Category Archives: New York

Alexander Hamilton, The Grange & A Dubious Story Of 13 Trees

Alexander Hamilton’s Final New York Home, The Grange & The Mythical Legend Of Its 13 Trees

With A Description Of Hamilton’s Grange In 1872

Alexander Hamilton’s home, The Grange as it appeared in 1872. print: Appleton’s Journal

In New York City where “preservation” can be a dirty word, an impediment standing in the way of “progress,” it is miraculous that Alexander Hamilton’s home, The Grange, still exists.

Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton and the subsequent smash musical Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda, spurred an awareness and appreciation to a long dead founding father. Alexander Hamilton has been firmly reestablished in the pantheon of great Americans.

1867 New York City Atlas showing original location of Alexander Hamilton’s home The Grange

Alexander Hamilton’s original property of about 30 acres once stretched from about Tenth (Amsterdam) Avenue to St. Nicholas Avenue and from 138th to 145th Street. Hamilton’s Grange built between 1801 and 1802, had been threatened with demolition many times over its 200 plus year existence. The Grange was moved from its original location, not once, but twice.

As described in an 1872 Appleton’s article (reprinted at the end of our story), the author takes note that the house had survived late into the 19th century and should continue well into the 20th century.

“(The Grange) is constructed in the most substantial manner, and is good for a century yet, if the exigencies of city improvement do not demand its destruction.”

Those exigencies did arise a few years later. Hamilton’s home was first moved a couple of blocks south and a half block east in 1889. Real estate development had the Grange in the path of the street grid, laid out in 1811,  which had slowly but steadily worked its way north to upper Manhattan.

Thirteen “Union” Trees Planted By Hamilton print: Appleton’s Journal

After the move the Grange remained safe for the time being, but there was the matter of its famous group of trees, supposedly planted by Alexander Hamilton. The story was recounted by the Appleton’s article:

“A grove of thirteen stately gum-trees on the lawn in front of the mansion, which were planted by General Hamilton in token of the union and perpetuity of the thirteen original States of the republic. The beautiful star-like leaf of this tree rendered it peculiarly appropriate for the purpose.”

By March 1892 the Amos Cotting estate which now owned the parcel of land where the trees stood at Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue between 142nd and 143rd Streets was set to be auctioned off. Destruction of the trees seemed imminent.

Wealthy businessman Orlando B. Potter bought the tracts of land where the trees stood for $140,500 and vowed to preserve the grove.

There was only one problem which seems to have escaped most historians notice, even up to this day – the trees were probably not planted by Alexander Hamilton. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #88 – 14th Street & 6th Ave. c. 1905

The 14th Street Store of Henry Siegel – 14th St. & 6th Ave c. 1905

    

These two photographs were taken by the Detroit Photographic Co. on the same day, likely minutes apart. They show Henry Siegel’s 14th Street Store (1904-1914) and the Sixth Avenue Elevated Railroad looking towards the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street.

There is much to see, especially when zooming in on the details by clicking to enlarge the photos.

Besides the orientation of landscape versus portrait there are slight but noticeable differences in the two photos.

In the first photo at the 14th Street elevated station the northbound passengers wait for the next train and all sorts of advertising can be seen along the station walls.

On top of the southbound station, a man is painting the roof with two cans of paint, one in front of him, the other behind him. In the other photo the painter is not in frame, but both cans of paint are near one another.

    

On the fourth floor of the store, two women appear to be watching the photographer as he set up to take his picture. The window openings are in the exact same position as the other photo, but the women are gone. Continue reading

The Empire State Building Opened On This Day – 1931

The Empire State Building Opens May 1, 1931

You probably won’t recognize this building unfortunately, though it is certainly New York’s most famous landmark. Every sightseer who has studied it up close will know it’s the Empire State Building. credit: Acme 9/7/51

There are not many 87-year-olds that look this good.

The remarkable Empire State Building may no longer be the tallest building in the world or New York City for that matter, but it still is one of the most iconic and beautiful.

The Empire State Building opened May 1, 1931. Dedicating the Empire State Building, President Herbert Hoover pressed a symbolic button in the White House that put on all the lights in the building.  (A worker in New York actually turned on the lights.)

Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #87 – East 69th Street 1931

69th Street Looking East From First Avenue – 1931

There is nothing extraordinary about this view of East 69th Street taken on April 4, 1931 from the northeast corner of First Avenue, but there is a lot to focus on.

Still under construction at the end of 69th Street and York Avenue are the art deco inspired buildings of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical College. The hospital began construction in 1929 and was opened in September 1932. What had previously been the site of the Central Brewing Company and some row houses, became the home of buildings that housed New York Hospital, Cornell University Medical College, New York Hospital School of Nursing, and the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic.

On the right side of 69th street is the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine of Siena. The church had been located there since 1897 and was soon to be demolished. The congregation moved to a new building on East 68th Street in 1932.

Even with the paucity of pedestrians and traffic on 69th Street, there is activity near the church. Continue reading

Natural Beauty In Green-Wood Cemetery

Photographs Of Green-Wood Cemetery & Nature

Late autumn at Green-Wood Cemetery

Besides the tombstones, monuments and mausoleums in Green-Wood Cemetery there is an abundance of natural beauty.

These photographs were taken over the past few years. (click on any to enlarge.)Many of the plantings near the old monuments and obelisks are carefully cultivated.

