocky cliffs. The Pollock property exchanged hands numerous times between 1806 and 1821 when it became the home of the Post family and eventually part of Riverside Park. The house became the Claremont Inn, which finally disappeared in the early 1950s. Michael Hogan owned the house until his financial ruin caused by the War of 1812. One of the interesting characters Hogan leased the house to was Lord William Courtenay who had left England, and settled in Bloomingdale when his scandalous relationship with an art collector, exposed by his uncle, had forced him out of his own country. He was a mysterious neighbor, served only by one manservant and a cook. The New-York Historical Society has one of his letters in their files.

Claremont image Museum of the City of New York

Development on the west side of Manhattan was helped after the war by the extension of the Bloomingdale Road north of de Peyster’s home, until it met the Kingsbridge Road further uptown at 147th Street. After he purchased an estate north of Bloomingdale in 1806, Jacob Schieffelin developed a settlement called Manhattanville. Schieffelin had been a Royalist, a major figure in Detroit, who lived in Montreal after the Revolution for a few years. He then came to New York City to make his fortune in wholesale drug trading. He was active in St. Michael’s Church at 100th Street, and later founded St. Mary’s Church, also Episcopal, at today’s West 126th Street.  

The history of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, built at 100th Street in 1807, mentions Bloomingdale residents who were the first vestrymen: Mr. Kemble, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Jauncey.  Oliver Hicks donated the land. Frederic de Peyster, a Loyalist cousin of the de Peysters already in Bloomingdale, returned from exile in Nova Scotia and established himself as a leading citizen of New York. His summer property was just south of 96th Street. He bought the church’s first bell. Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, whose estate was further north, bought a pew in the church. Another member was Valentine Nutter, whose property was east of Eighth Avenue, owned land that is now part of Central Park. His name exists today on “Nutter’s Battery” established during the War of 1812 in northern Central Park. 

The Bloomingdale Reformed Church was also established early in the 19th Century, further south near the Harsen property, at what is now approximately 69th Street and Broadway. Their first church was erected in 1806, replaced in 1816, again in 1869, and in 1885. Their final church, built in 1905, was in Bloomingdale Square, today’s Strauss Park.

Another indication of Bloomingdale’s growth was the establishment of stagecoach service “to Apthorp’s” for 6 shillings. By 1806, however, the advertisement below shows a service where the coach alternated with the Harlem Road.  By 1819, a regular line operated on the Bloomingdale Road, perhaps as a service to reach the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, which opened in 1821 on land now part of Columbia University.

Bloomingdale remained rural for much of the 19th century. In 1832 when an Englishwoman, Frances Trollope, published her generally caustic book “Domestic Manners of the Americans.”  She was severely critical of the Americans whom she found to be both vulgar and prudish, as well as hypocritical in espousing freedom while keeping slaves.  In New York, she stayed in Bloomingdale in the Woodlawn mansion, formerly one of the Jones’ family homes, where she found the mansion to be the loveliest in the village of Bloomingdale.

The first institution to serve more than the local area was built in Bloomingdale in 1821: New York Hospital’s Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane. A private hospital, its first building was where Columbia’s Low Library stands today. The Asylum’s 70 acres were described in an Evening Post article at the time of its opening in the spring of 1821 as “one of the most beautiful and healthy spots on New York Island.” The institution’s grounds included a large garden and orchards where patients could be healed by the work outdoors.

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

This series of posts about the early days of Bloomingdale will finish with two more: Bloomingdale’s taverns and the development of its neighborhood schools.

Sources

http://blog.nyhistory.org/yellow-fever-hits-1790s-new-york/

Forstall, Richard L. Population of States and Counties of the U.S.: 1790-1990  Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C. 1996

Newspaper articles at www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com

O’Donnell. Catherine Elizabeth Seton: American Saint  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2018

Peters, John Punnett Annals of St. Michael’s Being the History of St. Michael’s Protestant Episcopal Church, New York, for One Hundred Years 1807-1907 , G. P. Putnam’s Sons New York and London, 1907

Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City directory” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1790. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/dfc54ca0-e67b-0134-0aa0-5ddffb4c30ce

Stokes, I. N. PhelpsThe Iconography of Manhattan Island Volume 5 New York, Robert H. Dodge, 1928

Washington, Eric K. Manhattanville, Old Heart of West Harlem Arcadia Publishing, South Carolina 2002.

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Post #4 Enslaved African Americans in Bloomingdale

This is a fourth post on colonial and post-Revolution Bloomingdale written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group.

Now that I’ve written three posts about Bloomingdale in the 18th Century, I’m turning to the topic that caught my interest initially: slavery in Bloomingdale. As those who research family history know, finding details about African American ancestors is difficult. I had the same problem in trying to find factual information about slavery in Bloomingdale. Census information is available, and I’ll share what I found. Newspaper advertisements for runaway slaves or attempting to sell enslaved people are another source. Church records have some detail. I looked at all of these. I also looked for evidence of African American burial grounds.

First, though, I had to understand the history of slavery as it played out in New York City. Scholars have explored the institution of slavery in New York City in recent years in great detail, producing a great number of books and articles.  The discovery of the African American Burial Ground in lower Manhattan in the early 1990s encouraged many scholars to pursue the detailed research which has amplified the experience and historical identity of African Americans in our city. Of the books I read on this topic, I found Thelma Wills Foote’s book, listed below, of particular interest.

The enslavement of African Americans was prevalent in colonial New York, where 40% of Europeans owned slaves, averaging 2.4 per household. By the 1720s, there were 5740 slaves in New York City, the greatest number of urban slaves outside the South.  In 2015, the City recognized this part of its history by installing signage downtown at Wall and Water Streets to mark the 18th Century slave auction block.

Under the Dutch West India Company, the first slaves arrived in 1626 and were put to work building the company’s infrastructure and working on the farms that grew the local food supply. Dutch merchants and artisans taught slaves how to handle their businesses, a practice that continued when the British took over the city in 1664. The Dutch extended some leniency: allowing some enslaved people to negotiate their freedom, and to own property. This image of Dutch New York pictures the enslaved people of that era.

British merchants in New York were closely tied to the slave trade of the Royal African Company, and set out to make New York City the chief North American slave port. Early laws passed in the colony regulated the practice, and, by the early 1700s, freed slaves could no longer own property, and the hereditary nature of slavery was ensured by having children inherit their mother’s condition. Early laws made it very costly to manumit slaves.

New Yorkers did not want untrained slaves coming directly from Africa. They preferred acculturated slaves whom they could train for various businesses such as tailoring, carpentry, or sail making. They began importing slaves from West Indian merchants, as payment for the provisions New York supplied them.  New York’s enslaved people did not live in separate enclaves as they did on the southern plantations, but were given living space in the attics of larger homes or small outbuildings. They were often referred to as “servants.” In a 1780 advertisement in the New York Mercury for the Apthorp estate in Bloomingdale, the description includes “a two-story brick house “for an overseer and servants” in addition to the Manor House and other buildings.

In the 1740s, in the time of what is called the Great Awakening, Quakers and Methodists began to call upon their members to free their slaves. Trinity Church began to baptize slaves, but would not admit them as church members. By the 1760s, the Dutch Reformed Church began baptizing slaves, after religious arguments settled the matter that baptism would not necessarily lead to freedom. These two churches were the first to build in the Bloomingdale area, although not until the early 1800s.

African Americans In New York City During the British Rule, 1776-1783

There is a rich and complicated story about the British officials who offered freedom to the slaves of the American patriots. During the time of British rule in New York City, thousands of slaves fled to the City from all the North American colonies. They were given tasks related to both the war effort as well as keeping the City functioning. Many worked on clearing and rebuilding after the massive downtown fire of September, 1776. Other runaway slaves were absorbed into the Black Brigade of New York City, and housed in downtown barracks. One British officer of Bloomingdale, Brigadier General Oliver Delancey, was against using former slaves, but his opinion did not prevail.

When the British evacuated the City in 1783, they issued “travel certificates” to black people who wanted to leave, thus giving a passport to freedom. In the Foote book cited below, she states that during the evacuation time April 23 to July 31, 1783, approximately 81 ships carried 3,000 black refugees away, most of them to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where they founded free black communities. While most of these former slaves were from the southern states, 21 percent were from New York and New Jersey, and perhaps were former Bloomingdale residents. There is a document known as “the Negro’s Book,” that names those refugees, another opportunity to dig deeper into individual research on those enslaved in Bloomingdale.

Many of the northern states ended slavery just after the Revolutionary War but New York did not, and continued to rely on slave labor. Even free blacks were close to slave status: they could not vote, nor be witnesses in a court of law, and they were taxed without representation. There were free African Americans in the Bloomingdale area, as noted in the comments on the federal censuses further on in this post.  

Before the first U.S. census in 1790, finding evidence of slave owners in Bloomingdale is anecdotal. A reference to Theunis Idens slaves is made by one historian. Some of the reports of the 1777 raid on the Delancey property in Bloomingdale mention slaves being driven off during that event; in his discussion of New Yorkers involved with the founding and management of King’s College, Eric Foner states that Oliver Delancey owned 23 slaves, and was a business partner of slave trader John Watts.

Newspaper databases provide evidence of how enslaved people were described in colonial New York City. These newspaper advertisements cited here use the exact words that are in the ad or reproduce the ad itself; some may find them disturbing, but this is the reality of 18th century New York City. The word “wench” was used to refer to female Negro slaves.

Here is a property sale in “Bloemendale” from 1758:

TO BE SOLD … A Farm, situated at Bloemendale, near New York, containing about 100 acres, more or less; is in good Fence: There is on it a good Dwelling House, Barn and Orchard: — it is well timbered and watered, and has very good Meadows. There will also be sold at the same time, on the Premises, Horses, 19 Cows, Sheep, Hogs, & one Negro Wench, and a Negro lad about 20 years old; together with sundry farming Utensils, and household goods. New-York Gazette, November 13, 1758.

Here is a April 18, 1763 newspaper advertisement from the New-York Gazette offering a reward for the return of a runaway slave:

Another Bloomingdale neighbor, Garret Striker, offered this advertisement for the sale of one of his slaves in 1763:

To be sold, being useless in the Family, a very likely well-set stout sober Negro Man, about 20 years of Age, is fit for Town or Country; with very little instruction he may readily be brought to wait on a Gentleman: He is Guinea born, can talk tolerable good English: Enquire of Garret Striker, Bloomingdale.

The many long years of ending slavery in New York

The New York Manumission Society was founded in 1785 by John Jay with the goal of gradually ending slavery in New York state by encouraging citizens to choose to manumit the people they enslaved. The Society was made up of influential white men; merchants, bankers, lawyers and judges.  However, many of the Society’s members, including John Jay and Aaron Burr, kept their own slaves through the years of their involvement.  Just last year, a paper was written about Alexander Hamilton’s role in the Manumission Society and his own participation in slave dealings both for his family and friends, known through entries in his personal cash book.

The Federalists, as many of our Bloomingdale merchants were, favored a limited freedom for African Americans, guided and controlled by elites.  After 1784 when a group of slave traders tried to seize a group of free blacks and sell them to the South illegally, New York state made this type of action illegal.

New York State’s Gradual Emancipation Act of 1799 freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799, but indentured them to their mother’s masters until age 28, if male, and age 25, if female. If a slave master did not want to support and educate this child, he could turn him or her over to the City’s almshouse, where they would be indentured to a new master. While not from a Bloomingdale slave owner, this image is typical of this type of action:

In 1817, New York State passed a law that freedom would be given to all slaves born before July 4, 1799, but not until July 4, 1827. Thus, in the early years of the 19th Century, slavery continued throughout the City and in Bloomingdale, where the census records reveal the practice from 1790 to 1820, as discussed below.

Census Counts of Enslaved People in Bloomingdale

The 1790 federal census, the first in the new United States, counts the numbers of slaves owned by the people enumerated, after grouping males and females by age categories. Using the table for the “Harlem District” which contained the Bloomingdale area, I was able to narrow down the entries for known Bloomingdale families and counted their reported slaves.  There are a total of 50 enslaved people, with Mr. Apthorp reporting eight, Nicholas de Peyster seven, the Somerindyke residents nine slaves among three families. The relatively high numbers perhaps imply that these were working farms.

Of interest are a few lines in this census listing only the first name of a person, and giving a number in the column “all other free persons.” There is no notation among the Bloomingdale families, but under In        the listing for Susanna Day, presumably of the Day’s Tavern mentioned in my previous post, there are two slaves listed. Under her name, “Cuff” and two free persons are listed. Cuff has no surname. “Cuff” was a popular slave name, reflecting the Akan-Asante society of Africa’s West Coast, where “Cuffee” meant “Friday.” There are several other such listings with only a first name, and a count of free persons, in the district.

In the federal census for 1800, Bloomingdale is in Ward 7, and the names are arranged in some order with the de Peysters at the top of the page and the Harsen family further down, as if the census taker moved from north to south. There are 41 slaves counted. But certain Bloomingdale property owners were not counted here; John van den Heuval and John McVickar were counted downtown in Ward 4, where van den Heuval reported ten slaves and McVickar just one.  Brockholst Livingston was also counted as a downtown resident; he owned four slaves in 1790 and one in 1800.

When we get to the 1810 federal census, the names of Bloomingdale property owners are more scattered as if the census taker did not move through the district in one sweep. The de Peysters are listed close to Mr. Harsen, and the Clendening and Jauncey families on another page. However, there are still slave owners in Bloomingdale. The de Peysters have three slaves between them; Mr. Rogers has one person enslaved. Jauncey and Clendening have none. The Ward 9 census also included the east side of Manhattan where there are many more, perhaps a sign that there was more intense farming there.

The 1820 census for Ward Nine shows the Bloomingdale families on several pages, not grouped together. This census is more complicated in its data collection. First there are 11 columns counting males and females in a household broken into age categories. Then there are 4 columns indicating non-naturalized foreign persons in the household, and three columns to check if the group engages in agriculture, commerce or manufacturing. This section is followed by 8 columns to count enslaved people, breaking down the count by age. Finally, there are 8 columns to indicate “Free Colored Persons” by several age groupings.

Here, we can see the James Striker family with seven family members, a check that the family is engaged in agriculture, four slaves, and five Free Colored Persons. Nearby, Frederick de Peyster 15-person count of males and females indicated that commerce is the family business, with no slaves and three Free Colored Persons. The relatively few enslaved people in the 1820 census in Bloomingdale is representative of the overall city, where only 518 slaves are enumerated.

A research project emerged from using the first four censuses: noting non-property-owning residents of Bloomingdale, and then attempting to discover who they were. This only proved successful if other records were found, particularly newspaper advertisements or stories, or vital records reproduced in various genealogical sources. This process uncovered two Bloomingdale tavern owners who owned slaves whom I’ll write about in a separate post.

African American Burial Grounds

I have uncovered no mention of a burial ground for Bloomingdale’s enslaved people. There may be a link to African Americans interred in the recently rediscovered African American Burial Ground connected to the Harlem Reformed Dutch Church at 121 Street on the east side. The historians working on that site have a website showing the results of their work over the past several years. There are details here:  https://www.habgtaskforce.org/home.   Records available through the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society show that the Church had members Gerard de Peyster and his family married and baptized there.  If a Bloomingdale family was worshipping there, perhaps enslaved people were also, and could access the burial ground.

.In the early years of the 20th Century a road-building project in northern Manhattan uncovered an African Burial Ground in Inwood. The discovery and history are detailed here: https://nycemetery.wordpress.com/2018/06/13/african-burial-ground-inwood/   This discovery made me wonder if Bloomingdale ever had such a burial site that may now be lying under an apartment building or street.

In his history of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Reverend Peters states that large landowners often established private family burial places on their estate, and, one can imagine, a place for slave burials. The Church was not established until 1806, and its burial ground surrounding the church was reserved for members. There are records of the baptism of enslaved people, some referred to as “servants.” Anthony, son of Catherine, a black woman, servant of Mr. McVickar, was baptized in 1809; John and Jane, slaves of Mr. Davis, were baptized in 1816.  In 1828, the Church established a cemetery on 103rd Street, to the east of Amsterdam Avenue near Clendening Lane, for “poor people,” but this happened after slavery had ended.

