5 Remnants of the 19th century West Side village of Manhattanville

Think of Manhattan in the early 1800s as an urban center at the tip of the island surrounded by a collection of small countryside villages.

The city itself, with a population under 100,000, was concentrated below Canal Street. But a few miles up the Hudson River was sparsely populated Greenwich Village. Parts of today’s Upper West Side once formed the farming village of Bloomingdale. Harlem started off as a rural area in the 17th century as well.

Then there’s Manhattanville (below, at the top of the map). Founded in 1806 in a valley known as Harlem Cove, this former outpost 10 miles from the city was centered on today’s 125th Street and Broadway.

It’s not an accident that Manhattanville was founded here. In the early 19th century, this was the crossroads of Bloomingdale Road and Manhattan Street—two crucial arteries that connected residents to Harlem and the lower city. (Manhattan Street likely gave the village its name.)

“Building lots were being advertised for sale ‘principally to tradesmen’ in this enclave that already boasted a ‘handsome wharf,’ ‘convenient academy,’ and an ‘excellent school,'” according to a Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) report.

The village’s early population included mostly poor residents of British and Dutch descent, plus a small number of African Americans, per the HLC report. Decades later, Manhattanville would be better known as an industrial center and also an early transit hub.

“By the mid-1800s, this picturesque locale was the convergence of river, rail, and stage lines,” wrote Eric K. Washington in his book, Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem. The first northbound passenger stop on the Hudson River Railroad was at Manhattanville, Washington wrote. (Below, the little white Manhattanville train depot, in front of an early building for Manhattan College.)

Manhattanville remains on the map and as a neighborhood name. But like other villages, it became part of the larger city in the early 20th century.

Still, bits and pieces of the old village exist. For starters, the streets are a little askew; they don’t always align with the official street grid laid out in 1811. Before crossing Amsterdam Avenue, 125th and 126th Streets (the former Lawrence Street) make hard turns and slant northwest toward the Hudson.

This charming nonconformity makes it possible to stand at the corner of 126th and 127th Streets or find yourself at the intersection of 125th and 129th Streets. It’s a little puzzling, but it reminds you of the life and activity in New York that predates the Commissioners Plan.

What else still exists of the former village? Probably the loveliest remnant is the yellow clapboard parish house for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. An outgrowth of St. Michael’s church in Bloomingdale, St. Mary’s was founded in 1823 for Manhattanville residents. (St. Mary’s was the first church in the city to do away with pew rentals, which was a common practice at the time.)

The original church was a simple white wood structure consecrated in 1826, replaced in 1908 by the current English Gothic-style church building. The yellow parish house, however, was built in 1851 and feels more country village than urban city.

St. Mary’s Church is the site of a more eerie piece of Old Manhattanville: a burial vault under the church porch containing the remains of one of the village’s founders, a man named Jacob Schieffelin (along with the remains of his wife and brother). Schieffelin donated the land on which St. Mary’s was built.

Schieffelin, a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, amassed his post-independence fortune as a wholesale druggist and mercantile owner. He was one of a handful of prominent New Yorkers who made up the founding families of Manhattanville.

Among them were the widow and sons of Alexander Hamilton, as well as Daniel F. Tiemann—who served as mayor of the city from 1858 to 1860 and owned D.F. Tiemann & Company Paint & Color Works, which moved to the village in 1832. The arrival of the paint factory helped turn Manhattanville into an industrial center powered by an influx of German and Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century.

On the same block of 126th Street is another hint of old Manhattanville: the Sheltering Arms Playground and Pool. The name comes from the Sheltering Arms, which took in children who were “rejected due to incurable illnesses, some were abandoned, and others were so-called ‘half-orphans,’ whose parents required temporary assistance while striving to overcome abject poverty or other adversities,” according to NYC Parks.

Finally, there’s the mysterious street known as Old Broadway, a slender unassuming strip that spans 125th to 129th Streets and then picks up again from 131st to 133rd Streets east of regular Broadway. It’s the last piece of Bloomingdale Road.

In the late 19th century, as urbanization arrived in Manhattanville, Bloomingdale Road was straightened and made part of regular Broadway, which became the main north-south thoroughfare. This leftover strip of Bloomingdale Road no longer served a purpose. Rather than de-mapping it entirely, it was renamed Old Broadway—a remnant of a village that’s now often referred to as West Harlem.

[Top image: NYPL; second image: Wikipedia; third image: MCNY, MNY29573; fourth image: NYPL; eighth image: Wikipedia]

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

18 Responses to “5 Remnants of the 19th century West Side village of Manhattanville”

  1. Dan Cofran Says:

    Excellent!!

