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


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 and

Digital newspaper collection at the Library of Congress

New website on 1920:

The blog at

Reisenweber’s at Columbus Circle:

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Spanish Flu in Bloomingdale: A Search for How Our Neighborhood Coped in 1918

This post was written by Pam Tice, a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee

I had a little bird, Its name was Enza, I opened the window, And in-flu-enza.

Children’s Rhyme, 1918

 As our 2020 Pandemic Spring unrolled over the past few months, there have been numerous articles reaching back to 1918 when the “Spanish Flu Epidemic” spread across the United States. On the 100th anniversary in 2018 historians looked back on that time, most not imagining that we would be re-living this type of historic event just two years later. As I get ready to upload this post in mid-May 2020, New York’s City’s 20,000 + deaths from the Covid-19 Flu are close to matching the number of deaths in the fall of 1918.

Back in March when New York went on “pause” I decided to learn about the 1918 flu epidemic in New York City, and then learn how the illness may have played out in the Bloomingdale neighborhood on the Upper West Side. I wanted to understand what local life would have been like at that time.

I started with the articles about 1918, focusing particularly on New York City. I looked in the academic journals, and searched the newspapers. My search was all online, of course, as all archives are currently closed. I read all the contemporary pieces where the historians discuss 1918 in light of today’s ongoing event. Nothing I found (almost) related directly to Bloomingdale. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about New York City in 1918. I decided to share what I’ve learned—about the flu epidemic, about the public health and the nursing profession, and about World War l in New York City—and how all of these things might have touched the lives of those living in Bloomingdale.

Many who have written about the 1918 flu epidemic—no one called it a “pandemic” then—note how it was barely even remembered. The disease killed 33,000 in New York City when our population was 5.6 million. In the second wave of the disease, the fall of 1918, more than 20,000 New Yorkers died. In the United States, 675,000 died. There are a few written memorials, but, in general, everyone simply moved on after it was over.  In his novel “The Plague,” Albert Camus describes the many millions of bodies as no more than an intangible mist drifting through the mind. Many of us today find evidence of the 1918 flu as we research family history, stories of the long-time grief experienced when parents and siblings were lost to the epidemic. The stories aren’t always sad: a recent comment to a New York Times article tells the story of a grandmother telling of the time she woke up in the hospital in 1918, heard the bells of Armistice Day ringing, and thought she’d gone to heaven!

1918 in New York City had kicked off with a new Mayor, John F. Hylan, supported by the Democratic machine. He replaced John Purroy Mitchel, whose progressive ideals were reflected in the City’s Health Department with its work in combatting tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. In the Spring of 1918, Hylan’s first Commissioner of Health had tried to cut back the expenses of the Department and created an outcry from the public reflected in news reports. By May, 1918, a new Commissioner, Dr. Royal S. Copeland, was appointed and assurances made that the medical community and the City would work together. Commissioner Copeland was in the news nearly every day as the epidemic became apparent late in the summer.

Later, medical historians would analyze the Department’s data and conclude that February to April 1918 was the first wave of the pandemic in New York City.  Medical historians saw the beginning of the U.S. epidemic at Camp Funston, part of Fort Riley in Kansas, where U.S. Army recruits suffered thousands of losses among the troops preparing to go to Europe. By summer, the flu was raging at the east coast military facilities. The disease’s arrival may have been under-reported as such news was felt to undermine our military strength. However, Spain was neutral in the War, and the flu there was publicly reported.  This led to its name, the “Spanish Flu.”

It wasn’t until the second wave of the virus began on August 14th that New York City’s Health Department required that physicians report flu and pneumonia cases. Medical historians pinpoint the New York City epidemic when the Norwegian vessel Bergensfiord arrived with ten people ill (two had died at sea) and all of the sick were taken to Brooklyn’s Norwegian Hospital. Typically, at that time, vessels were quarantined at the Swinburne and Hoffman Islands off South Beach on Staten Island. At this point, the disease was often still referred to as “the grippe,” the name given during the earlier epidemic in 1889-1891. On August 15th, the Health Commissioner declared that there was “not the slightest chance of a Spanish Flu epidemic here.” By August 20th, he was describing the influenza “of a mild form” and declaring there was “no cause for alarm.”

On August 20th, The New York Tribune published a list of dos and don’ts for treatment of the flu:

  • Don’t use a common towel at home
  • Avoid contact with anyone sneezing or coughing
  • Don’t expectorate (spit)
  • Burn or boil the bedclothes of anyone who is sick in your home
  • Ventilate your home and workplace
  • Avoid dry-sweeping that raises dust.

By late August and into early September, the news of cases if the flu and the accompanying pneumonia at military camps in New England: Camp Devens near Boston, and the naval forces in New London, Connecticut. For New Yorkers, many recruits were at Camp Upton at Yaphank, Long Island. Families in the City were allowed to visit the Camp. Soon the flu was spreading there.

Meanwhile, Copeland was still reporting that the cases in New York City were all from those coming here on ships. On September 19, The New York Times reported that three cases of the flu on Central Park West were home-grown, not from any ship’s arrival. Now the City had two jobs: isolate the sick, and prevent the disease from spreading in the healthy population.

How did the Department of Health’s new rules and warnings affect our Bloomingdale neighborhood?

First, in an early ruling on September 19, the Commissioner said that anyone in a house or apartment who caught the flu could stay at home, in strict quarantine. There was no way to monitor this, however, except through a family physician. Those who lived in tenements or boarding houses would be removed to a city hospital.

At this time, there was just one city hospital in each borough, but Manhattan had two: Bellevue Hospital and the Willard Parker on West 16th Street. Over the next few weeks, the City scrambled to add beds in each hospital as well as develop new beds, such as re-working the Municipal Lodging House down on 25th Street as a place to care for those ill with the flu. The hospital ship The Riverside was brought to the East River near the Willard Parker hospital to add beds.  During the height of the crisis, the Health Commissioner admitted that the city’s hospitals were crowded, and that there was no room for women patients.

The City’s private hospitals were no doubt flooded with patients also: the Park Hospital on Central Park West at 99th Street, and St. Luke’s up on West 114th Street, to name those nearest to Bloomingdale. The Park Hospital had only 64 beds. It was originally developed by the Red Cross as a teaching hospital for nurses, and re-named the Park Hospital in 1915 when the Red Cross decided to no longer operate hospitals.

Copeland was particularly worried about the potential spreading of the virus on the transportation system: the subways, trolleys, ferries and trains. He had 10,000 placards printed, spreading them throughout the system. They warned “To prevent the spread of Spanish influenza, sneeze, cough or expectorate (if you must) in your handkerchief. You are in no danger if everyone heeds this warning.”  Our Bloomingdale neighbors would have seen this placard on the elevated train along Columbus Avenue, the trolley cars on Central Park West, and the subway running under Broadway. The posters were also in store windows, at the police precinct on West 100th Street, and other public places.

Here are a few additional images of printed material:

The City started an anti-spitting campaign 20 years earlier; the Sanitary Police reinforced it in 1918. Even the Boy Scouts got involved, handing out cards to anyone seen spitting, reminding them it was illegal. The newspapers reported cases of spitting arrests, and fines were imposed.

Another area of concern was the popular movie theaters. Copeland declared that the large well-ventilated theaters could be kept open so long as no more than two rows of standees were allowed in the back, and no smoking was allowed. He also saw the theaters as a way to communicate his messages about using a handkerchief if you sneezed or coughed. Copeland also saw that he might cause panic if people saw their beloved movie theaters closed. He did appear to be against the “dirty, stuffy, hole-in-the-wall” small, unventilated theaters, and threatened to close them. In Bloomingdale, there were two that may have been small and stuffy. There was the Park West on West 99th Street near the Fire Department Training School and The Rose on West 102nd Street next to the Post Office, on the same block as PS 179.

The “movie palaces” on Broadway at 96th Street, the Riviera and the Riverside, stayed open. The “Shubert-Riviera” advertised on October 2nd that the film “The Very Idea” would be showing, with orchestra seats for the evening show at $1. There were other larger movie theaters in the neighborhood.

Copeland also warned about using shared cups and utensils. Drinking fountains in city parks had cups hanging on them. Soda fountains were targeted as they often did not wash drinking cups and food utensils between users. Like the people caught spitting, soda fountain operators were brought to court and fined, with their names printed in the news.

Wearing a gauze mask became common, first by hospital workers, and then by others. The most-often printed photos of the 1918 flu show a New York City postal worker, a sanitation worker, and a police officer wearing masks. This young women workers photo has been shared a lot too.

By early October, the cases of the flu and pneumonia were mounting fast. There was great pressure on the Commissioner to close the schools, although it was not clear until later that children were not particularly targeted by this disease. Young adults 20 to 45 were more likely to get sick. Later, after the data collected was analyzed it was generally thought that older people, in their sixties and older, had some protection from the 1889-91 epidemic they had lived though.

Since 1897, the schools were part of the City’s disease prevention system. In 1908, Dr. S. Josephine Baker, a leading expert in public health, had taken over the Department of Health’s Child Hygiene Bureau, leading 192 medical inspectors and 195 nurses who worked in the schools to check for signs of illness. In Bloomingdale, PS 54 at 104th Street, PS 165 on West 108-109th Streets, and PS 179 on West 102-103rd Streets would have been part of the system.

PS 54 at Amsterdam and 104 Street

PS 179 On 102 Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues

PS 165 on West 108 between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway (Museum of the City of New York photo)

In October and November 1918, children were directed to report directly to their classroom in the morning with no loitering in the schoolyard. Teachers looked for signs of the flu, and, if found, the medical inspector took over and made sure the child went home and was seen by a family physician or public health doctor.

Dr. Copeland and Dr. Baker thought that this system of daily inspection was far better than letting all the children stay at home. They were also able to send flyers home with the children on how to handle family members who caught the flu.  Public Health and education about disease was so important at this time that the American Museum of Natural History had a “Public Health Hall” where exhibits visited by many New York schoolchildren added to their classroom work.

Private schools may have had a different outlook. A newspaper reported that Dr. Copeland’s son caught the flu and his school, Ethical Culture, was closed.

There were daily newspaper reports, by borough, of new cases of flu and pneumonia. By October 5, the Surgeon General was calling for New York City to close its schools, churches and theaters, but Copeland was still insisting that we were not stricken in the same way as Boston; he also said that half of the 1,600 cases that day “were in 600 families.”  However, that day the Health Department issued new rules that asked stores, offices, textile manufacturers and “other manufacturers” to stagger their hours so that crowding on the subway could be lessened. Copeland’s solution seemed to be to “keep calm, and go about your business.”

As often happens during a crisis, multiple events take place. For New Yorkers, that happened on October 6 when the T.A. Gillespie munitions-loading plant near South Amboy, New Jersey, blew up in a succession of explosions, causing buildings all over Manhattan to tremble, and all the bridges and “tubes” closed in fear that they would be compromised. Hundreds died, and nurses and doctors rushed to the scene.

The next day, the reported flu cases increased to over 2,000. Copeland set up a “Hospital Clearing House” to assign patients to one of the city’s hospitals, and asking the private hospitals to suspend all elective surgeries. Medical students who were nearly finished with their training were released from their universities to help. Many doctors and nurses were called upon to help at the explosion site in New Jersey, leaving the city’s facilities badly understaffed. The war had also taken many doctors and nurses away, with estimates as high as 30% of the City’s medical workers serving in the military and the Red Cross.

In 1918 nursing care was the primary treatment for the flu. There were no antiviral medications, although during much of the autumn, the Commissioner kept mentioning that a vaccination might be happening soon. Nurses kept a patient warm, nourished with chicken soup, and with bed linen kept clean. If there were signs of pneumonia, a “pneumonia jacket” might be used; this was another warming techniquesome had coils of rubber tubing arranged to cover the chest that circulated hot water.

Lillian Wald had started what became the Visiting Nurse Service down on Henry Street in 1893. She was well-regarded for her work in public health, and so Copeland consulted her in forming the New York City Nurses Emergency Council in early October as a way to coordinate trained nurses and volunteers with experience in care for the sick to help them. All the nurses who worked in the various bureaus of the Health Department, such as those assigned to schools, became part of this effort.

To this cadre of women was added the Women’s Motor Corps, an organization formed for war work, but now asked to drive nurses and assistants around a neighborhood, stopping to see those who had requested nursing help. Women supplied their own carsmany women with access to cars were driving electric cars that did not need hand-cranking. They were supplied with linens, soup, and pneumonia jackets to take care of the sick. They were also expected to help with the household if a woman was a patient, making sure the children were tended to. Trained nurses were accompanied by volunteers, women who had some experience in care of the ill, who could help the nurse with more mundane tasks.

Women’s Motor Corps in New York City

On October 10, the Department of Health set up a city-wide “influenza clearing house” in 150 neighborhoods, to provide a place to go to ask for help with nursing a patient at home. In Bloomingdale, this was at the Bloomingdale Clinic, part of the outreach program at St. Michael’s Church, at 225 West 99th Street. There were also outreach centers established at Bretton Hall on Broadway at 86th Street, at the neighborhood house of the Free Synagogue on West 68th Street, and at the Young Women’s Hebrew Association on West 110th Street.

By October 17th, the reported number of flu cases was over 10,000. However, based on the death rate, Copeland said that he thought only 50% of the cases were being reported. Undertakers were now experiencing problems handling the deceased. Florists were unable to fulfill orders.

The Department of Health issued orders to arrest landlords who did not supply sufficient heat with the wartime limits on fuel lifted.

The Mayor and Copeland attacked private physicians with “profiteering” by overcharging. The private physicians shot back that the publicly-paid physicians made no effort to arrest the disease when it came to New York. Rabbi Stephen Wise gave a speech at Carnegie Hall that the Department of Health had become less skilled and effective. This open criticism was matched by conspiracy theories such as the fact that German spies had come to the city “via submarine” and had released the flu in a crowded movie theater.

The peak day on the epidemic curve seems to have been October 20. The New York Times reported on October 22 that there had been 37,025 cases of the flu and 4,332 cases of pneumonia in the preceding week, October 14-21. Deaths from the two were 5,372 that week.

A few stories of difficulties with undertakers emerged in the newspapers. One was labeled “coffin fraud” when two undertakers were accused of receiving bodies of soldiers who had died in the training camps and placed in coffins with a government stamp, of removing the stamp and reselling the coffin.  In what may have been a typical story, the newspaper reported a “West Side family” contracted for $60 with an undertaker to handle a burial. When the time came for the funeral, the undertaker told them the charge would be $150; when the family sought another undertaker, the first one refused to release the death certificate.  The Health Department answered their appeal, turning the undertaker over to the District Attorney. The newspapers reported that, in general, coffins were scarce, and profiteering and extortion were common.

One undertaker in Bloomingdale, was at 68 West 106th Street. There may have been others. Poor people and those of modest income may have held funerals at home or in a local church with the undertaker removing the body for burial. For middle and upper class New Yorkers on the Westside, the Frank E. Campbell “Funeral Church” building on Broadway between 66th and 67th Streets was the place to go.

In a newspaper listing of deaths on October 27, 1918, there were 109; for the same day in 1917, there were 45. Not all deaths were attributed to the flu or pneumonia, but the deceased’s age, in the 30s and 40s, or the use of the word “suddenly” gave a hint of the reason for the death.

While the flu epidemic was expanding across the City, our Bloomingdale neighbors were also coping with the demands of their lives caused by the U.S. entry in April, 1917, to World War I. War demands were often about changing behavior. In the spring of 1918, “American Wheat Wasters,” people living on West 76th and 77th Streets, were severely criticized for their alarming indifference to food conservation. The Department of Health accompanied garbage wagons along these streets and actually counted and weighed the food waste, criticizing the people who lived there, described as “sufficiently well-to-do so as to have the services of two to six servants”. A cook commented that the family she cooked for did not eat toast that had gotten cold.

World War I food waste poster (Library of Congress)


In the Spring of 1918, the second enrollment for the draft was called. Bloomingdale’s Local Draft Board 134 was at 2875 Broadway. The New York Times printed 500 names of those selected that day, including Board 134’s selections, and they left for Camp Upton a few days later.  Rafael Albert, 331 West 101; Isidore Rosenblum, 160 Manhattan Avenue; William Kuhn, 972 Amsterdam Avenue; and Jack Carlos, 230 West 107th Street were chosen.

For young women, the war created opportunities. The trolley cars recruited women to be conductors. At the West Side Y.M.C.A. there was an auto school to train women as drivers and mechanics. The Westinghouse Lamp Company on 512 West 23rd Street, a clean, well-lit factory, with fresh air, advertised for girls at 20 cents an hour with a 10-cent increase in two weeks.

New York City Trolley Conductorettes

The Red Cross was very active, leading the effort to organize knitters, collecting donations, even organizing a big parade as a way to demonstrate patriotism. There was a big knitting event on the Central Park Mall.

Some Bloomingdale lives may have been upturned in early September 1918 when a day-long “hunt for slackers” took place all over the city under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice. Young men were stopped on the street, and, if they could not produce a draft card, they were first taken to the local police stationin Bloomingdale, the 32nd Precinct on the south side of 100th Streetand then put into automobiles and driven to the Armory on 25th Street where they were signed-up. Over 20,000 agents fanned out over the city that day.

On September 1, The New York Times announced that the third draft would be held on September 12. Draft Board 134’s registration site that day was at PS 165 on West 108th Street. Police and firemen were generally exempt, along with men in “war work” jobs.

Simultaneously, the newspapers were printing lists of soldiers and sailors killed in the War, printing the exact address for the New Yorkers. Typically, the listing showed a summary of the number who died, and the reason, as “in battle,” or “of wounds,” or “injured,” and then the actual names by service rank.  Maurice Longstreet, a young man who worked as a butcher on Columbus Avenue, was severely wounded on August 17, 1918, but recovered, and was discharged in February 1919. He appeared in the 1920 census, living on West 106th Street. The October 4 report printed in The New York Times announced that Pvt. Fletcher Battle, 72 West 99th Street was killed and Corporal M. A. Lynch of 107 West 98th Street was severely wounded.

Mrs. Merriles on West 107th was written about in a separate article. Her son, Charles, was killed in an explosion in an ammunition shop and a foster son, Leslie, was killed in action in France. Two other sons were in the Navy.

Another concern in Bloomingdale, site of the Lion Brewery on Columbus Avenue, would have been the September 7 story in the Times that all the nation’s breweries would have to be closed down by December 1. The Fuel and Food Administration would be cutting off supplies of grain and fuel to conserve materials needed to win the war. One observer imagined that beer would be an obsolete drink six to eight weeks after the breweries closed. We have to assume that this action was not implemented but, of course, it would not be long before Prohibition happened, and the brewery was affected.

Another neighborhood activity in October 1918 was voter registration. The newspapers printed lists of where to go to register. Several churches in the neighborhood were listed: Grace Church on West 104th, St. Michael’s on West 99th Street, and the Presbyterian Church at 105th Street and Amsterdam. Registration was also at the Home for Aged Hebrews, on West 105th Street and the Half-Orphan Asylum on Manhattan Avenue. The neighborhood schools were also sites.

Election Day was November 5, the first in New York State when women were able to vote. The State Constitution had been amended in 1917 to grant women suffrage; the U.S. Constitution was still waiting to be amended in 1919.  In Bloomingdale, the polling places, listed by Election District, were numerous: barbershops, laundries, tailors, and shoe stores along Columbus Avenue, perhaps reflecting that men were more comfortable in these places of business. PS 179 was also used. Mary Garrett Hay of West 112th Street, New York Suffragist and good friend to Carrie Chapman Catt, was quoted: “It seemed as natural as breathing, and I felt as though I had always voted.”

The number of new flu and pneumonia cases dropped during November and December, but grew again the first seven weeks of 1919. It also came back in the winter of 1920 but Commissioner Copeland declared it to be of a milder version. However, in 1918 the excitement of the war ending, on November 11, and then the parades celebrating the Armistice dominated the news more than flu stories, leaving families to deal with the illness on their own. The Women’s Motor Corps operated in the winter of 1919.

One especially heartbreaking effect of the widespread illness, particularly its effect on young adults, was the number of orphaned children created by the epidemic. Jewish families, in particular, were appealed to, to take in orphans. Perhaps of use in the Bloomingdale neighborhood was the Manhattanville Day Nursery, an emergency shelter for babies where “forelorn fathers” who could afford the $5 weekly boarding fee would send their infant children if the mother was ill. Other infant-care institutions that sought private homes where an infant could be cared for, as it was recognized that private home care was better for the child. The Department of Health counted 650 babies that it helped during the time of the epidemic.

On November 17, 1918, Commissioner Copeland was interviewed by The New York Times and gave himself high praise for remaining calm, preventing panic, and allowing the city to “go about its business.” While he was still Health Commissioner in 1923, Copeland was elected to the U.S. Senate, and served until his death in 1938.

Dr. Royal S. Copeland

After the data for the 1918 flu epidemic was sorted out, New York came in with a lower “excess death rate per 1,000”, reporting 4.7 compared to Boston at 6.5 or Philadelphia at 7.3. Public health historians gave the city credit for its disease management techniques.  Newspapers also compared the deaths from the war to the deaths from the flu epidemic, noting the alarming numbers for the epidemic.

One of the impacts of the epidemic may have been in the numbers of fairly young widows and widowers observed in the 1920 federal census for Bloomingdale. The census district pages show about one-third more, especially adults in their 30s and 40s, compared to a similar district in 1910. The war, of course, may have added to the numbers.

As I finish writing this piece, the deaths in New York City from our 2020 Pandemic have reached over 20,000 and are still climbing. Local historians have begun working on how we will document and remember this time.


Aimone, Francesco, “The 1918 Influenza Epidemic in New York City: A Review of the Public Health Response” Public Health Reports (1974-) Volume 125, Supplement 3, April 2010, pp 71-79. (downloaded March 14, 2020)

Federal Census data at

Gladwell, Malcolm “The Deadliest Virus Ever Known” The New Yorker September 22, 1997. Accessed online, March 2020

Keeling, Arlene W., “Alert to the Necessities of the Emergency: U.S. Nursing During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Public Health Reports. Accessed online on April 20, 2020

New York City Department of Health, Annual Report 1918. Available at: (The Living City Archive at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University)

Newspaper articles from The New York Times online archive, newspapers accessible online at GenealogyBank. com, and newspapers at the Chronicling America collection at the Library of Congress (The New York Tribune, The Evening World, The New York Herald, The Sun, The New York Daily Tribune)

 Olson, Donald R., Lone Simonsen, Paul J. Edelson, Stephen S. Morse and Edwin D. Kilbourne, “Epidemiological Evidence of an Early Wave of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in New York City” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America Vol 102, No. 31 (August 2, 2005) pp 11059-11063 (downloaded March 29, 2020)

Stern, Alexandra Mina, Mary Beth Reilly, Martin S. Cetron and Howard Markel, “Better Off In School: School Medicine Inspection as a Public Health Strategy During the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic in the United States,” Public Health Reports (1974-) Volume 125, Supplement 3, April 2010, pp 63-70. (downloaded March 26, 2020)

Wallace, Mike, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City, 1898-1919, Oxford University Press, New York, 2017

“Women of the Red Cross Motor Corps in World War I” available online at the website of the National Women’s History Museum.







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Growing Old in Bloomingdale Part III

The Home for Old Men and Aged Couples and St. Luke’s Home for Indigent Females

Both of these homes, developed by New York’s Protestant Episcopal Church, were in Morningside Heights, to the north of our Bloomingdale neighborhood. They were both founded by The Reverend Dr. Isaac Tuttle, Rector of St. Luke’s Church. He first established a home for women in 1852 at 543 Hudson Street, for “gentlewomen in reduced circumstance.” When larger space was needed in 1859, the women were moved to a house next to the church at 487 Hudson Street. The congregation of the church and their friends supplied all the needs of the home.

By 1872, the home for women was relocated to Madison Avenue and 89th Street. Meanwhile, seeing the need for care developing for elderly men, Rev. Tuttle formed the Home for Aged Men and Aged Couples in the building at 487 Hudson Street. The men were “rescued from lonely want and suffering” and aged couples were “saved from the bitterness of separation.”

When the Cathedral of St. John the Divine construction began in the 1890s, the Episcopal Church moved both homes to the Morningside Heights neighborhood. The Home for Old Men and Aged Couples was moved into a new five-story building at Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street, on the northwest corner, across the street from the Cathedral. The land was purchased in 1897 and the home opened the following year. The St. Luke’s Home for Aged Women was built in 1899 at 2914 Broadway, at 114th Street. The Home for Old Men and Aged Couples had a “Board of Lady Associates” in addition to its regular Board.

Both homes required admission payments: in 1921 the fee was $500 for the women at St. Luke’s, $400 for the men and $700 for a couple in the Home for Old Men and Aged Couples. Applicants had to be resident of the City for five years, 60 years or older, and a member of one of the City’s Episcopal Churches.

The two homes were only in the news when a bequest was made or when a fundraising “fair” was held. Certain men who had careers in the clergy or academia were worthy of an obituary in The New York Times. In fact, one description of the Home said it “cares for persons of the intellectual and business class.” The St. Luke’s Home for Aged Women used the resident’s sewing skills to make clothing for the children of the Episcopal Church’s Sheltering Arms Orphanage.

In 1928, the Episcopal Diocese held a fundraising dinner to kick off a campaign and announced a gift of $250,000. Their campaign to expand the Home must have been successful because later, in the 1970s, when the Home was closed, it was comprised of two buildings.

In the 1970s, most likely due to the new federal regulations, St. Luke’s Home combined with the Peabody Home in the Bronx, another Episcopal Church Home, formed a corporate entity called Morningside House which was not an Episcopal Church organization. Eventually both moved into the same new building in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, the Home for Old Men and Aged Women incorporated separately from the Episcopal Church and eventually became the Amsterdam Nursing Home we have today. For a time in 1970, a group of squatters took over the empty buildings of the Home at 112th Street, handling the care of the building, and even convincing the Episcopal Diocese to provide heat for them that winter. Two of the squatters interviewed in the Times said that squatting there was much better than their housing on Manhattan Avenue near 100th Street.

Lynwood Nursing Home, 306 West 102nd Street

By the 1950s, another home for care of the aged had opened in Bloomingdale, the Lynwood Nursing Home in a brownstone built in 1902.  Research on the facility has not uncovered who was the operator and exactly when the home opened; one listing described it as “proprietary.” It appears to have been in operation by the 1950s, based on obituaries in the New York Times for those who passed away there. It was still in operation until the 1980s. The obituaries found were typically for actresses, lawyers, and writers, people who were not poor, and giving an air of gentility to the home. When the federal government began to warn nursing home operators in 1974 that they were not meeting regulations, the Lynwood was on the list of those warned. Today the site is a home for recovering addicts owned by St. Luke’s Hospital.

The Infamous Towers Nursing Home

Writing about nursing homes in our neighborhood would not be complete without the events of the 1970s when the nursing home scandal played out right here, at the Towers Nursing Home on Central Park West at 106th Street.  The distinctive round towers gave the building its name.

Charles Haight’s stone building has been a distinctive feature in Bloomingdale since it was built for the New York Cancer Hospital in three sections, from 1884 to 1890. Later, the health care facility was named The General Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied Diseases. In the 1950s, when the hospital withdrew from the site, Rabbi Bernard Bergman turned it into a nursing home, one of many in his “syndicate” that grew over the years. He also owned the Park Crescent at Riverside Drive and 87th Street, and the Mayflower at West End Ave and 89th Street, both former hotels that were converted.

In a series of articles in the mid-1950s, the New York Times detailed the growth of the population in the United States of over-65 adults* sounding the alarm about health care costs that could wipe out a life’s savings, and the lack of sufficient care facilities for the elderly. By the 1960s, Medicare and Medicaid were enacted, and then the nursing home business became one of the fastest growing in the United States. Elderly people who used up their resources were moved into Medicaid automatically. The federal funding of homes for the aged was a challenge to the old-fashioned non-profit homes of our neighborhood, as they struggled to meet the new rules. But for proprietary homes, the federal funds underwrote what became a real estate development opportunity.

