Winifred Armstrong and Barbara Ernest composed this pamphlet for the Park West History Group (predecessor of the BNHG) in 2007
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:
Author Daniel J. Wakin discussed his new book with a sold-out BNHG presentation on January 18, 2018 at the Hostel International-New York. Below is an excerpt from his talk:
My book, The Man With the Sawed-Off Leg and Other Tales of a New York City Block, tells the stories of the remarkable people who lived in seven townhouses on Riverside Drive over the past 115 years. The buildings were built right around the beginning of the 20th century, and it’s no surprise that most of the residents with the big biographies in those early years were men — a fashion magazine mogul, a path-breaking scientist, a Goodyear Tire executive, an entrepreneurial dentist, a baking powder magnate.
By Pam Tice, BNHG Program Committee
Central Park stretches out from Eighth to Fifth Avenue to the east of the Bloomingdale neighborhood. On November 28, 2017, Sara Cedar Miller, Central Park’s Historian, came to speak to our group with a wonderful collection of images ---- photographs, old maps and pastel paintings ----- that pictured the land before the Park, and its rich New York history.
First we learned about the topography, a key factor in how land is used. Old maps show the many rock outcroppings, looking out over low, flat, marshes and Harlem Creek, now covered over but making the basements wet in East Harlem. The little stream we call the Loch today was part of a farm owned by the Montagne family on land acquired in 1637 where tobacco was one of the crops. The stream’s original name was Montagne’s Rivulet ---- and provided a refreshing stop for many on their way “uptown” --- even a metal dipper for a drink of water. An old dipper was found in a space between two rocks when Central Park Conservancy crews were working on the Loch.
The east side of the Park also served as the route for traffic headed north on the Kingsbridge Road, as it moved west and north to get over the Creek, and through a pass in the rocky terrain. Taverns were soon located, with McGowan’s Tavern located near the pass. This site later became the Convent of Mount Saint Vincent which took the tavern building and added others.
The rocky promontories served a military purpose during the Revolutionary War. Indeed, as the Park was under construction, Olmsted’s work crew found evidence of the remnants of the Hessian and British troops that were billeted there. The War of 1812 brought new military uses: as news of an impending British attack on Manhattan grew, citizens scrambled to build a string of fortifications across the high rocky land: Fort Fish, Nutter’s Battery and Fort Clinton, and the Blockhouse, sited on an older base left from the Revolutionary era. Today, these fort sites and their landscapes have been restored by the Central Park Conservancy.
For the avid historians in the audience, Sara related the tale of discovering, verifying, restoring and repositioning a cannon, now on display at Fort Clinton. The cannon was discovered to be from the wreck of the HMS Hussar, a British frigate that sank in the treacherous waters of Hell Gate in 1780. Further excitement ensued in 2013 when the restoration crew discovered black gunpowder stored in the cannon. The NYPD came to the rescue, stating later, “We silenced British cannon fire in 1776, and we don’t want to hear it again in Central Park.”
This wonderful landscape on our Bloomingdale doorstep is rich in American history and just a walk away.
This blog was written by Pam Tice, a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.
In this summer of 2017 as we prepare for the solar eclipse on August 21, a recent reference to the 1925 eclipse in The New York Times and the importance of our Bloomingdale neighborhood inspired further research. This event, known as the Upper Manhattan Eclipse, did not occur in the heat of summer, but on a freezing, cold day: January 24, 1925.
Predictions of the path of a solar eclipse were pretty accurate by 1925, but not perfect. Ancient societies—including the Babylonians, the Chinese, and the Maya—had developed the ability to predict solar eclipse patterns, but it wasn’t until 1715 that astronomer Sir Edmond Halley made his critical breakthrough, using Isaac Newton’s law of gravity. This achievement enabled predictions of exactly where the eclipse would occur and how long it would last at that point.
Local writer Marjorie Cohen, member of the planning group of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, wrote this post for Brick Underground (https://www.brickunderground.com/) which has given us permission to reproduce it here.
When Brian Hartig and his husband first bought a brownstone in Bed-Stuy and set about the process of renovating it, almost immediately "things started falling out of the walls," he recalls. "We were finding them under the floor boards." The "things," it turned out, were artifacts left behind by the families who had lived in the house before them.
"I had a regular curio cabinet full of objects by the time we were done," he says, including Victorian children's blocks from the 1890s, a shoe catalog, and an old receipt dating back to the 1910s. These random finds sparked Hartig’s interest in the history of his new home, and he started to research it in earnest, ultimately finding records showing that the property was farmland the 1700s and owned by Jacobus van de Water, mayor of New Amsterdam in 1673.
These days, Hartig does this kind of research for a living at his company, Brownstone Detectives, taking requests from clients who want to know more about their homes, doing the research for them, and putting it all into a book at the end of the process. "Clients tell me what they want to know and I get to follow the clues….We’ve uncovered stories of Baseball Hall of Famers, murderers, Civil War heroes, unexplained fires, explosions, deceit, corruption, unrequited love, and much, much more."
Starting your own search
If you're interested in uncovering details about your own home—from when it was built, to what your neighborhood used to look like, to who used to live there—the city has a surprising number of resources available for armchair history buffs.
This is the sixth in a series of pieces written on places that used to be in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, written by Pam Tice, a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee. Thanks go to Chuck Tice and Marjorie Cohen as editors.
New York’s City’s restaurant history is a popular topic for many social historians. They have traced New York’s history of famous restaurants from the 1830s Delmonico’s on the corner of Beaver and William Streets, (moving twice as the city grew), to the lobster palaces of Times Square, to the bohemian dining of Greenwich Village. Worked into this panoply is the history of a developing middle class, the creation of social spaces where women could meet outside the home, the development of dining places for the growing office workforce of New York, and the growing acceptance of the food and cooking of the millions of immigrants who came to the city.
On June 7, 2016, the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group presented a program about political activism on the Upper West Side in the 1960s and 70s. The main speaker was Rose Muzio, Professor of Politics at SUNY Old Westbury and author of Radical Imagination, Radical Humanity: Puerto Rican Political Activism in New York. The program was rich in detail. The following is a summary of some of that program based on notes I took during the presentations.
— Jay Hauben
This is the fifth in a series of pieces on something that no longer exists in our Bloomingdale neighborhood. The author, Pam Tice, is a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.
For a short period, perhaps less than five years, West 110th Street became an entertainment district known as “Little Coney Island.” The story of its development and demise is a New York story with real estate, politics, the Police Department, vice and corruption, changing social values, and class conflict.
The Upper West Side rapidly developed in the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two of the 20th century. Very quickly, sparsely placed wood-frame houses were replaced by brownstones and tenements, and, over time, larger and larger apartment buildings. Development initially followed the new El train, spreading out from the station stops as land was sold and developed.