The 18th century farm lane preserved in a Riverside Drive courtyard

The mostly unbroken line of elegant apartment buildings along Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side appear from afar like early 20th century residential fortresses.

But look closely past the black iron fence at one building on the corner of 92nd Street. You’ll catch a glimpse of a sliver of colonial-era Manhattan that isn’t on modern-day maps and doesn’t adhere to the circa-1811 street grid.

The 7-story residence is 194 Riverside Drive (below), completed in 1902 and designed by Ralph Samuel Townsend, an architect who lived on 102nd Street and designed buildings all over the city—including the richly detailed Kenilworth on Central Park West.

“The wide alleyway on the south side of the building is the remnant of a path or lane that once led from the old Bloomingdale road (slightly off line with Broadway) to Twelfth Avenue,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in their 1989 report designating this stretch of Riverside Drive a historical district.

The unnamed lane, which runs on the north side of 190 Riverside next door, “separated the farms of Brouckholst Livingston to the south and R.L. Schieffelin to the north.”

These farms and others were part of the village of Bloomingdale (image above), a once rural swatch of today’s Upper West Side that served as farmland, then the site of estates and institutions, and by the late 19th century was absorbed into the larger city.

An 1890s map of the neighborhood (below, click the link to zoom in) shows us exactly where this farm lane once ran.

Between 91st and 92nd Streets, you can see faintly outlined blue lines going from the river to the former Bloomingdale Road—which opened in 1703 and offered access to and from the rest of Manhattan to this beautiful part of Gotham. (Bloomingdale came from the Dutch Bloemendaal, which meant “valley of flowers.”)

Today, the lane would extend from the courtyard on the south side of 194 Riverside Drive, through the backyards of row houses past West End Avenue. Google maps allows us to trace the path, and then imagine the colonial-era farmers and estate owners who traversed it centuries ago.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL; fourth image: LOC]

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15 Responses to “The 18th century farm lane preserved in a Riverside Drive courtyard”

  1. Sasha Vosk Says:

    Hello Esther! Thank you very much for this post. I liked a lot the image of the houses of the part of the village of Bloomingdale. May I ask you if this was a random piece of art or one of the series of such artwork that was meant to reflect the way the city at large looked like at the time?
    Thank you,
    Sasha

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Hi Sasha! I don’t know if it’s part of a collection of prints covering the city during the Colonial era. It came from Valentine’s Manual, published in the 19th century: here’s the link to it in the NYPL’s Digital Collection:
    https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/74f66730-aa2e-0132-0806-58d385a7b928

  3. Julia Park Tracey Says:

    I really enjoyed looking at the two maps and tracing the trail of the past. Thank you for your continued good work. A fascinating story every day.

  4. Tom B Says:

    We spent a whole day walking around this area of Riverside Park. Starting at Tiemann Place and heading south. We found it very different in a good way from MidTown NYC and Central Park.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Riverside has a totally different feel compared to so much of Manhattan, and it was designed that way—to be something of a respite from noisy, unruly city streets. It’s truly magical at sunset!

  5. Julia Park Tracey Says:

    Ephemeral, I have used your information in a novel I’m writing, based on my 4th ggmother’s days in the tenement on 3rd Ave and E 26th — in the corner building that backs onto Broadway Alley. I walked through that alley once (it’s usually locked) and it was dank and a little creepy. I can only imagine what it was like when it was festooned with laundry and congested with privies. And elephants! Thank you for your continued good work.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks! I haven’t been to Broadway Alley in a while. What a shame that it’s locked—it’s a nice bit of old New York City in the middle of Gramercy.

  6. Beth Says:

    Just when you think you know a neighborhood. I will check out this alley next time I’m in the neighborhood.

  7. jms Says:

    I must have walked past there a hundred times unawares. Thanks!

    A few sources refer to this route as “Livingston’s Lane”, whether or not that was its formal designation originally — named after Brockholst Livingston, of course.

    Rather confusingly, Wikipedia’s page on Apthorp Farm states, “The ghostly passage of the lanes can still be detected; that of Jauncey’s Lane subsists in the mid-block break between apartment buildings fronting Broadway just north of the northwest corner of 91st Street and running diagonally west to West End Avenue, and formerly all the way to Riverside Drive” — despite the fact that Jauncey’s (originally Apthorp’s) Lane basically ran between 93rd and 94th Streets. I suspect this is a mistake.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Now I have to investigate Jauncey’s Lane, which is a lovely name no matter where it actually was. Thanks!

      • jms Says:

        It is a great name, though you might have better luck digging with the original designation, Apthorp’s (or even Apthorpe’s) Lane. That said, Valentine’s Manual calls it Jauncey Lane, no apostrophe.

        On the very same 1894 Bromley map from which you derived your image above, it’s clearly visible and labeled where it intersects CPW. It’s also quite conspicuous here, even though unlabeled; you can see it joining what might be Striker’s Lane on the left and entering what is now Central Park on the right, on its way to the Eastern Post Road. Here‘s another map where it’s clearly marked.

        Remember your post “Where was the West Side town of Strycker’s Bay?”? There’s a great image there showing it — and something else very intriguing. The Wikipedia entry on Apthorp Farm mentions that the Apthorp mansion had “a lane forty-feet wide extending down to the Bloomingdale Road”, later saying (and this was the part I considered mistaken), “Jauncey’s Lane subsists in the mid-block break between apartment buildings fronting Broadway just north of the northwest corner of 91st Street and running diagonally west to West End Avenue, and formerly all the way to Riverside Drive”. (The source of this notion was probably confusing the road from the Apthorp mansion with Apthorp’s Lane.) Now look again at your image: is that not what we see to the left of Apthorp’s Lane? And is that segment west of Bloomingdale Road not the same route as Livingston’s Lane? There seems to be a connection of some sort between the two! But what could it be…?

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        Very intriguing! I can’t see the map very well right now, but I’d like to find the original and zoom in.

      • jms Says:

        There are two similar but different maps of interest, the best views of which I’ve found are this (1868), the one used in your 2012 Strycker’s Bay post, and this (1836).

        Aside from the positioning of the big “BLOOMINGDALE” label, they differ in a couple interesting ways:
        • The 1836 version (the “Colton”) shows a double row of trees along Livingston’s Lane; the 1868, only one row.
        • The 1868 map (the “Battle of Harlem Heights” version) shows the old Croton Aqueduct running near the Apthorp mansion, a detail unsurprisingly missing from the 1836.

        Both show Livingston’s Lane and the Apthorp mansion road lining up perfectly. In the immortal words of Roy Neary, this means something….

  8. nhu876 Says:

    ‘Lost’ / ‘phantom’ NYC streets are an interesting topic. Some of these long gone streets still exist in NYC databases like this one – http://a030-goat.nyc.gov/goat/Function3S

    Plug in an ‘On Street’ and a list of cross streets and other info will appear.

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