Posts Tagged ‘Second Avenue in the 19th Century’

An 1838 East Village townhouse’s radical history

November 10, 2014

When the handsome townhouse at 110 Second Avenue was built in 1838, Second Avenue was shaping up to be a posh residential street, with other Greek Revival homes going up alongside it for merchants and assorted wealthy New Yorkers.


An elite Second Avenue didn’t last long. By 1844 the merchant owner of the house declared bankruptcy, and after a few more owners and Second Avenue’s slide into a less respectable German immigrant enclave, the home was purchased by the Women’s Prison Association.

IsaachopperFormed in 1845, the Women’s Prison Association was one of the many benevolent organizations addressing social conditions in the 19th century city.

Group founders Isaac Hopper (left) and his daughter Abigail Hopper Gibbons (below) were already known as fervent abolitionists.

But they also took a strong interest in women’s prison reform, appalled by the conditions of female jails and the lack of support incarcerated women received once they were back in their communities.

AbigailhoppergibbonsAfter taking over the house in 1874, the group renamed it the Isaac T. Hopper house (he died in 1852) and turned it into the first halfway house ever for women who were newly released from prison.

“The home’s original mission was to rehabilitate these women by providing short-term shelter, religious counseling, domestic training in sewing and laundry work, and job placement,” states the Landmarks Preservation Commission report designating it a historic landmark.

“The aims of the management of the Home . . . is to prevent the recently liberated prisoners from falling back to their former evil courses, and to make an upright life easier for them,” explained King’s Handbook of New York, published in 1892.

Isaachopperhouseold“The privileges of the institution are free to the inmates, of whom their are about fifty.”

Throughout the 20th century, the home continued as a halfway house, quietly assisting hundreds of women per year.

It serves the same purpose today, an easy-to-miss house that’s undergone almost no remodeling since its 19th century beginning. It blends right into Second Avenue’s mix of bars and bodegas and tenements.

[Photo bottom left: via the Women’s Prison Association]

When Second Avenue was known as Lovers’ Lane

November 14, 2013

Does the lower end of Second Avenue, in the East Village, make you feel especially romantic?

SecondavenueloverslaneDidn’t think so. But over 100 years ago, the stretch from 17th Street to Houston Street was considered so scenic and lovely, it was actually known as the “East Side Lovers’ Lane.”

“It is interesting to note that never before has the term ‘Lovers’ Lane’ been given to so wide a thoroughfare as Second Avenue,” wrote The New York Times in 1911, in an article about plans to widen what was then a Polish and Hungarian immigrant par residential, part commercial avenue.

Secondavenueloverslane1868“If Second Avenue is a lovers’ lane, doubtless  the removal of the sidewalk encroachments would furnish more room for happy couples to promenade and contribute to its gayety.”

New York has had several Lover’s Lanes: Maiden Lane may have been one in Dutch colonial days; Central Park and Riverside Park also had tree-lined paths designated for couples. And Brooklyn Heights’ Love Lane has a sweet story behind it.

But back to Second Avenue. In 1942, a neighborhood group led by a minister called on the city to make Second Avenue a lovers’ lane again by planting trees.

Secondavenueloverslane2013The minister “hastened to add that he was looking for civic improvement, not for a new trysting place,” another Times article noted.

Trees were brought in, but it doesn’t seem like the lovey-dovey vibe caught on ever again.

[Middle image: Second Avenue at 11th Street in 1868; from the NYPL. Bottom: Second Avenue looking south from 14th Street]

Gentrification comes to the east side’s Dutch Hill

March 11, 2013

Mid-19th century Manhattan was dotted by lots of small villages. But few were as poor and wretched as Dutch Hill, centered around 42nd Street near the East River.

“Shantytown, this was called, a dismal collection of shacks and hovels inhabited by day-laborers, their families, and their pigs,” wrote Lloyd Morris in Incredible New York.


Adds Kenneth Jackson in The Encyclopedia of New York City: “Like most squatter settlements of the time, it was situated north of the built-up area of the city. The inhabitants were predominantly German and Irish immigrants. Many worked at the nearby Voorhis and Mott quarries.”

But it wouldn’t exist much longer. The city was moving north, and genteel residents—like the couple and little boy strolling up Second Avenue in this 1861 illustration—were moving to this area of scattered home and rock piles.

“By the end of the Civil War the growth and northward movement of population made real estate in the area valuable, and the squatters were displaced,” writes Jackson.