Marjorie Cohen of the BNHG planning committee wrote this article which appeared originally in the website brickunderground.com
Whether you were born in New York, moved here decades ago, or just arrived, you might be curious to know something about what was here before you. Kenneth Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City, says that over ten thousand books have been written about the city, including about a hundred a year from 1990 on, so sorting the wheat from the chaff is a daunting task indeed.
To get a sense of what's essential reading for the New York history neophyte, we asked 11 historians and authors to tell us their favorite books of New York history, along with an explanation of why each title made the cut.
This post is the seventh in a series that covers 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: