Part of Town

If Manhattan were Oklahoma, this would be its panhandle. Upper Manhattan is a sliver surrounded by three waterways. The continuous shoreline defines the open spaces, and the schist protrusions separate the residential enclaves. While Uptown is outlined by broad avenues meandering around protruding ribbon parks, Upper Manhattan is defined by its soaring heights and valleys, as well as rugged parklands. Uptown’s Hamilton Heights (West 130th to 140th Streets) flatten, and then the gradual climb up to a loftier Washington Heights begins, in the West 150s. In fact, Manhattan’s highest elevation, (still barely remarkable at 265 feet above the Hudson River) is on West 183rd Street. Upper Manhattan wasn’t within Peter Stuyvesant’s Harlem Common. It wasn’t considered by the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Broadway is underutilized; the transit system is limited to one train and bus route; there isn’t a Fifth Avenue, and Upper Manhattan was a tertiary consideration, especially to real-estate developers. Nevertheless, the lands’ end submitted to Manhattan’s Manifest Destiny, eventually the grid did arrive. The neighborhoods, beginning at West 155th Street, are nestled within and around the increasingly rocky terrain, or they are set atop pronounced ridges— quintessential Manhattan natural landscape and craggy topography examples, though more typical of Adirondack Park, 175 miles north. Moreover, the cliffs are between emphatic eastern and western and northern boundaries, as the Hudson or East River, or Spuyten Duyvil Creek, at West 220th Street.

The communities, from due north to the southwest, include:

  • Inwood—the northern-most and independent neighborhood—starts at West 200th and reaches to 222nd Street, which is Spuyten Duyvil, or the Harlem Creek Canal. The residential portion spans the Hudson to Harlem River, and the streets wind around the very hilly terrain.
  • Washington Heights, formerly Fort Tryon, once Fort Washington encompasses West 165th to 195th Streets, and includes very distinctive neighborhoods. Beginning in the southwest sector, they are:
  • Audubon Park—at Harlem’s northwest—is the southernmost neighborhood, and comprises West 153rd to 164th Streets, spreads west from Amsterdam Avenue, runs along both Broadway and Riverside Drive, and it surrounds the Audubon Terrace Historic District as well as touches onto the Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum grounds.
  • Morris-Jumel District—in the southeast—takes in West 160th to 162nd Streets, and is west of the Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Avenue intersection. It spreads one block to the cliff-hanging Edgecombe Avenue. This diminutive enclave includes namesake the 1700 manor house museum, the unique clapboard and gaslight Sylvan Terrace, and town- house-lined Jumel Terrace.
  • The Heights—south of George Washington Bridge and its access highways—includes West 165th to 179th Streets, and inclusive of Broadway to the Hudson River.
  • Hudson Heights—perched above the Hudson River—begins at West 180th and continues to 192nd Street. The neighborhood extends east to Fort Washington Avenue, and takes in Cabrini Boulevard and Pinehurst Avenues, a slim swath.
  • Fort George—atop the Harlem River shoreline—runs from approximately West 163rd to 194th Streets, and sprawls across five East River to Broadway avenues.

The Parklands

Lengthways—north of the George Washington Bridge, on the river cliffs—lies the dominate feature, a nine-mile, 678-acre, shoreline of green spaces. The expanse of public access occludes, perhaps one-half mile, below the northeastern corner below Fort George Hill ridge to Sputyen Duyvil. These common preserves and parklands, beginning in the southwest and continuing to the southeast, are:

  • Fort Washington Park is within the Hudson River Greenway, runs along the shoreline, between West 155th and Dyckman Streets, which approximates West 207th Street. The ribbon of parkland also hugs Henry Hudson Parkway, bulges between West 176th and 182nd Streets, and includes both a hilltop land trails and waterside paths. The important highlights include:
    1. George Washington Bridge, always of course strong and solid, though never clad in the Beaux-Arts masonry encased towers, as per Cass

Gilbert’s original plan;

    1. Jeffery’s Point Light House (aka Little Red Lighthouse), sited on the promontory under the bridge and built in 1880, to improve navigating the Hudson River;
    2. Grecian Temple, at West 190th Street, created in 1925 to be a driver’s scenic outlook across the Hudson River to the Palisades.
  • Fort Tyron Park, to West 190th Street’s north, is set within such geological features as pre-historic landscapes, dense forests, wetlands, saltwater marshes, and it was created by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of Central Park’s architect. The essential highlight is:

(4) The Cloisters and medieval gardens are matchless. The initial gifted to the city was undertaken by John D. Rockefeller, in 1917. Then, between 1935 and 1938, the Cloisters Museum was assembled by incorporating five French abbeys as well as recreating period plantings and herbal gardens.

  • Inwood Hill Park runs north along the Hudson River, conforms to the island’s northern-most rounded contour, thereafter it continues easterly—as a Columbia University sports facility—and then finishes midway along Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Its significance is Manhattan’s last actuality of a natural forest and only natural forest as well as salt marsh. In the Colonial-era this was Cock Hill—a derivation of the Lenape, Shorakapok, which means “between the ridges.” The Wappinger fort provided protection, the caves shelter, the forest forage and the rivers fish—no small matters for the nomadic tribes.
  • Highbridge Park, along the Harlem River riverfront at West 200th Street, and running south to West 155th Street. The majestic cliffs and narrow river frontage was a portion of the city’s water supply system. The acreage was acquired piecemeal—beginning during the Civil War, continuing for 100 years—and always featured water sporting facilities.

This parkland also includes:

    1. The city’s oldest surviving bridge, High Bridge, which was built to carry The Old Croton Aqueduct across the Harlem River;
    2. A picturesque, Romanesque water tower, built to afford sufficient gravity for all Upper Manhattan, but was moved subsequently;
    3. The Harlem River Speedway, which is now closed;
    4. The hilltop recreation facilities, which have been enlarged continuously.

The additional isolated, mid-island parks, from south to north, are:

  • Mitchell Square, West 166th Street, at Broadway;
  • Jay Hood Wright Park, West 173rd Street, along Fort Washington Avenue;
  • Bennett Park, West 183rd Street and Fort Washington Avenue, at

Manhattan’s highest elevation;

  • Gorman Park, West 188th Street, at Broadway;
  • Ishram Park, West 208th to 212th Streets, at Broadway.

The Avenues

Again, Broadway runs center-island, though each street spanning the Hudson to Harlem Rivers is designated as “West”. Moreover, between West 156th and 187th Streets, the existing Uptown avenues cross and converge, splinter off and reemerge: only Broadway, Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Avenues retain their name. Furthermore, only Broadway is not eliminated by terminating into a rocky, wood-covered slope: it, alone, endures above West 200th Street, and carries on to the northeastern-most Manhattan mainland-bound bridge.

The mish-mash of avenues, from east to west, is:

  • Edgecombe, runs to West 171st Street, on a ledge above Highbridge Park;
  • Amsterdam, runs to West 194th Street, and resumes below Fort George Hill as Tenth Avenue;
  • Audubon Avenue, begins at West 165th and ends at West 193rd Street;
  • St. Nicholas, which also terminates at West 193rd Street, is a major commercial thoroughfare;
  • Fort George, begins at the St. Nicholas and Audubon Avenues loop, at

West 194th, and then ends at West 201st Street;

  • Broadway, continues right through to West 222nd Street;
  • Broadway Terrace, is short and steep between Fairview Terrace and Broadway;
  • Bennett, begins on West 183rd Street, and hooks east as West 195th Street, then ends;
  • Fort Washington, begins at West 156th and ceases at West 192nd Street;
  • Pinehurst, begins at West 176th and runs to 187th Street;
  • Haven, the West 165th Street’s continuation, runs to West 177th Street;
  • Cabrini Boulevard, runs north of West 179th to 193rd Streets;
  • Colonel Robert Magaw Place, begins in the mid-Bennett-to-FortWashington-Avenues block, hooks at West 181st and ends abruptly, at West 183rd Street;
  • Overlook Terrace, traverses east-to-west, from Fort Washington to

Bennett Avenues—climbing the western ridge;

  • Wadsworth Terrace, starts at West 188th, and loops at 193rd Street— along the eastern ridge of the easterly Fort George Hill;
  • Fairview Terrace runs for a short path, from West 190th to 193rd Streets, and is only between Broadway and Fort George Avenue.

The Essential Details

Southwest—Audubon Park

(1650-1840)

Upper Manhattan begins where Uptown leaves off, with the landmark Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum. Its graceful walks and 100-year-old elms comprise West 153rd to 155th Streets, and consume Amsterdam Avenue to Riverside Drive. One-quarter mile south, at West 147th Street, the Kingsbridge Road—linking King’s Bridge from the mainland—met the sole westerly lying north-to-south roadway, Bloomingdale Road. That post roadway, then, traversed northwestern Harlem, all the way south to the city. It was service by one (notoriously irregular) stagecoach line; the only alternative route to the Hudson River ferry system.

Over 100 years, the colonial Harlem Village’s carpenters and working classes spread one mile upriver, along Kingsbridge Road. The important Revolutionary War Battle of Harlem Plains was fought here. But still, in 1803, approaching what would become the northern city limit was entirely rolling countryside—as far as the eye could see. Throughout the 1700s, the initial landholders were wealthy New Yorkers, who carved out rural estates along the riverbanks, and who could travel by private four-in-hand coaches. At century’s end, fine homes dotted the region.

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 grid stopped at Upper Manhattan’s southern edge. The commissioners did not even consider the natural obstructions once reaching Washington Heights. Little changed, therefore: its rural nature without a trace of urbanization endured for the better part of the century. In fact, the primary landholder to the north—where neither streets nor avenues were drawn in—was one Andrew Duncan, whose heirs sold off ten substantial portions to Stephen Jumel. During the early Federal period, the wealthy widow Mrs. Jumel updated the mansion overlooking Harlem Plains, and then briefly (rumor was, for one day) was married to the wily Aaron Burr. In addition, three Lower Manhattan heiresses—Hannah Murray, Rosannah Bowers and Blaze Moore—held vast nearby expanses. Shortly after 1840 and due west, John James Audubon registered 14 acres to his wife, Lucy, which spanned West 156th to 158th Streets, and stretched from the Bloomingdale Road (then the Public Road, now Broadway). It rolled down the steep slope, where the rushing streams converged at the riverbank. Through thick and thin, while still accessed by the stagecoach only, Lucy added on 10 acres. Fifty years later, the Audubon heirs as well as their ten neighbors—consumed by a Riverside Drive extension encroaching and the expected subway urging New Yorkers further Uptown—were perforce to sell: rural Audubon Park disappeared. (1890-1930) Audubon Terrace is a mid-block rectangle on Broadway, between West 155th and 156th Streets. There’s competition for the neighborhood anchor title. It is not residential, but rather a cobblestone path between facing GreekRevival-column institutional buildings. The full-block deep, original BeauxArts design by Charles Pratt Huntington, was built with funds provided by his cousin, the robber baron grocer, Archer Milton Huntington. It was completed 22 years later, in 1930. However, Audubon Park, the neighborhood, is an irregular shape, starting along West 150th Street, and extending to the south side of West 160th Street, with two additional lots at 609 and 611 West 158th Street, near Riverside Drive (West). Riverside Drive provides one prominent residential venue within the Audubon Park neighborhood. (Here, at the far west are two Riverside Drives, the westerly becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway, which reemerges briefly two miles north, at the Inwood Hill Park rise).

