There is no beach anywhere near Beach Street

Beach Street—the name of this little strip of a road in Tribeca conjures up images of a sandy shoreline and gentle waves.

And while the Manhattan shore did used to lap at Greenwich Street, which Beach Street intersects, it’s apparently just a geographical coincidence.

So did Beach Street get its name from a colonial settler homesick for Liverpool or the West Indies?

It’s actually a corruption of Bache, named for Paul Bache, the son-in-law of Leonard Lispenard, who himself (or an older family member) was the namesake of nearby Lispenard Street.

The original Lispenard was a French Huguenot who arrived in Manhattan in the 17th century and eventually owned the swampy land south of Canal Street, which was known for a century at least as Lispenard’s Meadows (above), according to Henry Moscow’s The Street Book.

Beach Street has undergone as much transformation as any city block has over time.

Lispenard’s Meadows was a desirable area, as this ad in the Evening Post from 1807 shows. (No yellow fever!) After the swamp was drained, the neighborhood became exclusive St. John’s Park (above, in 1866).

When the railroad came in and the wealthy moved uptown, Beach Street was part of a warehouse district.

At some point, for one block, it was renamed Ericsson Place—after former street resident John Ericsson, a Swedish-born inventor, designer of the USS Monitor (built in Greenpoint), and a popular hero after the Civil War.

Today it’s a quiet stretch in a posh-again area. Apparently Beach Street did extend to the Hudson River at one time, one last chance for the name to actually make sense.

Alas, a modern office building cuts it off from the river, and Beach Street is forever landlocked.

[Second, fourth, and fifth images: NYPL; third: Evening Post 1807]

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25 Responses to “There is no beach anywhere near Beach Street”

  1. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    For more about St. John’s Park:

  2. Ty Says:

    I worked in that soulless office building for a soulless bank that stops Beach Street.

    After work I’d head up to a bar on Spring Street housed in an 1817 building called Ear Inn. It’s been a bad since the 1840s or earlier. The original owner was African American who was permitted to buy property there because the area was so swampy. He set up a bar for the sailors who fucked a block away.

    As part of his renovation the current owner pulled up the cellar floor boards and found nothing but sand. As they dug out the sand to stabilize the building they found dozens of 19th century wine and liquor bottles buried which are now on display over the bar.

    • Ty Says:

      Ha. Help me Ephemeral. Autocorrect correct is getting sassy.

      • Zoe Says:

        Dearest Ty

        Perhaps our Ephemeral can fix your TYpo (get it re. your name?) if you tell her what it was meant to be. My goodness…

    • Ty Says:

      Docked a block away. The former was done elsewhere.

      • Zoe Says:

        LOL Ty! Freudian slip? Because of the old trope about “sailors” Ephemeral & anyone else may not have known that was a typo (or Ty -po).

        Ephemeral please fix Ty’s comment to say ‘docked’!

      • Ty Says:

        I have something called “predictive autocorrect” turned on on my phone. Using artificial intelligence it “corrects” your words within the context of what you are writing. I wrote “sailors” “bar” “Spring Street” “swampy” so, in retrospect, I’m surprised it didn’t go right ahead and sing “Brandy You’re a Fine Girl”

      • Zoe Says:

        Your phone is an enabler Ty. Or you are trapped in an abusive relationship w/ your phone. This may be the start of the future of machines we all feared… I say get out whilst you have at least some of your wits about you…

        … and thanks a lot for getting that song stuck in my head…

  3. Zoe Says:

    Another very interesting post Ephemeral!

    Imagine factoring in “yellow fever” or other communicable illness into a NYC move. I hope & pray we don’t have to do that again w/ super bacteria & antibiotic resistance. (Yet nowhere else to move to this time).

    I *love* the wide shot of the cobblestone street. Usually there are only tiny glimpses in photos or making do w/ seeing a few where the pavement has worn down & they peek through. (The streets surrounding Grand Army Plaza come to mind).

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you Ty and Zoe. As for the Ear Inn, I haven’t been there in years, but it’s a wonderful tavern and a visit is in order to see those relics!

    • Ty Says:

      This totally off topic but, the word “relic” made me smile. I’m of old Yankee heritage and often, in official papers, an ancestor widow was referred to as “relic of said Obadiah Hill” or some such. My modern mind says “Relic?” “Really?” and then spends the rest of the day in the town common stocks.

  5. David Lippman Says:

    I see it still has its cobblestones to keep it quaint.

    • Zoe Says:

      I love cobblestones. I really wish they hadn’t paved over almost all of them in the City. It’s amazing those shown here are still there. I only noticed the ones in the first old photo of them here & not the second — until you mentioned it.

      Cobblestones are the background image on my phone! (I open my phone & set off down the street on my journey into the unexpected…).

  6. Ty Says:

    Those cobblestones also serve a practical purpose. As Tribeca (formerly the Lower West Side”) was rezoned from manufacturing to residential the local community board, which included a lot of people with school age children, was looking for a way to slow down traffic. Belgian paving blocks (they are rectangular, cobblestones are round) did the trick and looked nice.

    The Department of Transportation sided against them as they are more expensive to maintain than asphalt which is why you usually only see them in well-off neighborhoods.

    I like them but have to ride my bike standing up around there.

    • David Lippman Says:

      Yes, they must be a maintenance nightmare.

    • Ty Says:

      It’s an art to ensure they are all on the same grade. But I saw a picture of an 1860s crew laying the stones that didn’t look much different from a 21st century image of ConEd doing their thing down there.

    • Zoe Says:

      So Ty (or anyone else!)

      The stones — paving blocks — in the contemporary picture here are new presumably. As you said you saw them put down. I wonder if they have to tear up the old ones under asphalt then? Or do these just go on top again. Please elaborate.

      Re. ” ConEd”. The electric (or gas) co. paves the whole street w/ stones for the city after they do line work?

      Those are ‘Belgian blocks’ vs. cobblestones in this older photo also?

      They are bit by bit replacing all the sidewalks in downtowns in the CT Shore towns w/ these. (Not sure about the rest of the State). It’s beginning to look like Disneyland (thanks to those & the ersatz Victorian lampposts & people talking in their sleep about ‘New England character’ whilst they work feverishly to destroy the *actual* place).

      I’m not mad about these kind… I mistakenly thought from only seeing the photos on my atomised phone that these were the old blackish shiny kind that peek out from under worn asphalt in the City. These kind just look like someone accidentally paved a street w/ red building bricks.

      It’s brilliant to slow the cars down for children… but also a bit disturbing that greater wealth buys greater child safety. Especially when there are those tragic death crossings in the boroughs…

      It’s really an improvement over potholes though! And the old kind were difficult to walk on w/ heels!

      • Ty Says:

        The City uses the original paving blocks where they exist and fills the gaps with new ones. Each utility is responsible for repairs once a street is torn up. In fact they now have to drill in these little colored plastic discs into to the temporary paving which bear numbers which you can trace back to the people responsible for the work.

        As far as street safety the city has a pedestrian safety program which uses transportation engineers to rationalize and slow traffic and build pedestrian plazas where people can congregate. The virtual closing of broadway to cars and the pedestrian plazas at Times Square and Herald Square are very popular examples. They also build bike lanes throughout the city. School zones get priority which traces children’s walks to their school then builds infrastructure to slow or prevent automobiles from dominating that walk.

        This was all driven by a woman named Janette Sadik Kahn under the Bloomberg administration who rides a bike and tends to little black dresses. She so successfully fought crusty old men in the DOT that they sputter and spit and say unkind things about women when her name is mentioned. She quite literally wrote the book on how to rid some streets of automobiles and share the rest with walkers and bikes.

        I volunteer with a 40 year old non profit that petitions for street safety and stiffens the spines of our elected officials. They work with the DOT to build people infrastructure in place of car infrastructure. It’s amazing in some of the poorer neighborhoods how they will clear out a an underused space of illegally parked cars put up these giant granite blocks for safety put in some tables and chairs and you come back a couple of weeks later and it’s crowded with people and vendors and looks like it had been there since the year of the flood.

      • Zoe Says:

        Thanks for answering. (Without letting your phone curse me). Are the new ones you’ve been describing red clay like those kind that I described (sort of like red brick paving)? What are they made of?

        The old ones such as those that peek through along w/ old trolly lines — in places that get a lot of traffic such as Grand Army Plaza between Park Slope & Prospect heights — were darker & grey as I recall. Were they granite? I’m trying to work out if they were made of different things. The old ones stone & the new brick?

        Presumably the old ones were the cobblestones you mentioned? Rounded & made of stone?

        The road/paving in the two pictures here look remarkably similar.

        Now I am trying to remember something my mom said about cobblestones in Berlin. Something about hurting the feet… ?

  7. peopleplaceswords Says:

    to Ty: the word was originally “relict,” meaning a survivor. it was used in obits.

  8. Ty Says:

    “That which remains.” The usage dropped over the years to refer to a person butI still like lit. I, in fact, am a relic of my first two wives. Ask them.

  9. peopleplaceswords Says:

    no need to ask, women are always right.

  10. Jane Freeman Says:

    The African American man who owned what is now the Ear Inn was James Brown, who, I’ve read, is pictured in the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze (1854).

  11. This alley was once an exclusive New York street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the 1820s, what was once a swampy area called Lispenard’s Meadows in colonial times had become an exclusive, English-style enclave for Knickerbocker merchants and […]

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