Posts Tagged ‘Turtle Bay NYC’

The twin wood houses time forgot in Turtle Bay

March 12, 2018

It’s 1866 in the Turtle Bay neighborhood in Manhattan.

What was once verdant farmland bisected by Eastern Post Road far from the city center was now humming with new houses and industry. Soon, the Second Avenue Elevated would start clanging nearby on enormous iron trestles.

And two men listed as “builder-carpenters” decided to build twin clapboard houses on the old Eastern Post roadbed, getting these wood frame homes up at today’s 312 and 314 East 53rd Street just before the city passed a law banning wood houses up to 86th Street.

(Wood tended to go up in flames, and fire was a major concern of the 19th century city, of course.)

Amazingly, these wood homes have remained here for 152 years, as Turtle Bay shifted from a mixed-use neighborhood with factories, tenements, and slaughterhouses to one with lots of quiet enclaves and posh residences.

From the outside, these sister houses are like the homes time forgot. Built in the French Empire style (very fashionable after the Civil War), they feature mansard roofs, bracketed cornices, and round-hooded dormer windows.

While they match each other nicely, they’re startling to see on the block—it’s like coming across a country house in the middle of the city.

Brooklyn has its share of wood houses, especially in Brooklyn Heights. But these simple beauties are two of just a handful surviving in Manhattan, like this one in the West Village and this farmhouse wedged into 29th Street.

“Relatively few wooden buildings survive in Manhattan, and the majority are found in the neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan, particularly in Greenwich Village,” states the Landmarks Preservation Committee Report from 2000.

“The Upper West Side has only one frame building, and no. 314 East 53rd Street and its twin, no. 312, are among only seven frame houses of note on the East Side.”

The interior isn’t quite as shabby chic. Check out these photos from a recent Streeteasy listing at no. 312.

[Second photo: MCNY; 33.173.350; Third photo: NYPL]

Turtle soup: the hottest dish on New York menus

July 3, 2017

In 1783, George Washington feasted on it (washed down with punch, according to later accounts) at Fraunces Tavern during his farewell banquet for Continental Army officers.

Early 19th century tavern owners took out newspaper ads letting the public know when a fresh pot would be whipped up.

And it was on the menu at New York’s biggest and best restaurants until the early 20th century, when it almost entirely disappeared from bill of fares all across the city.

What dish was such a delicacy? Green turtle soup, and New Yorkers of the 18th and 19th centuries couldn’t get enough of it.

“In 19th century New York, the only dish that could rival a juicy beefsteak or a dozen plump oysters on the half shell was turtle soup, and it’s partisans were legion,” writes William Grimes in Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York.

Two restaurants vied for turtle soup supremacy: the Terrapin Lunch on Ann Street and Broadway and Bayard’s, at 11-13 State Street.

Bayard’s turtle soup was recalled by an old New Yorker, Charles Haynes Haswell, in his Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, published in 1896.

“Here turtle soup was dispensed which was worthy of the animal of which it was made; not the puree of this time, which is served at some of our leading restaurants and clubs; not a thin consomme of that which might be calves’ head or veal, but bona fide turtle, with callipash, callipee, and forced-meat balls.”

It stands to reason that the first turtles and terrapins who ended up in New Yorkers’ soup bowls came from the waters around the city (like Turtle Bay, perhaps). Into the 19th century, however, they arrived here from the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean.

Why did turtle soup fall out of fashion? Maybe it had to do with the fact that turtles themselves were almost harvested to extinction, says Leslie Day in Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City.

Or perhaps it was just a food fad that lost its buzz.

[Top photo: Saveur magazine; second image: Evening Post, 1807; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Evening Post, 1812]

A Revolutionary War sword turns up in Tudor City

February 20, 2017

hessianswordkipsbaylandingshipsTombstones, wooden ships, mastodon teeth and bones—construction crews over the years have come upon some pretty wild artifacts while digging into the ground beneath New York City.

But here’s a fascinating relic uncovered in 1929, when excavation was underway for the apartment buildings on the far East Side that would eventually become Tudor City.

It’s a Hessian sword, described as a “slightly curved, single-edged iron blade” with a wooden grip and “helmet-shaped iron pommel” by the New-York Historical Society, which has the sword in its collection.

hessianswordstainedglass2hessianswordtudorcitystainedglassHow did it end up underneath Tudor City? The story begins back in 1776. New York was a Revolutionary War battleground, and mercenary German soldiers were paid to fight alongside the British.

That September, thousands of British and Hessian soldiers sailed across the East River and invaded Manhattan at the shores of Kip’s Bay.


Watching from a fortification at about today’s 42nd Street, George Washington and his army fled across Manhattan to Harlem Heights.

Eventually the Americans were driven out of Manhattan (temporarily, of course)—and at some point, a Hessian soldier must have dropped his sword, where it remained buried for 153 years.


Fred French, the developer of Tudor City, donated the sword to the New-York Historical Society.

[First image: Wikipedia; second image: Tudor City Confidential; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: NYPL]