Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary War in New York City’

Walkin’ about Wallabout

November 10, 2009

Wallabout is either a dressed-up name for the gritty area abutting the Brooklyn Navy Yard and sliced by the BQE. Or it’s a true neighborhood with a vibe distinct from Fort Greene and Clinton Hill to the south.


Whatever your take, Wallabout is a stronghold of Brooklyn history that’s worth a look. The name comes from the Dutch word Waal-bogt, which means a bend in the river. This bend is Wallabout Bay. Here, the British docked 12 prison ships holding captured Revolutionary War soldiers.

More than 11,000 men died on ships like the one in the engraving above. Some of their remains are entombed in the haunting Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in nearby Fort Greene Park.

Wallabout grew into a residential district in the mid-19th century, housing workers who toiled along Brooklyn’s thriving waterfront. These workers lived in wood frame houses, some of which still stand.


These 2- and 3-story houses, with lovely porches, are modest and charming—especially compared to the mansions up the hill closer to the Pratt campus.

In fact, historic Wallabout, which the Historic District Council defines as eight blocks roughly between Myrtle and Park Avenues, has the largest concentration of pre-Civil War wood frame homes in the city.


Wallabout has literary cred as well. Walt Whitman is believed to have lived in the nabe; his former home is supposedly 99 Ryerson Street (not pictured, since it’s covered in cheap siding).

New York’s other big November holiday

November 4, 2009

During the final week of this month, buck tradition and celebrate Evacuation Day, November 25—a huge holiday in old New York marking the day the last British troops sailed out of the city in 1783. 

For most of the Revolutionary War, New York was under British control. Hours after the Red Coats left, a Union flag was yanked down from a flagpole at Battery Park and replaced with the Stars and Stripes. George Washington returned to Manhattan, leading the Continental Army triumphantly down Broadway.


General George W., post-Colonial New York’s first celebrity

Evacuation Day used to be celebrated every November 25 with the raising of the U.S. flag at Battery Park. But once relations with England warmed up during World War I—and a certain other late-November holiday grew in popularity—Evacuation Day slipped into the dustbin of holiday history.

Washington Heights’ lovely little country lanes

August 5, 2009

When you think of New York neighborhoods with lots of mews and alleys, the West Village and Brooklyn Heights probably come to mind.

But Washington Heights on the Harlem border has its share of tiny lanes as well. Two small streets in the 160s feature old-style lampposts, Belgian block paving stones, and pre-20th century residences. They make the area feel more like a time-warped country village than an urban center.


Sylvan Terrace (above), up a flight of stairs from St. Nicholas Avenue, is a two-sided stretch of 20 wooden row houses flanking a once-private lane. The three-story houses were built in 1882 and restored in the 1980s.


At the end of Sylvan Terrace is Jumel Terrace. Spanning 160th-162nd Streets, this quiet, leafy road is the home of the Morris-Jumel Mansion (above), the oldest house in the borough. Built in 1765 on high ground with views of Manhattan, it served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War.

The city purchased the mansion in 1903 and restored it as a museum. Up until the late 1800s, this part of Harlem was still pretty rural.

Where was Nathan Hale really hanged?

July 16, 2009

A 13-foot statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale stands tall in City Hall Park. Yet no one seems to know for sure where he was actually executed for spying on the British.

NathanhalecityhallparkThere are two competing locations. A plaque posted on a Banana Republic store at Third Avenue and 66th Street claims that the 21-year-old American spy was strung up on a gallows within 100 yards of that site on September 22, 1776.

The information comes from a British Officer’s diary, which stated that the hanging occurred at “the Royal Artillery Park near the Dove Tavern at the old Post Road, now Third Avenue. . . .”

But there’s another plaque, on East 44th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, that says this is the location of Hale’s execution and that the “British Artillery Park” existed here.

The building the plaque (below) is affixed to belongs to the Yale Club. Hale was a Yale graduate, class of 1773.



A War of 1812 fort in Central Park

July 6, 2009

The Revolutionary War left a deep mark on New York City. But the War of 1812? This skirmish with the British hasn’t had a lasting impact here, save for a tiny stone structure tucked away in the northwest corner of Central Park called Blockhouse #1.

BlockhousecentralparkThe Blockhouse was built in 1814, one of many constructed in Upper Manhattan to protect the area from the British should they invade the city from the north.

It’s in a part of Central Park that is still rugged, high, and hard to reach—the perfect place for some canons.

Luckily the British never attacked, and the war was over in 1815. The Blockhouse was later used to store ammunition as well as a place to celebrate patriotic holidays.

When Central Park was expanded in the 1860s to include the undeveloped, rocky land between 106th and 110th Street, the Blockhouse came with it. The old structure was considered a romantic, picturesque reminder of another era. 

It’s now empty, serene, and mostly lifeless, except for a tall American flag soaring into the sky from the flagpole in the center of the fort.