  2. RJS Says:

    Jacob Schieffelin’s great grandson founded Tombstone Arizona. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Schieffelin?wprov=sfti1

  3. Beth Says:

    I used to work in this area in the Studebaker building on 131st Street. The eponymous Old Broadway Synagogue is the last remnant of several Orthodox congregations that dotted this part of Harlem. (Columbia University in Morningside Heights has a Chabad.) It’s a lovely little classic building. St. Mary’s church is a product of the Career and Hastings architecture firm (New York Public Library main building).

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I love the Old Broadway Synagogue; it’s a gem of a building and a link to Harlem’s Jewish past. Thanks for the info about Studebaker, and Columbia’s colonization of the area.

  4. Julia Park Tracey Says:

    I love this — thank you!

    Julia Park Tracey (she/her) journalist | author | editrix poet laureate emeritus historical fiction | literary nonfiction *** Facebook http://www.facebook.com/juliaparktracey Twitter @juliaparktracey Instagram @juliaparktracey

    [image: Mailtrack] Sender notified by Mailtrack 01/17/22, 09:10:39 AM

    On Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 1:22 AM Ephemeral New York wrote:

    > ephemeralnewyork posted: ” Think of Manhattan in the early 1800s as an > urban center at the tip of the island surrounded by a collection of small > countryside villages. The city itself, with a population under 100,000, was > concentrated below Canal Street. But a few miles up t” >

  5. Ray Greenan Says:

    The picture of the train depot shows Manhattan College behind it not Manhattanville College. Two different schools

  6. velovixen Says:

    In its own way, Manhattanville is as quirky as that part of the West Village where West 14th Street intersects with West 3rd.

    I’m not an urban planner or engineer. My guess, however uneducated, is that grid systems work best on pieces of flat terrain with regular boundaries. Manhattan was even hillier than it is now. So is Queens, where I now live: Near Fort Totten, 13th and 14th Avenues intersect, and if you go eastward along some of the northern avenues (lower numbers than 35), after 172nd Street comes 190th. And, just west of La Guardia Airport, the streets skip from 70th to Hobart to 49th.

    (By the way, the grid system results in all sorts of oddities in San Francisco.)

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      It’s fun finding different parts of NYC that rebel against the street grid. Brooklyn too has numbered streets in different old neighborhoods that all popped up before the city of Brooklyn existed. South First Street in Williamsburg, then First Street in Park Slope, for example.

    • Edward Says:

      Great point, and likely explains why Staten Island has no grid system to speak of, outside of a small stretch of numbered streets (numbered 1 thru 10) in New Dorp. The island is just far too hilly, with numerous creeks, brooks and valleys to make any grid system practical. Manhattan had a similar topography, but the city fathers didn’t mind dynamiting it all out of existence to (mostly) ram that grid through!

  7. AEB Says:

    This is fascinating. Thank you!

  8. Lady G. Says:

    Thank you for all this history. It still amazes me to imagine Manhattan as it was with all the greenery and country houses and farms in the illustrations.

  9. countrypaul Says:

    What a great post! I love the parish house – charming in its own right and a survivor to boot As a 20th century kid, like most of us I’ll assume) Manhattan was as completely developed as it could be; it’s fascinating to think of it as a series of villages and towns. Thank you for your continuing graduate course on New York history; it makes me so happy that I discovered your blog!

  10. Bill Wolfe Says:

    I wish I’d known about this history when I was attending City College. I would have enjoyed looking at these places in person. Your posts are the next best thing, though.

  11. Glenn Krasner Says:

    Manhattanville has a fascinating history, especially its industrial side. As Beth, above, posts, Studebaker had a factory and warehouse on West 131st Street, that is now an office building for Columbia University. There actually was a “Meatpacking District” on its far west side, under the viaduct, where one remaining meatpacking plant remained active through the 1990s. In addition, the building where the Fairway recently closed was originally a slaughterhouse/meatpacking plant for Hormel, where live cattle would come in from across the river via barge, and by rail from Upstate New York, to be processed. A huge number of windows for Manhattan’s skyscrapers were manufactured by Skyline Windows on West 129th Street before they decamped for the Bronx. The Madame Alexander Doll Company manufactured all their dolls in a plant on West 133rd Street for over 70 years before they off-shored their production overseas. If you talk to old-timers, they still remember when the Taystee Bread factory, one entire square block on West 127th Street, between Amsterdam & Broadway, baked fresh bread 24/7. Now, Columbia pretty much has expanded and built their new Manhattanville Campus west of Broadway, wiping out all of these buildings and 17 acres of industrial history of the neighborhood. At least they kept the name. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  12. tommy bkly,n Says:

    great as always

  13. Edward Says:

    I’d give a year’s pay to go back to Manhattanville (and the rest of the city) for one week circa 1880!

  14. All the terra cotta beauty of an early uptown apartment building | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] building appears to be just another early 1900s apartment residence in the slightly askew neighborhood of Manhattanville—where the grid plan doesn’t necessarily hold and streets tend to have names based on early […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: