In the 1820s, New Yorkers of wealth began leaving the crowded commercial section of the city.
Where to? The new residential drives going up above Houston Street, specifically on the growing city’s East Side.
Bond Street, Washington Square North, Bleecker Street, Fourth Street, La Grange Terrace (today’s Lafayette Place) all became elite addresses.
And for a brief period of time, so did St. Marks Place.
St. Marks Place’s rise began in 1831, when developer Thomas E. Davis purchased property on the south and north sides of Eighth Street between Second and Third Avenues.
This stretch of Eighth Street was recently part of Peter Stuyvesant’s Bouwerie. It had only been an open street since 1826, inside the loose boundaries of a small enclave known as Bowery Village.
But New York was marching northward, and Davis intended to capitalize on it. His plan was to build “superior class” homes that would be set back from the street on large lots.
And to give the block some pizzazz (and copy fashionable street names like Astor Place), he renamed it after nearby St. Marks Church.
“Grand, 3-1/2-story Federal style marble-and-brick-clad town houses with balconies were constructed here in 1831,” states this Landmarks Commission Report.
Soon, noteworthy residents followed. In 1833, 4 St. Marks Place was purchased by Col. Alexander Hamilton, son of the founding father.
Among other family members, he moved his widowed mother, Eliza Hamilton, into the house.
Daniel LeRoy, a member of the Fish family, bought number 20 (top right). Writer James Feinmore Cooper occupied number 6.
St. Marks retained its cachet through the 1840s. But as always in Manhattan, the rich fanned north. The street, as well as the neighborhood, slid out of fashion.
“The neighborhood of St. Marks Place has become of late a much less desirable location that it was formerly….” wrote the New York Times in 1852, referring to frequent cattle drives passing the corner at Third Avenue.
As the wealthy left, and then the cattle drives disappeared, thousands of German immigrants replaced them.
They remade St. Marks Place into a main street in the city’s teeming Little Germany, or Kleindeutschland.
Eastern Europeans, charity workers, gangsters, bohemians, punk rockers, tourists, and college kids all followed.
Today, just three of Davis’ Federal-style dwellings remain, including what’s now known as the Hamilton-Holly House—where Eliza Hamilton was foreclosed on in the 1840s (right).
The Daniel LeRoy House, in similar not-so-great shape as the Hamilton-Holly abode, is also still standing.
[Newspaper ad: The Evening Post, April 1832; fourth image: 27 St. Marks Place, a Girls’ Temporary Home operated by the Children’s Aid Society, from King’s Handbook of New York; fifth image: 24 St. Marks Place, a group of boys pose for Jacob Riis in 1890 before heading off on an orphan train sponsored by the Children’s Aid Society, MCNY.]