Posts Tagged ‘Charles Lane’

The gritty history of an 18th century Village lane

October 2, 2017

Prison inmates, slaughterhouse workers, runaway pigs, and unlucky sailors are some of the New Yorkers who tread the paving stones of Charles Lane—a Greenwich Village alley between Perry and Charles Streets that has a colorful history.

The prisoners walked here first. The lane was laid out in 1797, states the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. It formed the northern border of Newgate State Prison (below), built at the foot of the Hudson River that same year.

Newgate was supposed to be a new kind of prison a mile or so from the city downtown; it gave rise to the saying “sent up the river.” The novel idea was to provide moral instruction rather than just harsh corporal punishment.

But it quickly became overcrowded, and inmates frequently rioted.

Prisoners sentenced to death likely had to walk past Charles Lane to get to Washington Square Park, where execution awaited, according to Mike Wallace, coauthor of Gotham, per a New York Times article.

After Newgate was shuttered in 1828, the lane became “Pig Alley,” thanks to “the slaughterhouse which formerly graced the middle of it,” explains a 1913 Evening World article.

“There were always stray pigs about the place then, without sense enough to leave the spot where they were to meet their certain dooms.”

Men who worked the ships met terrible fates here too. “It was a wicked place of nights,” the Evening World continued, rather illustriously.

“Many a poor sailor or longshoremen has been carried out from under its yellow lanterns never to wake again except among the company of harped and winged saints who came by way of the Potter’s Field. . . . “

By 1893, Charles Lane got its current name and was officially mapped, states GVSHP.

When photographer Berenice Abbott shot Charles Lane in 1938 (left), the view looking north toward Washington Street shows us an unkempt alley filled with debris—but oh, those beautiful old blocky stones!

Today the alley is cleaned up, and the West Street end buts up against luxury glass co-ops. I don’t know if those co-op owners ever walk through Charles Lane, but I hope they do. I hope they tread lightly and feel its ghosts.

[All Photos © Ephemeral New York except photo 2, from the NYPL, image 3, from the NYPL, and image 5, from MOMA]

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alley in the Village

October 18, 2010

Sharp-eyed New Yorkers know about the many courtyards and mews of Greenwich Village, such as Patchin Place, MacDougal Alley, and Charles Lane.

But most residents don’t notice Milligan Place, a triangular alley on Sixth Avenue near West 10th.

No wonder: Milligan Place has only four buildings, all on the far left. The tiny gate that leads inside is as narrow as a shop door.

It’s a lovely glimpse of the old Village, when homes were built along streets derived from cow paths and streams, not the boxy street grid.

Milligan Place is named for Daniel Milligan, whose home once stood on the site. His daughter married Aaron Patchin.

Patchin named the larger alley around the corner for himself and built the three-story homes here around 1850.

Milligan Place commands high rents now. But for most of the 20th century, it was considered a backwater.

“Down in Milligan Place, the little hole in the wall on lower Sixth Avenue, where babies yowl and black cats prowl and pigeons coo in unison with the music of the elevated, and the soul is untrammeled and free, there is a toy shop,” noted The New York Times in 1915.

[Above left photo of Milligan Place in 1936 by Berenice Abbott. Above right, Milligan Place today]

Taking a walk down the Village’s Charles Lane

October 22, 2008

Charles Lane, a narrow alley from Washington to West Street in the West Village, is all that remains of the northern boundary of Newgate State Prison, which stood at the foot of the Hudson here from 1797 until the 1820s. Also known as Pig Alley, Charles Lane was later paved with unique stones not seen elsewhere in the city, according to the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.

Here’s Charles Lane in the 1930s, photographed by Berenice Abbott. Is that the old Ninth Avenue El that ran along Greenwich Street, or is it a remnant of the High Line?

Charles Lane today is surrounded by pricey West Village real estate, but it doesn’t look all that different, and the paving stones remain the same. Amazing it wasn’t bulldozed and turned into the Charles Lane Condos: