Battle of Harlem Heights

BATTLE OF HARLEM HEIGHTS

by Jim Mackin, local historian and member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee

The Battle of Harlem Heights begins with the Knowlton Rangers. They were men, mostly from Connecticut and some from Massachusetts, were who were hand-picked for an elite detachment to be called “Rangers.” There were Rangers in the earlier French and Indian War, but these Knowlton Rangers were the first under Washington. They were the Green Berets, the special forces of their day and they were our first organized espionage unit.

Before dawn on September 16th, 1776, the leader of the Knowlton Rangers, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton, and from 120 to 150 men, left the front lines along the ridge above “the Heights of Harlem” to see what the British were up to and might do next. They stayed close to the Hudson (then called the North River), passed by the Hoaglandt house at the northern end of the Bloomingdale Road (today Riverside Drive and 114th St) and through the Harlem Heights (known later as Morningside Heights) as futher south to about 106th St and WEA.

When the 120 to 150 Knowlton Rangers advanced south to find the British they included Thomas Knowlton’s older brother, Daniel and his 16 year-old son Frederick. At about 106th St and WEA there was a solidly built stone house of farmer Nicholas Jones. The Rangers were moving stealthily through the farm fields when they were spotted by British pickets guarding the Bloomingdale Road. The pickets fired their guns to alert the 2nd and 3rd regiments of Leslie’s light infantry that was camped near 104th St along the Bloomingdale Road. Some of the British fired from 104th St towards the Rangers, and the Rangers fired back from behind one of Jones’s stone walls. Soon, however, 400 British troops materialized and started moving in column up the Bloomingdale Road. Knowlton directed his men to hold their fire until the marching British reached 107th St. Then the Rangers stood up and fired. The British and the colonial Rangers fired back and forth for about a half an hour.

The fighting stopped when the sound of bagpipes and drums of the Royal Highland Regiment of Foot, commonly known as the Black Watch, were heard in the distant east. Each side sustained about 10 casualties.

The Rangers fell back, firing selectively to cover their withdrawal. The Black Watch stopped, but Leslie’s Light Infantry pursued the Rangers to the end of the Bloomingdale Road by the Hoaglandt farmhouse at 114th St and then positioned themselves on the rise known as Claremont just north of where Grant’s Tomb is today. The Rangers continued retreating into the Hollow Way valley at about 125th St and Broadway.

On the Claremont rise, a British bugler, in full view of colonial General Nathanial Greene’s troops on the ridge north of the Hollow Way, raised his bugle to his lips and blew the fox-hunter’s signal for the end of the chase. This was an insult indicating that “the chase was over” and the colonials were as good as fallen.

Washington’s trusted aide, Colonel Joseph Reed advocated for a response, but Washington was more calculated. He was not as strong a tactician as General Howe, but he was steady, persistent, and flexible. His decision was to try to lure Leslie’s men down from the Claremont rise, but at the same time, send forces to the east that would come up through the difficult ridge of Harlem Heights – think of the ridge in Morningside Park from 110th St to 122nd St. If successful, Leslie’s light infantry would be surprised from the rear and cut off from their other troops.

Colonial General John Nixon was entrusted with fooling Leslie’s units that an attack was underway to lure them into the Hollow Way. Nixon chose Lieutenant Archibald Crary from Rhode Island to command about 150 volunteers to make as much noise as possible moving down into the Hollow Way and create the illusion that they would storm Leslie and his men on the Claremont rise (site of Grant’s Tomb).

Meanwhile, Colonel Knowlton would command about 230 men, including his Rangers and three companies from Colonel George Weedon’s 3rd Virginia Regiment under Major Andrew Leitch, to surprise Leslie’s men by outflanking them from the south, by way of the difficult ridges of Morningside Park.

Crary’s volunteers ran down the slopes in hopes of getting a reaction from the British. A number of Leslie’s men rushed down their slope to fire at the colonials. The Hollow Way, however, was largely a swamp that came in from the Hudson River to about Broadway and from 125th to 130th Sts. So all the shooting that went on, and it went on for awhile, was across the swamp. There was no close combat. But the American General Nixon decided to bolster the effort on his side with all the rest of the 800 men that he had.

Meanwhile Knowlton and his 230 men came down from Point of Rocks by St Nicholas Avenue and 127th St. They found their way to an open rise where today’s General Grant Houses are located between 123rd and 124th St and between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. From here they hoped to get behind Leslie’s men. But, perhaps in their enthusiasm, they fired too early. This caused some of Leslie’s men to fire back. Major Andrew Leitch was hit three times, once in the hip and twice in the stomach. The shots were fatal for him; he died the next day. Knowlton stepped up on the same ledge to rally his troops. He was shot in the small of the back and caught by Captain Stephen Brown of Woodstock, Connecticut. Brown would recollect later that Knowlton was very calm and said “I do not value my life if we do but get the day.” Knowlton died within an hour.

Captain Brown and the Captains of the three Virginia companies, Charles West, John Thornton, and John Ashby, Jr took charge. They lost the element of surprise necessary to outflank, but they pressed hard on Leslie’s men from the east. Nixon’s troops now stopped their feinting tactics and attacked outright. Since Leslie’s troops were outnumbered, they retreated south to get back with the larger group of British troops.

But they stopped to mount a defense at the northern edge of a buckwheat field that covered the area from 116th St to 120th St and from Riverside Drive east to Broadway and a little more. The Americans accumulated their forces here. And the British increased their forces with the addition of the Black Watch, reserves from General Cornwallis and the Hessians. At about noon, the Americans that numbered from 1,800 to 2,000 were stretched from Riverside Church to Teachers College: Nixon’s brigade on the western end, Sargent’s, Beall’s and Douglas’ men in the middle, and Knowlton’s and Leitch’s Rangers on the eastern end. The British, consisting of Leslie’s light infantry, the 2nd and 3rd battalions, and the Black Watch, lined up just south and parallel along 119th St. Thus the battle of Harlem Heights was enacted.

MAP of the Battle of Harlem Heights

MAP of the Battle of Harlem Heights

 

The Americans fought well, and Generals Putnan, Greene, and Clinton rode back and forth behind the lines to encourage their troops. General George Clinton was an American cousin of the British commander Sir Henry Clinton and the uncle of DeWitt Clinton. Some detail that made it into our history of the battle: Colonel Joseph Reed tried to stop a private, Ebenezer Leffingwell, from running away from the front line. Leffingwell tried to shoot Reed, but his gun misfired. Reed grabbed a musket from someone and tried to shoot Leffingwell, but his gun also misfired. But Reed trounced the private with his sword and had him arrested. A week later and after a court martial, Reed commuted Leffingwell’s sentence of death by firing squad.

The British were outnumbered, but would have had about 5,000 troops if Cornwallis’ reserves and the Hessian grenadiers and riflemen caught up with them. Leslie’s advantage was the pair of brass three-pounders, cannons on wheels, that each fired all of their 60 rounds. Thus there was a standoff for two hours – until the Americans started pushing through the line. But Washington ordered his men to break off the engagement and retreat. He didn’t want to get beyond the buckwheat field. His sense was that British reserves were not far off. He was right. And yet the British on the front line decided to retreat. And some Americans, who had not yet heard their order to retreat, chased the British south. There were brief skirmishes at about 111th St and 106th by Jones’ stone house, where the action began earlier in the day. By now the British and Hessian grenadiers accumulated to a force of about 5000.

In addition, three British frigates in Stryker’s Bay near West 96th Street opened fire. Cannonballs from the ships were too far away to do any damage and Washington’s order to retreat reached all the men, and so it was reported they gave a resounding “Hurrah” and fell back to the Heights of Harlem. The Battle of Harlem Heights was over on the same day it began, September 16th, 1776.

FIELD where principal action took place -- Grant's Tomb on left

FIELD where principal action took place — Grant’s Tomb on left

The Americans might have had 100 wounded and 30 deaths. The numbers are not reliable. British had somewhere between 157 to 200 wounded and between 14 and 70 killed. The Americans lost 4 officers, including Leitch and Knowlton.

Those Americans who fought in the Battle of Harlem Hghts and were captured were probably placed in the British Prison Ships.

The Americans were rightfully proud that they could win in the field against the more professional British troops. The British acknowledged the Americans in this regard by not yet pursuing them, but rather by maintaining a line from Stryker’s Bay to McGowen’s Pass to Horn’s Hook (present day Carl Schurz Park by Gracie Mansion) for the next 26 days.

Plaque Commemorating Battle at BWAY 118th Street BHH2

 

 

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Bloomingdale History Map

Vita Wallace, musician and History Group Planning Committee member, has produced a Bloomingdale neighborhood map for download — use it while you take a stroll!

 

BloomingdaleSelfGuidedTourMap

 

 

Bloomingdale Self-Guided Map

Bloomingdale Self-Guided Map

BloomingdaleSelfGuidedTourMap2

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A City of Tenants

The Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group presented a program on March 20, 2014, that included Roberta Gold speaking about her recently-published book When Tenants Claimed the City: the Struggle for Citizenship in New  York City Housing.

Ms. Gold reminded us of New York City’s pioneering of public housing in the 1930s and rent controls initiated in the 1940s that have remained in place. Her book uncovers the principle of tenant citizenship, a claim by renters that they count as full citizens who hold the right to live in interracial, affordable, locally-controlled communities. Tenants struggled to exercise these rights in many neighborhoods, including the Upper West Side’s Urban Renewal Area, 87th to 97th Streets, Central Park West to Amsterdam.

see the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s website at: www.upperwestsidehistory.weebly.org

Cover of Roberta Gold's book

Cover of Roberta Gold’s book

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Bloomingdale/Manhattan Valley Chronology

Compiled by Gil Tauber 2001 for the Columbus Amsterdam Business Improvement District

see the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s website at: www.upperwestsidehistory.weebly.org

1600s     Manhattan Island inhabited by Lenape Indians. There is no evidence of permanent settlement in the high rocky Manhattan Valley area, but it was almost certainly used as a hunting ground by Indians living on the Harlem flats to the east.

1625       Dutch West India Company establishes New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan.

1664       British seize New Amsterdam, renaming it New York. Within a few years the Upper West Side is parceled out in land grants, but there is no significant settlement.

1708       Bloomingdale Road is built, roughly along the lines of present Broadway. The newly accessible Upper West Side becomes an area of farms and country estates.

1811       The Commissioner’s Plan is adopted, laying out Manhattan’s system of streets and avenues. However, it will be decades before most of these streets are anything more than lines on a map.

1821       The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum is opened on what is now the site of Columbia University. In 1834 an unused part of the Asylum property is transferred to the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum, now the site of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

1838       The Croton Aqueduct is built along Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. It includes the Clendenning Valley aqueduct bridge, up to fifty feet above ground level, extending from 102nd to 95th streets. The massive stone structure has only three openings for future cross-town streets.

1856       New York City acquires the land for Central Park.

1868       Broadway is opened, replacing the Old Bloomingdale Road.

1871       Manhattan Avenue is opened.

1872-78Sewers and water mains are laid in most of the streets east of Broadway. Underground pipes replace the above ground aqueduct.

1870s-80s            Improved city services and low land costs attract major charitable institutions including the Hebrew Home for the Aged, the Catholic Old Age Home, and the Home for Aged Indigent Respectable Females.

1879       The Ninth Avenue Elevated Railway, powered by steam locomotives, is built along Columbus Avenue with stations at 99th and 104th Streets. It is followed by the first distinctly urban tenements along Columbus Avenue and row houses along the nearby side streets.

1880s-90s            Several new churches and schools are built to serve the growing residential population mainly on or near Amsterdam Avenue.

1903       Following electrification of the Ninth Avenue El, a station is opened at 100th Street and Manhattan Avenue. Elevators lift passengers to platforms five stories above the street. Nearby vacant lots are rapidly filled with apartment buildings.

1904       The IRT subway is opened on Broadway, spurring construction of more – and larger – apartment buildings.

1932       Eighth Avenue subway line opens along Central Park West.

1940       The Ninth Avenue El is closed and torn down.

1950s     Fourteen city blocks are demolished and replaced by Frederick Douglass Houses and Park West Village. Scandals in connection with the latter project lead to the downfall of Robert Moses.

1970s     City fiscal crisis. Drugs, crime, deterioration and the abandonment of buildings beset the neighborhood.

1979       Community leaders organize Valley Restoration Local Development Corporation. It sponsors housing rehabilitation projects as well as programs to improve security and assist local businesses.

1990s     The area attracts new businesses and private investment in housing rehabilitation.

 

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Catching Up: Marjorie Cohen’s history writing on the Bloomingdale area

Marjorie Cohen writes history essays for the West Side Rag, our neighborhood’s e-news reporting on the Upper West Side.  Marjorie is a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s planning committee.
Marjorie has lived on the Upper West Side since the mid 60s. A big fan of the neighborhood, she fought crime on the grassroots level as Executive Director of the Westside Crime Prevention Program/Safe Haven for more than 20 years. Now, with WCPP’s mission accomplished, Marjorie is concentrating on writing and editing. She is the author of seven travel books.

The Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group thanks the editor of the West Side Rag for allowing us to share these posts.

UPPER WESTSIDE HISTORY: THE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A MODEL WHO BROKE THE RULES

Posted on December 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm by West Side Rag

West Side Rag Editor’s Note: This is the first in a monthly West Side Rag series by Marjorie Cohen. Each month, Marjorie will choose an object or document from the archives of the New-York Historical Society that references the Upper West Side. Read this entry:

http://www.westsiderag.com/2011/12/16/upper-west-side-history-the-rise-and-tragic-fall-of-the-model-who-broke-the-rules

THE CLAREMONT INN: A LOST TREASURE ON THE BANKS OF THE HUDSON

Posted on February 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm by West Side Rag

This is the second article in our History Beat series — columns inspired by materials about the Upper West Side from the library of the New-York Historical Society. This article references items from the library’s manuscript and print collections. Read the rest of the entry:

http://www.westsiderag.com/2012/02/07/the-claremont-inn-a-lost-treasure-on-the-banks-of-the-hudson

EXTRAORDINARY TRUE TALES OF THE UPPER WEST SIDE AUTOMAT

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm by West Side Rag

Let’s take a look back to the Upper West Side of the 1930s and a building constructed just as the Great Depression began. For decades, it was part of a delightful and innovative business experiment, and on one day in the middle of the summer of 1933 it was the scene of a strange and tragic series of …Read the rest of this entry: http://www.westsiderag.com/2012/03/29/upper-west-side-history-a-tale-of-fast-food-and-a-strange-double-tragedy

THE LION BREWERY WHERE BEER WAS MADE ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE

Posted on May 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm by West Side Rag

Each month we choose an object from the N-Y Historical Society Library’s collection that relates to the history of the Upper West Side and use it as the focus of an article.  The topic for this month’s column,  >>http://www.westsiderag.com/2012/05/25/the-lion-brewery-where-beer-was-made-on-the-upper-west-side

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The Old Community on West 98th and 99th Streets

Compiled by Jim Mackin working with Jim Torain — both Jims are members of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.

The OLD COMMUNITY is the African-American community of West 98th and 99th Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue that was decimated by urban renewal in the mid-1950s.  A number of outstanding achievers were raised in the OLD COMMUNITY, as described below.  Its legacy continues with an annual gathering of its surviving members and with celebrating its history.  A 7-munute long video entitled THE TRAGEDY OF URBAN RENEWAL recounts how the OLD COMMUNITY was physically destroyed. The critically acclaimed, award-winning video was written, produced, shot and edited by Jim Epstein and narrated by Nick Gillespie, the Editor-in-Chief of REASON magazine.  Jim Epstein grew up in our BLOOMINGDALE neighborhood.  He donated his research papers on THE TRAGEDY OF URBAN RENEWAL to the BLOOMINGDALE Neighborhood History Group and they have been placed in the BLOOMINGDALE Branch of the New York Public Library.  The TRAGEDY OF URBAN RENEWAL may be seen on Youtube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWGwsA1V2r4

Here are some of the notable people who were part of the OLD COMMUNITY:

SIMON P GOURDINE (1940-2012) – He was a lawyer who in the 1970s became the highest-ranking Black executive in professional sports as Deputy Commissioner of the NBA. He was also Commissioner of Consumer Affairs under Mayor Koch, General Counsel for the NYC Board of Education, and Chairman of the NYC Civil Service Commission.

HENRY “JUGGY” MURRAY (1923-2005) – He was co-founder of SUE Records (with Bobby Robinson) whose repertoire included Bobby Hendricks (“Itchy Twitchy Feeling”, lead on Drifters “Drip Drop”), Baby Washington, Barbara George (“I Know”), Inez & Charlie Foxx (“Mocking Bird”), Ike & Tina Turner (“A Fool In Love”).

CHARLES ALSTON (1907-1977) – He drew posters at PS 179 before going on to Columbia University and was related to Romare Bearden by marriage.  As a painter, sculptor, illustrator, and muralist he was part of the Harlem Renaissance known for his WPA mural for Harlem Hospital.  His bust of Dr. Martin Luther King was the first image of an African-American displayed in the White House.

RICHARD T GREENER (1844-1922) – He was the first African-American graduate of Harvard University and Dean of the Howard University School of Law. He held numerous prominent positions, including Secretary (and chief fund-raiser) of the Grant Monument Association, which created the largest mausoleum in the United State: Grant’s Tomb.

GRANVILLE T. WOODS (1856-1910) – His 60 patents including one for the “troller” which is the grooved metal wheel that allowed streetcars (later known as “trolleys”) to collect electric power from overhead wires. His most important invention was the multiplex telegraph, also known as the “induction telegraph,” which allowed men to communicate by voice over telegraph wires. But he is most well known for the power pick-up device, which is the basis of the “third rail. He turned down Thomas Edison’s offer to make him a partner, and thereafter Granville T. Woods was known as “the Black Edison.”

PHILIP A PAYTON, JR – He was the entrepreneur known as “The Father of Harlem” as his Afro-American Realty Company struggled and successfully opened Harlem to African-Americans.

WILL MARION COOK (1869-1944) – He was a violinist and prominent African-American composer of classical, popular songs, and Broadway musicals.  He gave us the very significant show “In Dahomey”, the first full-length landmark American musical written and played by Blacks.

ARTURO SCHOMBURG – He was a Puerto Rican historian, writer, and an important intellectual figure in the Harlem Renaissance. His collection of literature, art, slave narratives, and other materials of African history constitute the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

JAMES WELDON JOHNSON (1871-1938) and brother
JOHN ROSAMOND JOHNSON (1873-1954) lived in 52 West 99th Street – James was a poet and much more, and John was a composer and much more.  We know them mostly for giving us the hymn “Life Every Voice and Sing”  which has come to be known in the United States as the “Black National Anthem.”

THELMA “BUTTERFLY” McQUEEN (1911-1995) –She was called “Butterfly” in tribute to her constantly moving hands in performance of the Butterfly Ballet in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

ROBERT EARL JONES (1910 – 2006) – He was the great actor father of the great actor, James Earl Jones with a long stage, TV and movie career.  He was at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in so many productions, but is most fondly remembered for his role in Robert Redford’s “The Sting”.

BERT WILLIAMS (1874-1922) – Partnered with George Walker, he is thought to be, by many such as W. C. Fields, to be the greatest vaudevillian of all time.

MARCUS GARVEY (1887-1940) – Marcus Garvey – a protégé of Booker T Washington, he was a political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who promoted the return of the African Diaspora to their ancestral lands and, in so doing, championing Lack nationalism.

BILLIE HOLLIDAY – “LADY DAY” (1915-1959)– Her mother ran a restaurant on West 99th Street.  She was one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.

EARL LEWIS and the CHANNELS – In February of 1956, there was a talent show at a community center in PS 179 that featured Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” fame.)  That show brought together 3 guys from 115th and 116th Sts with 2 guys from the OLD COMMUNITY.  One of them from West 99th Street, EARL LEWIS, became the lead singer and another, CLIFTON WRIGHT, sand bass. A few days later they won a talent contest at PS 113 nearby on 113th Street. Just one week later they came in 2nd at the weekly talent show on the stage of the Apollo Theater.  In June, they recorded a song that the lead singer wrote when he was 10 years old.  That song. “The Closer You Are”, was the number 5 song for the entire year of 1956 on the charts of Alan Freed’s WINS Radio Show. They also had a hit song with “That’s My Desire.”

 

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The Story of 891 Amsterdam Avenue and how it became a New York City Landmark

By Pam Tice, former Executive Director of the New York Hostel and Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group planning committee member.

I became Executive Director of Hostelling International New York in 1990. This was to be an exciting venture: the hostel was in an historic building and we were opening the city’s first youth hostel that is part of the international hostelling organization. I lived in the neighborhood and knew the building as a community eyesore, an abandoned structure with tin-sealed windows and chain link-fencing. I had strong memories of the July 1977 blackout when the building was set on fire. Now it was re-furbished and taking on new life and the neighborhood was excited to have it back in such good shape.

I spent the next twenty years working in the building for two organizations. Recently, I had the time to do the research that gave me a fuller understanding of its history. I learned why it was built, how it fell upon hard times, how it was “saved” by a coalition of Columbia students and neighborhood activists, and then re-purposed by a local community development corporation and American Youth Hostels.

This post is drawn from a “history talk” I gave in October 2010 at the Hostel, and shares some of the images that tell the story of 891 Amsterdam.

There were three distinct eras during the life of the building: first, from the time it opened in 1883 until it shut down in 1974 as the Association Residence for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females. A second era was one of abandonment and the time when the building was saved and re-purposed, from 1974 to 1989. A third era, the past twenty years, starting on January 20, 1990 when the building opened and the first hostellers arrived.

The Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females

 While the name brings a chuckle today for its length and oddities of language, the organization was quite remarkable. It started in the fall of 1813 when a group of New York women, the wives of merchants, became concerned about elderly women.  It was becoming apparent that a city like New York would need many charitable organizations to take care of disadvantaged people. Not only was rapid urbanization taking place, but there was also starting to be a dissolution of the family unit where care-taking had traditionally been handled.  The women who formed the Association were concerned that elderly women needed to “avoid the degradation of the poorhouse.”  The poorhouse, called Bridewell, located in downtown Manhattan near today’s City Hall, was unpleasant and housed mentally ill, vagrants, many succumbing to liquor, and other assorted mis-fits. No one wanted the Poorhouse to be made comfortable because, it was feared, too many would fake their poverty.

Why would a group of women undertake the chore of collecting donations they would, in turn, dispense to poor women in the form of cash, clothing, fuel, food?  This was a time of the “Second Great Awakening” when the churches were re-asserting themselves, and many sought to perform acts of charity as examples of their piety. True, this was a time when women were to remain firmly in the domestic sphere, but piety was a strong part of the ideal women.

Once the women had enough subscribers, they incorporated, in 1815, as an official corporation of the State of New York. They had officers appointed: a First Directress (President) a Second Directress (Vice President), a Secretary and a Treasurer and well thought-out rules governing their tasks and their meetings.  While the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females is an early charity, here, as in other organizations, there are the beginnings of females taking action to address societal problems. This was crucial to the development of the abolition movement, the prohibition movement, and finally, the suffrage movement.

For the first 25 year of the ARRAIF, they simply collected and disbursed funds to women they deemed worthy of receiving it, operating in a pre-social worker environment.  They worked hard. They formed an auxiliary committee for the purpose of making clothing items and disbursing those. Meanwhile, many other charities were formed, some particular to a religious faith, others across denominational lines. The ARRAIF was the latter, with definite evangelical Christian underpinnings — in this era, the Protestant churches, the Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists were the “evangelicals.”

By the mid-1830s the women decided they needed to have an “Asylum” to house some of their “pensioners.”  One Sunday, the minister of the Church of the Ascension preached a sermon extolling the idea, and a special collection was taken up. The story goes, that on the way home from church that day, Mrs. Peter Stuyvesant urged her husband to find some land for the Asylum, ad he did. John Jacob Astor gave the group $5,000 if they could raise another $20,000. They accomplished that; there is no list I could find of their donors, but they did thank “the merchants of New York” for their generosity.  Once the funds were in place, the women asked their husbands to form a “Committee of Gentlemen” to handle the tasks of contracting the work and getting the Asylum built. It opened in 1838 on East 20th Street, between First and Second Avenues.  This illustration found at the New-York Historical Society shows that residence.

The first Association Residence on East 20th Street

The first Association Residence on East 20th Street

The responsibility of operating such an institution caused the ARRAIF to develop new rules governing the responsibilities of the Matron, rules regarding admission to the Asylum, and rules for the “inmates” as the women in the Asylum were called.  These rules give us a sense of life in New York City in the 19th century, as the Matron is charged with keeping a lamp on all night, and making sure there was a fire going in the downstairs stove all night from November to April.  She was also to ensure that all the food was prepared and on the table before the women were called to their main meal at mid-day. She was also to dispense spirituous liquor if a woman’s doctor recommended it, an early version of the prescription drugs that keep the elderly going today. Women coming into the Asylum were expected to show proof of their respectability, evidenced by recommendations. They were also to bring their bedding and furniture, all of which would become the property of the Association. They gave the Association $50 to enter (the 1840’s amount) which became $1,000 much later, and in the mid-20th century, a monthly fee would be charged. All property owned by the inmates had to be turned over to the Association.  They could not earn any money after entering the Asylum, but if they had given money to any of the organized societies set up to provide old-age support and funeral expenses, those groups were expected to keep funds flowing.

By the early 1870s, the Association women determined that they should increase the size of their Asylum.  By this time, they had numerous property holdings around the City, including sufficient buildable lots on Fourth Avenue (today’s Park Avenue) between East 78th and 79th Streets. Again, they asked the men to help out, and they formed an Advisory Committee. They had plans drawn up, but when the NYC Buildings Department required extra fire-proofing of stairwell, this drove the cost of the new building higher than they could sustain.  The country was also in the midst of a recession. The group decided to sell the property on Fourth, and did so, but the buyer defaulted and they had to go through the whole process again later in the decade.

The Advisory Committee kept working, and by the late 1870s was chaired by a man named E.D. Morgan who had served as New York’s Governor from 1862-1865, and then as a U.S. Senator for six years.  A merchant originally from Connecticut, he was a moving force in the new Republican Party, and an influential New Yorker. I would guess that his position in New York society caused the well-known architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to become the architect for the new building.  However, there is no evidence as to exactly why Hunt was chosen.

But first, the Association purchased new land, on Tenth Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets. The twenty lots were bought from Charles Russell at $4,000 each. As the Association moved into this new phase, Mrs. E.D. Morgan — Eliza Morgan — had become the First Directress.

Hunt had a meeting with the Board of the Association where they made known their wishes for the construction of the new building. These notes show us what it was like at the Residence: nearly every resident had her own room, with a fireplace. There was a dining room, and kitchen large enough to serve 100.  The bathrooms were communal. There was a Chapel.  The residents moved into the finished building in December, 1883.

Richard Morris Hunt’s involvement was the reason that the Association Residence was deemed worthy of landmarking nearly 100 years later. He was the first American Architect to attend the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and, when he returned to New York City in the 1850s, he established an important architectural practice, eventually becoming the architect of grand homes in the city owned by the wealthiest citizens.  Today, those homes have been torn down, but examples of his style include the Breakers, at Newport, Rhode Island, and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. But beyond his houses, he undertook buildings like ours, and also the base of the Statue of Liberty, and the front façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are the remainder of his legacy in New York.

The Upper West Side in the 1880s was just beginning develop.  Around the Residence there were very few buildings, and the Broadway was

1885 map showing neighborhood around 891 Amsterdam Avenue

1885 map showing neighborhood around 891 Amsterdam Avenue

then known as the Boulevard.  The area had once been farms, and then country homes during the 17th and 18th centuries.  But the recent opening of the Ninth Avenue Elevated train (the “El”) was sure to spark real estate development, just as the opening of the IRT under Broadway would do in 1904.  The Association was just one of a number of charitable organizations that settled in the country-like atmosphere of the Upper West Side.  Years before, the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum located where Columbia University is today. The Leake and Watts Orphanage was located on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  Nearby the Association Residence was a Catholic Home for elderly people on West 106th Street, and a Jewish home on West 105th.

Across the street from the Association, at the corner of West 104th Street, a Home for Destitute Blind run by the Episcopal Church located in 1893. Over on Central Park West, at West 106th Street, construction began in 1884 of what came to be called the Cancer Hospital, an elegant brick structure.  Its round towers were constructed at a time when it was thought cancer germs lurked in corners.

Also of note in the growing neighborhood is a hotel, the Clendenning, located at on the south west corner of West 103 Street and Amsterdam.

King's Handbook image of the Association Residence before addition

King’s Handbook image of the Association Residence before addition

From the 1880s to World War I, the west side streets filled in with buildings, churches, schools and stores. Initially, many of the residences were single family homes. Many of these were replaced with the apartment buildings we have today.  In the streets surrounding the Association Residence, nearly all the denominations built churches, from Holy Name (Catholic) at Amsterdam and West 96th, to West End Presbyterian at Amsterdam and West 105th, and Grace Methodist on West 104th, and Hope Baptist at Broadway and 104th Street.  On West 102nd Street, off Amsterdam, was PS 179, now the location of West Side High School. There was also a fire house on this street.

The original Association Residence did not cover the whole block —- it was in 1908, when Mrs. Sage had given them a gift of $250,000, that the addition extended the building southerly to the corner of West 103 Street. The architect for the addition was Charles Rich. The addition included the installation of Tiffany windows to the Chapel. Those windows are now in a museum in Winter Park, Florida.

Detail of stained glass window honoring Eliza Morgan

Detail of stained glass window honoring Eliza Morgan

So, the women living in the Residence watched the neighborhood grow and change, and lived out their lives.  Federal censuses show that the population stayed pretty steady at 100-110 residents, a Matron or Administrator, and about 25 employees, from a cook and a laundress, to an “Ashman” during the time the fireplaces were used, and several housekeepers, and, later, more nurses. (Added note: thanks to Eric Washington who responded to this essay, we now have a photo of the gravesite at Trinity Cemetery where a number of residents were buried.)

gravesite of the Respectable Aged Indigent Females, Courtesy of Eric Washington

gravesite of the Respectable Aged Indigent Females, Courtesy of Eric Washington

 

Association Residence chapel -- image from the Museum of the City of New York

Association Residence chapel — image from the Museum of the City of New York

The Upper West Side neighborhood where 891 Amsterdam Avenue is located changed greatly just after World War II, when federal funding for housing, Title 1, and the ambitions of Robert Moses came to the Upper West Side.

“Slum clearance” to make room for the new public housing meant that acres of land were cleared of buildings. All the buildings on the blocks from West 100 to 104 Streets were taken down to make room for the construction of Frederick Douglass Houses.  Mrs. Cox, the First Directress of the Association in the early 1950’s, was quoted as having to “fight Bob Moses” to keep the Association Residence.

