Rambling In Old New York
 

 
 

Old New York lies buried beneath the tidal wave of its own material prosperity. The modern city, busy with the present and its plans for gain, not only adds to itself, but incessantly rends itself in pieces. Caring little for the visible reminders of a storied
past, it replaces and rebuilds with an unsparing hand. Nor is this violence confined to the invasion of domesticity by trade; it goes on without ceasing in the oldest trading quarters, and a white-haired veteran whose business life has been passed in and about the
Rialto of Manhattan is authority for the statement that within his memory Wall Street has been thrice entirely rebuilt, with the exception of about half a dozen houses. Thus, the person who seeks to retrace in brick and mortar the New York of earlier days has small reward for his labor. Not here but across the sea to Holland must he go if he would find houses like those in which the stolid, sturdy burghers of New Amsterdam made their homes. He will search, too, almost in vain for structures belonging to the Revolutionary era, and for the homes of the city's makers during later periods of its history. And yet his quest, if followed with industry and a fair measure of patience, will be interesting and instructive in the highest degree.

If such a quest begins where New York began--at the Battery, one finds just south of the present Bowling Green the site of Fort Amsterdam, erected about 1626 to shelter the Dutch adventurers who had come to trade with the Indians. Under the protection of its guns, during the same year, was founded the town of New Amsterdam, hand in hand with which went the Dutch dynasty which lasted till 1664, when England seized the prize she had long secretly coveted. The tangle of streets below the Bowling Green still bears witness to the random, haphazard fashion in which the town came into being. Each settler built his house where he pleased, and made lanes and streets according to the dictates of his own fancy. One of the two important thoroughfares of of the town, following the line of the present Stone and Pearl Streets,--the latter then the water front,--led from the fort to the Brooklyn ferry, at about the present Peck Slip. The other, on the line of the present Broadway, led from the fort, past farms and gardens, as far as the present Park Row; and along the line of that thoroughfare, and of Chatham Street and of the Bowery, went on to the island's northern end.

When in August, 1664, an English fleet captured New Amsterdam, and renamed it in honor of the Duke of York, the western side of the town, from the Bowling Green northward, was a wilderness of orchards and gardens and green fields, while on the eastern side the farthest outlying dwelling was Wolfert Webber's roadside tavern near the present Chatham Square. There were then only a dozen buildings north of the present Wall Street, and the business interests of the town centered in the block between Bridge and Stone Streets, upon which stood the stone houses of the Dutch West India Company. On the line of Broad Street, then called the Heere Graft, ran a canal with a roadway on each side, and here dwelt much of the quality of that early day.

However, under both Dutch and English the Battery was the favorite promenade, and till the middle decades of the closing century some of the wealthiest and most socially distinguished people of the town lived in the lower part of Greenwich Street, in State
Street, and around the Bowling Green. And well they might do so, for living there was living on a park with a grand park view. Indeed, the whilom prospect from the windows and balconies of such houses as the one yet standing at No. 7 State Street across the greensward and through the elms of the Battery included Castle Garden and the seawall, the bay with its islands, and the Long Island and Jersey shores. The Bay of New York, now made tame and commonplace by what is called prosperity, was then the pride of those who dwelt about it; and traveled strangers who had seen the Bay of Naples and the Golden Horn did not stint their praises of the beauty surrounded by which New York sat like a Western Venice upon the waters.

Superb was the view from the Battery in the old days, and glorious are the wraiths who still haunt its paves and shaded places. Talleyrand, self-exiled from France, an hundred-odd years ago often paced slowly along where thousands now move, who, perhaps, never heard of him. After Talleyrand came Louis Philippe and Jerome Bonaparte, both of whom knew and admired the Battery. Lafayette walked its sea-wall and gazed out on the bay, and here sauntered that audacious traitor, Benedict Arnold, ruined by an ungovernable temper and a Tory wife. Here, in the same strenuous days, came Clinton and Cornwallis, and here through the vista of half a century we witness the New World's loud-voiced welcome to Kossuth. Nor is the fact to be forgotten that in ancient Castle Garden, transformed from a fort into an opera house, Jenny Lind one autumn night in 1850 began the triumphal progress
which made the name of that richly dowered queen of song a household word in every nook and corner of America.

Trending due east from State Street, the northern boundary of the Battery, and cutting it at right angles are two narrow passageways, which in these days would be looked upon almost as alleys. But one of them is the beginning of the once important thoroughfare, Pearl Street, known first as Great Queen Street, which, starting here in a line with Broadway, and within a few yards of its head, curves round towards the East River, and, expanding first at Hanover and then at Franklin Square, enters Broadway next above Duane Street, and directly opposite where the gray walls of the New York Hospital were seen a generation ago,
removed from the rush and roar of the great thoroughfare by an avenue through grass that, we are told, seemed ever green and under elms that overtopped the highest house.

Before Water, Front, and South Streets were created by the filling in of the East River, Pearl Street faced the water front, and along its reaches a century ago all the shipping of the port was harbored. Here, too, were the yards of the ship-builders, and the shops and warehouses of the merchants. Hanover Square was long the shopping centre of fashion, and till within a few years there stood in Nassau and upper Pearl Streets residences of a stately elegance which would now be sought in vain below Central Park. All of these have since been swept away, and the only visible reminder of the Pearl Street of other days is ancient Fraunces's Tavern, still standing and in use on the corner of that thoroughfare and Broad Street. The site of this house once belonged to the De Lancey family, and in 1750 Oliver De Lancey seems to have had his residence either here or in the house adjoining, but in 1754 a tavern is found here, under the sign of the Queen's Head, and eight years later the property passed by deed into the ownership of Samuel Fraunces, a noted publican, who speedily made it the most popular hostelry in the growing town.

When the Revolution came Fraunces proved a stanch friend of the patriot cause, and played a worthy, if modest, part in the stirring events of the time. In 1776 he went out with the patriots, but appears later to have returned to the city, perhaps by British permission under arrangement with Washington, and to have resided there during at least part of the British occupation, as his generous advances to the American prisoners at that time confined in the city prompted a vote of thanks and a handsome grant of money from Congress. It was in the Long Room of Fraunces's Tavern that, at the close of the military movements attending the taking possession of the city on the evacuation by the British, November 25, 1783, Governor Clinton gave a dinner to the commander-in-chief and other general officers of the patriot forces, but the event by reason of which this famous old inn will always
claim a place in our history occurred nine days later, when, on December 4, 1783, in this same Long Room, Washington took touching and solemn farewell of his generals before departing upon his journey to Annapolis, where he surrendered his commission to Congress. Mine host Fraunces was not forgotten in the bestowal of rewards which followed the success of the patriot cause and the founding of the republic.


When, in 1789, Washington returned to New York to be inaugurated President of the United States and took up his residence here, he made Fraunces steward of his household, a post for which the latter was admirably fitted, and which he filled to the satisfaction of all concerned; and so his humble name has a place in our annals side by side with that of his great patron.

Fraunces's Tavern was probably built in the summer or autumn of 1753. It was originally three stories high, a lofty building for those early days, and built of brick brought from Golden's yard in Amsterdam. It is still a public-house, and has never been otherwise since
it was first opened for that purpose. In 1853 a fire visited the building, but did no serious damage. In the repairs made at that time the Dutch roof surmounting the house was torn down and replaced by two additional flat-topped stories. The lower floor of the house retained its original shape until 1890, when the old walls were torn down and replaced by a pretentious stone front, and the old tap-room, scene of so many merry gatherings in the vanished days, was converted into a modern barroom. Fortunately, however, these modern improvements stopped short of the Long Room on the second floor. This is an apartment forty-three feet in length and twenty in width. Its walls are hung with a picture of the old tavern, a faded and time-worn copy of the Declaration of Independence, a portrait of Washington, and other articles eloquent of the history and associations of the place. Save for the paper on the walls and the laying of a new floor, the Long Room has not been changed since Washington stood there. The antique wall-cupboard holds its long-accustomed place, and just across the narrow hallway is the old kitchen, unchanged save by the
introduction of a modern range. On the third floor are several small rooms built for the guests of the tavern, rarely used at present, but which, except as to furniture, stand just as they did a hundred years ago.

In the upper part of New York are two other houses associated with the Revolutionary period and its heroes,--the Jumel mansion and Hamilton Grange. No house in America has a more varied and interesting history than the first of these, which stands on Washington Heights. Frederick Philipse, descendant of a noble Bohemian family and second lord of Philipse Manor on the Hudson, had a charming daughter, Mary by name, who, tradition has it, declined the hand of George Washington, then a colonel of militia and counted one of the rising men of the province. She became a little later the wife of Roger Morris, aide to Braddock and
Washington's companion in arms in the disastrous fight in which the British general lost his life. They were married in January, 1758, and the bride's dowry in her own right was a large domain, plate, jewelry, and money, while she received as a wedding present from her brother, third and last lord of the manor, the house on Washington Heights. Here Colonel Morris and his wife lived in princely style until the Revolution. Then the husband espoused the royalist cause, and with his family was compelled to seek safety in flight.

The Morris mansion was seized by the Continental troops, and in the summer of 1776 Washington made his head-quarters in the deserted home of his former successful rival for a fair woman's hand. The apartment occupied by Washington as a sleeping-room is shown to visitors, so also are the room at the end of the great hall used as a council-chamber by the general and his staff, and the tree on the lawn to which the former was accustomed to tie his horse. Compelled to face an army of veterans which outnumbered his band of raw recruits two to one, Washington, after several disastrous skirmishes, in the early autumn of 1776 retreated across the Hudson River into New Jersey. It was after this retreat that the Morris mansion played its part in one of the most exciting incidents of his military career. On the crown of the heights, a mile to the north of the mansion, the patriots at the opening of the war had built a fort with strong outworks, called Fort Washington. When the retreat into New Jersey was ordered, one thousand men were left behind to garrison the fort, but were at once besieged in strong force by the British and their Hessian and Tory
allies. From Fort Lee, on the Palisades opposite, Washington anxiously watched their advance, and realizing the danger that menaced the garrison, decided to abandon the fort. His council, however, overruled him, and reinforcements were sent. Still, the siege went on, and a demand was made for a surrender. Informed of this, Washington crossed the river, with Generals Putnam, Greene, and Mercer, and cautiously made his way to the Morris mansion. From an upper room of the house he was making a hurried survey of the condition of affairs at the fort, when the pretty wife of a Pennsylvania soldier, who had followed her husband to the field, and who on the present occasion had followed the chief from the river, stole to his side and whispered something in his ear. Instantly Washington ordered his companions into the saddle, and they galloped posthaste back to the boats that had brought them from the Jersey shore. Fifteen minutes after their hurried flight from the house a British regiment, which had been quietly climbing the heights, appeared in front of it. A woman's quick eyes had been the first to discover its approach, and her timely warning had saved Washington and his generals from capture, and averted a heavy, perhaps a fatal blow to the patriot cause. The fort fell after a fight that strewed the Heights thick with graves.

Morris was an active royalist, and, as a consequence, at the close of the war his property, and his wife's as well, was declared confiscated; but the title to the house remained in dispute until, in 1810, John Jacob Astor bought up the claim of the Morris heirs. By Astor the house was sold, a little later, to Stephen Jumel, and thus entered upon another brilliant period of its history. Jumel, after a stirring and adventurous youth, had settled in New York, and, prospering in business, had become one of the merchant princes of his time. When his fortune was secured he wooed and courted a beautiful New England girl, and purchased the Morris mansion as a home for his bride. The old house was refitted with hangings, plate, and furniture brought from France, Madame's drawing-room being furnished with chairs and divans that had been the property of hapless Marie Antoinette. The Jumels
entertained on a lordly scale, and their New Year's feasts were counted among the most memorable social events of the period. Jerome Bonaparte, he who married and deserted high-spirited Betty Patterson, was a frequent visitor at their home, and when they visited Paris after the death of Napoleon they were received in the most exclusive salons. A portrait of Madame painted during this trip shows a beautiful and charming matron, with finely cut, aristocratic features, and clad in a robe of blue velvet, with collars and
lappets of lace.

The husband died in 1832, and a year later the widow made the acquaintance of Aaron Burr, the latter then almost an octogenarian, but still retaining in generous measure the powers of fascination that fifty years before had given him so much success with women. Burr was old and poor and under a cloud; Madame was rich, courted, and unwilling to wed again; but
he pushed his suit with an ardor that would not brook refusal, and finally, after repeated rebuffs, told her that on a certain day he should come with a clergyman, and she must then yield to his importunities. He kept his word; and one sunny afternoon in July, riding up in state to the great portico, accompanied by the minister who half a century before had married him to the mother of his daughter, Theodosia, he insisted that Madame Jumel should then and there become his wife. Alarmed and dismayed, but fearing a scandal, and urged by her relatives to give way, she reluctantly consented, and they were married in the great drawing room of the mansion. In this same room, a few days later,--so the gossips told the story,--Madame discovered Burr in the act of kissing a pretty maid, and soundly boxing his ears, ordered him from the house. Be this as it may, Parton, than whom we could have no
better authority, says that Burr rapidly squandered his wife's wealth, and when she demanded an accounting coolly informed her that it was none of her affairs and that her husband could manage her estate. Quite naturally there were bitter quarrels between the ill-matched couple, followed by tardy reconciliations, and at last, in 1834, a divorce. Madame survived her separation from Burr thirty-one years, dying in 1865. Her last years contrasted strangely with her youth and middle life. Willful always, her eccentricities
became more manifest as age crept upon her. Towards the end she lived like a recluse and miser, seeing few visitors, and hoarding the fruits of her estate in an unused chamber, and her death was a sad and a lonely one. The Jumel mansion is now owned and occupied by a family of wealth and culture, who take pride in its history. Strongly built, it is in an excellent state of preservation, promising to outlive another century, and nowhere can a more delightful hour be spent than in wandering about its rooms and the surrounding grounds. Washington's old council-chamber is now a dancing-room, and the kitchen has been converted into a billiard-room, but the drawing-room in which Madame and Burr were married, and the room on the second floor in which the former died, are unchanged, and no "modern improvements" mar the solid, antique exterior of the house, which reminds one of an aged aristocrat standing proudly silent among the noise and clamor of struggling nobodies.

Hamilton Grange, the country home that Alexander Hamilton built for himself and his family in 1802, no longer occupies its original site. It stood until a few years ago on Tenth Avenue and One Hundred and Forty-second Street, but now adjoins St. Luke's Protestant Episcopal Church, of which it is the rectory. Hamilton Grange, when bought by Hamilton and called after the family estate in Scotland, included the plot extending from St. Nicholas Avenue to Tenth Avenue, and from One Hundred and Forty-first to One Hundred and Forty-fifth Streets. It then stood eight miles from the centre of the city, and Hamilton chose it mainly for the quiet and seclusion it offered. Here, when the house was finished, he brought his gracious wife and seven young children, and here, no doubt, for he was then but forty-six, and in the full prime of his magnificent powers, he hoped to pass many happy and honored years. But a sad awakening was to follow this pleasant dream.

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Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Rambling In Old New York
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

 BIBLIOGRAPHY: Rambles in colonial byways, by Rufus Rockwell Wilson; illustrated from drawings by William Lincoln Hudson and from photographs ...Philadelphia, London, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1901.
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