Other bucolic views have developed naturally over 170 years.

William Williams elaborate Celtic cross is behind these flowers.

A lonely winter scene in which Stephen Whitney’s large mausoleum dominates the top of the hill.

Two roads converge here and a tree canopy forms a natural tunnel.

When the trees are in bloom, it is an amazing sight.

Many of the roadways are lined with trees like this.

A setting fit for eternity. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #86 – The End Of The Classic Lower Manhattan Skyline c. 1956

Lower Manhattan’s Classic Skyline Seen Aerially From Battery Park c. 1956

And What Became of It

Classic lower Manhattan skyline before the late 1950s transformation. Battery Park is in the foreground. (c.1956)

Every time I’m in Brooklyn and gaze across the East River at the lower Manhattan skyline I feel I’m looking at a city I don’t recognize.

It’s not because I’m old, but it might be because the buildings that have been going up since the late 1950s are cut from the same mold, glass sheathed pinnacles with no flourishes, adornments or personality.

For the first half of the twentieth century, when you came upon New York whether by ship, train or car and got your first glimpse of the skyline you knew you were coming into New York City.

For a native New Yorker coming upon New York today, you may as well be entering the architectural equivalent of the Mall of America, any-city USA. Examples sprout up everywhere of New York’s architectural monstrosities, ugly and tall for the sake of being tall.

Classic lower Manhattan skyline form Brooklyn waterfront in the 1930s. photo: Acme

Commercial Cable Building

The skyline of lower Manhattan had remained pretty much static from 1931 through 1957 Continue reading

We’ve Seen This Before, Late March New York City Snowstorm Shuts Down The City – 1956

Huge Snowstorm In March 1956 Paralyzed New York City and Suburbs

New York – Pedestrians trample their way through snow-covered streets here 3/19 after the worst snowfall in eight years crippled New York’s transportation system and left thousands of motorists stranded on the highway systems leading into the city. More than 2,000 cars were abandoned on the roads. photo United Press Telephoto 3/19/1956

Just in time for spring, the weather forecasters are predicting a lot of snow for New York City starting Tuesday, March 20. Possibly eight inches will fall across the area and then melt within a couple of days.

Snow becomes the main news story here in New York. This will be a small storm compared to the snowstorm that hit New York City on March 18 – 20, 1956.  By the time it was over, New York City received 13 and a half inches of snow, making travel in the region next to impossible.

New York – Snow business is bad business for the owner of a corner grocery store in suburban Queens here 3/20. Folks weren’t exactly beating a path to his door so he closed for the day. 3/20/1956 photo United Press Telephoto

What made this storm worse than others what not just the amount of snow but the surprise nature of it. Continue reading

The Type Of Qualities We Once Looked For In American Politics

Vanished Qualities And Standards In Filling A Political Office

When the president gets to choose a vacancy for a governmental office, shouldn’t the criteria used to fill that position sound something like this:

“In my nominations of persons to fill offices in the Judicial department I have been guided by the importance of the object. Considering it as of the first magnitude and as the pillar on which our political fabric must rest I have endeavored to bring into the high offices of its administration such character as will give stability and dignity to our National Government and I persuade myself they will discover a due desire to promote the happiness of our country by a ready acceptance of their several appointments.”

How eloquent.

Who said those poignant words? Continue reading

5 Things You Didn’t Know About New York History

Things You Didn’t Know About Divorce, Statues and Rapid Transit In New York City

Washington statue Union Square unveiled in 1856, an 80 year gap between public statues in New York City

Under English rule there was never a divorce in New York until 1787

When the Dutch founded New Amsterdam they allowed divorce but it was a rare occurrence. The English captured New Amsterdam in 1664  and after a brief retaking of the city by the Dutch in 1673, the English took permanent possession of the colony of New York until the Revolution. Over the next 100 years there was no divorce in New York.

Isaac Governeur became the first New Yorker granted a divorce in 1787. Up until then there had been no legal way of separating from your spouse. Alexander Hamilton created the law that allowed divorce in New York. The sole basis for being granted a divorce was adultery. Those who were desperate enough, went to another state that did allow divorce for other reasons. Incredibly, until 1966, adultery remained the only grounds for getting a divorce in New York.

The first successful manned flight in New York took place in 1819

A Frenchman, Charles Guillé who had made many successful balloon ascensions in France arrived in the United States in the summer of 1819. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #85 – 42nd Street From The 3rd Avenue Elevated 1887

42nd Street Looking West From 3rd Avenue Towards Grand Central 1887

This albumen photograph was taken in 1887 by Willis Knowlton who had his studio at 335 Fourth Avenue.

Knowlton set up his camera from the 42nd Street station of the Third Avenue Elevated looking west towards Grand Central Station. If you’re thinking, “wait a minute, why are there elevated tracks running west towards Grand Central?” The answer is, this connecting spur was in place between 1878 and 1923, taking commuters to and from Grand Central directly to the Third Avenue El. As practical as the connection was for the 15,000 daily riders still using it in 1923, the city’s Board of Estimate ordered its removal in October of that year. The IRT complied and the spur was closed at midnight December 6, 1923 and the tracks and station were demolished soon afterwards.

A little about the buildings seen in this photograph. Running along the northern (right) portion of 42nd Street at 145-147 East 42nd Continue reading