In the 1960s, the Residence went through an extensive renovation, including a new elevator and shared bathrooms for every two rooms. One of the priests at the Cathedral remembers visiting the women there, and how “nice” the Residence was – and especially compared to the Towers Nursing Home over on Central Park West which was later to become the scandalous example of mis-treatment of the elderly.

Association Residence Parlor -- image from the Museum of the City of New York

Association Residence Parlor — image from the Museum of the City of New York

But things were changing.  By the late 1960s, government funding for the care of the elderly through Medicare and Medicaid (for nursing homes) was the most likely source for organizations such as the Association Residence.  In order to be eligible, the Association had an inspection but fell short. Some of their problems were operational, like not enough nurses on staff, but some were more troublesome, such as the parquet floors and wooden staircases which were fire hazards.  This prompted the Association to decide to tear down the building, and construct a new one. Soon the plan was made known in the press, and the neighborhood knew that they would lose this building too.

And then an interesting series of events ensued.  At Columbia, a student named Fred Chapman was given an assignment in his historic preservation class to research and “get listed on the National Register of Historic Places” an historic New York City building. Fred chose the Association Residence, and completed his assignment.  In those days, the owner of the property did not have to agree to the listing. Soon Fred was joined by Linda Yowell, a student in the Columbia School of Architecture who had an interest in historic preservation. With the news that the Association planned to tear down the “Hunt Building,” as it came to be known, the students went to the Architectural League where a special committee was set up.  Someone advised the students to contact as many of the neighborhood organizations as possible and they did.

A new voluntary community organization was formed as the Committee to Save the Hunt Building by co-chairs Chuck Tice and Charlie Lee, assisted by several Columbia students. Chuck remembers obtaining Rep. Charles Rangel’s assurance to help get the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places, following the committee’s first meeting at the Bloomingdale Library.

The Association dug in their heels and insisted that they would tear down the building in order to be able to pay for the construction of the new Association Nursing Home.  Since they would be using federal funds for both the demolition and construction, the students learned that there was a somewhat obscure rule that if federal funds were used for demolition of a building on the National Register, an environmental impact statement would be required. The Association would not comply, and a lawsuit commenced, helped along by yet another student from Columbia Law School. The plaintiffs were the Architectural League, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Congressman Charles Rangel, and others.

The lawsuit had the effect of slowing down the whole process. The Association was running out of money. They moved the women out of the Residence in the fall of 1974. Vandalism of the building began, with copper pipes and other materials removed. The site became an eyesore, and the City of New York put out an order for the building’s demolition as a “fire, health, and moral hazard.” Since they would be charging the Association $300,000 for the cost, even the Association Board did not want this to happen. The students and others met with City officials, and they agreed that if the building could be tin-sealed on the first two floors, they would withdraw the order to demolish it.  The funding for the tin seal was found.  After the July 1977 Blackout, the roof and the rest of the building would be sealed, but by then the City was responsible.

Meanwhile, other events were happening. The State of New York launched investigations – long overdue — of their nursing homes, with the Towers Nursing Home on Central Park West becoming the most visible of the horrendous conditions the elderly were experiencing.  Soon funding for new nursing home operations dried up —- and the Association was out of money and time. They withdrew totally from their building site, and the building became officially “abandoned.”  That made it in rem property of the City of New York.

Now the discovery began to see what could be done with the building. Initially, it was thought that a combination of senior housing and community center might work. The Columbia students were still involved, and were joined by professors and others.

The Hostel in the 1970s with tin-sealed windows

The Hostel in the 1970s with tin-sealed windows

American Youth Hostels entered the picture in the late ‘70s after the group started the City’s Five Boro Bike Tour and met with city officials as they sought permits to run the bike event.  The City Hall officials learned that the City had no official youth hostel and soon had AYH staff working with the Economic Development Corporation to find a building that could be a hostel. This was during the expansion of AYH into urban hostels, a much-needed element in the travel market, as more and more Europeans began to make trips to the United States and were wondering where the youth hostels were.

New York was a daunting challenge to take on as the costs of real estate development were considerable. However, with the City’s help, the 891 Amsterdam building was soon identified, and AYH teamed up with the Valley Restoration Local Development Corporation to see if the building could work as a hostel, and to seek the funding that would be necessary to create it.

The Chapel being reconstructed

The Chapel being reconstructed

This process took a number of years —- the details are considerable —- but everything was in place to begin construction by 1987.  A private developer, Sybedon Corporation, was brought into the process to handle the financing and management of the construction, with a contract with AYH that gave the non-profit an opportunity to own the building outright after a certain number of years.

After a number of years of resistance, the City’s Landmark Commission finally voted to convey landmark status to the 891 Amsterdam building in 1983.  Some accuse the City of “not getting it” – that a poorer neighborhood could also have an important landmark structure.  One of the arguments for landmark status is that the structure in and of itself is important, but the building also gives the neighborhood a context, and a reminder of how it used to be.

The Hostel opened in January 1990 —-although not to immediate success. There were 480 beds, and the rate was $19.00. Many staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to make the Hostel a safe, clean, comfortable accommodation, and to reach out to hostellers with programs and activities that enhanced their visit to New York. The Hostel serves as a neighborhood employer and a place for community meetings and celebrations.  Eventually, occupancy began to grow, and an explosion in tourist visits to New York put the hostel on the map.  By the late 1990’s the Hostel was able to increase its allowed beds, and also occupancy, and it really took off, becoming one of the largest youth hostels in the world.  In 2001, the events of 9-11 caused setbacks, but later, tourism and the hostel came back.

The Hostel today has 670 beds, making it the largest in North America. It is a significant part of the Upper West Side community. Its strong management, continuing physical improvements, new programming innovations and devoted staff attention all contribute to its success.

891 Amsterdam Avenue today

891 Amsterdam Avenue today

Posted in Association Residenc for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, Hostelling International New York | 6 Comments

The Ninth Avenue El

The El

The El

By Jim Mackin, Historian and Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group planning committee member.

 

How does the NINTH AVENUE EL fit into the history of railroads in New York City?

The first railroad in New York City was the New York & Harlem Railroad. It was operational by 1832 – horse-drawn at first, then with steam locomotives – along its first section from the Bowery at Prince Street up to 14th St. After several locomotives exploded in the streets of New York, in 1850 the city outlawed use of locomotives south of 14th St, in 1859 moved the restriction up to 26 St, later to 42 St.

In 1864, a RR man from Michigan named Hugh B Wilson, sponsored and promoted the Metropolitan Railway Company. He proposed a subway, but the Chief Engineer on the Croton Aqueduct, Alfred Craven, objected because of possible interference with the Croton Water Supply system.  State Senator Samuel Ruggles (the developer of Gramercy Park) introduced a bill in 1866 to promote the creation of companies to operate elevated railways.

There were various schemes of elevated RR’s, but only one was realized – in 1867 by Charles T. Harvey. When he requested a charter to build an elevated railroad, the leader of the NYS Senate, William Marcy Tweed – later to become the infamous Boss Tweed – thought the idea so ridiculous that he didn’t block it. The el that Harvey erected was the city’s first rapid transit line.  Initially, Roebling ¾” cables powered by steam engines were used to move the cars.

At first there were only 2 stations at Dey St and the terminal at 29th St (and Ninth Ave).  There were cable-operating plants at Cortland, Franklin, Bank and Little West 12th Streets. Initially, the els were built over sidewalks, but that approach was later abandoned and then els were built over streets. On September 24th of 1869 the stock market crashed (Black Friday) and took its toll on Harvey and he had to sell out his investment in the El.  In late 1870 the operation was discontinued and the entire line was sold at auction for $960.

But in 1872 the railway was revived and new stations were opened. Steam locomotives replaced steam engines that powered the cables. Now it was possible to get on a train in Yonkers at 7:15 am, take it down the West Side to a depot at W 30th St, catch the El and ride to Dey St by 8:40.  By 1876, the El reached 61 St (and Ninth Ave).

The Husted Act of 1875, sometimes called the Rapid Transit Act, empowered the Mayor to appoint a Rapid Transit Commission that created the elevated routes on 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 9th Avenues.  Cyrus Field, famous for laying the Atlantic Cable, used much of his fortune to buy stock in the elevated railway, promote expansion, and merge with others to be called Manhattan Railway Company.

In 1877, double tracking began (in 1892, a third track was added from 59th to 116th).

Looking west from Central Park West and 110th Street

Looking west from Central Park West and 110th Street

By 1878, the El reached 104th St and Ninth Avenue. In 1879, the El reached 155 St and the Harlem River. Also in 1879, investor SJ Tilden sold his shares and it caused the stock to drop 36 points and forced Cyrus Field to have to bring in Russell Sage and Jay Gould as investors.  This ruined Cyrus Field financially, but the Manhattan Railway Company with its els on Second, Third, Sixth and Ninth Avenues had 46 million passengers (NYC population in 1880 was 1.2 million) and was very financially successful. The profits per mile for the NYC els were thought to be the highest of all the railroads in the country.

By 1879, Jay Gould became the manager of NYC’s whole system of 81 miles of the elevated RRs. (In 1896 his son, George Gould, in a letter to the NY Times, proposed an el for Amsterdam Avenue).  The VP of Operations who effectively ran the El was Frank K Hain. He lived at the Navarro Apartments, known as the “Spanish Flats”, at 165 West 58 St from 1886-1896.

The NINTH AVENUE EL was one of the principal factors in developing the entire Upper West Side, and our BLOOMINGDALE community.  To build it in 1878 and 1879, 7 men and a team of horses set up 10 to 40 columns a day.  Jackscrews and oakum used to carefully plumb the columns. Then cement was poured, yellow pine was used for ties, but oak was used on curves.  Foundations and high sections at 110 St were inspected every morning.

The stations were at 59th St, 66th Street (express stop), 72nd St, 81st St, 86th, 93rd, 99th, 104th, 116th St. The location of stations was decided in part by the topography.  You can see this by standing at 104th Street.

See the photos here of “SUICIDE CURVE” AT 110th Street.  Ferdinand De Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, called the “SUICIDE CURVE” “an extraordinary audacious bit of civil engineering” It was called “SUICIDE CURVE” supposedly because people committed suicide by jumping off the tracks here.

Suicide curve at 110th Street

Suicide curve at 110th Street

In the 1880s and the early 1890s, the El was closed from 8 PM to 5:30 am and all day on Sundays.  In 1880 the fare was raised to 10 cents, but 5 cents during morning and evening rush hours.  In 1886, the fare was cut to 5 cents all the time and it stayed at 5 cents until 1939.  In the earliest years, tickets were sold at stations and collected on the trains by conductors. After 1886 the tickets were dropped in collecting boxes. Starting in 1923 there were coin-operated turnstiles. In 1897, the bicycle craze had taken over the city and the el removed seats on select cars and ran bicycle trains.

By the late 1880s, New York was contemplating a subway. But one major problem was steam locomotives that would spew smoke in subway tunnels. London tolerated the smoke in having the first subway in the world in 1863.  Werner von Siemans in Germany developed the first electric railroad car in 1870, but there were problems with an electric locomotive. In fact Thomas Edison and Stephen Field, the electrical engineer son of Cyrus Field, (and electrical engineer Leo Daft) developed an electric locomotive that was tested on the el in 1885.  But it did not have enough power to pull cars with passengers. Frank J. Sprague devised the solution.  His idea, and it is still used today, is in having motors in each of the cars, and they are all operated in one car by the “motorman”. The conversion of the NINTH AVENUE EL to electric in 1903 was very expensive but it reduced fuel costs and it became possible to run longer trains.

Incidentally, Sprague may also be given credit for the dual-track system of New York City, which many other cities do not have. Separate tracks for Local And Express trains allow for more efficiency.

In 1903. the Ninth Avenue El was the last el in NYC to go electric. The electricity facilitated lighting of stations, elevators and even escalators at busy stations such as Herald Square.  When the NINTH AVENUE EL was built, there was a station at 104th Street and the next one was at 116th Street.  In 1903, the 110 St Station was built because four electric elevators made it practical. At 63 ft above street level it was the highest station.  Some say that the tower, which had the elevators, lasted into the early 1970s.

In 1903 the NINTH AVENUE EL line was leased to the IRT.  In 1904 the IRT opened.

The El from Street level

The El from Street level

In 1909 the IRT took over the operations of the El.  By 1940, the 6th and 9th Ave Els were taken down, and much of the steel was sold to Japan.

 

It is quite likely that some of the locomotives that ran on the NINTH AVENUE EL are in different collections around the country. Old wooden cars were sold off and some went to the NYC Department of Sanitation Camp for employees, called “Sanita”, and converted into bungalows.

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Measure of Manhattan

cover-med

On Monday evening, June 10th, 2013, Marguerite Holloway made a presentation to the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group of her book “Measure of Manhattan”. Holloway is the Director of Science and Environmental Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. “Measure of Manhattan” is the story of the tumultuous career and surprising legacy of John Randel, Jr., cartographer, surveyor and inventor. For anyone who is interested in the New York City street grid, and who probably saw “The Greatest Grid” exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York in 2012, this book is essential.

The streets and avenues in our Bloomingdale neighborhood are part of this story. With a little bit of historic license, it can be stated that Randel “created” Morningside Park because his Ninth Avenue couldn’t be extended. And we can thank him for Riverside Drive and Riverside Park because his 12th Avenue was too expensive to make (with all due respect to Frederick Law Olmsted, Calvert Vaux, and Andrew Haswell Green.)

John Randel did much, much more than survey for the Manhattan Street grid. He rendered maps for many other areas, along the Hudson and elsewhere in New York State and was instrumental in the building of some important canals. In addition, he invented things, notably surveying instruments, and his diagrams and maps are works of art. Let’s not leave out his plan for an early elevated railroad in New York City.

Randel’s star will be rising in history and “Measure of Manhattan” by Marguerite Holloway explains why.

You can visit Ms. Holloway’s site at: http://www.measureofmanhattan.com

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Neighborhood Nomenclature

This first blog was written by Gil Tauber, Historian and Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group planning committee member.

Neighborhood Nomenclature:  Bloomingdale, the West End and Manhattan Valley

Bloomingdale

As a place name, “Bloomingdale” first appears in public records in 1688 but was probably in use much earlier.   The Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam may have adopted the name by geographical analogy, since the Dutch town of Bloemendaal (which means “vale of flowers”) is northwest of Amsterdam and a few miles west of Haarlem.

Bloomingdale is now a name for the blocks from 96th to 110th Streets between Central Park and the Hudson River, but it once denoted a much larger area of Manhattan Island.

In British colonial times, “Bloomingdale” seems to have encompassed the entire west side of Manhattan north of the Great Kill, a creek near the present 42nd St., to what we now call Washington Heights.   About 1708, the British colonial government built the Bloomingdale Road.  It started at today’s Madison Square and ran, roughly along the line of Broadway, to the present 115th St. and Riverside Drive.  (It was later extended to 147th St.).    By the time of the American Revolution, Bloomingdale was a thriving district of farms and country estates.

Shortly after 1800, three villages sprang up along the Bloomingdale Road.  Harsenville was around the present 71st St., Bloomingdale Village around 99th St. and Manhattanville around 125th St.

When the city’s present street plan was adopted in 1811, it included a park called Bloomingdale Square, from 53rd to 57th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.   That original Bloomingdale Square was eliminated from the plan in 1857 when the city created Central Park only two blocks north of it.   In 1868, the Bloomingdale Road north of 59th Street was closed and replaced by the present Broadway.  In the 1870s, the creation of Morningside Park began to give the area north of 110th Street a distinct identity as Morningside Heights.

Thus, “Bloomingdale” shrank in extent but continued to be used for the area closest to the old Bloomingdale Village.  Today, between 96th Street and 110th Street, one can find a Bloomingdale School (P.S. 145), a Bloomingdale Branch Library, and even sections of the old Bloomingdale Road.  Among other organizations using the name are the Bloomingdale School of Music, Bloomingdale Aging in Place and, most recently, the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group

The West End

For most of the 19th Century the best known institution in Bloomingdale was the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, opened in 1821 near 117th St.  After the Civil War, real estate developers thought that, because of the asylum, the name Bloomingdale would deter prospective buyers. They campaigned to rename the area west of Central Park “the West End.”  In 1880 they got the city to change the name of Eleventh Avenue, north of 59th St., to West End Avenue.  A number of businesses and institutions also adopted the name West End, including West End Collegiate Church and West End Presbyterian Church.  The drive to replace “Bloomingdale” with West End was somewhat blunted in 1894 when the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum moved to White Plains.  Its former property is now Columbia University.

Bloomingdale Square

In 1906, the name “Bloomingdale” gained renewed popularity when the historic Bloomingdale Reformed Church moved from 68th Street to an elegant new sanctuary on West End Avenue near 106th St., opposite what was then called Schuyler Square.  The move took place during an apartment building boom that drew many new residents to the area.  In honor of the church, the city renamed the park Bloomingdale Square.   Unfortunately, the church encountered financial difficulties at its new site.  By 1910 it had closed.  In 1912, Bloomingdale Square was renamed Straus Square (now Straus Park).  Although the church and the second Bloomingdale Square had lasted only a few years, their presence helped to reinforce the use of “Bloomingdale” as a neighborhood name.

Manhattan Valley

Valleys don’t move much but names do.  When the village of Manhattanville was laid out in 1806, what is now the western portion of 125th Street was called Manhattan Street.   The sharp dip in terrain at that point came to be known as the Manhattan Valley.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was frequently in the news because of the engineering challenges it posed for important public works projects such as the Croton Aqueduct and the IRT subway along Broadway.

Manhattan Street was renamed in 1920.  Over time, the name Manhattan Valley became unmoored from its original location and in the 1960s was reapplied to the blocks in the vicinity of Manhattan Avenue between 100th and 110th Streets.  From the 1960s through the mid-1990s, newspaper articles mentioning this new Manhattan Valley were most often about crime and drug gangs, sometimes along Manhattan Avenue but more often along the parallel portions of Columbus and Amsterdam Aves.  However, other articles dealt with the Manhattan Valley Development Corporation, a community-based group that has successfully rehabilitated over 600 units of housing in these blocks.

Today, crime in Manhattan Valley has subsided considerably.  Manhattan Avenue itself, with three blockfronts of row houses dating from the 1880s, is now a historic district.  Real estate brokers often list apartments as being in Manhattan Valley.   It can best be described as a sub-area of Bloomingdale, just as Bloomingdale itself is a sub-area of the Upper West Side.

Photo collage of Bloomingdale buildings, streets, features

Photo collage of Bloomingdale buildings, streets, features created by Pam Tice

Posted in bloomingdale name, Bloomingdale Square, Manhattan Valley, The West End | 3 Comments