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.
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.
This is the third post of a three-part series on the history of homes for the aged in the Bloomingdale neighborhood written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group planning committee.
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.
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.
This is the second post of a three part series written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group planning committee.
The Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged indigent Females
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.
Written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee
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.
While doing historical research, Gilbert Tauber, member of the planning committee of the BNHG, came across a surprising document in the New York County Clerk's office. In this article he notes the significance of the long overlooked 1917 New York Military Census and its possibilities for further research.
Earlier this year, while doing some research at the New York County Clerk’s office, I noticed a stack of large-format volumes bound in bright red cloth. I learned that they were records from a statewide military census that was conducted in June 1917
The volumes consisted of bound, typewritten ledger sheets listing names, addresses, ages, occupations, marital status, and much other information for most of the adult male population of Manhattan. According to the Bruce Abrams, the longtime archivist there, these volumes have never been published or digitized. (They are also difficult to search in their present form because they are alphabetized only by the first letter of the last name.) Although I have been doing historical research on NYC for many years, I had never heard of this census. It piqued my interest because my father had fought in World War I as a member of New York’s 77th Division
Looking into the New York Times online archives, I learned that the 1917 Military Census had included all New York State residents between the ages of 16 and 50, both men and women. The questions asked went far beyond those of the Federal census, including citizenship; any previous military experience; responsibilities for care of dependents; and any special skills of potential use to the war effort, such as nursing, the ability to type, drive a motor vehicle, or pilot an airplane. The questionnaires were slightly different for men and women. Upstate, the census was conducted through a house-to-house survey. In New York City, the authorities set up hundreds of census stations where people could come to fill out their questionnaires. The stations were largely staffed by volunteers, mainly women, from such organizations as the YWCA, the National League for Women’s Service and the Young Women’s Hebrew Association. It appears that the census was successful in reaching all but a tiny percentage of its target population.
Written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee, this post is the ninth in her series on the past of buildings on the Bloomingdale neighborhood of the Upper West Side.
A previous post 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.
Written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee, this post is the eighth in her series on the past of buildings on the Bloomingdale neighborhood of the Upper West Side.
It was Bloomingdale’s residential development that 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.
Marjorie Cohen of the BNHG planning committee wrote this article which appeared originally in the website brickunderground.com
New York City has a history so rich and complex that it's probably impossible for one person to absorb it all. There are multitudes of books on the subject, and untold additional documents and artifacts relating to forgotten events and communities that have yet to be uncovered, that are sitting dusty under someone's floorboards, or that have been altogether lost to time and the elements. That's not to say it's not an enriching thing to try to wrap your head around.
For the New York history curious, we rounded up recommendations from local historians and authors of resources to begin exploring the big city's vast past. So far we have heard their picks for the best books about the city as a whole, and books about specific neighborhoods and communities. Now, we've got their picks for the best blogs, websites, podcasts, and social media feeds for understanding what came before.
If you finish the list and find yourself still wanting more, historian Justin Ferate has over 800 web resource recommendations on his website, organized by category.
Daytonian in Manhattan
“Tom Miller has exhaustively researched more than 200 buildings, most on the Upper West Side. If a building looks interesting, he’s probably jumped on it. His commentary is always fun to read, and Christopher Gray of the New York Times, who passed away recently, was the only other person who did what Miller does on a regular basis.”—Jim Mackin, historian andwalking tour guide
“Excellent and engaging research about notable Manhattan buildings that often includes the back story of their development and construction. The blog’s historical images and items of social and cultural interest give a well-rounded assessment of both the subject building and its cultural milieu.”—Ferate