Bergman’s Towers Nursing Home at 2 West 106th Street had been labeled “appalling” by the early 1970s, with firetraps, medical inattention, and filthy conditions noted, but Bergman’s ties to local legislators were strong. Somehow, he and other operators managed to get the inspection process moved from the City to the State of New York where they had more control. John L. Hess of the The New York Times began a regular drumbeat of stories in 1973 and 1974. Assembly Member Andrew Stein was appointed by Governor Rockefeller to open an inquiry, soon coupled with another investigation by the U.S. Senate. What emerged from all this was the full story of the deception and administrative mismanagement of the operators in the Medicaid system, with the Towers standing for all that was wrong. The abuse of the elderly was almost a side-story, as the charges brought against Bergman were financial: stealing and tax-evasion.

As Bergman’s property was sold off to pay back his debt to the State, the Towers was landmarked in 1976 but then sat empty for many years, an eyesore and reminder of what had happened there.

The scandal of the 1970s changed the rules for nursing home operations, but now, years later, we may be on the edge of another with “assisted living” the next group of elderly care facilities needing attention. Since there are no federal dollars involved, oversight remains at the state level, where regulations vary widely.

Meanwhile, our society continues to grapple with how to care for the infirm aged while simultaneously reshaping this period of the human lifespan into a fulfilling time.


*According to the article, one in twelve adults was over 65 in 1955; today it is one in seven.


Aging In America, Inc. “Serving the Elderly with Care and Compassion Since 1852” (report at   (History of Episcopal Church institutions)

American Society on Aging, “A Brief History of Aging Services in the United States” (www.asaging.og/blog)

Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, various Annual Reports (1814-1914), on microfilm at The New York Public Library

Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, Minute Books, etc. in the Rare Book Collection at Columbia University’s Butler Library

Bangs, Mrs. Julia A. An Historic Outline of the Methodist Episcopal Home in the City of New York, New York, 1893 (accessed through Google Books)

Charity Organization Society, Directory of Social and Health Agencies of New York City, 1892 and

Volume 30, 1921 (accessed through Google Books)   (Hudson Street building)

Newspaper archive at

King, Moses, Kings Handbook of New York City, Boston, 1892 (accessed through Google Books)

McClure, Mrs. Frank Newell, ed., The Methodist Church Home for the Aged in the City of New York, J.M. Laverty & Son, New York, 1950 (accessed at, January 27, 2020)

Melder,Keith “Ladies Bountiful: Organized Women’s Benevolence in Early 19th Century America” New York History Vol 48, No 3, July 1967

Museum of the City of New York, photo collection

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Manhattan Avenue Historic District, May 15, 2007

New-York Historical Society, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection (digital access)

The New Jewish Home, Annual Report, 2018

The New York Times archive, online

Richmond, Rev. J. F. New York and Institutions 1609-1873 (Google Books)

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging “2017 Profile of Older Americans” (accessed on line February, 2020)

Weiler, N. Sue “Religion, Ethnicity and the Development of Private Homes for the Aged” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol 12, No. 1, Fall 1992

Westside Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing “Red Oak Apartments” (

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Growing Old in Bloomingdale, Part II

The Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged indigent Females

From 1893 “King’s Handbook”


Since the 2013 post (linked in Part 1) on the history of the organization and its homes for elderly women, the Annual Reports from 1814 to 1924 for the Association were discovered at the New York Public Library. This historical review includes several insights discovered in those reports.

The women who founded the Association were profoundly religious in their mission but were not from any particular Protestant church. In their first Annual Report their purpose is stated “God in his religious providence has reduced many respectable aged females to want. We feel it is our duty and esteem it a privilege to administer to them in comfort.”  The women were the wives of merchants of the City, comfortable in their own lives. Nearly all of them were married and typically held positions on the Board. Many served for a lengthy time.

In their first three years, the Board met at the Brick Presbyterian Church on Beekman Street, and then moved to private homes until they built their first Home on 20th Street, between Second and Third Avenues, after which all meetings were held there. Until the Home opened, the women collected funds and dispersed them to worthy recipients. A Visiting Committee was charged with using “the utmost endeavor to ascertain the real character of every person they visited, closely questioning them and inquiring the surrounding neighbors.” By 1818, they were concerned that “a great number of aged poor are constantly immigrating from Europe” and made a rule that, to receive their help, someone must be a resident of New York City for three years.

By the early 1830s, the Association began a process to build an Asylum. The minister of the Church of the Ascension, then on Canal Street, preached a supportive sermon one Sunday, resulting in Mrs. Peter Stuyvesant convincing her husband to donate land on 20th Street. John Jacob Astor donated $5,000 provided the women could raise the remaining $20,000. And they did! These two leading New York City citizens gave the Association a social boost, and the Board became one that socially-connected women would spend their time.

When the Home was opened on 20th Street, daily prayer and Sunday services were an integral part of the operation. The students at the nearby Episcopal Seminary helped staff the Chapel. The Home was expanded in the 1840s, and William B. Astor contributed another $3,000. They bought land in Yorkville in the 1850s to move uptown and build a larger home, but the Civil War, followed by the 1870s recession, held back their expansion.

By the time the Association bought their land in Bloomingdale, Mrs. Edward Morgan was the “First Directress.” As the wife of ex-Senator and ex-Governor Edward Morgan, she also had the social aspects of her husband’s public life to handle. In 1877 the Morgans hosted a party at their Fifth Avenue mansion for President Rutherford Hayes.

Engaging the well-established American architect Richard Morris Hunt to design their new home on Amsterdam Avenue at 104th Street gave the Association’s project the feature that has kept the building standing today. Hunt had designed an earlier version of the Asylum, when the Board thought they would be building on Fourth (Park) Avenue, but later found that the trains would be too close. When it was time to design the building for Amsterdam Avenue, Hunt may have simply dusted off his earlier plans. He was also busy then with the design of the base of the Statue of Liberty and William K. Vanderbilt’s home on Fifth Avenue. A “Committee of Gentlemen,” Headed by Edward Morgan, helped the women with their real estate dealings.

The Association’s 69th Report in 1881 has a description of the features of the Home, as designed by Hunt. The original building was in a squared “C” shape with an interior courtyard, starting at the 104th Street corner, and fronting in Amsterdam Avenue, then Tenth Avenue. (In 1907 an extension was added by Charles Rich that extended the building to 103rd Street.)

Starting at the bottom, the cellar extended under the entire building, and further extended under a portion of the sidewalk on Amsterdam Avenue. The Matron’s Room had “center speaking tubes and bells reaching to different stories and to the kitchens and laundry.” There were two large staircases and a “commodious elevator near the north staircase.”

The basement had the kitchen, pantries, a laundry room, a drying room, and a linen room along with “Servants’ apartments.” There were bedrooms—doubles and singles—on every floor, linen rooms and shared bathrooms on all floors.  The Board had their meeting rooms on the first floor, along with a parlor that may have served as a visitor’s room, and there was a “bright, airy chapel.”

Parlor at 91 Amsterdam, Museum of the City of New York

Board Meeting Room at 891 Amsterdam, Museum of the City of New York

The Association’s Meeting Minutes, in a few that are available at Columbia University’s Library, provide a glimpse of the issues the Board handled in administering the Home. In early reports, the residents are often referred to as ‘family,’ but later reports call them ‘inmates.’ The work of Board members was considerable, much more than a Board member is expected to do today. Besides constant fundraising and seeking donations of food and clothing and other items, Board members made many of the purchases for the Home. One Board member complained that the women in the Home were unhappy with the type of “porous plaster” she had purchased since they wanted a more expensive brand. Residents who mis-behaved were warned and threatened with dismissal; one woman “of intemperate habits” was dealt with. Another woman accused a nurse of stealing, using language that was “coarse and vulgar,” and had to be “severely reprimanded.”

By the 1880s, the admission fee to the Home was $150 and all property had to go to the Association; nothing could be left in a will to anyone else. Another meeting note dealt with a daughter who had removed a bank book from her mother’s room upon her death, and the Association wanted it back.

The 1908 addition to the Home was substantially funded by Olivia Sage, whose robber-baron husband Russell Sage had died and left her $75 million. Mrs. Sage has been written about as a “Gilded Age” woman created a whole new identity for herself, fashioning an image of benevolence. She gave the Association $250,000. The Chapel in the new addition had Tiffany windows that honored many of the Association’s founders and activists.

Chapel at 891 Amsterdam , Museum of the City of New York

Private Room at 891 Amsterdam, Museum of the City of New York

The Home kept operating through the 20th century as a place for refined women to spend their final years. Sometimes written about in a New York Times obituary, or commented on in a news story about a fundraising bazaar held at the Home, they were teachers and actresses, and many were college-educated. One report mentions a vegetable garden tended by the building’s superintendent, in the rear garden. By 1930 the entrance fee was up to $1000, and applicants had to have been a resident of Manhattan or the Bronx for ten years. A 1939 Times story describes the “tenants” as coming and going as they please, shopping in the neighborhood and going to the beauty parlor. “On stormy days they played bridge in the sun room, listened to lectures or concerts, read books in the library, listened to the radio in their own rooms.” An old-fashioned clapper bell summoned them to meals.

By 1951 there was a major reorganization, and the fee changed to $70/month. Older people were living longer and their “pacts” for care the remainder of their lives were no longer financially viable. The Association limped along, one senses, during these post-war years until Federal programs—Medicare and Medicaid—came along and totally changed the game.  In the mid-1960s, the Home underwent a renovation that turned old closets into space for more shared bathrooms, adding 52 to the building. At that point the name was modernized to the “Association Residence for Women, Inc.” but retained its non-profit status.

The story of saving the Association Residence from destruction is described in detail in the earlier post, so will not be repeated here.

The Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews

Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews, view from West 106th Street, Museum of the City of New York

Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews view from West 105th Street, From Jewish Home Annual Report, accessed Feb 2020

This facility that cared for both men and women got its start in 1848 when Hannah Leo was called upon to visit an elderly woman of her faith and subsequently organized other women in her synagogue B’nai Jeshurun to help the aged and indigent women. They provided “outdoor” relief for a number of years.

In 1866 the group was reincorporated as the B’Nai Jeshurun Ladies Benevolent Society and leased a building on West 17th Street that served as their first asylum. The group operated in leased buildings, on West 32nd Street, then Lexington Avenue at 63rd Street, and finally by 1876, on East 86th Street in a mansion overlooking the East River. Along the way, their homes were opened to men also.

The Benevolent Society bought eight adjoining lots on West 105th and 106th Streets and built their first building, the “Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews.” The address of the original building, dedicated on March 24, 1883, was 125 West 105th Street, located between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  The red brick building on West 105th was connected to another on West 106th Street with a structure connecting them.

Admission to the Home did not require a fee. Applicants initially had to be 60 years of older, of good moral character and of sound mind. By the 1920s, there was accommodation for 350 people. Visitors were allowed on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm.

From the beginning through 1920, Dr. Simeon N. Leo, Hannah Leo’s son, served the home without pay as its physician. Every year, the Home’s Purim celebration was noted in the news, as that holiday featured bringing food to the poor. The Home was known for several innovations in the care of the elderly, including employing professional social workers, and creating individual care plans for its residents.

The Hebrew Home building was expanded numerous times over the years, until it reached the complex that we have today, now called “the New Jewish Home,” providing services to New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds.


Home for the Aged, Little Sisters of the Poor

Home for the Aged, West 106th Street, Little Sisters of the Poor

The Little Sisters of the Poor established their home at 135 West 106th Street in 1883-1885, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, on the north side of the street. In 1894 they added to the original building, to the east, in the same style, using the same architectural firm.  Their initial purchase of lots in 1883 stretched to 107th Street where they added an extension in 1912.

This was the only home where care of the aged was in the hands of a religious order but, amazingly, those admitted did not have to be Roman Catholics. There was no fee for admission, and both men and women were accepted providing they were 60 years or older. One had to be “of good moral character.”

Little Sisters of the Poor was formed in France in 1839 in St. Servan, on the coast of Brittany, by Sister Jeanne Jugan. Members of the order made vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but also took a vow of “hospitality.” Sister Jugan was canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. The Sisters work spread to other countries in Europe, and in 1868 they came to the United States, to Brooklyn, and soon had a home established on DeKalb Avenue. By the 1890s they had established 39 homes across the U.S.

The Little Sisters of the Poor also came to Manhattan, first to 31st Street, and then to East 70th Street near Third Avenue. The brick home on West 106th Street was dedicated by Archbishop Corrigan on May 23, 1886, with separate male and female wings, including a chapel in the center. No information about the operation of the Home was found for this article, other than in the charity listings for New York City. One listing noted that applicants to the Home on West 106th Street must be from the west side, while the East 70th Street Home served eastsiders.

Residents of the Home were provided food, clothing and shelter and were supposed to be “happy” as they lived their final years. Visitors were allowed every day from 11 to 5 pm. Residents were not required to attend religious services.

One attribute that made this home different from the others in our neighborhood was that the Sisters upheld their tradition in every location by venturing forth to the community every day to “beg.” Pairs of Sisters would go out, on foot, or with a cart, to ask restaurants, hotels, private homes, butcher shops, bakeries, grocery stores and even breweries for donations of food, money, clothing, or fuel. Today’s non-profit organizations, such as City Harvest, that recycle leftover food are in this same tradition, although we don’t call their appeals “begging.”

While other Homes regularly held fundraising events, working through their Boards of Lady Managers, there were no news reports of such events for the Little Sisters. Once, however, in 1908, a charity event in a New York City hotel, held by French chefs to show their skills, benefited the Little Sisters of the Poor. They were also often named as a beneficiary of many people whose wills were printed in news reports, a popular practice in early New York.

No report of when the Home was torn down was found; however, it was listed as “active” in a 1975 guide to nursing homes. In 1978 the property was an empty lot when the West Side Federation of Supportive Senior Housing began discussions with the Little Sisters of the Poor to purchase it, which they did in 1980. The WSFSSH opened their “Red Oak” apartments, housing for low-income seniors, in 1982.

Note: the Sources used for this post will be included at the end of Part III.

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Growing Old in Bloomingdale: Nineteenth Century Homes for the Aged, Part 1

This post and the two that follow on the same topic are written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group planning committee.

In the early days of the nineteenth century as the population of New York City expanded, how to care for elderly citizens, particularly the poor, became a problem. Until then, old people were cared for by their families, or taken into the home of a friend. Poor people who ended up in the City’s Poor House were not differentiated from the mentally ill or dissolute people who were unable to care for themselves.

One of the West Side’s historic organizations, the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, was formed in 1814 to deal with the problem of poor elderly women. The history of their Home at 891 Amsterdam Avenue has been covered in an earlier post but will be described here again, with new information recovered from a trove of their Annual reports discovered at the New York Public Library.

Five other homes were in close proximity, starting in the late 19th century and into the early days of the 20th century, some lasting until the 1970s when everything changed with new Federal programs. This three-part article covers the history of caring for the aged in our neighborhood at these institutions and two others from more modern times, covered in Part 3.

The Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged at 673 Amsterdam Avenue, between West 92nd and West 93rd Street

The Home for Aged Hebrews, originally located at 121 West 105th Street

The Old Age Home operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, at 135 West 106th Street

Across 110th Street in the Morningside Heights neighborhood,

The Home for Old Men and Aged Couples at 1060 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street

The St. Luke’s Home for Aged Women at 2914 Broadway at 114th Street

Civil engineer Egbert L. Viele wrote about the area:  There is no dampness here on the west side. There is a dry tonic atmosphere which is not felt elsewhere in the city.  It is more healthy than elsewhere. Elderly people like it here much better and with excellent reason.


1885 map showing three of the Homes


While the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females got an early start in 1814, as the nineteenth century progressed other organizations formed to care for the elderly, at first for old women, and later for men. Older women were expected to be in need of support, but it took a while longer for men to be viewed in the same way. While numerous homes were operated by religious organizations, there were others established by mutual aid societies of workers’ organizations, or by certain immigrant groups. Today, for instance, we still have the buildings of Sailors Snug Harbor where “aged, decrepit and worn out” sailors were cared for, starting in the 1830s.

Over time, the religious organizations, particularly Protestants, defined those who deserved their support, extending it to those who were poor because of illness or loss of fortune in contrast to those who could not take care of themselves or their families, perhaps through alcoholism. Even as they became adept at managing an asylum, groups turned away those who were mentally ill, leaving them to go to public institutions. In general, they wanted fairly healthy individuals, although they had infirmaries for those who became ill as they neared death.

Four of the six home discussed here came about as a result of the efforts of women. The two north of 110th Street, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood, were connected to the Episcopal Church, and founded by one of its pastors, Reverend Isaac Tuttle, but had committees of women who were integral to the operation. Women who engaged in charity work in the nineteenth century became adept working outside the home, extending their social influence, and learning organizational and financial management. These skills carried over to the abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, and eventually the suffrage movement.

The rules governing the position of Matron for both the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females and the Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged are remarkably similar, as if the two institutions were in close contact. The Matrons were charged with being respectful and kind to everyone, keeping the home in neat order, and enforcing the rules. The lights were to be extinguished by 10 pm, with others left burning throughout the night only as needed. No “spiritous” liquors were allowed unless a physician had ordered them, and then the Matron had to keep the supply and administer it. She was responsible for the preparation of meals, for the quality of the food, the timing of the meals, and that the prayer of grace was said at each meal.

The women managers of the Home performed many duties that would later be handled by staff:  ordering supplies, visiting each resident regularly in committees of two, visiting those they supported outside the home, and delivering clothing, food, cash and sometimes fuel.

Three of the homes in Bloomingdale were designed by the firm D. & J. Jardine. David and John Jardine had immigrated from Scotland and formed one of the prominent firms in the city. They designed the asylums built by the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Methodists, and the B’Nai Jeshurun Ladies Benevolent Society. Landmark West Jardine buildings still standing in the West 80s. Research underway by one of the members of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group has identified 910 Amsterdam Avenue, 200 to 208 West 105th Street, and 202 West 108th Street as D. & J. Jardine buildings, all still standing.

As time went on, and the population of elderly citizens increased, facilities changed. When Social Security began in the 1930s, there was a general increase in care homes in the U.S. and the “poor house” came to an end since those committed there could not receive Social Security payments. During the Depression, many people opened up their own homes to old people since they brought some income, although we have no particular knowledge of this activity on the Upper West Side. Finally, after World War II and beyond, when Medicare and Medicaid began, nursing homes became a business, and had significant impact on our neighborhood.

The Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged

Just like the women of the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, and those of the Home for Aged Hebrews, the women of the Methodist Churches in New York City followed a similar path. They wanted to do something about caring for elderly women who faced the almshouse. In 1850, a group formed the Ladies Union Aid Society and, very quickly, a home was rented at 16 Horatio Street for 30 women.  By 1857 space was tight, and they had raised enough funds to combine a two-lot gift of land with one lot purchased on West 42nd Street near Eighth Avenue. Here they built a 4-story building that housed 75 people, men included.

The residents, referred to as “the Family,” had to belong to one of the many Methodist churches in Manhattan and apply through their own church. Every church had a committee to consider applicants. They did not accept anyone who was “insane or weak minded.”

The Methodists had the usual “subscriptions” (annual donors) and those who left bequests to their Home. They accepted donations of food, clothing and furnishings, all scrupulously noted in their annual reports. They also offered two Benefits each year, celebratory events, such as an “Autumn Harvest Home Festival” that attracted church members from around the city, with special teas, and items for sale. The women in the Home always made some of the knitted and crocheted items, giving them useful work, and also helping the Home.

In 1884 they bought eight lots on Amsterdam Avenue, on the block between West 92 and 93 Streets, and by October 1886 the residents were moving into their new home. One of the physicians said, “Its very location is suggestive of health, being on high and rocky ground, and in one of the non-malarious portions of the island. The Outlook is grand with a commanding view of the Hudson River and the Palisades.”


Just inside the front door of the brick home was a chapel that could seat 400, and on the first floor there was a dining room, the Board’s committee rooms, parlors, the physician’s office, and offices for the matron and the housekeeper, along with ten bedrooms. The basement held the kitchen, laundry and drying rooms, the engine and boiler room, various closets and pantries, and a smoking room for the men.

Up on the second floor, the group’s Young Ladies Reading Association had a reading room with volunteers ready to read to those who could no longer read for themselves. The young ladies were also responsible for the Christmas celebration at the Home where each member of the Family was sure to get a gift. On the fourth floor was an Infirmary, and a small dining room for those who could not descend the stairs. All together there were 120 sleeping rooms, all with sunshine and fresh air as they faced outward on the streets or over the interior courtyard.

Anyone who could do so was expected to assist in the work of the Home. Several physicians donated their services, and various Methodist ministers came to preach on Sunday afternoons. There were prayers every morning and evening. Board members served on various committees, performing tasks that today would be handled by hired staff. The Visiting Committee, in two-person teams, was charged with coming into the Home three times a week, one of them at a mealtime, and getting to know the residents and hearing their stories.

Residents were not required to pay a fee to enter the Home, but they did have to turn over all of their property to the Home. Visitors were allowed only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Home had cemetery plots at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn and Maple Grove Cemetery in Queens.

News reporting on homes for the aged tended to focus on the members of the Board, gifts and bequests they received, and their building and expansion projects. Any comments about the residents were usually focused on how happy they are, and the home’s lovely atmosphere and comforts. In a 1906 news report, the Home’s annual “Christmas Market,” just after Thanksgiving, was held at the Home. The reporter focused on a blind woman, Jane Bennett, who, despite her lack of sight was able to make two pretty napkin rings with beads strung on wire and a pincushion shaped like a wheelbarrow. Another woman, age 97, who had been at the Home and the earlier one for 48 years, enjoyed the event, dressed in her “pink shawl and white tulle cap with ruchings and rosettes.” An old man, a “seadog,” in a sealskin visored cap and Uncle Sam chin whiskers” was helping collect payments for the items, and chatted about his days as “a mate or second-mate on ships from ’56 to ’60.”

The Methodist Home has two written histories, one from its founding to 1892 and the other from 1850 to 1950. The second report gave a few details about the effort to relocate the Home in Riverdale. In the 1920s, the Methodists conducted a fundraising campaign, and, at the end in 1927, concluded that their Amsterdam Avenue property was worth more to them if they sold it and built a new home.

The members of the “Family” were not happy with the plan to relocate much further uptown. One resident lamented that she would no longer be able to “go the Five and Ten, or walk down the Avenues to look in the shop windows.” But the plans went forward, and the new home was occupied in September, 1929. The history book provides the details of moving the elderly residents, getting them to part with years of accumulations and to leave their rooms with the walls covered with “pasted illustrations.” Each resident had a strong-minded volunteer assigned so that excess clothing could be tossed out, although one elderly woman insisted on bringing her heavy tailor’s iron, although she did agree to leave behind her corset covers.

The plan to sell the Amsterdam Avenue property was thwarted by the Depression, so the property was instead leased for twenty years. One source says it was vacant until 1940 when it was taken down and two six-story apartment buildings were built.

Sources used for this article and the two that follow are posted following Part 3,

Empty Methodist Home at Amsterdam and West 92nd Street,

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Our Bloomingdale Wall

Mr. Tower’s sketch of the Clendening Wall


Once we had a wall running right through our Bloomingdale neighborhood. Only it wasn’t called a wall; it was the Clendening Bridge, a portion of the Croton Aqueduct, the city’s first major infrastructure project to address the problem of getting clean water to New York City. Thanks to a young engineer named Fayette Bartholomew Tower, we have this drawing of our Clendening Bridge, published in his 1843 book after the Croton Aqueduct was finished. Even though the Bridge remained in place until the 1870s, no photograph has been found (yet).

The Croton Aqueduct, including the Clendening Bridge, ran through our neighborhood about 100 feet west of Columbus Avenue. It came down Amsterdam Avenue and swung over at an angle toward Columbus Avenue, straightening out at 105-104 Streets to head downtown in a straight line. Of course these avenues were Tenth and Ninth then, and not the roadways they are today. Much of the entire Croton Aqueduct was an above-ground “horse-shoe shaped brick tunnel 8.5 feet high by 7.5 feet wide, set on a stone foundation and protected by an earthen cover and stone facing at the embankment walls” according to a description by the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct.

Sketch of Croton embankment walls


The Aqueduct embankment came through our neighborhood until it had to cross the Clendening Valley, the dip between West 102 and West 95th Streets, requiring a bridge. This was the Clendening Bridge, named for the local property-owner, John Clendening.  This earlier blog post covered John Clendening’s estate in Bloomingdale:

The Croton Aqueduct was developed in 1840-41 just as the Clendening estate was being divided and many house lots sold. Mr. Robert Marshall bought the Clendening home.  This 1867 map showing the Aqueduct’s route has Mr. Marshal’s name where the homestead was located. Another place name, Manhattan Valley, referred to the deep valley north of our neighborhood, in Harlem, not today’s Manhattan Valley that runs west of Central Park from 100th to 110th Streets.

Dripps May 1867


It took New York City many years to come to an agreement about the need for the Croton project. The need for water to supply a growing city resulted in numerous schemes,  the most notable the Manhattan Water Company of Aaron Burr that was contrived more to fund a bank than to supply water.  The bank survived, as today’s JP Morgan Chase.

Yellow fever and cholera epidemics occurred regularly in early 19th century New York. An understanding as to the cause of the epidemics was slow to develop, although Dr. Joseph Browne wrote a treatise in 1798 about the need to clean-up unsanitary conditions. Many wealthy New Yorkers who lived downtown had their water brought in buckets from the country rivers and streams to the north.  The world-wide outbreak of cholera that reached New York City in 1832 was especially severe, killing more than 3,000 people. Then, in January 1835, a fire in lower Manhattan destroyed 17 blocks while firemen struggled unsuccessfully to get water out of the frozen East River. All of these events gave urgency to the need to bring in a clean and plentiful water supply.


Thanks to Mr. Jervis, the Croton project’s chief engineer, the Aqueduct was planned section-by-section, starting with the reservoir created at the Croton River Dam in Westchester County, and traveling down to Manhattan to the distributing reservoir at Murray Hill, the site at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. The 41-mile length of the Aqueduct was divided into four divisions of roughly ten miles each. Many contractors worked on it, employing as many as 300 workers, many of them Irish immigrants. In all, the project had 97 sections of varying lengths, depending on the topography. Our Clendening Bridge, 1900 feet long, was Section 94.  The 41-mile Aqueduct ran over a varied landscape, sometimes tunneled, sometimes above ground, and at other times over a bridge.

The Croton project had started in 1835 when the New York City Board of Water Commissioners hired Major David Bates Douglass as Chief Engineer. Major Douglass, a West Point-trained engineer, worked until October 1836, when he was dismissed, planning the 41-mile route of the Aqueduct, but not completing any plans for its structures. The Board decided he was lacking in “practical experience.” The man they hired then, John Jervis, had no university training, but he had a lot of practical experience gained from working on the Erie Canal, and the Hudson and Mohawk Railway. Jervis designed the Aqueduct’s masonry conduit, the dam on the Croton, the two reservoirs in Manhattan and the major bridges needed to cross valleys and rivers, along with gatehouses, waste weirs, ventilators, and culverts.

Mr. Jervis hired a young engineer Fayette B. Tower in 1837 when Tower was just twenty years old.  Born in Waterville, New York, he had cobbled together an engineering education after missing out at an opportunity to be trained at West Point. He was doing railroad surveys in 1837 when he was hired by Jervis at $83 per month. There were other engineers hired to supervise the contractors’ work in the various divisions of the Aqueduct route, including James Renwick Jr.,  who went on to become a well-known American architect.

Fayette Tower plays an important role in the history of building the Croton Aqueduct because of his book of illustrations and description of the project.  He also wrote letters to his mother during the construction, a resource Mr. Koeppel used when he wrote his book, listed below. Mr. Tower worked in Westchester County on the Acqueduct through 1839.  Then, in 1839, construction reached Manhattan. Mr. Tower became the supervisor of the Clendening Bridge section in Bloomingdale. He married Elizabeth Huntington Phelps of Baltimore in the summer of 1839, and they settled in Bloomingdale to be near his work. We know from the letters that Elizabeth, known as Bessy, redecorated their living quarters and helped with her artistic husband’s math calculations. They are listed in the 1840 federal census of Ward 12 of Manhattan.

The 1839 contract for the Clendening Valley Bridge work was awarded to a contractor named Bishop  & Campbell. The New York City Comptroller’s Report for 1841 shows a payment of $112,500 to them. While the original plan had been to make more arches over street crossings, only 98th, 99th and 100th streets were built. Three others at 96th, 97th and 101st Streets were eliminated to save money. Actually, the Water Commissioners considered eliminating all of the arches, but work on those first three had been started and it was decided to finish them. The reported discussion of the issue reveals the comment “that roads on the Upper West Side would probably not be opened for a century or two to come.” Here is another of Tower’s etchings that shows the street crossings:

Tower drawing of the Clendening Arches


After 95th Street, the Aqueduct continued in a straight line down to 85th Street where it took another angled turn across to the receiving reservoir stretching from 86th down to 79th Streets, and covering the wide block from Seventh to Sixth Avenue. This was the original 1842 Croton project known as the Yorkville Reservoir. The later reservoir, north of 86th Street, was built between 1858 and 1862 when “New Croton Water” was developed. It was designed by Olmsted with curving edges to fit more attractively into the new Central Park landscape.  There was a Keeper’s House built in 1866 (destroyed in 1935) for the Overseer of both of the Central Park reservoirs. In the 1930s, the old Croton reservoir was filled in and this space became Central Park’s Great Lawn.

In April 1840 when the work on the Aqueduct in our neighborhood would have been underway after the winter break, there was labor unrest when the contractors reduced the wages of the workers. The labor unrest looked serious at first but then fizzled. The newspaper reports contain the usual mocking tone used against the Irish immigrants. The actual potential confrontation with the workers was east of the “vale of Clendening” as one report called our neighborhood.

Bessy Tower, Fayette’s beloved wife, died of consumption in early 1841. When she became ill in October 1840, he took a leave of absence to care for her, and they moved downtown to Orchard Street. He was back at work in 1841, wrapping up his supervision duties at the Clendening Bridge. Later, in September 1843, Tower married Bessy’s sister, Anna R. Phelps. They left New York after the Croton project, to live in Cumberland, Maryland. In the 1850 federal census, there is listed a 10 year old girl, Agnes Tower, listed who may have been a child from his first marriage.

Tower engaged in manufacturing in Maryland, and also had a public life, serving in the Maryland legislature and then as the Mayor of Cumberland. However, his health wasn’t good, and he died in 1857 at only 40 years old.

The work on the Aqueduct as it came into Manhattan comprised multiple projects. There were arguments over the costs of what eventually became the High Bridge over the Harlem River; for which the Commissioners considered tunneling under the River, or building a lower bridge. Eventually the High Bridge we have today was started, but it wasn’t finished until 1848, six years after the Aqueduct became operational. For some time while the High Bridge was under construction, a pipe went across the River and had a water jet that made a wondrous show for those who came in their carriages uptown to see it.

The Aqueduct crossed the Manhattan Valley at 125th Street along Amsterdam Avenue with an inverted siphon of cast-iron pipes. A siphon is defined as a pressure pipeline that carries water uphill and then downhill again on an upside-down U-shaped trajectory. The falling liquid at the top of the U pushes the liquid in front of it uphill to continue flowing on the other side by means of gravity.

In his book, Tower describes the route of the Aqueduct. “From Manhattan Valley . . . passes through a tunnel and following its course to the next work of interest is the Clendening Valley, 1900 feet across. The Aqueduct is supported by a foundation wall of dry stonework having the face laid in mortar, except over three streets where bridges are built, having an arch of 30 feet span for the carriage-way and one on either side of 10 feet span for the side walks. These bridges are over 98th, 99th, and 100th Streets.”  Tower described the Clendening Valley work: “These bridges are beautiful specimens of mechanical work; indeed the whole structure across this valley has a degree of neatness, finish and taste, not surpassed by any on the line of the Aqueduct.”  Lafayette Tower’s drawings were exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York in 1942.

Later, in the 1870s, the Clendening Valley Bridge and all the Aqueduct structure above ground was buried in underground pipes as the neighborhood was developing.  The stone from the Clendening Valley Crossing was used in 1876 to build the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, at 60th Street and Columbus Avenue, according to the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, and in a 2002 New York Times article by Christopher Gray about the history of the church.

The New Croton Water project gave us the still-standing Gatehouse at Amsterdam and 113th Street, constructed in 1874, and the Gatehouse at 119th Street, constructed in 1894.

This undated photograph from Mr. Wegmann’s book, listed below, shows the destruction of the Aqueduct at West 104th Street.

Destruction of Old Croton Aqueduct near West 104th Street

Another structure that appears on old maps of the Upper West Side is the “98th Street High Service Works” built in 1879. This 170-foot tower housed the pumping operation needed to maintain water pressure. It was dressed in Wyoming Valley blue sandstone. Its pumping operation was coal-fired, pumping the water 100 feet high in its six foot wide standpipe.   A similar water tower, still standing, was built in 1872 near High Bridge for the same purpose.  This photo from Mr. Wegmann’s book shows the 98th Street Tower in the 1890s, on the block just west of Columbus Avenue.

West 98th Street Water Tower

There’s another photo of the 98th Street in this brochure produced by the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group back when it began as the Park West Neighborhood History Group:

There are two other Manhattan locations where you can see the remains of the Old Croton Aqueduct.  One is at the main branch of New York Public Library, which was the site of the Murray Hill Receiving Reservoir. Here you can see a piece of the reservoir wall on the lower level of the South Court near the Celeste Auditorium.

NY Public Library exposed portion of Old Croton Reservoir Wall, photo by Untapped Cities

The second spot is in Central Park where the sloping reservoir wall is tucked up against the east end of the Central Park Precinct, according to the Ephemera New York site. The Untapped Cities site notes also that the back retaining wall of the Precinct parking lot is indeed the north wall of the old Croton reservoir. And, of course, much more of the Old Croton system in Westchester County can be hiked and visited at the many sites described on the site of the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct.


Koeppel, Gerald Water for Gotham: A History  Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2000

Wegmann, Edward The Water-Supply of the City of New York 1658-1895 John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1896

Lankton, Larry D. “Valley Crossings on the Old Croton Aqueduct” in The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology Vol 4, No 1, pp. 27-42 (1978)

Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct published map “Old Croton Aqueduct in New York City” and online at

Tower, Fayette B. Illustrations of The Croton Aqueduct New York, 1843.  Available online:

New York Times archive:

This wonderful work by Columbia students on the Croton Waterworks:

Genealogy and census information:

John Noble Wilford “How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis”



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Bloomingdale Neighborhood Stores, Part Two

A previous post (LINK)  about food provisioning in Bloomingdale described the streetscape of Columbus, Amsterdam and Broadway, a dynamic jumble of food suppliers: fruit and vegetables, bakeries, meats, seafood, delicatessens, and wine/liquor stores.  From 1890 to 1940 while a few food suppliers became chain stores, most Bloomingdale neighborhood shops remained “mom and pop” operations.

This post highlights a few of the other non-food shopkeepers providing goods and services for the neighborhood. With few exceptions, these also tended to be small shops: bootblacks early in the century, tailors, barbers, women’s hair salons, pharmacies, upholsterers, milliners, corset and flower shops.  In the early years of the 20th century, the Upper West Side had an “Automobile Row” just above Columbus Circle where General Motors, Ford, Buick, Cadillac, Studebaker and Packard had display spaces. However, further uptown the stores tended to be small operations, each serving the neighborhood’s needs.

Early on, there were numerous neighborhood bootblacks. One of them was Riddick Darden, who is listed in the 1900 Trow Directory. The 1900 census reveals that he was a black man, living in a rooming house on 99th Street. He appears to have been a neighborhood regular, as he is still there in the 1920 census listed as the owner of a “bootstand” at 99th street.

Caitlin Hawke in her research of Bloomingdale neighborhood stores found this photo of Broadway’s northeast corner at 103rd Street, showing a shop selling feed and grain, demonstrating the country-like atmosphere of the turn-of-the-century Bloomingdale. The odd-shaped building on the horizon is the Home for the Destitute Blind constructed in 1886 but removed about thirty years later.

NE Corner Broadway and 103 Street

Another early shop was W. G. Spencer’s Bicycle Shop housed in this wood-frame structure at Broadway and 96th Street, SE corner. This bike shop and others in the area served the cycling craze of the 1890s when cyclists pedaled their way uptown to the Claremont Inn on Riverside, just above Grant’s Tomb.

Bicycle Shop, Broadway and 96th Street

Another Caitlin Hawke discovery: there was a store on Broadway at 108th Street, what we would today call a “destination” store: Emmanual Blout’s Victrola Store.  Mr. Blout’s store replaced a group of stores shown in a photo (below) dated 1910, including a restaurant and a funeral parlor. The photo of the Blout store is undated; in both the 1912 and the 1923 Trow New York City Directories, the store is listed at 2799 Broadway.  As the sign indicates, this store was distributing the machines and records of the Victor Talking Machines Company manufactured in Camden, New Jersey.

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in the 1877, and in the 1890s Emile Berliner fostered the transition from cylinders to flat discs, coining the term “gramophone.” Later, E. Johnson used Berliner’s work and founded Victor Talking Machines, making Victrolas and records, and developing a famous brand, with Nipper the dog pictured listening to “his master’s voice” coming from the horn on the machine. This website has the details of these wonderful machines that were ushering in a new age of communication: In the 1930s as the radio became popular, replacing the talking machines, RCA took over the company, forming RCA Victor.

Mr. Blout was an investor in the Berliner Company, then in Canada. His store offered more than just machines and records.  In 1920, a musical publication, The Musical Monitor, announced that a Miss Helen Colley would be using the talking machine to teach classes at the store in musical appreciation, nature study, English, and physical training, for “teachers, mother and children.”

Broadway and 108th Street 1910 (Museum of the City of New York)

Victrola Store

Victrola Talking Machine 1906

Another store selling machines, vacuum cleaners “hand and electric,” owned by a M. Loeb, is also listed in the Trow 1912 Directory, at 2789 Broadway.

If you were a Bloomingdale resident needing coal or wood, it might be supplied by Weber, Bunke & Lange, at 96th Street and the North River (the Hudson’s name); their office was at 2546 Broadway.

Pharmacies—and later drugstores—were numerous in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. One of the earliest photos of a pharmacy shows Baltzley’s, located at 96th and Broadway in the Wollaston that was built in 1900. The photo shows a large array of products, and this store had a Post Office operating there as well, although it may have just been a drop-off location. Mr. Albert B. Baltzley owned it, his daughter Elizabeth worked there as a cashier, while a Mr. Henry “Hank” Miller was the popular manager.

Baltzley’s Pharmacy, Broadway and 96th Street

In the early days of Bloomingdale, pharmacies custom-made the compounds according to a prescription written by a doctor. Despite the training provided by pharmacy schools, the mixture of these raw ingredients was subject to great variation, and doctors became unhappy with the process. In addition, there were many patent medicines sold in the early pharmacies that often contained alcohol, opium, morphine or cocaine. Regulating prescriptions and other medicines became part of the early 20th century movement to make both food and drugs safe, starting with the first drug laws in 1901. Eventually “drugs” became manufactured products sold to the pharmacies.

Here’s another photo of a drugstore, this one at 110th and Broadway, taken when there was street work underway, perhaps part of the 1904 subway construction. (There’s a lot more to see here; a meat store, a fruit store, and a taxi company advertising their services to “out of town resorts”.)

Drug Store at Broadway and 110th Street

There was a Hegeman Drug Store on the corner of 101st Street and Broadway in 1909. There is no photo of this location, but an image in the Getty collection shows a Hegeman’s with a soda fountain in 1907.  In 1909, a newspaper advertisement lists the Broadway location, in which the items for sale included perfumes, toilet dainties, bath room luxuries, candies, cigars, stationery, drugs, medicines, rubber goods, sick room supplies, syringes, water bottles, bandages, and “other drugstore products.”  In 1914 Hegeman’s and another New York chain, Riker’s, combined to make a 105-store chain, the largest in the country.

Hegeman Drug Store with a soda fountain 1907 (Museum of the City of New York)

“Soda Fountains” evolved from an early pharmacy product: a drink of soda water at the store, to help settle a stomach. Soon someone discovered that a splash of sweet syrup could be added to the soda water, and then ice cream and other ingredients. The soda fountain was born, a standard feature of drugstores. It was also a lucrative new revenue source.

The other large chain of drugstores was formed by Louis Liggett in Boston in 1903, and, by 1914, he had 52 stores. The 1922 advertisement mentioned below showed four Liggett stores in the neighborhood, on Broadway at 80th, 86th, 103rd, and 110th Streets.  Liggett also formed a “retailer’s cooperative,” the United Drug Company, that became the Rexall line of stores.

In a newspaper advertisement in 1922, a free tube of Listerine toothpaste was offered in numerous drugstore locations, including several in our neighborhood: Marcel at Broadway and 103rd; on Columbus there was Edward Ackerman at 740, Henry Buch at 661, C. J.W. Reed at 888, Richless Pharmacy at 775, Uran’s at 997, and Charles O’Connor at Columbus and 94th. Over on Amsterdam, there was Louis Klein at 876, Bedrick’s at 515, and S. Coden’s at 81st Street. Dorb Drug was at Broadway and 92nd Street, and William McDonald at 2781 Broadway.

This photo, taken at Broadway and 91st Street­­­­­­­­­, shows a Teitelbaum’s Drug Store.

Teitelbaum’s Drug Store

In October of 1908, The City Record listed places where men could register to vote in the 19th Assembly District which covered the Bloomingdale neighborhood. This listing gives a glimpse into the variety of stores serving the men of the neighborhood: tailor shops at 2669 Broadway and 870 and 906 Amsterdam; a cigar store at 2782 Broadway; barber shops at 203 West 104th and 948 Amsterdam. Much later, the Broadway Barbershop, owned by Mr. Demetriou, who took it over in the 1950s, would become a part of the collection of the Museum of the City of New York when it closed. Now, there a museum of New York City barbershops just opened in our neighborhood, at Columbus Avenue between 73rd and 74th Streets.

In every neighborhood, the cigar store was ubiquitous. Initially there were United Cigar Stores and D. A. Schulte stores, one of those pictured here, next to the Riverside movie theater. There was another store at Broadway and 85th Street, as reported in a news story of a 1928 robbery.

Schulte’s at Broadway and 96th (Museum of the City of New York)

These large corporations were also able to put out public messages, like this United Cigar poster, issued during World War One, promoting daylight savings time.

In the late 1920s, Schulte thought it a good idea to merge with the Huyler candy company that had started a chain of luncheonettes, thus combining the cigar counter with the quick-lunch spot. A.D. Schulte was also known for its coupons, collected by men at purchase and used by women to order housewares from their catalogue. In 1919, Schulte leased the corner of Broadway and 104, including two buildings on 104th Street, although which specific corner is unknown.

