Old New York In Photos #79 – Broadway & 79th Street c. 1890

This Pastoral Scene Is Broadway and 79th Street

While the quality of this photograph is far from perfect, we thought it was unusual enough to share.

With laundry hanging off a clothesline, a horse grazing near the front door of a tree filled yard, this bucolic area is Bloomingdale, near the corner of the Boulevard and 79th Street. At least that is what is written on the back of the circa 1890 photo.

As you may know, The Boulevard was the continuation of Broadway above 59th Street.

Robinson’s Atlas of New York City 1885

Checking Robinson’s Atlas of New York City from 1885, I’ve tried to figure out where this house stood and what direction the photograph was taken from.

The atlas key is as follows: structures shaded in yellow are made of wood, pink are brick and brown are stone. We can see our three story house is made of wood. In the background on the right there is another building. But which of these buildings fits the description?

The authoritative book on the Bloomingdale area (the Dutch name for Valley of the Flowers) is The New York of Yesterday (1908) by Hopper Striker Mott. According to Mott, the house that was nearest that site was the van den Heuvel homestead a two story stone and wood home built approximately in 1759.

The end is near for the former van den Heuvel / Burnham mansion c. 1905 photo: Robert Bracklow NYHS

Sometime in the early 19th century the van den Heuvel home had an additional story added after a fire destroyed the original slanted roof. Later the front of the mansion which used to face the Hudson with its splendid river views was swapped with the back of the mansion, so the new front would then face the bustling Boulevard (Broadway).

In 1839 the house was leased to William Burnham at $600 per year. Burnham’s  tavern and lodging house was a popular respite for travelers in this upper part of the city.

Over the years there were many management changes and re-namings of the tavern, yet  Burnham’s was the name that stuck. By 1885 the roadhouse had “deteriorated to one of those dark and mysterious resorts where prizefights, cockfights and other kinds of illegal practices were followed.”


Another view of the former van den Heuvel / Burnham mansion c. 1905 photo: Robert Bracklow NYHS

An October 8, 1905 New York Times article announced that demolition had begun at the once glorious home. During excavations a demolition workman found a English penny dated 1762. Other workers were unearthing sixpence and shillings.

So what vantage point was our original photograph and these others taken from? Probably from the middle of the lot from Broadway towards West End Avenue.

I.N. Phelps Stokes The Iconography of Manhattan Island, sates the van den Heuvel home was located on the west side of the old Bloomingdale road between 78th and 79th Street.

This Bromley atlas of Manhattan from 1902 pretty much confirms the location.

The 12 story Apthorp apartment building was constructed between 1906 and 1908. It occupies the entire block between Broadway and West End Avenue from 78th to 79th Streets.

If you’re wondering why the building is named the Apthorp (sometimes spelled with an ‘e’ at the end) it is because the Apthorp family once owned large parcels of land in the area. The Apthorp’s were also related through marriage to the van den Heuvel family.

Finally, this interesting farm map prepared by city surveyor Otto Sackersdorff shows the van den Heuvel holdings in 1819 -1820 after the grid plan was introduced but before streets were cut through.

The house drawn in the lower center is  John van den Heuvel’s. The yellow border shows his holdings which stretched from the Hudson River to near Broadway from about 78th to nearly 84th street. The value of that one large parcel of land today would be in the billions.

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