This research process is fairly dynamic and new information is sure to be discovered, but my work will end here for now.

Sources

African American Burial Ground site:  https://www.habgtaskforce.org/home

Ancestry’s census information at www.ancestry.com

Burrows, Edwin G., Mike Wallace, et al Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 New York, Oxford University Press 1999

Columbia University’s site exploring slavery and the University; in particular, Eric Foner’s paper:

https://columbiaandslavery.columbia.edu/content/eric-foners-report

Foote, Thelma Wills Black and White Manhattan: The History of Racial Formation in Colonial New York City New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 (Accessed online through the New York Public Library September 6, 2020)

Goodfriend, Joyce D. “Slavery in Colonial New York City” Urban History, Volume 35, Number 3 (December 2008) pp. 485-496oodfriend, Joyce D. “Burghers and Blacks” The Evolution of A Slave Society at New Amsterdam” New York History Volume 59, Number 2 (April 1978) pp. 125-144

Harris, Leslie M. In The Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City 1626-1863  Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 200

John Jay College Slave Records Index online at https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/

Newspaper databases at www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com

New York Genealogical and Biological Society at www.nygbs.org.  I used the Record for October 1986 Vol 117, issue 4 to find Harlem’s Reformed Dutch Church, and a 1902 article in Volume 13, reprinted in 1968.

Peters, John Punnett Annals of St. Michael’s, Being The History of St. Michael’s Protestant Episcopal Church, New York for One Hundred Years 1807-1907  New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907

Salwen, Peter Upper Westside Story New York, Abbeville Press, 1989

Serfilippi, Jessie “As Odious and Immoral A Thing: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver” Schuler Mansion Historic Site, Albany, New York, 2020

Stokes, I. N. Phelps The Iconography of Manhattan Island (all volumes) New York, Robert H. Dodge, 1928.

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Post #3: The Revolutionary War in Bloomingdale

This is the third post about 18th Century Bloomingdale, written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee.

So many historians have written about the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776, that I do not need to re-tell the story here.  Jim Mackin presented a program about the Battle, centered around the Jones and Hooglandt farms, one evening back in 2019, and then wrote a post about here.  There’s a much more detailed description of the Battle here:  http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/battle-of-harlem-heights/

I’m focusing here on observations about Bloomingdale leading up to the Battle, and the seven years following, when the British had taken over New York City and imposed military rule.

Battle of Harlem Heights

First, though, a detail about the battle I had not found before. The Striker house at West 96th Street became a sort of “field hospital” for the wounded of both sides during the Battle, as described by Hopper Striker Mott in an article he wrote for the publication known as the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record in July, 1908.  

James Striker and his mother cared for the British and American soldiers that day, using his family wagon to convey the men from the battlefield to their home. Mott writes that a patriot and two Tories were killed in the lane which led from the Bloomingdale Road to the house, and they were buried near where they fell.  British officers were quartered at the house and, Mott claims, one party of captives were billeted there, pending their removal to the improvised prisons at the lower end of Manhattan. 

James Striker eventually signed up with the American troops and fought in battles in New Jersey. While he was away, his house was pillaged twice during the British occupation and all the livestock lost. In 1781, he writes, “the slaves and servant men were driven off and the women compelled for days to cook and attend the wants of their captors.”

At the time of the Battle of Harlem Heights, the British had sent three ships “to Bloomingdale on the North River,” the name of the Hudson often used at that time. The Phoenix and the Roebuck were 44-gun ships, and another ship, a frigate, had 20 guns.  They were there to prevent the Americans from removing any provisions from the city. This Bloomingdale naval expedition also figured in the reports of American Sgt. Ezra Lee, who twice attempted to attack enemy ships using a “submarine machine” known as Turtle, in an attempt to blow up the enemy’s ships. He was not successful, but his efforts are noted by military historians as a first to use this type of warfare.

Humphrey Jones also lost the use of his home in Bloomingdale during this time. After the war his son, Nicholas, submitted a memorandum of “sundry seizures and damages” done to his home by the British and Hessian troops, as they occupied his farm from September 17, 1776 to June 20, 1783. I have not seen the memo itself; copies of it were donated to the New York Public Library in 1921. Nicholas Jones’ papers are also archived at the New-York Historical Society.

Merchant New Yorkers worked harder and longer to try to come to an equitable settlement with Parliament.  The property owners of Bloomingdale were a mix of Tories and Patriots. Charles Apthorp made his money provisioning the British military in North America. Robert Bayard was the agent for the East India company in New York City. The Delancey family were activists for the Crown in the years preceding the Revolution; Oliver Delancey, owner of “Little Bloomingdale,” was a Brigadier General in the British Army.  Both Charles Apthorp and Oliver Delancey were serving on the Colonial Council in 1776.

Having grown up in New England where the story of the years preceding the Revolutionary War played out differently, I was amused by the report of John Adams himself being enraged by the behavior of the New Yorkers who even in June 1776 had not mobilized behind the war effort. “What is the Reason that New York is still asleep or dead in Politicks and War? …Have they no sense, no feeling…no passion?” he fumed.  New York was the last of the thirteen colonies to declare independence in 1776.

The prominent de Peyster family was politically mixed, but they did not settle in Bloomingdale until after the war, when Nicholas and his brother James bought the Hooglandt and Vandewater property. Their father, William, was reported in Albany during the War, which implies that he was a Patriot. Frederick de Peyster, a cousin, fought for the British and left for Nova Scotia in 1783. But he soon returned and owned property in Bloomingdale, according to property maps. One of his heirs, also named Frederick, headed the New-York Historical Society in the late 19h Century and organized a huge celebration of the Battle of Harlem Heights on its 100th anniversary.

Day’s Tavern, located north of Bloomingdale at about 123rd Street (between Ninth and Tenth Avenues), is mentioned in various reports around the time of the Revolution. John Adams stopped there when he came through New York on his way to the Continental Congress.  It is also a part of the detailed descriptions of the Battle of Harlem Heights. It is mentioned again when, in 1783, Washington made his way back into the City.

The northern quadrant of Central Park, north of today’s 97th Street Transverse, was a major gathering point for British and Hessian troops during the War. At times, there were more than 1,000 soldiers there whose presence must have had an impact on anyone still trying to farm in Bloomingdale. Recent archaeological studies pinpoint the Great Hill and the area around McGown’s Pass as principal areas where evidence of Revolutionary War activity can be found.

There was one incident in Bloomingdale that is cited by many historians writing about the Revolutionary War in New York City. On November 26, 1777, a band of Patriots tied up on the Hudson shore in the early hours of the morning and burned and pillaged the Delancey house. The story of that raid has been told multiple times, but this report in the New York Mercury is particularly brutal. The raiding party …plundered his house of the most valuable furniture and money, set the house on fire before Mrs. Delancey, her two daughters, and two other young ladies could remove out if it, which was effected through the flames, in only their bed dresses, when they were most cruelly insulted, beat, and abused, and what money they had, taken from them; an infant Grandchild in a most barbarous manner thrown on the ground; at last, in their fright and distress, they were made prisoners, and two infant children consumed in the flames.

Other reports have the women hiding in the Bloomingdale woods until morning when they made their way to the safety of the Apthorp house. No children were harmed, and Miss Delancey manages to hold her brother’s infant in her arms all night, which she spent hiding in a swamp.

The British occupation of New York City lasted until November 1783, when George Washington returned to the City, marching down through McGown’s Pass in Central Park and taking charge. The British evacuated on November 25, 1783, a date that was celebrated for many years in the City.

After the war, the Delanceys lost all of their New York property as the state of New York confiscated it. Oliver Delancey’s Bloomingdale estate was broken up, with Mr. McVicar and Mr. Livingston owning portions of it. For unknown reasons, the Apthorp property in Bloomingdale was left alone. Perhaps Mr. Apthorp’s daughter’s marriage to a member of the Congress played a role in that decision. When Martha Lamb wrote her history of New York, she describes Charles Apthorp as “a courtly gentleman of wealth” welcoming all of wealth and fashion to his elegant Bloomingdale home for his daughter’s wedding.  New York lifted legal restraints against Loyalists in 1793, and some who had fled the City, like Frederick de Peyster, were able to return.

In the early years of the 20th Century, the New York Historical Society published numerous articles in their Quarterly magazine by various members who dug up British military buttons, and other parts of uniforms of both British and Hessian troops that they found in the Bloomingdale neighborhood and points north.

Sources

Howe, Adrian “The Bayard Treason Trial: Dramatizing Anglo-Dutch Politics in Early Eighteenth Century New York City” The William and Mary Quarterly Volume 47, No 1, January 1990

Hunter Research Inc., A Preliminary Historical and Archaeological Assessment of Central Park to the North of the 97th Street Transverse Volume 1. Central Park Conservancy and The City of New York 1990

Lamb, Martha History of the City of New York, Volume II New York, The A.S. Barnes Company, 1880

McKito, Valerie H. From Loyalists to Loyal Citizens: the DePeyster Family of New York Albany, State University of New York Press, 2015

The Nicholas Jones memo is included in the New York Public Library’s 1921 Annual Report on “items purchased”

Mott, Hopper Striker The New York of Yesterday: Bloomingdale New York, The Knickerbocker Press 1908

Mott, Hopper Striker “Major General Garret Hopper Striker” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Volume XXXIX, Number 3, July 1908

“The Old Country Seats of New York Island” American Journal of Numismatics Volume 2 Number 11, March 1868

Stokes, I. N. Phelps The Iconography of Manhattan Island Volume 5 New York, Robert H. Dodge, 1928.

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Post #2: 18th Century Bloomingdale residents before the American Revolution

Pam Tice, Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee member

Here is a second post in my series exploring Bloomingdale in Colonial times and after the Revolution.

Colonial New York

New York City’s colonial history provides a context for Bloomingdale’s history before the American Revolution.  The City became an economic powerhouse in the 18th Century after Queen Anne’s War ended in 1717.  The development of the plantations in the British West Indies to meet the rising demand for sugar drove the New England and the Middle Colonies to become the suppliers of food and other essential supplies for the plantations. New York became, in that time, one of the imperial centers of the British North American empire, the others being Jamaica in the West Indies, and Halifax in Canada.

New York City began to lose its original Dutch cultural heritage as the British economic and cultural practices prevailed. Merchants in New York were drawn into the slave trade as slaves were needed to labor on the farms surrounding the city, as well as to work in building ships, handling cargo, and even the day-to-day work of operating businesses.  Some slaves also worked as domestic servants. While we don’t have actual headcounts of enslaved people in Bloomingdale until the 1790 federal census, we can be quite sure that many slaves labored for their masters here. An enslaved population was one of the major features of New York City life in the 18th Century. Another blog post in this series will provide more details about slavery in New York City and the details found about enslaved people in Bloomingdale.

New York City’s aristocracy was one of wealth, not lineage. The merchant princes of colonial New York became the leaders of fashion, politics, intellectual life, and philanthropic projects.  They moved to a life of ease and comfort similar to their peers in London.  Their personal fortunes were tied-up in real estate and the elegant homes they built in downtown Manhattan. But soon they began establishing “country seats” up the island along both the East and the Hudson Rivers. Along the Boston Post road to Harlem,  the Stuyvesants, Beekmans, LeRoys, and Gracies established estates. In what became Greenwich Village, the Delanceys, Bayards, and James Jauncey established themselves. South of Vandewater Heights—in Bloomingdale—the Apthorp, Striker, Delancey and Bayard estates were established by mid-century.The Delanceys named their estate “Little Bloomingdale.”

These estates mixed with the farms that were already well established.  Some country seats raised crops for market as well as serving as country retreats. Most estates were what one writer called “theaters for refinement.” Both employed slave labor where the footman who stood behind the master of the house at dinner was a slave, as were the maids and coachman, a colonial version of the gentrified home in England.  Gardening and landscaping were important for some, as reflected in the advertisements of the land. Gentlemen were focused on fast horses and fox hunting in Bloomingdale.

Downtown, assembly balls, theater and the Vauxhall filled with waxen figures were features of winter social life.  Kings’ College and the New York Society Library were founded. Religious life was important but Bloomingdale did not have enough population to support churches until after the Revolution.

The merchant princes of Bloomingdale were conservative, and many remained loyal to the British Crown when the Revolution came. Their choice would determine the property changes that came after the War.

Bloomingdale Village, probably around either the 70s or 100th
Street, an 1870 image from the Greatorex images,, Museum of the City of New York

Early Property Owners Along the Bloomingdale Road

In 1667/68, New York’s Governor Richard Nicolls sold nearly 500 acres on the Upper West Side to Isaac Bedlow, one of the City’s aldermen. In 1688, Bedlow’s widow sold the land to Theunis Idens Van Huysen, often referred to as Theunis Idens or Eidens. He moved his farm from Sapokanikan (Greenwich) to his new property, stretching in some descriptions from 89th Street to 107th Street, encompassing 460 acres. Theunis Eidens’ land was surveyed by the town of New Harlem in 1690, determining that it was in the City’s Out Ward, not the town.  In his old age, Theunis Eidens surveyed his 460 acres, dividing it into parcels of 57 ½ acres each, numbered from one to eight, and conveying them to his children, most of whom were daughters. Lot Number 8 went to Rebecca Eidens and her husband Abraham “De La Monontanie,” or Montayne, a Huguenot family, whose farm was east of Morningside Park’s cliff, on the then-called Montayne’s Plain. This name lives on today in the name of the little stream that flows across the northern end of Central Park, Montayne’s Rivulet.

Theunis Eidens Lots Numbered Six and Seven went to his daughter Catalina and her husband George Dyckman. Lots 4 and 5 went to the Eidens son, Eide Van Huyse, Number 3 to daughter Sarah, Number 1 and a portion of Number 2 to their daughter Dinah and her husband Van Vleckeren. Later, in 1762, Charles Apthorp, a merchant originally from Boston, would establish his “country seat” on Eidens’ land, as he came to own Lots 1 to 5.

Eidens’ land was in the City’s Out Ward, the section of Manhattan Island above Wall Street. The Dutch East India Company had divided the downtown section into wards that covered the population living there; later, the British expanded the downtown wards as the population grew. In 1660, the town of New Harlem had been laid out, covering the northern part of the island from 129th Street on the North River —as the Hudson was called —to 74th Street on the East River. The town had surveyed Eidens land to make sure he was not encroaching on the Town.

In 1700, the New York Common Council ordered that land to the north of Theunis Eidens be sold to pay for the new City Hall they planned to build downtown at Wall Street and Nassau Streets, the same building that later served as the Federal Hall for the new capital of the United States. They sold to John Miseroll, who quickly re-sold it to Jacob de Key. In 1732, one of Jacob’s descendants, Thomas de Key, advertised a farm for sale with “a very good stone house.” One record places the house near where Columbia’s Low Library stands today, while another describes it as standing on the south side of West 114th Street, 380 feet east of Tenth Avenue.

De Key’s sale of his farm went to two new owners, Adrian Hoogelandt and Harmon Vandewater. Vandewater took the land to the east of Hoogelandt, leaving him no shoreline on the North River. After his death, Hoogelandt’s land was advertised for sale in 1772 with this description:

That very valuable farm of Adrian Hoghland, late deceased, situated in Bloomingdale, in the outward of the City of New-York, containing 121 acres of choice land, well wooded and watered, with salt meadow sufficient to supply the farm with hay; there is on the premises a large commodious dwelling house and kitchen, a large barn, with stables for horses and cows, with other out-houses, all well covered with shingles, also a large orchard with choice apples, and a very great collection of fruit trees, such as English, and common cherries, pears, peaches, etc. Its vicinity to the City of New-York, together with very extensive and beautiful prospects (commanding a view of new-Harlem, the Sound, Long-Island, New- York, and its Bay, down to the Narrows; and up Hudson’s River for many miles) fitly adapt it for a gentleman’s country seat; and the goodness of soil, for the farmer. The whole will be sold together, or in two parts, as best suits the purchaser.

Another pre-Revolution property owner in Bloomingdale was Johannes Van Beverhoudt who purchased western portions of the land owned by the Eidens’ sons-in-law, de la Montayne and Dyckman. Van Beverhoudt was Dutch, of a family that had settled in the West Indies, on a plantation in St. Croix. Johannes came to New York City with his children and fourth wife, Margaret. They joined the Dutch Reformed Church and, in 1750, the children were recognized as naturalized citizens by the Legislative Council of the Colony. Johannes died in 1751, and Margaret sold his Bloomngdale land to Humphrey Jones. The sale included the stone house which later became the Abbey Hotel, a Bloomingdale landmark. It was placed south of West 102nd Street, west of West End Avenue. Mr. Jones assembled other land as well, including the remaining land George Dyckman owned.

Further south in Bloomingdale, Theunis Eiden’s son, Eyde Van Huysen had sold about 115 acres to Dennis Hicks in 1746. In 1763, Hicks sold his land to Charles Apthorp who established his country seat, building a splendid mansion in 1764 between West 92-93 Streets, west of Columbus Avenue. The construction of the mansion house was in the news in 1764 when George McIntosh, a Scotsman laborer, working there was killed in a quarrel by another workman, Frederick Loudon, a Dutchman, one of the earliest crime reports of the Upper West Side.

 In 1764, Apthorp sold the old Eidens homestead and some land to Gerrit Striker, whose holdings were around 96th Street, with the inlet on the Hudson gaining the name Striker’s Bay. Striker built his own house on the bluff where the Eidens home was located. Later, the Striker house became a tavern and then a hotel, one of the popular stops along the Bloomingdale Road.  Apthorp also sold to Humphrey Jones the rights to use the old road that went from the cove at 96th Street to Mr. Jones’ property.

South of Apthorp, another portion of Eiden’s land, owned by his daughter Dinah, was sold to Stephen Delancey, who made it his country seat, naming “Little Bloomingdale.” By 1747, the estate was in the hands of Oliver Delancey, whose family story continued into the years of the Revolutionary War. Delancey built his own house, selling the original house to Apthorp, who transferred it to his brother-in-law James McEvers. McEvers died soon thereafter, and further transfers put the property back in the hands of the Apthorps. It went eventually to Charlotte Apthorp, who married John Cornelius Vanden Heuvel. They built a new house west of the Bloomingdale Road, between 78th and 79th Streets. Their home eventually became Burnham’s, another popular resort on the Bloomingdale Road in the early days of the 19th Century. 

In 1774, Apthorp sold a piece of his land opposite the McEvers parcel to Major Robert Bayard, who was married to one of his sisters. He was the agent for the East India Company in New York City. 

Further south on the Upper West Side developed in a similar fashion, with the area around 70th Street gaining the name “Harsenville” for Jacob Harsen. Close by was the Somarindyke/Somerindike family’s property which stretched from West 57th to West 70th Streets from the common lands in mid-island to the Hudson River. The Cozine family had property on the mid-town west side as well. Even further south, the Hopper family farmed around 50th Street, west of Seventh Avenue.  All of these names proved useful in locating Bloomingdale families on the federal censuses starting in the 1790s.

As more homes were built along the Bloomingdale Road, smaller lanes and roads were developed off the main road, including Apthorp’s Lane (later Jauncey’s) between 93rd and 94th Streets, running through today’s Central Park to the Eastern Post Road, and Harsen’s Lane that ran over to the east side of Manhattan to the Middle Road, an alternative to the Post Road on the east side.  Clendening’s Lane ran northeast from the Bloomingdale Road to a point at around 105th Street to Mr. Clendening’s home, built in the early 19th century.  Clendening Lane was named “Goodever’s” first, according to the author of the history of St. Michael’s Church; in reviewing property records, however, the property owner appears to be “Goodeve.” The same writer notes “Kemble’s Lane” leading to the former Jones estate, “Striker’s Bay Lane” at 96th Street, “Mott’s Lane” just below 94th Street, and “Livingston’s Lane” at 91st Street.

Sources

Ancestry family histories at www.ancestry.com

Hall, Edward Hagaman “A Brief History of Morningside Park and Vicinity” Twenty First Annual Report of the American Scenic and Historic Society, 1916

Harrington, Virginia D. “The Place of he Merchant in New York Colonial Life” New York History October 1932, Volume 13 No. 4, pp 366-380

Mott, Hopper Striker The New York of Yesterday: Bloomingdale  New York, The Knickerbocker Press 1907

Newspaper databases at www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com

Peters, John Punnett Annals of St. Michael’s, Being The History of St. Michael’s Protestant Episcopal Church, New York for One Hundred Years 1807-1907 New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907

Riker, James Revised History of Harlem New York, New Harlem Publishing Company, 1904

Salwen, Peter Upper Westside Story New York, Abbeville Press, 1989

Stokes, I. N. PhelpsThe Iconography of Manhattan Island (all volumes) New York, Robert H. Dodge, 1928

van Beverhoudt family: https://200inparadise.blogspot.com/2012/06/van-beverhoudts-take-manhattan.html.

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Bloomingdale: Colonial Times and after the Revolutionary War

by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group

Introduction

A few months ago, a new website developed by John Jay College caught my attention. Like many institutions of higher education, the College was exploring the link between slavery and the famous man whose name adorns it. One of the resources used was the 1790 federal Census. I looked up Charles Ward Apthorp, whom I had written about previously, one of the colonial property owners in our Bloomingdale neighborhood. He owned eight slaves.

That got me thinking: who were the other people in this census? How was the Bloomingdale neighborhood settled in the era before the Revolution? What was Bloomingdale like after the Revolution and in the early 1900s?  I started to dig a bit deeper into the Bloomingdale history, beyond the work of numerous local historians who write about a particular property owner and the history of a mansion house, as I myself had done in writing about Apthorp’s mansion that became Elm Park.

The Bloomingdale Road, authorized in 1703, and laid out in 1707, was key to the area’s development; Bloomingdale became more like a suburb of the city than what we call a neighborhood today. I am especially grateful to my colleague at the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, Gil Tauber, for his help on the details of the Bloomingdale Road history.

To provide context, I read books and articles about New York City’s colonial history, about how the American Revolution played out here, and the role slavery played in New York City. I also learned about the yellow fever epidemics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as they played a role in developing our neighborhood, an escape from the crowded streets of downtown Manhattan.

The districts of the 1790-1820 federal censuses covered much more geographical space than just our neighborhood.  In order to find just the Bloomingdale residents, I first had to learn about many uptown Manhattan families and where they settled. I used numerous publications such as Riker’s History of Harlem, Stokes’ six-volume Iconography of Manhattan Island, and Mott’s New York of Yesteryear, along with innumerable newspaper clippings.  (Those books are listed in the Sources section below.)

The blog posts that follow share what I’ve learned about colonial Bloomingdale and its history in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century.

Along the Bloomingdale Road in the 18th Century

Bloomingdale referred to a district on both the lower and upper West Side of Manhattan Island named by the Dutch as Bloemendahl, a vale of flowers. When the British took over the colony in 1664, changing the name from New Amsterdam to New York, they Anglicized the district’s name.  Bloomingdale was never an organized village, like New Harlem. Later, Greenwich Village, although not incorporated, also had more specific boundaries than Bloomingdale which remained somewhat amorphous. Later, it would be defined as a settlement around 100th Street and the Bloomingdale Road.  Other neighborhood names developed: Harsenville, in the 70s, was to the south, and Vandewater Heights to the north, where we find Morningside Heights today.

In his Iconography of Manhattan Island, Stokes cites 1688 as the earliest example he could find of the use of the name Bloemendahl, mentioned in a marriage record of the Dutch Reformed Church. Similar names would be given to other early farms: the de Montayne family named their farm near today’s Morningside Park Vredendal or “peaceful dale.”

On June 19, 1703, New York’s Colonial legislature passed an Act naming the Bloomingdale Road as a public road. Later legal actions would cite the fact that it was four rods in breadth as proof that it followed an existing road, since new roads in the Colony were to be six rods. (A rod is 16.5 feet in British measurement.) The existing road was no doubt a Lenape trail, as this was the formation pattern of many Manhattan roads. The Bloomingdale Road would stretch from 14th Street and the Bowery, cross the island in a northwest direction, and end up at the dwelling house of Adrian Hoogelandt at 116th Street, near today’s Riverside Drive. In 1787 legislation about the Road this same place was referred to as Nicholas de Peyster’s barn, the site of Hooglandt’s old house.

In 1707, the Committee responsible for surveying the road declared their work finished. Two of these landowners were “Theunis Eidens” and “Captain Key,” who are mentioned in the next post covering property owners.

In 1751 legislation concerning the Road, it was allowed to have a breadth of two rods. The City also required the appointment of a surveyor of the public road, one who was a resident of the Bloomingdale district. He was in charge of road repairs and had the authority to summon any number of Bloomingdale inhabitants to work for up to six days each year on the Road. If someone produced a cart, spades and pickaxes, that would be counted as three days of labor. Anyone failing to appear would be fined six shillings.

After the Revolution, in 1794, the City’s Common Council decided to “…look into the expediency of continuing the Road until it intersects with the Post Road in Harlem Heights, and to determine if the proprietors through which the Road will pass may be asked of their willingness to give the land for this purpose.” All but two (Molonear and Meyer) were willing, and by 1797 the Council ordered that the new Road should be “put in good order.”  Many years later, in 1868, the Bloomingdale Road was officially abandoned after major portions of it had become part of Broadway.

Country Lane Bloomingdale 1870 image from Greatorex images Museum of the City of New York

Milestones on the Bloomingdale Road

Colonial roads typically had mile markers to help travelers pinpoint where they were. The 200-mile trip from Boston to New York City along the Boston Post Road would take one week with mile markers helping a weary traveler to gauge the distance. As taverns developed along the road, the mile markers would help locate them. Mile markers were established along the Albany Post Road in 1753, and continued into Manhattan along the Kingsbridge Road. The 12-mile marker was at today’s 212th Street, still in place and incorporated into the wall surrounding Isham Park in Inwood. Other old mile markers are in the collections of the Museum of the City of New York and the New-York Historical Society.

The original mile markers in the City measured the distance from the old City Hall on Wall Street. Later, in 1812, they would be adjusted to measure from the new City Hall, in the park where it stands today.

In 1769, a series of mile markers was established along the Bloomingdale Road, measured from the old City Hall. A new series was put in place in 1813, measured from the new City Hall. In that series, mile number five was at 74th Street, number six at 94th Street, and number seven at 112th Street. These mile markers are helpful in determining the locations of taverns advertised in the newspapers, and for property sales in the Upper West Side area. For instance, in 1785, John Somarindyke advertised a lost cow that had wandered onto his property “near the five mile stone.” Another advertisement, in 1799, described the property at the five mile stone as “one hour from the City.”

1813 Bloomingdale Road MIlestones from New York Historical Society publication Quarterly Volume 34, Number 3

The Bloomingdale Road as a recreational space

After the Revolution, when George Washington lived in New York City as the capital of the United States, his diary notes long carriage rides taken:

“…long drives in the family coach with Mrs. Washington and the two Custis children on the ‘fourteen miles round’ being covered between breakfast and dinner time. This tour led over the Bloomingdale Road to Harlem Heights thence by a crossroad to Kingsbridge and returning along the Boston Post Road.”

Thus, while many localities boast that “Washington slept here,” our neighborhood can point to the many times President Washington drove through here, as a way of relaxing from the duties of his job. It may have been on one of these drives when he expressed the opinion that the new capital buildings might be located on the bluff overlooking the Hudson, near the location of the Claremont estate at 123rd Street.

Bu the nineteenth century, while Bloomingdale remained rural, before Central Park was developed, the Road up the west side provided pleasure to those who owned horses and carriages. Mr. Mott, in his book about Bloomingdale, writes,

the country on either side of it was so fresh and rural, the houses so charming whether they were the villas of millionaires or two-story cottages of dwellers with small revenues, and the glimpse of the Hudson sometimes at the foot of a narrow lane, where the water was but a point of lightness closing the vista, sometimes a broad expanse showing a large and noble view of the grand river.” 

Farming in Bloomingdale

The land in Bloomingdale was farmland, growing the crops needed to feed the city’s residents on the southernmost tip of the island. Food grown in New York also fed the slaves in the Caribbean islands, as the land there was more valuable for growing sugar cane. The Dutch had introduced wheat to the colony; native people already grew beans, squash, and other domestic plants. Initially, cattle, sheep, and swine had to be imported. The Village of Harlem to the north and east of Bloomingdale grew wheat, maize, buckwheat, and flax. By the late 18th Century, grain production had shifted upstate, while those with farms close to the city produced the highly perishable products that could be brought to market quickly and easily. Manhattan farming concentrated on fruits, vegetables, and milk.

My research about 18th century Bloomingdale did not reveal any specific details of growing crops locally and taking them to market, although the early owners of land here were presumed to be farming their land. By 1728, there were five markets in downtown Manhattan along the East River waterfront. Many crops, from Brooklyn, Queens and uptown Manhattan, were moved to their markets by water. When one early landowner purchased land that included the shoreline at West 96th Street, an owner further north made sure to purchase the right to use the road that connected his estate to this shore point, suggesting that access to the water was important, perhaps for moving food supplies downtown.

Later in the 18th Century, when merchants began to purchase Bloomingdale land as their “country seat,”

it appears that farming the land continued, but I found no details of a relationship with an overseer, or tenant leases for a portion of the land. Tenancy on farmland was well-established in colonial New York, as the great manorial estates north of the city belonging to the Livingstons and Van Rensselaers were farmed by tenant farmers. As I scanned the federal censuses—finding many unknown names—it may be that they were tenant farmers on the Bloomingdale estates.

Certain writers have mentioned growing tobacco in Bloomingdale, and then linking that fact to slavery. There may well have been tobacco growing there, just as there was further east in Harlem. However, slavery was pervasive in New York throughout the 18th Century and enslaved people worked on many of the farms and estates of Bloomingdale, as will be discussed further on.

Advertisements for land in Bloomingdale provide the most specific examples of farming during this era. The Apthorp estate, established in 1764, was described in an advertisement in 1780 as including many features besides the elegant mansion house:

“Also a two story brick house for an overseer and servants, a wash house, cyder house and mill, corn crib, a pidgeon (sic) house, well-stocked, a very large barn, and hovels for cattle, large stables and coach houses, and very other convenience… excellent fruit trees. 

The ad refers to the estate as being “very profitable” for a gentleman, suggesting that economic activity would be occurring.

A 1782 advertisement reads:

Between fifty and sixty acres of exceedingly good land, lying at Bloomingdale, in the island of New-York, on which is a good Dutch barn, well-floored, with stables, cow stalls, hog pen …The Farm is well-wooded and watered, a great quantity of fruit trees of all sorts, above one hundred locust trees of a very large size,a nd produces near fifty loads of hay yearly. There are also eight acres of Grain now in the ground.

Finally, an 1808 advertisement for a House and Farm, situated at Bloomingdale, about 20 rods north of the six mile stone, includes:

On the Farm are more than fifty cherry trees of the best kinds, more than one hundred peach trees of excellent sorts, a great number of plumb (sic), quince and pear trees, and a good-sized apple orchard, all in full bearing. The Garden is well-stocked with currants, gooseberries, raspberries, and strawberries, with asparagus beds.  The Farm consists of 25 acres, which affords pasturage for six cows, besides producing annually about 5 tons of hay.

Colonial Bloomingdale property owners will be covered in my next post.

