Posts Tagged ‘upper Manhattan history’

When Audubon settled in Upper Manhattan

August 8, 2011

After Birds of America earned him success and money, ornithologist and painter John James Audubon bought an estate for himself and his family in 1842 roughly around today’s West 150s.

Nine miles north of the city center, he called it Minniesland, after his wife.

“Audubon’s original purchase was a fourteen-acre right triangle that began on the flat land at the crest of the Heights just north of Carmansville and slightly west of the Kingsbridge Road, at a point in the center of the intersection of present-day Amsterdam Avenue and 155th Street,” states the Audubon Park Historic District website.

It sounds like paradise, which makes it all the more unfortunate that after Audubon’s death in 1851, his widow was forced to sell the land.

In the 1850s, Minniesland (above, in 1864, from the Audubon Park Historic District website), was carved up into Audubon Park, a neighborhood of villas. At the turn of the century, row houses and apartment buildings came in. The Audubon house disappeared by the 1930s.

Today, the neighborhood “bears no resemblance to the wooded vale that John James Audubon bought in 1841 and deeded to his wife, Lucy,” reports the Audubon Park Historic District website.

“The ancient elms and oaks that towered above dogwood and tulip trees on the hillside and the tall pines nearer the water, the streams that flowed through ponds and over a waterfall before joining the river, the enclosures where deer and elk mingled with domestic animals are long gone, displaced in stages of development and progress that culminated in the cityscape that exists today.”

Upper Manhattan hasn’t forgotten its famous resident (at left). Audubon Avenue and Audubon Terrace memorialize him, and Audubon himself is buried in Trinity Cemetery at 155th Street.

The last surviving relic of an old Inwood mansion

October 6, 2010

It’s a bizarre sight: At Broadway and 215th Street, amid an unremarkable stretch of neighborhood shops, sits a marble arch straight out of Gilded Age New York City.

The arch (New-York Historical Society photo, right) is marred by graffiti and litter, closed off behind a chain-link fence. So what’s it doing there?

Known as the Seaman-Drake Arch, it’s the last remnant of the Seaman Mansion, a magnificent 19th century hilltop home built by the Seaman family, when Inwood was dotted by country estates.

The arch marked the entrance to the mansion, which was later sold to a family named Drake. As Inwood lost its rural character, the mansion was razed; on the site now is the Park Terrace apartment complexes.

Myinwood has more in-depth history and photos. And Gothamist found an incredible shot of the original mansion and gate.

The Hooks of Upper Manhattan

August 8, 2010

Downtown has Corlears Hook. Brooklyn has Red Hook (and once had Yellow Hook). 

Upper Manhattan also had some Hooks—like Tubby Hook, sometimes called Tubby’s Hook. It was the 18th and 19th century name for a section of Inwood between Fort Tryon Park and Inwood Hill Park.

An 1894 New York Times article describes it like this:

["View, Tubby Hook and Spuyten Duyvel Creek," from the NYPL in the 1860s or 1870s]

“A little below Riverdale, at a point near Inwood, there is a projection known as Tubby’s Hook, where the water is deep enough to allow large steamers to pass quite close to it. Tubby’s Hook is also a resort for fishermen.”

It’s a funny name that’s probably a bastardization of the last name of Peter Ubrecht, a wealthy 18th century resident.

Jeffrey’s Hook is another precipice jutting into the Hudson. It’s under the George Washington Bridge and now known as the location of the Little Red Lighthouse, Manhattan’s only lighthouse.

But Jeffrey’s Hook played a big role in colonial history: It’s where Washington and his troops traveled back and forth to Fort Lee during the Revolutionary War.

Where is Manhattan’s highest natural point?

March 29, 2010

Sure, at 265 feet above sea level, it’s not exactly very high.

But when earthquake–triggered waves crash over Manhattan and you have no idea where to go, head to Bennett Park.

It’s a sweet little park—the borough’s highest ground—in Washington Heights on Fort Washington Avenue and 183rd Street.

The nearby area played a crucial role in American history.

Called Long Hill by early Dutch settlers, it became George Washington’s operations base during the Revolutionary War, thanks to its vantage point. 

Fort Washington was the site of a major defeat by British and Hessian troops. But hey, our side won the war.

An impressive monument on the Fort Washington side of the park commemorating the Battle of Fort Washington was put up in 1901.


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