Tracking defunct Fitzroy Road through Chelsea

Most of the city is rectangular now, but New York used to be crossed by bending roads that followed the natural landscape.

Few survived after the street grid was established in 1811.

That includes Fitzroy Road, named for Charles Fitzroy, a British lieutenant who married the daughter of local landowner Sir Peter Warren.

Fitzroy Road, closed in the 1830s, once led from Greenwich Village to Chelsea and then met with Bloomingdale Road.

A 1920 New York Times article says it began on today’s 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

From there, it ran north to 20th Street, where it turned northwest across present-day Eighth Avenue, then back along Eighth Avenue to 23rd Street. That’s where it started veering back and forth from the east to west side of Eighth Avenue until 42nd Street.

At first, it doesn’t seem like any remnant of Fitzroy Road survives. But the same 1920 Times article notes that up until a few years ago—meaning the early 1900s—some vestiges existed.

And perhaps they still do. There’s an unnamed alley running in interrupted spurts between pre-1900 buildings from 15th Street (below, inaccessible thanks to a door and brick wall) and 21st Street (above, behind a gate) just east of Eighth Avenue.

Could these alleys be pieces of former horse paths—or perhaps they’re the last bits of colonial-era Fitzroy Road?

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12 Responses to “Tracking defunct Fitzroy Road through Chelsea”

  1. Delancey Stewart Says:

    I used to live just down 15th street from that little gate… (Sadly, I never noticed it!)

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I live a few blocks away and have always wondered why this little sliver of an alley existed between 7th and 8th through 23rd Street. If you saw someone peering through the gate curiously, it may have been me…..

  3. Horace Gundlefinger Says:

    Fitzroy Road can be seen here on the Ranel Survey Map,hidetitle/iframe/flash.html?height=800frameborder=0%25height=80%25scrolling=nowidth=100%25

  4. T.J. Connick Says:

    The shadow of Fitzroy Road is superimposed neatly on an atlas on the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery.

    See it as it ascends from Southampton Road on plate 5 (Digital ID: 1524423) of Vol 3 of the 1898 Bromley Atlas. The website helps you to find adjoining plates that follow Fitzroy on its way uptown.

    Your mystery passage lies a bit to the west, and is probably unrelated. All lots in the neighborhood seem to have abided uniform right angles for a good many years.

    According to a notice of decisions adopted by the Assistant Alderman on the previous day, The Evening Post of Nov. 18, 1834 indicates that awards were made as a consequence of the closing of Southampton and Fitzroy roads.

    The June 30, 1920 edition of The Evening Telegram also tells us a bit about Fitzroy Road’s history. The story covered an action by the phone company to change the Greeley exchange to Fitzroy. The advent of “semi-automatic” telephone equipment (you dial it instead of requesting it of an operator) forced a resolution of a conflict with the more popular Gramercy exchange.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks TJ, you’re an excellent researcher. Here’s the link to the Bromley Atlas for anyone interested:

  6. Lisa Says:

    If the unnamed alley is a vestige of Fitzroy Road, is the narrowness of the alley an accurate indication of the width of the road, I wonder?

    Wouldn’t be surprised to learn that roads were far narrower 200 years ago, but do ya suppose Fitzroy was as narrow as this alleyway?

  7. Old Chelsea’s winding, romantic Love Lane « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Based on old maps (like the one at left or below, from the Randel Survey) and descriptions, it appears to have cut across a long-defunct thoroughfare known as Fitz Roy Road. […]

  8. Andy B Says:

    The picture of the brick wall and door/gate is actually on 19th St. Its a nice thought but those alleys are unrelated to Fitz Roy Rd as evidenced on the Bromley Atlas.

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