Meanwhile, United Cigar had combined with the Whelan Drug stores, getting the cigar stand and the soda fountain combined too. The Depression hit these retailers hard, and resulted in United Cigars and Schulte merging.

Berenice Abbott 1936 photo of a Whelan’s Drug Store (New York Public Library)

The stores labeled “5, 10, 25 cent stores” were another popular chain store in the early 20th century. F.W. Woolworth and S.H. Kress stores were the two largest in numbers of locations, and both were based in New York City, (but neither started there). By 1914, Woolworth’s had 774 stores including 40 stores in Canada and 40 in England.  Woolworth’s was one of the first retailers to allow their customers to handle the merchandise before a purchase. The store made all prices either five or ten cents, until twenty-cent items were offered in 1932. In 1935 they discontinued these selling-price limits.

Mr. Woolworth’s family made news as his daughter, Edna, Mrs. Franklyn Hutton, who lived at 2 West 80th Street, until she committed suicide in 1924. Her daughter, Barbara Hutton, then five years old, went to live with her grandfather at his Fifth Avenue mansion. She became “the poor little rich girl” at her 1932 debut that was an ostentatious display in the Great Depression. Unfortunately, this New Yorker led a troubled life, spending her fortune, creating scandals and working her way through seven marriages and divorces.

Woolworth’s was on the Upper West Side in two locations: at 79th and Broadway in the 1930s, and also at 91st Street and Broadway. Much later, there was a Woolworth’s on Columbus in the retail space serving Park West Village. When Social Security began in 1936, Woolworth’s sold wallets containing a display-version Social Security Card, half the size of a real card with “specimen” written on it. Nevertheless, that fake-card number was used by over 5700 people by 1943. As late as 1977 the number was still in use!

Woolworth’s ended in 2008 during the Recession. New York City still has its stunning 1910 Cass Gilbert “Cathedral of Commerce” in downtown Manhattan, converted to residential space not long ago.

Advertising on top of certain buildings was part of the street scene; this photo (below) from the Museum of the City of New York shows Oliver A. Olson’s store with many billboards.  Olson’s had been a “high class” specialty store for women in its time on the Upper West Side. This view is of a 1907 postcard. Olson’s was mentioned in a 1919 article about the formation of a Mutual Protective Association formed with a number of New York City department stores, to protect against shoplifters and pickpockets. This member list  included many of the stores that have continued or disappeared over the years: Best & Company, Stern Brothers, Franklin Simon, Bloomingdale Brothers, Gimbel Brothers, Saks & Company, and Lord & Taylor.

Oliver A. Olson’s went bankrupt during the Depression and their corner at 79th and Broadway was taken over by Woolworth’s.

1912 photo of Olson’s store on Broadway at 79th Street

1914 photo of Olson’s with advertising signs on roof

1957 photo of Woolworth’s at Broadway and 79th Street

Girls shopping at Woolworth’s 1941 (Museum of the City of New York)

All of these mentions show the variety of shops meeting the personal needs of the Bloomingdale residents. An important supplier was Kayser’s shown in the photo below in their 1937 Art Deco form with a new kind of black glass. This store was on Broadway at West 83rd Street. Julius Kayser founded his silk glove company in 1880, and, by 1911, it had grown to silk gloves, hosiery and underwear — and patent leather gloves also. After Mr. Kayser’s death in 1920 the company grew and lasted into the 1960s, absorbing numerous other companies that made these items.

Kayser’s store at Broadway and 83rd Street (Museum of the City of New York)

Something we don’t see in the streetscape today: there was a gas station on Amsterdam Avenue at 90th Street, as shown in this 1936 photo.

Gas Station on Amsterdam Avenue at 90th Street, 1936 (New York Public Library)

Another one-of-a-kind store was the Broadway Bird Store, located at 93rd Street, in the 1920s. The store sold canaries and parakeets, and also aquariums and fish, as well as dog supplies.

Another retailer on the Upper West Side was a woman named Polly Adler who had a lingerie shop at 2719 Broadway in the 1920s.  The shop did not last for long. Polly’s real infamous talent was in the numerous brothels in apartments she established around town, many on the Upper West Side. She was arrested numerous times during the 1930s, and eventually left town for the west coast, writing a best seller in 1952, A House Is Not A Home, made into a not-too-good movie with Shelley Winters in 1964.


Federal censuses available at

New York Public Library photographs database

Trow’s Directories located at the New York Public Library and the New-York Historical Society

Trager, James. New York Chronology. New York, Harper Collins, 2003

Susi, Michael. The Upper West Side. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2009

The New York Times archive

West 102nd & 103rd Block Association Blog

Library of Congress Chronicling America newspapers database

Real Estate Record & Guide online

Museum of the City of New York photographs database.






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Provisioning Bloomingdale: Stores that fed the residents of Bloomingdale

Here is another post on the Bloomingdale neighborhood of the Upper West Side. It was written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee. 

Bloomingdale’s residential development brought numerous retail food shops into the neighborhood, from the late 1880s to today, when the latest food store opening can still create excitement (see the frequent reporting on the new Trader Joe’s!). This post began as a search into our neighborhood food stores, focusing primarily on 86th to 110th Streets. This is a bit of an evasive topic, since most stores were small family-run businesses that did not advertise, and nor were publicly photographed.   Moreover, the stores were part of a larger food retailing history from which individual stores developed, and how certain common products were created.  Restaurants are another significant part of the neighborhood food story which were covered in an earlier post.

Food history is a popular topic among historians now.  A recently-published book, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York 1790-1860, by Gergeley Baics gives a fascinating history on how “food provisioning” developed in New York City. This book details the changes in the city’s food distribution as it changed from restricted public marketplaces built by city government to privatized food distribution as a function of the marketplace. These food markets were once part of the city’s landscape: Fly Market (replaced by Fulton), Catharine Street, Essex, Jefferson in Greenwich Village, and the Washington Market, on the lower west side. By the 1870s, the Gansevoort Farmer’s Market, near the Washington Market, was established: a vast stretch of wagons, as pictured below. Meat, poultry and dairy purveyors as well became the distribution center for the wholesale merchants who supplied the retail stores. This section of the city eventually gave way to Hunt’s Point in the 1960s, and what we now call Tribeca emerged as a new residential neighborhood.

Washington/Gansvoort Market 1886, Museum of the City of New York

When Bloomingdale first developed, all the food retailers were private ventures, although one, Mr. Astor’s Market, was a marketplace concept, as described below.

The Upper West Side transitioned in the 1870s from an area of rocky terrain with small dwellings, many with market gardens, to fully urbanized streets by the early 1900s. In 1879, the opening of the Ninth Avenue El generated increasing real estate sales. Later, in the early years of the 20th century, the construction of the IRT subway under Broadway would generate another building boom. Numerous social-welfare institutions moved to the area or were created there, touting the fresh air as a primary reason. Even a few left-over country mansions remained from the early days of the Bloomingdale Road that brought families to upper Manhattan away from the dirty air and disease-prone lower Manhattan.

Here are a few of Mr. Bracklow’s photos taken in the late 1890s of the Bloomingdale neighborhood.

Bracklow photo of a farm on West End Avenue 1890

Bracklow photo of old wooden houses on Amsterdam Avenue 1899

A comparison of the 1880 Federal census to the 1900 census tells a story of Bloomingdale’s dramatic residential development. The census counts individuals in dwelling units, in family groups, so there are no notes on the existence of stores. However, the census taker sometimes makes a note on the neighborhood’s larger facilities housing many residents and also uses the column “occupation” to note a retail establishment.

In 1880, there are just two Enumeration Districts, 527 and 528, for all of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, covering a portion of the 12th Ward, from 86th to 108th Streets. ED 527 has 179 dwellings housing 1194 inhabitants, and ED 528 has 218 dwellings with 1453 inhabitants. Mrs. Skinner appears as the Matron for the “Children’s Fold,” an orphanage at 93rd Street and the Boulevard, the earlier name for Broadway. She is caring for 65 children ages 6-10 years. There is a small hospital at Ninety-Ninth Street and Eighth Avenue. Mr. Hiram Downs is operating the Downs Hotel at the Boulevard and Tenth Avenue. Mr. Marshall, the second owner of the Clendening mansion, covered in an earlier post on the hill at 104th Street and Ninth Avenue, is listed. Elm Park and its hotel, also covered in an earlier post, is on another West Side hill. Many of the residents of these Enumeration Districts are immigrants from Germany, Ireland and elsewhere.

The Downes Hotel on the Bloomingdale Road July 1888

How did these residents supply their homes and facilities? By the 1870s, milk was beginning to be bottled, and delivered by wagon; previously, the milk was in large cans, and scooped out into containers provided by the customer. It would be a while longer before pasteurization was established. In the 1850s, New Yorkers had come to realize that the milk from one or two cows established near a brewery and fed the discarded mash were producing swill milk that was making many children sick. The Dairy in Central Park was established to make this point: that cows producing fresh milk should be the healthier norm.

As the city grew, dairy farms developed north of the city, supplying dealers by either boat or train down to the city to the lower West Side where the wagons were loaded. By 1903, two major dairies were located just to the north of Bloomingdale, on 125th and 130th Streets, far to the west, near the railroad. The milk trains supplied them, and milk was then pasteurized, bottled and sent out for delivery in wagons to drop thousands of bottles around our neighborhood.

Numerous other items were delivered by wagon until stores were established: butchers delivered meat, fruit and vegetable dealers loaded up at Washington Market and moved through the neighborhood, and ice and coal were brought in. Perhaps those with market gardens in the neighborhood sold their fresh produce directly or by pushcart.

There is no Business Directory for the 1880s nor does the Robinson Atlas, online at the New York Public Library, note the existence of stores on the ground floor of the clusters of “flats” beginning to fill in the streets and avenues of Bloomingdale. The 1880 census column noting occupation sometime notes “retail bakery” rather than “baker” for a man, giving  a clue that a store exists. Most were small operations; it wasn’t until chain stores developed that we can find newspaper ads, some with location addresses. We have to assume that basic needs are being met with local retail and wagon-deliveries, with other shopping venues reachable downtown on the El or the streetcars.

The Ladies Mile shopping district was another source of groceries, although too far for daily shopping when refrigeration was still limited. Two of the largest stores there, Siegel Cooper and O’Neill-Adams had fully-stocked grocery stores along with their dresses, corsets, hats and other clothing.  The regular grocers of New York City made an attempt to put a stop to the selling of groceries in these “department stores” but were not successful. In addition to the oddity of selling groceries under the same roof as clothing, the Siegel-Cooper store also had a bank, barbershop, jeweler, drugstore, telegraph and post offices, a doctor’s office, manicure and hairdresser, a restaurant and a tearoom, a wine shop, hardware, pets, and, on occasion, exotic shows and lectures.

By the time of the 1900 Federal census, a massive population increase had taken place in Bloomingdale.  Just 97th to 108th Streets had twelve or more Enumeration Districts. One ED, covering Central Park West to Columbus, from 97th to 98th Streets, has 72 dwellings with 1269 individuals living there. There is a Trow Business Directory available for 1900, with the businesses arranged by type, as the Yellow Pages does today. The Directory lists many retail stores, especially along Amsterdam and Columbus. Many of the buildings along Broadway were just being constructed in the early years of the 20th Century as the IRT sparked development; stores were developed later there.

Bakers were numerous in the business directory; there are five on Amsterdam with street numbers 500-900 which covers the Bloomingdale neighborhood. George Barthold had his bakery at 968 Amsterdam. He immigrated from Germany in 1873, and lived with his wife, Augusta, two sons 18 and 20 years old who are also bakers, yet another baker named Otto living there too, along with other staff, Bertha the bookkeeper, Marta, the store tender, and Annie from Ireland, helping with the housework.

With a neighborhood of so many German immigrants, delicatessens were popular; there are eight on Amsterdam and six on Columbus in the area north of 86th Street, counted in a perual of the business directory. Numerous fruit dealers, retail butchers, and stores selling butter, eggs and cheese are there too. There are many other types of business too, to be covered in a later post: bootblackers, dressmakers, and numerous coal and ice dealers.

One delicatessen in our neighborhood, Richard Hellmann’s store at Columbus and 84th Street, operating after 1905, became famous much later as his wife Nina’s mayonnaise was served from a blue-ribboned jar on the counter. By 1916, Hellmann figured out how to stabilize his product and pack it in jars. He incorporated his company in Long Island City, delivering his mayonnaise by truck around the city, and eventually around the country. Check your Hellmann’s jar today: the blue ribbon is still there.

In his book of postcard images, The Upper West Side, Michael Susi captures the Park & Tilford store at Broadway and 101st Street, on the street level of the Chepstow apartment building. The Chepstow is one of several on the Upper West Side designed by architects Mulliken and Moeller who are known for their brick and terra cotta work; they also designed Bretton Hall at 86th Street and Broadway.

Park & Tilford was established in the mid-nineteenth century by two ambitious young men, John Tilford and Joseph Park, who were both grocery store clerks in downtown Manhattan. The establishment of their stores followed the development of residential Manhattan, and, by 1900, they were on Sixth Avenue at Ninth Street, two locations on downtown Broadway, on Fifth Avenue at 59th Street at the South East corner, and on the Upper West Side first at Columbus Avenue at 72 Street, and then in their Bloomingdale location. Their elegant Columbus Avenue building still stands, now a residential building. There’s no record found as to how long they were at the Chepstow but their presence, a grocery store catering to “the carriage trade” shows how the neighborhood was developing.

Park & Tilford at Broadway and 101 Street, image from Michael Susi’s book

Park & Tilford provided “first class groceries.” Besides many imported gourmet foods, they sold wines, confectionaries, cigars and personal items.

This advertisement from 1911 describes their wine selection (and lists the Bloomingdale location).

Park & Tilford advertisement 1911

Park & Tilford advertisement 1913

Mr. Park and Mr. Tilford played a role in the development of the product still around today: Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The grocers worked with William Lawrence, a farmer and cheesemaker,  to make a Neufchatel cheese; he added cream to the curds, labeling it “cream cheese” and went on to mechanize its production, eventually forming a new company. Cream cheese made in Philadelphia was already known, thus the name of the company, which wrapped its products in rolls in a foil wrapper and shipped it down to the city.

Park & Tilford was one of the earliest “chain store” grocers, but struggled with family changes after their founders died in the 1890s. Mr. Park’s children both married people he did not approve of, and he wrote them out of his will, leaving his million dollar fortune to charities while settling small annual amounts on his son and daughter. The son became an object of derision in the press when he sued the estate to recover more of his father’s fortune, claiming that he had been brought up “in idleness” and had no skills to take care of himself and his wife, an actress.  Mr. Tilford’s sons seem to have been raised to be part of the family business, and it passed into their hands. In 1928, the Schulte Retail Stores Corporation, a chain of more than 40 cigar stores, merged with Park & Tilford. Tom Miller, in his excellent blog post DAytonian in Manhattan, wrote about the Columbus Avenue store 

There were many other retail “grocery chains” that developed before 1900 and into the first years of the 20th Century. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Store, founded in a shop at 31 Vesey Street in downtown Manhattan, is perhaps the most famous and historical of all the retail grocers, lasting until the economic downturn of 2008. In 1914, there were over 800 stores across the United States, New York City included. Unfortunately, their daily newspaper ads do not list locations but suggest that there were many choices. One source notes that A&P established ”Economy Stores,” smaller shops located in many neighborhoods.

Early grocery stores were nothing like our supermarkets of today. Customers came into the store and waited their turn at the counter where assistants fetched what was required. Items did not come in consumer-sized packaging; the assistant had to weigh and measure precise amounts. Shopping became a social occasion with customers and store staff engaged on conversation while their orders were collected. This labor-intense system led to the change that was initiated at a Piggley Wiggley store in Memphis in 1916, the first self-serve market where customers walked around and chose their items and brought them to a “checkout” in a wooden basket.

Gristede Brothers started at 42nd Street and Second Avenue in 1888; they had five stores by 1903 and 45 locations by 1914.   There may have been a store on the SW corner of Amsterdam and 109th Street, as a real estate sale is noted there in 1910.  In a news report about a water main break on Broadway, there is a Gristede store mentioned at 89th Street.  Another chain, A. F. Beckman & Company is listed in the 1900 Trow Directory at 908 Columbus Avenue, and eight other locations. They grew to 25 locations in 1914. Andrew Davey owned 19 grocery stores according to an 1898 Trow Directory; there was one at 736 Amsterdam Avenue, and two others at 754 and 781 Columbus Avenue.

James Butler owned 43 stores by 1914; in 1898 he had three on Columbus at 620, 702, and 754, and one at 774 Amsterdam. In the early 1880s, Mr. Butler had invested his $2000 life savings in a grocery store on Second Avenue in Manhattan. The number of stores grew; when Butler died, he was worth $30 million, and had more than 1,100 stores, second only to the A & P. He too considered his shops as catering to “the carriage trade”; his locations on Columbus and Amsterdam were meant to serve the families living on Central Park West and west of Broadway.

Mr. Butler owned an estate in Tarrytown, New York, and was neighborly with the Rockefellers. He was also a prominent owner of racehorses, and built the Empire City Racetrack in Yonkers. He made home deliveries from his stores, and when his delivery horses became old, they left the streets to retire to his estate. He established Marymount College in memory of his wife. He made many gifts to the Catholic Church over the years, so many that the Pope awarded him a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory. Throughout his life, even as his fortune grew, he called himself “the Egg and Butter Man.” His son James Butler Jr. was more interested in horse racing than grocery stores, and as the Depression played out in the 1930s, the company sought “reorganization” and then bankruptcy. One lone store was still operating in 1940 in Queens. In October 1940, Butler Jr. died after being thrown from a horse. Mr. Butler’s store pictured here was in Astoria, Queens, but all of the establishments were branded in green and gold exteriors.

James Butler store in Queens, example of how these stores appeared

James Butler store ad

While there were many chain stores, most of the grocers were still independently single store operations. For instance, we find John B. Accietto, an Italian immigrant, with a store at 767 Columbus Avenue. In the 1900 Trow Directory he is listed as a grocer; in the 1900 census, he is listed as a fruit dealer. He is a widower with children, all girls, aged 20, 16 and 14. His 20-year-old daughter has married, and she and her husband, John Persilo, and child, live at 767 Columbus also. This example of a family business appears to be the norm for food purveyors in Bloomingdale.

The Astor Market opened on the SW corner of Broadway and 95th Street in 1915. Vincent Astor was a major property owner on the Upper West Side, inheriting numerous land holdings through family connections to the Apthorp estate, and other acquisitions.  While serving on the city’s Commission on Markets, Mr. Astor decided to build a model market to provide fresh food at lower prices to the neighborhood. The main floor had over 200 square feet of selling space, leased to butchers, greengrocers, and other merchants. A fish market was on the lower floor, where the Thalia space is today. A newspaper description described the Florentine style of the market, with high, arched windows and a great sgaffito frieze on the entire building cornice with the theme of food: “cattle, sheep, ducks, pigs and fish held in composition by garlands of fruit and vegetables.”

The market, in what the newspapers called “a high class apartment district” had clean white tile floors, and white Carrera glass counters.” Meat and poultry was in plate glass cases cooled by frosted coils first cooled by ice machines in the basement. The store had an incinerator that burned all waste and garbage. There was a plan to open a lunchroom in the complex, but no evidence that it happened. However, even with Astor’s subsidy, the market did not last. One resident is quoted in a New York Times article, saying that the new market “was not worth the time and carfare” and she would continue shopping at the stores closer to her home.  Thomas Healy, a successful restaurant owner, bought the site, transformed the market into a restaurant called the Sunken Garden and an indoor skating rink which later became the Symphony Theater, and today, Symphony Space. After he acquired an additional lot south of his facility on West 94th Street, he built Pomander Walk.

Astor Market on Broadway at 94th Street 1915

Opening Day at the Astor Market 1915

Another source, the 1912 real estate map of our neighborhood, notes a few of the businesses in certain buildings, confirming the pattern of small shops in the buildings now covering most of the Bloomingdale area. On the east side of Amsterdam Avenue between 98th and 99th Streets, there is a bakery and a carpet store; between 97th and 98th a Chinese laundry and a drugstore on the corner of 98th. Columbus has the same pattern: a bakery, a confectionary store, and a drugstore on the North West corner of 96th.

Confectionary stores were a regular features of the neighborhood. Many also sold ice cream, although that treat was also available from wagons, as it is from trucks today. Sweet shops were often run by women who began by making candy at home and then opening small shops, as these did not require much equipment or capital. Of course ice cream was also a feature of the drug stores, another type of shop to be covered in a future post.  By the 1930s, chain candy shops were developing: Barton’s, Barracini’s, Huyler’s, and Loft’s. In the 1940 telephone directory, a Barracini is listed at 2345 Broadway, and a Barton’s, was located near our neighborhood, at Broadway and 81st Street. A man raised in our neighborhood also remembers one between 96th and 97th on Broadway, probably located there to also serve the patrons of the nearby movie theaters.

Barton’s Candy at Broadway and 81st Street, Library of Congress photo

One of New York’s most famous ice cream makers, James M. Horton, started out in the milk-producing business in Orange County, and then moved into ice cream production. One of his facilities, at 302 Columbus Avenue, at 74th Street, lasted until 1922. The building provides the memory of this company, whose ice cream was served at White House events and glamorous ocean liners.

Horton’s Ice Cream at 302 Columbus Avenue

Thanks to the New-York Historical Society, there is a readable copy of the 1922-23 Trow’s Directory available in digital format. However, there is no business directory in “yellow pages” format. Finding food purveyors in the Bloomingdale area is difficult, as the directory is now a multi-columned, thick book, more like our phone directories of today. The A&P stores which were undoubtedly here are not listed, nor are the other chains named above. Using the name “Academy” and “Riverside,” the area’s telephone exchanges, turned up a few shops, an Academy Delicatessen at 2746 Broadway, a Riverside Lunch Shop at 2566 Broadway, and an Astor Court Fruiterer at 2436 Broadway.

The 1940 telephone directory, online at the New York Public Library, does not have a yellow pages, but numerous Bloomingdale businesses are listed. There is just one Acker Merrall & Condit grocery store, at 2377 Broadway. Gristede’s has seven stores on Amsterdam between 77th and 115th Streets; seven on Columbus, with two at 93rd and 104th Streets, and eleven on Broadway from 75th to 111th Streets, with stores at 99th, 103rd, 108th in our neighborhod.  There is a Winkelmann Brothers grocery store at 2388 Broadway, next door to Reyman’s French Pastry Bakers at 2387.  The A&P stores are listed by their store number in the directory: there are A&Ps at 724 and 768 Amsterdam, 2507, 2732, 2827 and 2886 Broadway, and 727 and 908 Columbus, with nine stores along Columbus in total. This Berenice Abbott photo from the mid-1930s, while taken on the East side, serves as an example of a grocery store window during this period.

Berenice Abbott of an A&P in 1936, Museum of the City of New York


Another source for finding local stores is a 1940 Yearbook from Joan of Arc High School on West 93rd between Columbus and Amsterdam (now a junior high). Many local retailers took small ads in the back of the  book. On Amsterdam Avenue we find Hunters Food Market at 951, Kimker’s Delicatessan at 712, and H. Rudnick at 93rd. On Columbus Avenue, Tony River’s Fancy Fruits and Vegetables is at the corner of 97th Street, Gramercy Market between 96th and 97th Streets, Pfeiffer’s Market with high grade meats and produce at 731, Joseph Schmid offering meats, poultry and fish at 725, and Ralph’s “quality fruits and vegetables” at 711 Columbus. On Broadway, the New Riverside Market with meats, poultry and game, at 2749 Broadway between 105 and 106, Rosmar Butchers at 2603 Broadway between 98th and 99th Streets, and the New American Food Center at 2551, on the southwest corner of 96th Street. The Gristede Brothers placed a general ad representing all their Bloomingdale stores.

Caitlin Hawke, who covers many neighborhood historic spots in her marvelous blog for the 102-103 Block Association, helped identify this old sign from the Hudes Delicatessan, at the northwest corner of Broadway and 103 Street. The sign re-appeared recently when the storefront was under reconstruction. Caitlin quoted Manhattan Mark who comments on the West Side Rag and reports that the Hudes family started their business in the 1930s and lasted into the 1950s. In the 1940 telephone directory, this was B. Hudes & Sons, 2703 Broadway, AC (Academy) 2 4116.

Old delicatessen sign, Broadway at 103 Street

Caitlin’s work also uncovered a Hanscom’s Bakery at Broadway and 103 Street; in the 1940 Phone Directory, there are also Hanscom’s Bakeries on Broadway at 79, 93, 97, and 112 Streets. This Albok photo of a foggy New York Street in the 1930s uses a Hanscom Bakery to set the mood.

Mr. Albok’s photo of a Hanscom Bakery

The New York Public Library has a file of “Tenements and Storefronts” in their digital photo collection, but there is only one photo taken on the Upper West Side, of a butcher shop (with a butter and egg store next door and a delivery truck in the foreground) on Amsterdam Avenue between 67th and 68th Streets. Here it is, as a representative of the 1930s era.


Butcher shop at Amsterdam Avenue 67-68 Streets , New York Public Library photo

As this piece was being written, the 1940s New York City Tax Photos were offline. When they reappear, later this year (2018), there may be another batch of neighborhood photos to add to our work.


Federal censuses available at

New York City maps located at the New York Public Library

Trow’s Directories located at the New York Public Library and the New-York Historical Society

Baics, Gergely. Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy & Geography of Food in New York City 1790-1860. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2016

Smith, Andrew (ed). Savoring Gotham. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015

Susi, Michael. The Upper West Side. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing,  2009

The New York Times archive

Library of Congress Chronicling America newspapers database.

Museum of the City of New York photographs database.

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New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum

Asylum at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street in 1863

Summary of Presentation by Dr. William Seraile on February 27, 2018

William Seraile is Professor Emeritus of History at Lehman College of the City University of New York.  He is the author of five books, including  “Angels of Mercy:  White Women and the History of New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum.” 

The Colored Orphan Asylum (COA) was founded in 1836 by three Quaker women.   It was sorely needed, since youth of color were excluded from orphanages for white children. The orphanage faced many obstacles throughout its existence including financial panics, fires, diseases and chronic money shortage. Racism led to its complete destruction in the Draft Riots of July 1863, when its building at 43rd and Fifth Avenue was looted and burned by the mob.  The frightened children and staff escaped to the protection of a nearby police precinct and then to Blackwell’s Island (Roosevelt Island).

1863 Draft Riots in New York City

Laundry work 1860

For most of its history, the COA typically housed and educated children to about the age of 12.  Older children, 12 to 18, were indentured, mainly to rural areas in New England, New York and New Jersey. Unlike indentured white orphans, indentured black children rarely had the opportunity to further their education by serving as apprentices to skilled laborers.

Children at play 1863


After the Civil War a new COA was built in 1868 at 143rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue.  In 1907 it relocated to Riverdale.  It remained there until 1946, when the COA shifted from a residential institution to an emphasis in foster care and adoption.  The Riverdale site is today the Hebrew Home for the Aged.

By the time it closed in 1946, the COA had provided care for approximately 15,000 children, yet its trustees/managers were reluctant to treat African Americans as equal partners. With the exceptions of James McCune Smith who served as physician for twenty years, and a few teachers or matrons, the colored staff was limited to menial positions.  The first African American trustee was not brought in until 1939 and shortly thereafter the first Jewish trustee. It was also at this time that the trustees started to work with Harlem churches to strengthen their mission of providing for orphaned, neglected and delinquent

Despite its shortcomings, the orphanage providing nurturing, education, lessons in morality and stablity to children who otherwise would have been left on the streets.   After a series of mergers, the COA survives today in the Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children and Family Services.  A recent merger with Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry has expanded its reach in providing family services.




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Bloomingdale’s Finest Mansion: From Elmwood to Elm Park, 1764-1891

This post covers another one of Bloomingdale’s lost structures. It was written by Pam Tice, a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.

When you walk from West 96th to 91st Streets on Columbus Avenue, or walk east from Broadway to Columbus on those streets, you’ll notice you are on a hill.  The crest of the hill on 91st Street, about 100 feet west of Columbus, is the location where, starting in 1764, a colonial mansion stood for 130 years.  Originally, it was surrounded by a 300-acre estate. Over the years, though, the land was whittled back through legacy gifts and real estate sales, as the development of the West Side played out until finally, just the mansion stood, surrounded by a small park. This structure and the land encapsulates the history of our Bloomingdale neighborhood, and is presented here.

In 1764, wealthy merchant Charles Ward Apthorp built what was widely recognized as one of the finest mansions in all of New York City. Like many of his contemporaries, Apthorp purchased land on the west side of Manhattan, no doubt picturing himself as one of the landed gentry of the American colony. He had moved to New York from Boston where his father, Charles Apthorp, was one of New England’s wealthiest merchants, and served as the paymaster and agent for the Royal Army and Navy, furnishing supplies and money to the British forces in Boston and Nova Scotia.  He also imported and sold many kinds of goods, including slaves.  His eighteen children married into many of the other prominent families of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Now in New York, Charles Ward Apthorp married Mary McEvers at Trinity Church in 1755. She was the daughter of John McEvers of Dublin, another successful New York merchant. They had ten children: Charles, James, George, Grizzel (named for her Boston grandmother), Eliza, Susan, Rebecca, Ann, Mary/Maria, and Charlotte; six of them lived to adulthood.

In 1762 and 1763, Charles Ward Apthorp purchased nearly 300 acres in Bloomingdale from two owners, Dennis Hicks and Oliver de Lancey, whose ownership can be traced back to Dutch landowners, starting with Bedlow.  I. N. Phelps Stokes, in his book The Iconography of Manhattan, details the purchases of the Apthorp Farm which was also known as Elmwood, recognizing the beautiful trees surrounding the mansion. The house was finished in the early summer of 1764, located on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

A short drive from the home led to the Bloomingdale Road, then the westside’s main thoroughfare.  The estate also included two lanes that served as shortcuts to neighboring estates, including Apthorp Lane that stretched all the way east through the land we know as Central Park to the Boston Post Road near today’s Fifth Avenue.

The estate was described in a later advertisement:

300 acres of choice rich land, chiefly meadow, …on which there are two very fine orchards of the best fruit …an exceeding good house, elegantly furnished, commanding beautiful prospects of the East and North-Rivers, on the latter of which the estate is bounded. Also, a two-story brick house for an overseer and servants, a wash house, cyder (sic) 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 every other convenience. About the dwelling house is a very handsome pleasure garden, in the English taste, with good kitchen gardens well furnished with excellent fruit trees of most kinds.

Here is a sketch view of Elmwood:

Apthorp Mansion possibly 1839

Charles Ward Apthorp was one of the prominent Royalists of New York City, serving on the Royal Governor’s Council 1763-1783, through the turbulent years of the American Revolution. After the Revolution, he was charged and convicted of treason, but for reasons not documented, he was permitted to keep his estate, but lost his holdings in Massachusetts and other New England states.

One account of Apthorp describes his flight to the Royal Governor’s ship in June, 1776, when he was summoned before the provincial Congress as a suspected Loyalist. In 1779 he was indicted for treason and the following year his Bloomingdale estate was offered for sale. Nevertheless, he was allowed to return to New York and acquitted of the charges against him.

The Apthorp home in Bloomingdale played a role in the 1776 Battle of Harlem Heights. As the British troops moved into Manhattan, the American Patriots moved up the island to the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Under the authorization of the Provincial Council, General Washington took over the mansion as his headquarters before moving uptown to Colonel Roger Morris’ mansion, today called the Morris Jumel mansion. On the evening of September 14, 1776, in the Apthorp drawing room, Washington and his men planned the operation that would send Nathan Hale to spy on the British on Long Island—which then cost him his life.

After the American patriots were pushed further north, the Apthorp home became the headquarters, at various times, of the British Generals Cornwallis, Clinton and Carlton for the duration of the British occupancy of the city, until 1783.

On January 3, 1789, Maria Apthorp’s wedding to Hugh Williamson took place at Elmwood. The family’s connection to the new United States appears to have been fully realized, as she married a delegate from North Carolina to the Congress which was meeting in New York City at that time. Williamson was 58 years old, compared to her 22 years—perhaps prompting James Madison’s remark to a friend that he hoped that this beautiful girl was “pleased with her bargain” and hoped she would “never repent.”  Maria died in the early 1790s, after having two sons, both dying as young men.

Hugh Williamson was both a doctor and a statesman. Older than all of the Apthorp children, he took charge of consolidating their Bloomingdale land under his name, and then paid-off a mortgage on the property. He never remarried, and when he died in 1819, he left the property to his niece Maria, daughter of Charlotte Apthorp, and the wife of Alexander Hamilton’s son.

Charlotte Augusta Apthorp married John Cornelius van den Heuvel, and they built their mansion on a portion of land south of Elmwood. Their mansion later became Burnham’s Hotel (1833) and eventually their land was the site of the Apthorp Apartment House, built in 1908.  Their granddaughter married John Jacob Astor III, thus bringing the Astor family name onto certain property deeds in the neighborhood; the Astor son, William, built the Apthorp.

Yet another Apthorp daughter, Rebecca, appears on early Bloomingdale maps as the owner of some remaining woodland lots totaling 50 acres—her name appears on mid-19th century maps.

Charles Ward Apthorp died in 1797.  In 1799, William Jauncey, a wealthy Englishman, purchased Elmwood and its remaining land. Apthorp Lane became Jauncey Lane. Accounts differ as to whether he was a married man with no children or a bachelor, but his niece, Mary Jane Jauncey (who may have been an adopted child), was destined to inherit his fortune. When she eloped with a Colonel Herman Thorne, her uncle was unhappy, but did not cut off her family. In Jauncey’s final will, he left the Elmwood estate to her son, William Jauncey Thorne, when he became 21 years old, and providing he changed his last name to Jauncey, dropping the Thorne name.

William Jauncey died in 1828;  in 1829 the Thorne family moved to Elmwood. They did not stay long, however, and moved to Paris in 1830 where they lived in lavish style in the leased Hotel Martignon on the rue de Varenne. Their son, William, never made it to his 21st birthday when he would have inherited Elmwood. He died in England at age 19 when he was thrown from a horse while hare-hunting with his Cambridge friends. A second son died while serving in the Mexican-American War; a third son eloped to South America with an Italian opera singer. A daughter ran away with a Frenchman (she later returned home); another daughter ran away to South America to become an opera singer. Still another married a French baron, but had to sue her parents to receive a promised dowry. The Thornes returned to New York in 1846, and in 1849 built a large home at 8 West 16th Street. There is no record found as to how or if they used the Elmwood estate, but retreating to the Bloomingdale countryside was still, no doubt, a popular summer activity.

News accounts of Colonel Thorne covered his ”fortunate marriage” and began to refer to “Colonel Thorne’s Elm Park.” An article about wealthy New Yorkers interested in horse racing discussed the “Elm Park Pleasure Ground Association,” a membership organization that leased the grounds of Elmwood for their track. The newspaper account indicated that the group investigated “antecedents” as part of their membership approval. No person was given access to the track “in Ninetieth Street” unless they were a member, and goes on to report “… these gentlemen, although seen with the habitues of Bloomingdale, form a quite separate class.” When Colonel Thorne died in 1859 the fast horse-racing gentlemen were concerned about the loss of their track, and were investigating moving it to the new Central Park, an early example of New Yorkers finding their space in the new park. (No such racing track was designated.)

On May 4, 1860, The New York Times printed a sad short piece about the auction of “Elm Park” and the end of an era of rural country living in Manhattan. The next day, the Times reported that the “large property belonging to the Jauncey estate, and more recently to the estate of Colonel Thorne, located between Eighty-ninth and Ninety-third Streets and Sixth and Tenth Avenues, and comprising about 500 lots,” was sold at the Merchants Exchange by Anthony J. Bleeckee. There appear to have been various bidders on pieces of the property, although not by name.

Nevertheless, some portion of the land and the old mansion house remained intact. Elm Park became a prominent feature of the Upper West Side neighborhood. In the 1860s it is referred to as “Conrad’s Elm Park.” In the 1860 federal census, a George Conrad, his wife and six children are listed as a household that the census taker labeled “Elm Park Pleasure Grounds and Elm Park Hotel.” The other people listed in the census are “three barkeepers, 3 domestics and 3 laborers.” All are German immigrants. This map of the mid-1860s shows the park’s dimensions and structures within.

Early map of the Westside showing Elm Park from NYPL Map Division

In the Civil War years, Elm Park was referred to in news accounts as the place used by various New York regiments to gather as hundreds of soldiers prepared to head to the South to fight.  Much of the city’s open space was used in this way—Jones’ Wood on the eastside, and numerous sites further downtown. These encampments in Elm Park at various times included the Lincoln Calvary, the New York Mounted Riflemen, and New York’s 29th Regiment, an all-German military unit under Col. A. von Steinwehr.

After the war, Elm Park continued to be used as a picnic ground usually following a military parade. The growing influence of German immigrants offering summer outdoor entertainments with music, dancing and beer-drinking in many places in the city included Elm Park. The Saengerbund, a confederation of German Glee Clubs, met in the city, and had picnics at Elm Park. A group gathered in the Park to watch a balloonist take off—a Frenchman who performed from a trapeze while he sailed out over the Hudson and landed in the water (he was rescued). The Spiritualist Society gathered there and generated numerous news reports, some making fun of this popular post-War activity of calling up the spirits of the departed.

Other accounts of the Apthorp Mansion indicate that it became a saloon and dance hall. Further, its abundant outdoor space could accommodate many thousands of people at summer events.  When the mansion was serving as a hotel, it was said to have a large outdoor platform for dancing at park events. Finally, when the property was sold in 1894 (after the mansion was removed) the owners/heirs were the Bernheimer family, although it was not clear how long they had been the owners. This is the same family that were owners of the Lion Brewery further uptown at Columbus Avenue and 108th Street. There is evidence of Bernheimer ownership of other lots of land close to Elm Park, as noted in real estate transactions reported in the newspapers.

On July 12, 1870, an event occurred at Elm Park that once again put this space at the heart of the city’s history. Several organizations of Protestant Irish Americans that together were part of the Loyal Order of the Orange marched uptown that day to a celebration and picnic at Elm Park. July 12 commemorated the date of the victory of the Battle of the Boyne of William III, the King of England and Prince of Orange, over James II in 1690. Just as we see this phenomenon of “race ascendancy” today, the Orangemen of New York City were in league with the nativist Anglo-Americans who were reacting to increasing immigration of Irish Catholics.

As they marched, the Orangemen passed work crews of Irish laborers laying pipe at 59th Street, and, further along, working on broadening the Boulevard (later named Broadway). They taunted the workers with slurs. The Irishmen gathered, armed with clubs, and followed the marching Protestants, and, when they reached the Park, a riot ensued. Some blamed the New York City Police Department who “withdrew” as they decided their duty had ended when the parade reached the Park. Eight people were killed on this day, and many more wounded.

This 1870 riot sparked an even larger riot in 1871, although not on the West Side. That year, the Tammany government first denied a permit for 1871, keeping their Irish constituents happy, but then succumbed to pressure from the city’s elites and issued the permit.  Historians of the city view this event as one of the key moments that loosened Tammany’s hold on the city government, as the city’s elites had “allowed” Tammany so long as the leaders could keep the immigrants under control. It took more time, but eventually Tammany was broken and a movement arose to take over city government by the ”wisest and best.”

The earlier riot in 1870 appears to have had no effect on the continuing operation of Elm Park. News accounts of the events that took place there began to refer to “Wendel’s Elm Park.” Louis Wendel had become the Park’s manager, and was linked to the management of other city spaces. If the Bernheimers owned the Elm Park space at this time, Wendel may have worked for them. By the 1880s, he had management over Elm Park, Lion Park (near the Lion Brewery), the Wendel Assembly Rooms on West 44th Street,  Schutzen Park in Brooklyn, and the West Side Casino.  When Elm Park was finally sold in the 1890s, a news story mentioned a brewery there, although there is no photo, map, or other reference to determine the existence of that facility.

Wendel was a New York character representing a time in the City’s history when Tammany still ruled. He became an Alderman in 1884 and was caught up in the “Broadway Railroad Steal” when nearly all the City’s Aldermen were said to have taken major bribes for the extension of the surface streetcar service south from Union Square. In a State Senate investigation in 1886, the Aldermen came to be known as “the Boodle Aldermen.” Eventually, some were brought to trial and convicted, but not all of them, and  Wendel escaped this fate.

Long after Elm Park had closed down, in 1907 Wendel was investigated, court martialed, and removed from his position as Captain of a New York Guard unit, the First Battery, based at the armory on West 44th Street next to his “Assembly Rooms.” Wendel was removed for stealing funds. He died in 1914, reported to be ”a broken man” living on a small allowance supplied by his wife.

In 1891, the Apthorp mansion was torn down. It was important enough in the City’s history that The New York Times wrote an “obituary” for the house, describing its history.

The Apthorp and Jauncey estates continued to create property problems in the Bloomingdale neighborhood until 1911 when a settlement was made and described in The New York Times. The little lanes crossing the Apthorp estate, as well as the Bloomingdale Road, running north/south between Amsterdam and the newly-named Broadway became parcels of land to which the heirs to the estates claimed ownership, initiating lawsuits to hold on to their parcels. Some say that these “paper roads” held up development in this West Side neighborhood until all cases were finally cleared.

Here are two photographs of the mansion just before it was demolished in 1891:

Apthorp Mansion before it was demolished

Apthorp Mansion

Bloomingdale’s Apthorp family lives on in New York City history in just a few places. Trinity Church has a family vault where Charles Ward Apthorp and other family members are interred. There is an Apthorp chair at the Metropolitan Museum, in their American collection, although it may be from the Boston branch. And, amazingly, the New York Botanical Garden has included the Apthorp Mansion in their depictions of important New York City buildings in their holiday train display.

Apthorp Mansion displayed in New York Botanical Garden holiday train show



Stokes, I.N. Phelps The Iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 Volume 6. New York: Robert H. Dodd, 1915-1928

The New York Times archive

Columbia University’s Real Estate Record

New York Public Library’s Digital Collections – maps

Museum of the City of New York’s photo collection

Daytonian blog posts

Library of Congress Chronicling America collection of New York City newspapers

McKenney, Janice E. Women of The Constitution: Wives of the Signers (online at Google Books).



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