What happened to New York City’s 14th Avenue?

You know 12th Avenue in Manhattan, the Far West Side avenue that becomes the West Side Highway. And you may have heard of 13th Avenue, a short-lived thoroughfare built on landfill in the 1830s from 11th Street to about 25th Street that had a dreary, creepy vibe—based on photos and newspaper accounts.

But 14th Avenue in Manhattan? I’d never heard of it until I saw the 1860 Johnson’s Map of New York (above). In the uppermost part of Manhattan, at Tubby Hook and the railroad tracks that hug the Hudson River, there’s a small stretch marked “Fourteenth Avenue.”

Even stranger, 13th Avenue makes an appearance as well, running from about 168th Street to Spuyten Duyvil.

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the map that laid out Manhattan’s street grid, says nothing about 14th Avenue. The last street on that map is 155th Street, and to the north are scattered place names (like Fort George and Kings Bridge) as well as the names of landowners.

There are a few mentions of 14th Avenue in newspaper archives, specifically when it comes to real estate transactions. In 1875, the New York Times noted that a plot from 214th to 215th Streets along 14th Avenue exchanged hands for $80,000.

Some other 19th century maps mark 14th Avenue, like the one above from 1879.

So why did 14th Avenue (and this slice of 13th Avenue) get de-mapped? Did the city decide it was too small to be an avenue, too insignificant at only 10 or so blocks long? Meanwhile, Tubby Hook is still on the map; even Google notes this spit of land jutting into the Hudson (below).

It likely has to do with Inwood Hill Park. Where 14th Avenue is marked on the 1860 map happens to be where Inwood Hill Park Calisthenics Park is today, right alongside the water. I don’t know when the Calisthenics Park opened, but Inwood Hill itself became an official city park in 1926.

A short avenue had no place inside Inwood Hill Park. As a result, 14th Avenue forever bit the dust.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: Google Maps]

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22 Responses to “What happened to New York City’s 14th Avenue?”

  1. boxwoodbooks Says:

    My class was taken to Inwood Hill Park in the mid-1950s to see the huge granite outcroppings which hadn’t been blasted to smitereens in order to make urban development boulder-free and possible. We also saw the Spuyten Duyvel creek to reinforce our awareness of the city’s Dutch origins. Your post also reminds us of the continuing importance of cartography.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I totally understand. Even without the map aspect, I happen to love Inwood Hill Park and Spuyten Duyvil. So much beauty and history.

  2. countrypaul Says:

    There were a lot of “paper streets” all over New York. (Hagstrom Maps were great at showing them.) Based on your account, there was a 14th Avenue at some time, but some of it could have been “paper.” Thank goodness they didn’t push 14th Avenue through Inwood Hill Park, the last sizable natural land formation left in Manhattan. Might some of “14th”‘s right-of-way be overlaid by the Henry Hudson Parkway?

    A side note to the above: I lived in New Rochelle as a kid and would ride down to the marshes where Freedomland and then Co-op City were built. There were some paved streets there, and I vaguely remember some ghost foundations. Apparently the dwellings had been flooded out at some time, possibly during the infamous 1938 hurricane, but a lot of streets were “paper,” especially considering how far they were mapped into Eastchester Bay. Same was true around Yznaga Place near the Whitestone Bridge – a lot of paper streets and a little chip of remaining residential area after the parkway and the industrial area on Brush Avenue encroached on it.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Oh yes, good points. It’s highly possible 14th Avenue was a paper street as you call it, or something out of a mapmaker’s imagination!

      • countrypaul Says:

        A follow-up on Yznaga Place: it is reached off Brush Avenue, which at the time of my long-lost youth indeed went through the scrub brush just off the Hutch. Yznaga Place had a house or two on it at the time. However, Google Maps shows the area now as scrubby industrial – no houses on Yznaga! However, there is an interesting tale of Fernando Yznaga in Wikipedia, for whom the street is likely named: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_Yznaga

    • Sam Says:

      I was in the map business in the late 80s and early nineties, working with Hagstrom as well as nyc transit and other major transit systems.
      Hagstrom explicitly instructed us to add a few paper streets on their maps, in such a way that they wouldn’t lead anyone astray. The purpose of this was to protect our research.
      If anyone else published a map showing one of our paper streets, we could, so the thinking went, prove that they’d cribbed our research and sue for copyright violation.
      I don’t think this was ever tested.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        interesting, thanks Sam. Perhaps this practice dates back to the 19th century as well!

      • countrypaul Says:

        I didn’t “test” it, but I used to ride my bike down the existing parts of the streets as far as possible to see what was and wasn’t there! I always found it fascinating to see what was built and what wasn’t, or in the case of pre-Freedomland, the ghosts of eras past.

      • Steve Says:

        Many mapmakers showed non-existent places in their maps under this theory.

      • boxwoodbooks Says:

        Hagstrom’s legal team earning their fees.

  3. Bill Israel Says:

    Part of the problem is trying to lay parallel and perpendicular lines on top of a hilly island. That grid also misses plenty of small avenues in Inwood, where I grew up.

  4. Steve Simon Says:

    Are you referring to the outdoor fitness area north of Dyckman Street in Inwood Hill Park as “Calisthenics Park”? This section of the park along the river is referred to as Dyckman Fields and also includes baseball and soccer fields.

  5. rowan Says:

    What is Inwood Hill Calisthenics Park? Is this referring to Dyckman Fields? The fitness equipment was installed there only a few years ago. The baseball diamonds, soccer fields and roller hockey rink have been around for many years.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Inwood Hill Calisthenics Park is the name of the strip of green between Inwood Hill Park and the Hudson River, according to Google. This might be the same as Dyckman Fields—it’s just not called that on Google maps.

      • Rowan Says:

        The name looks specific to the outdoor fitness equipment area. This is a new addition, and very much part of Dyckman Fields, as any local knows. Nobody refers to it as Inwood Calisthenics Park. Funny how Google labels things.

  6. velovixen Says:

    In Inwood Hill Park, near 218th Street, Skorakopock rock bears an inscription claiming that, according to legend, Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island, on or near that site.

    While there’s plenty of reason to doubt that, if it were true, it would be ironic, as the area contains the only piece of Manhattan that remains more or less as it was when the Europeans arrived. So it would be doubly ironic if 14th Avenue had been mapped in such an area, where there was little development before WWI.

  7. Edward Says:

    One could argue that the Henry Hudson Parkway in Upper Manhattan is just 13th/14th Avenue in disguise.

    • countrypaul Says:

      Yes, it does bow out there a bit, but from a Google map, it’s maybe more 13th – or perhaps 13 1/2..

      For whatever it’s worth, I have been on the right of way of the last extant block of 13th Aveue, behind the barricades where it is being built into Hudson River Park. (It was a “privileged characters” tour which I was lucky to be on.) There was no “there” there, just a concrete base next to a retaining wall on the river. But at least I get bragging rights. Yay, dig me….

  8. Bill Wolfe Says:

    That plot of land between 214th and 215 Streets that sold for $80,000 would be worth $1,913,927.35 now, according to westegg-dot-com. Although that sounds low for a big plot of Manhattan land.

  9. Danny Katman Says:

    Looking at the old map, it looks like the railroad used to hug the River edge more closely and, perhaps, was rerouted exactly where 14th Avenue used to be.

    • Stephen Boatti Says:

      I’m not sure the railroad was ever rerouted. As with most of Manhattan, the shoreline has been built out with landfill.

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