Sources

Riker, James Revised History of Harlem New York, New Harlem Publishing Company, 1904

Mott, Hopper Striker The New York of Yesterday: Bloomingdale New York, The Knickerbocker Press 1908

Newspaper articles from www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com

The Green Bag, a Magazine for Lawyers Volume XXIII covering 1911, The Riverdale Press, Brookline, Boston, Massachusetts. Article “Bradley vs. Crane” regarding the Bloomingdale Road history

Koke, Richard J. “Milestones Along the Old Highways of New York City.” New York Historical Society Quarterly Volume XXXIV, Number 3

Burrows, Edwin G., Mike Wallace, et al Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 New York, Oxford University Press 1999.

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Prohibition in Bloomingdale

January 17, 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Prohibition era. I’d planned to write a blog post about that era in our neighborhood, especially since we were the site of the Lion Brewery on Columbus Avenue at 107th Street. The 2020 Pandemic intervened and I diverted to the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Now I’m returning to Prohibition in Bloomingdale.

Since so much about this time involved illegal activity, it took more digging than usual to find places in our neighborhood where the 1920s era played out.   What I found may be merely the tip of an iceberg, revealing only those places that were reported in the newspapers because they were caught breaking the law. If you are reading this and know of a speakeasy operating in our neighborhood in the 1920s, please do let us know! My sources, listed below, include books by historians who have looked at this era, particularly in Manhattan; the newspapers reporting day-to-day enforcement and political activity, and online resources covering Prohibition.

Making Fun of Prohibition

Introduction: Prohibition Dates and Laws

On January 17, 1920, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquor within, into, and from the United States and its territories were prohibited by the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Volstead Act that implemented it.  The ban was in effect until December 1933, when the 21st Amendment was ratified, making the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act null and void.

As Michael A. Lerner states in the introduction to his book Dry Manhattan,

Prohibition fostered new forms of urban culture, redefined leisure and amusement in the city, and promoted corruption and crime. It changed the relationship between the middle class and reform, and challenged traditional gender roles that assumed women were the moral guardians of society. Eventually… the rebellion against Prohibition in New York reshaped politics.

Prohibition came into effect gradually. Before the 18th Amendment, a “wartime prohibition” law passed as a temporary measure in September 1919 that barred the manufacture of beer and wine in the United States after May 1919. It also prohibited the sale of beverages containing more than 2.75 percent alcohol anywhere in the nation after July 1, 1919. There were numerous arguments against this measure since the war had ended. Some said it was passed just to appease the Anti-Saloon League, which had grown into a formidable political force.

New York City’s reaction to the wartime prohibition was a preview of its years-long reaction to the 18th Amendment. Illegal activity began to happen all over town. Prohibition came to be seen as a game; hotel bars quietly just kept serving liquor to long-time patrons. Tourists were amazed at how easy it was to get a drink in New York City. Agents of the U.S. Justice Department, the agency responsible for enforcement under Wartime Prohibition, began to roundup violators. Two of the earliest mentions of activity in our neighborhood were the arrests of Nicholas Rama of the Lion Café at 110th and Broadway, and of a couple operating a saloon on Amsterdam Avenue.

Many people expected beer and light wines to be exempt from the restrictions of the 18th Amendment. They were not. However, individuals with stores of liquor purchased before Prohibition were allowed to continue to enjoy their investment at home, although many transferred their cache to a flask and showed up at a hotel bar, paying for ginger ale, ice and glasses set up.  Physicians were allowed to prescribe whiskey for various ailments as was common at that time. The 1918 flu was still circulating, and there was concern about getting prescribed whiskey for those patients. Churches and synagogues were allowed to purchase sacramental wines.

Soon, even the legal uses of liquor were corrupted. Ministers and rabbis, or those posing, as such, were caught making illicit purchases. Drugstore pharmacists were caught writing hundreds of whiskey prescriptions on stolen or acquired pads, some sold to them by doctors looking to make a profit. I did not find any arrests for these crimes in Bloomingdale, but the practice was widespread.

Another solution for many was to make their “hooch” at home in a still. Recipes were readily available, with even the New York Public Library formally stating it would not restrict any book containing the needed information. When the stills grew in size and sometimes exploded, or the manufactured product proved to be poisonous, there were other rounds of investigations and arrests. Again, no story of such activity emerged in Bloomingdale, although many areas had cases of wood-alcohol poisoning, including twelve who died one day in Red Hook, and, in another case, six “bad rum deaths” on West 64th Street.

For a few months, Prohibition raids and arrests were slow to start up as many awaited the Supreme Court’s decision regarding challenges to the Volstead Act.  Bloomingdale’s brewery, the Lion, made one of the challenges in federal court in 1920 “states’ rights” argument that lost.  There were also legal challenges to the definition of “intoxicating,” although eventually it was defined as one-half of one percent. Even the weak “war beer” was now illegal.

Then there was New York City’s less-than-enthusiastic efforts at enforcing the law through its Police Department. Many in the city thought that the 150 federal agents appointed to serve in the city should handle it. Finally, the “dry forces” in the New York State Legislature enacted the Mullan-Gage Law in 1921 that mirrored the federal law, and the NYPD had to cooperate. However, with a tepid response, the state law was ended in 1923.

The Lion Brewery  

New York Public Library

While the Lion shifted to wartime beer in 1919, the company also took other measures to keep its operation going. The newspapers reported that it would convert part of its complex to store furs and, in a later announcement, planned that the brewery would make ice. In early 1919, the brewery assured its customers that it had one of the largest storage cellars in the city and that it would have plenty of beer up to July 1, when the wartime prohibition went into effect. The Brewery management also sent a strong warning to its saloons not to mix the “near beer” with its lager, in a move to preserve the reputation of its product.

But for all their legal and political moves, the German brewers of New York City were prevented from fighting too hard because of the anti-German feelings running high in the City as World War I progressed.

In November 1921, the neighborhood around the Lion Brewery was thoroughly frightened one evening when a large pipe connecting ammonia to the brewery’s refrigerating plant on the second floor exploded. Patrons at the Belvedere Restaurant at 954 Columbus Avenue, right across the street, frantically ran out as a large plank came crashing through the window. Hundreds of families were out on the street thinking a bomb had exploded. The windows were blown out in many nearby buildings. After all, just a year or so before, in September 1920, New Yorkers had been rattled by the Wall Street bombing when 38 people were killed and scores injured. Concerns were real about radical political agitation.

Another nearby brewery, Bernheim and Schwartz, former owners of the Lion, gave up their brewing in 1923 and sold their buildings at Amsterdam and 128th Street to a refrigeration company. As the sale took place, the 163 vats of pre-Prohibition beer, being held in the hope it would be legal again, were released through a main sewer drain and flowed into the Hudson River. The value of the beer at $400,000 had a bootleg valuation of more than $1 million.

Daily News Headline LION BREWERY FIRE

The Lion Brewery stirred up the neighborhood again in 1927, on July 5, when a fire broke out and destroyed one of its buildings. The fire went to five alarms and created a remarkable smoke condition watched by many thousands from high points all around the city. Some thought a fire cracker tossed from the Ninth Avenue El was the cause, but Mr. Murray, the President of the Brewery Company thought it had started in the malt storage. Poor Mr. Murray: he and his wife and their chauffer were killed in a car accident in 1931. Nevertheless the Brewery went on, announcing new hiring in late 1932 as they prepared for the end of Prohibition later in 1933.

Speakeasies and Saloons  

Golinkin image of the speakeasy at the Museum of the City of New York

During the Prohibition era in New York City numerous sources noted that the city had twenty to thirty thousand places where liquor could be purchased. Many of the Prohibition raids carried out and reported in the newspapers focused on Midtown Manhattan and Greenwich Village. Here, famous nightclubs and speakeasies developed before and during Prohibition, giving New York City its glamorous image. The Central Park Casino where Mayor Walker and his mistress held court was another famous spot. The Upper West Side had Reisenweber’s, at 58th Street and Eighth Avenue, where 3,000 could gather in multiple buildings in its restaurants and nightclub. This West Side spot was closed in 1922 after a raid.

Before Prohibition, Bloomingdale’s predominantly residential area hosted many restaurants, both stand-alone and in the numerous apartment-hotels around the neighborhood. The area also had numerous saloons serving working class residents on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. The Anti-Saloon League focused its activity on saloons which were deemed the breeding ground of multiple social problems. Even the Progressives wanted to get rid of them, at a time when many social problems were being cleaned up.  The Prohibition cause was helped by the World War’s anti-German feelings, coupled with anti-Irish and general anti-immigrant prejudice. African American community leaders thought that removing liquor helped their cause as well.

Later, sociologists would wax nostalgic about the saloon as a “poor man’s club” and the role it played for a newly-arrived immigrant. Saloons were also a gathering place political bosses used to spread messages or organize followers. Just as an historic note, the term “blind pig” was applied to lower-class establishments in the 19th century when the saloon keeper would bring in business by charging patrons to see an animal with unusual attributes, charge admission, and then provide liquor at no cost. For some, the blind pig was the officer on the beat who looked the other way.

The newspapers reported raids by the federal Prohibition Agents and sometimes officers of the NYPD, depending on the year and the political push at the city level. One report, referring to Bloomingdale as part of Harlem, noting raids at 354 West 103rd Street and 705, 930, and 984 Amsterdam Avenue. A raid report in 1922 mentioned 840 Amsterdam and another reported 974 Amsterdam where Thomas Fisher was the saloon keeper who had been arrested multiple times. That raid was performed by Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith, two Prohibition enforcement agents who always seemed to have the press covering their work and clever disguises. They were dismissed in 1925 as their antics were deemed inappropriate for federal agents.

Izzy and Moe the Prohibition Agents

Finding speakeasies in Bloomingdale was more difficult. Fortunately, when perusing a collection of speakeasy “membership” cards at the Museum of the City of New York, one was found for a business at 241 West 103rd Street called “Bobbie and Jimmie Restaurant.” Landmark West notes that this address is at the end of a group of row houses on that street and still stands today. No report of a raid there was found. But this quotation from a 1929 New York Times article may better capture what was happening at 241 West 103rd: “The brownstone front, somewhat run down, often conceals an interior the passer-by would never suspect. There are handsomely appointed dining rooms, soft lights, well-trained waiters, a French menu, and the clink of ice in wine buckets.” The Times story was about the impossibility of eliminating the city’s speakeasies, estimated at 30,000, and making a point that many were quietly operated and had no “criminal element.” Given the vast numbers, no doubt Bloomingdale had many such spots. Further down the West Side, another speakeasy card was found for the Villa Mignon on West 78th Street.

Bobby and Jimmie Speakeasy card at the Museum of the City of New York

Villa Mignon Speakeasy card at the Museum of the City of New York

Vice in Bloomingdale

Twenty years before Prohibition, the city made efforts to clean up or at least tamp down areas where prostitution was evident. An earlier blog post described “Little Coney Island” up on West 110th Street (LINK) around the turn of the century. Here, saloons were taking advantage of the infamous Raines Law meant to eliminate Sunday drinking, and turning themselves into cheap hotels where drinks could be served on Sundays. Setting up a saloon as a cheap hotel with a few partitioned areas invited the prostitution that followed. The Committee of Fourteen was formed in 1905 as a citizens’ association dedicated to abolishing the Raines Law. They were successful. They continued their work, and by 1920 were overseeing undercover investigations of what they called “disorderly houses.”  The Committee included at that time Reverend John P. Peters of St. Michael’s Church at Amsterdam Avenue and 99th Street.

In the Spring of 1920, the Reverend John Roach Stratton of the Calvary Baptist Church, a member of the Committee of Fourteen,  preached in his Easter sermon about the “hive of vice” in New York.  He named places the Committee’s undercover committee had surveilled. Drawing attention to such places was part of a campaign to have Police Inspector Dominick Henry of the NYPD removed from his position. Indeed, the Inspector was indicted later for neglect of duty as he ignored 160 disorderly houses in his district. At his trial, he was found to have a $50,000 brokerage account while receiving a salary of just $4,000.

Thanks to Michael Lerner’s book, listed below, there are details of the Committee’s Report about Peter’s Italian Table D’Hote Restaurant at 165 West 97th Street.  After the Easter sermon, Peter’s was raided and Peter Gallotti, the owner, was charged and then convicted of serving liquor illegally, receiving a fine of $500 and 10 days in jail. (Later, this dining spot became Chateau Stanley, at 163 West 97th, and, much later, PS 163 which it is today.)

Here’s what the Committee of 14’s surveillance team found at Peter’s: “… twenty un-escorted women, smoking cigarettes, … some appeared to be under the influence of liquor.  The investigator witnessed single women moving from table to table exchanging addresses and phone numbers with men.” However, when the investigator attempted to secure the services of a prostitute through the manager, he was unsuccessful. At another club, the Rendezvous on West 84th Street, there was an even more aggressive action by “hostesses” to ply a patron with drinks and take all of his money while he got drunk and is later dumped into a taxi.

Prohibition increased the number of places where women and men could meet, in an era where sexual openness became the norm. While some found this change in social customs reprehensible, others found that commercial prostitution actually diminished at this time.

Cordial Shops

Another common practice and one that surely happened in Bloomingdale was the “neighborhood cordial shop.” As time passed into the twenties, the bootlegging operations became very well organized, bringing liquor into the country through Canada, down the East Coast by ships that anchored off Nantucket and eastern Long Island (“Rum Row”) and then onshore by speedy motorboats ducking the U.S.Coast Guard. One of the bootleggers sales outlets was a neighborhood storefront with “importer” or “broker” on their door. Flyers would appear under the windshield of your car or under your door. The Museum of the City of New York has samples of these printed lists in their collection, the simplicity of purchasing the product seemingly innocent and harmless. You might even get an added prize, such as the Bakelite tumblers offered here.

Cordial Shop list at the Museum of the City of New York cover page

Shopping list for liquor sales from folder at the Museum of the City of New York. inside page

Our Famous Prohibition Resident

Arnold Rothstein (Library of Congress photo)

Arnold Rothstein was a mob kingpin in New York City. Even before Prohibition he had a reputation as the fixer of the 1919 World Series. Prohibition produced plenty of mobsters, often associated with one ethnic group or another. But there was something special about Rothstein, as one writer described him, conceiving his operation like a successful corporation with good management and marketing.  He made crime not just thuggish activity but big business. He expanded to loan sharking and narcotics, and even owned an insurance company.

One source gave this quotation from him:

“I will travel to London and Edinburgh and other major European cities and see the Scotch distillers. I’ll lay out hard cash and ask them to deliver their top-quality whiskey to us. We’ll have crews we can trust and ships to bring it across the Atlantic … I want to lay down an important principle … we must maintain a reputation for having only the very best whiskey.”

Arnold Rothstein was living with his parents Abraham and Esther on West 93rd Street in the 1900 federal census. In the 1910 census, after he married his wife Caroline at Saratoga in 1909, they were living on West 94th Street. Later, he moved to other West Side locations, and owned an apartment building on West 72nd. Rothstein was such an important figure in the crime world that he became a character in popular culture. Damon Runyon befriended him and created the “Nathan Detroit” character in Guys and Dolls. F. Scott Fitzgerald alludes to him in The Great Gatsby. He appears again in the HBO Series Boardwalk Empire.

In 1928, Rothstein was assassinated at a poker game in the Park Central Hotel. He is buried at a cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens.

The 1920s came to an end and soon the Depression became the predominant news and political story. Prohibition, a colossal failure, finally ended in December 1933. Both federal and state governments lost huge amounts of income, many jobs were lost, and there was a significant corrupting influence on law enforcement. New Yorkers celebrated the end of their Prohibition years with a Beer Parade. In Bloomingdale, the name lives on at a successful bar named “Prohibition” on Columbus Avenue, although closed now during our current pandemic.

Beer Parade Poster at the Museum of the City of New York

Sources

Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007

Okrent, Daniel. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Scribner, 2010

Susi, Michael The Upper West Side Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2009

Museum of the City of New York, digital collections

The New York Times archive

Digital newspaper collections at www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com

Digital newspaper collection at the Library of Congress

www.Ancestry.com

New website on 1920: https://www.ny1920.com

The blog at www.themobmuseum.org

Reisenweber’s at Columbus Circle: https://www.brighteningglance.org/reisenwebers-columbus-circle.html.

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