Country houses left behind on Riverside Drive

After the first section of Riverside Drive—from 72nd to 126th Street—opened in 1880, this winding avenue that followed the gentle slope of Riverside Park became a study in contrasts.

Riverside Drive and 115th Street, after 1890

Up and down the Drive, wealthy New Yorkers and the developers who catered to them spent the next decades building well-appointed row houses, mansions, and early luxury apartment buildings. Yet on the fringes of this new millionaire’s colony stood crudely built shanties and shacks like the one in the photo above, homes to those whose fortunes didn’t rise during the Gilded Age and were forced to the margins.

Another type of dwelling also held out here and there on Riverside Drive: country houses. These wood-frame houses with clapboard shutters and welcoming front porches may have been typical family homes in the early to mid-19th century, when the Upper West Side of today was a sparsely populated collection of small farming villages.

Development encroaches on this house, at Riverside Drive and 111th Street, in 1909

That changed after Central Park was completed and the new elevated trains made the West End much more accessible. As the 20th century continued, Riverside Drive was extended into Upper Manhattan—threatening the handful of country houses that predated the Drive but were now in its way.

A pretty house at Riverside Drive and 86th Street, 1896

None of these country homes pictured here survive today. Riverside Drive, with its unbroken lines of elegant apartment houses, doesn’t seem to miss them. Like so many early New York City houses, the stories of these anachronisms seem to be lost to the ages.

Join Ephemeral New York on Sunday, September 25 at 1 p.m. on a walking tour of Riverside Drive, which delves into the backstory of the country estates, mansions, and monuments of New York’s most beautiful avenue.

[Top photo: MCNY X2012.61.22.13; second, third, and fourth photos: New-York Historical Society]

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4 Responses to “Country houses left behind on Riverside Drive”

  1. Joseph Ditta Says:

    The second picture is NOT Riverside Drive. That’s the Van Pelt House, in New Utrecht, Brooklyn, that stood at 18th Avenue and 81st Street until the 1950s.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Oh thanks for telling me, I’ll cut it. Mislabeled!

      • Joseph Ditta Says:

        It was a lovely house that the Parks Department failed to save.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        That’s a shame—those Dutch colonials are beautiful and such icons of New Amsterdam and New York’s early European families. It made sense to me that it could have been on Riverside, with the Dyckman farmhouse not far away still standing on Broadway.

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