Posts Tagged ‘Tribeca history’

A mystery chapel in a Canal Street subway station

February 4, 2013

Canalstreetmosaic2The only thing that makes waiting for the subway less aggravating is spotting one of these colorful mosaics lining the platform.

They’re mini history lessons depicting some hallmark of the area from when the station was built, say a noteworthy building, like City Hall.

But the Canal Street 1 train platform, with mosaics of a chapel and spire, poses a mystery.

StjohnschapelIn the vicinity of the Varick Street station, no church exists.

It did at one time—and it was a beauty. The lovely St. John’s Chapel was built in 1807 (predating the street grid!) as a parish of Trinity Church, and it became the centerpiece of a luxurious residential enclave called St. John’s Park.

Well-to-do families built Georgian row houses around a small genteel park, and the neighborhood remained fashionable through the 1840s (below, in a 1905 painting by Edward Lamson Henry).

St. John’s Park began losing its appeal in the 1850s, when wealthy New Yorkers chose to relocate uptown. Then a railway terminal replaced the park in 1868, turning the enclave into one of factories and tenements.

Stjohnsparkandchapel

Lovely St. John’s Chapel, with its sandstone portico and columns and 200-foot oak spire and clock dominating the skyline for over 100 years, was torn down in 1918.

All that remains today is the subway mosaic, a small patch of green at the Holland Tunnel entrance—and a forgotten lane in Tribeca bearing the St. John’s name.

The sensational Manhattan well murder of 1799

May 15, 2010

It was a murder—and subsequent trial—that captivated the young city.

Levi Weeks, a carpenter and the brother of a renowned architect, was courting pretty, 21-year-old Gulielma Sands.

Nicknamed Elma, she lived in the same boarding house as Weeks did in Lispenard’s Meadows, a marshy area near Greenwich Avenue and Spring Street.

On the night of December 22, Elma left her house. Supposedly she told her sister and a friend that she and Weeks were eloping.

She was never seen alive again. Two days later, her possessions—and her beaten body—were found at the bottom of a nearby well. Weeks was quickly indicted for her murder.

The evidence was circumstantial. A sleigh holding two men and a woman was seen by the well the night Elma disappeared; Elma’s sister said Weeks returned to the boarding house that night “pale and nervous.”

To defend himself, Weeks assembled the original dream team of lawyers, including Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Even though most New Yorkers thought he was guilty, Burr and Hamilton got him acquitted. 

Weeks left town fast and moved to Natchez, Mississippi. He became an architect and built many of the city’s loveliest homes.


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