Why Manhattan has two streets named Beekman

For such a small strip of land, Manhattan has a lot of duplicated street names. Think Jones Street and Great Jones Street, Washington Street and Washington Place, and Greenwich Street and Greenwich Avenue.

But there’s one shared street name that’s always been a curiosity: Beekman. Beekman Street lies south of City Hall near the South Street Seaport, while Beekman Place is a residential enclave between 49th and 51st Streets by the East River.

Beekman Street, south of City Hall Park

Both Beekmans are slender roads on the East Side, with Beekman Street running three blocks and Beekman Place two. Beekman Street has a rougher mix of 19th century walkups and 1970s-style buildings, while Beekman Place is a posh lane of charmingly restored townhouses and elegant apartment buildings.

Who were the Beekmans, and how did their family name end up in two places on the Manhattan street map?

Beekman Street is the older of the two, named after Wilhelmus Beeckman (right), “who came to New Netherlands with Peter Stuyvesant and became prominent,” states A Landmark History of New York. At some point after arriving in 1647, Beeckman anglicized his name to William Beekman and bought a vast farm, and then another, where Beekman Street sits today.

Beekman Street itself may have started out as a cow path on Beekman’s farm leading to today’s City Hall Park—a community pasture known as the Commons in the 17th century.

William Beekman was just 21 when he relocated to New Amsterdam. He became socially and politically popular, serving as sheriff, burgomaster, and then deputy mayor and acting mayor, both under British rule.

Beekman Place, Turtle Bay

He had many descendants who made their own name in the growing city. One, great-grandson James Beekman, is the namesake of Beekman Place.

Born in 1732, James Beekman (below right) was a wealthy merchant who built a mansion he called Mount Pleasant on an estate centered at today’s First Avenue and 51st Street.

James Beekman’s mansion served as a country respite for his wealthy family from the increasingly crowded city center.

But during the Revolutionary War, Mount Pleasant had some new residents: British generals, who made it their military headquarters. (Nathan Hale was also supposedly hanged here, but that’s a piece of history still in dispute.)

When the war ended, the Beekman family returned to Mount Pleasant; they stayed until 1834, driven away by a cholera epidemic, according to a 1977 New York Times article.

After the mansion was demolished two decades later, the Beekmans created a new street running through the former estate and sold lots to developers.

Brownstones replaces the mansion, but by the late 19th century, “the Beekman Place brownstones were abandoned to the poor, many of whom worked in the packing houses, slaughterhouses and coalyards along the East River,” states the Times.

Beekman Place’s restored townhouses

“The wealthy, drawn largely by the river setting, began to reclaim the neighborhood in the 1920’s.” This is the Beekman Place that remains with us today: quiet, hidden, and with some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

[Third image: Wikipedia; sixth image: MCNY 95.76.3; seventh image: Wikipedia]

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10 Responses to “Why Manhattan has two streets named Beekman”

  1. tvbarn Says:

    Can’t find that 1977 article in the times archive and you didn’t link to it.

  2. burkemblog Says:

    3 Beekman Place is where Auntie Mame famously had her apartment.

  3. countrypaul Says:

    Prior to our marriage, my wife lived on a quiet little upscale street in Summit, NJ, called Beekman Terrace. I doubt that there were historical Beekmans in Summit; the name was probably given at the time of development to connote a positive transference from Beekman Place in Manhattan. Her street came into being in the mid-1920s.

  4. Kevin Says:

    Check paragraph 3. Should read ‘Beekman Street has a rougher mix’ no? Great post, as usual.

  5. Tom B Says:

    We walked Beekman Place and the surrounding area one day. It was quiet, no people and yet only a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of the City. Very nice.

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    The cast-iron lamppost on Beekman Place at 50th Street is an original, and in excellent shape.

    Doubtless cared for by the neighborhood.

    The original cast-iron poles were 18 feet high, far below the modern DOT requirement of 30 feet high. The city has made fiberglass repros of these poles, at the proper DOT height.

    There are about 70 survivors left.

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