A second, Riverside Drive East, rises along West 156th Street, and runs to West 164th Street. This north-to-south spit, with irregular (at least, for Manhattan), swirling surrounding streets, still secluded somewhat, is an entirely residential district. Thereafter, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital dominates. West One-Hundred-Fifty-Fifth to 158th Streets was built out in the early 1900s, when single-family homes replaced the rural farmhouses, villas and estates. Within this quite small area, along Riverside Drive and Broadway, better than one dozen grand, luxury apartment houses were built in just a few years: each included a rear court; some designed with an exterior front court, and many were fashioned around an interior court design. These up-to-the-minute, multiple-resident dwellings were built by the preeminent builders Schwartz & Gross, for one. Or, they employed renowned turn-of-thecentury architects (Neville & Bagge, for instance), and were intended for moneyed families—with maids, cook and governess quarters—as two generous, apartments per floor. These apartments comprised of nine or ten rooms, and two or three bathrooms, changed the pastoral landscape to a cityscape. The remaining Audubon Park clusters, mostly flats building-style apartment houses, include:

  • Audubon Hall, on Broadway and 156th Street;
  • Goya, at 605 West 156th Street;
  • Velazquez, at 611 West 156th Street;
  • Cortez, 625 West 156th Street;
  • Hispania Hall, on Broadway and 157th Street;
  • Hortense Arms, at 602 West 157th Street;
  • Kanawah Court, 614 West 157th Street;
  • Sutherland, at 611 West 158th Street;
  • Rhinecleff Court, at 788 Riverside Drive;
  • Crillon Court, at 789 Riverside Drive, and Riviera, at 790 Riverside Drive;
  • The Grinnell, at 800 Riverside Drive;  Cragmoor Dwellings, at 801 Riverside Drive;  Rio Rita, at 807 Riverside Drive.

West—Washington Heights

Several Washington Heights enclaves attracted middle-class residents, who arrived with the 1880s IRT Broadway Elevated Line. At the 20th-century mark, Irish immigrants move in, and throughout the years between Europe’s wars, German political refugees (many were Jews), began settling within Washington Heights. Throughout World War II, Poles and Hungarians joined the established Irish and Jewish communities, primarily in the southern sector’s multiple-family dwellings. This is an area now predominately populated by Spanish-speaking Dominicans, who began arriving after World War II. In the 1970s, the Russians were coming, and the new arrivals fanned out to occupy those same apartment houses along the steep hills and broad avenues to Broadway’s east. During the initial mass-transit-driven building boom, an astonishing 120 similar high-end apartment houses were erected (heel-to-toe, one after another), running between West 165th and 184rd Streets. As Ring Lardner referred to their tenants as, filled with a new suchand-such bunch of the latest so-and-so’s.

On West 183rd Street and north, there are numerous six-story Art Decostyle apartment houses, which are scattered here and there among older redbrick and terra-cotta adorned façade apartment buildings. The still intact examples of an earlier era are, on:

  • Broadway, Bradley Court, at West 165th Street;
  • St. Nicholas Avenue, at West 177th Street, the Fluri;
  • At West 180th Street, Fort Tryon;
  • At West 184th Street, the Palmerston;
  • Fort Washington Avenue, at West 180th Street, the Pinehurst;  At West 181st Street, the Hazelhurst.

Northwest—Hudson Heights

Atop the Hudson River cliffs, above West 181st to 193rd Streets are a series of planned dwellings accessed via Cabrini Boulevard, and Pinehurst or Fort Washington Avenues. From the east, on West 187th Street at Bennett Avenue, one additional access is provided by an awe-inspiring (yet narrow enough to be easily overlooked), stair-passage which could take one’s breath away). Along this hilltop neighborhood’s plateau avenues, with few exceptions, remain low-rise apartment house rows, on tracts once owned by three families: the Watkins, Sickles, and Whites. Moreover, now the neighborhood is comprised of several planned complexes—developer’s attempts to improve difficult cliff-side tracts to their best advantage. The three enclaves, in parklike settings, are:

  • Hudson View Gardens, between West 184th and 186th Streets, which opened in 1924, and was developed by Dr. Charles Paterno, son of Joseph Paterno, a pioneering residential housing development titan. The mockTudor complex on West 180th Street, at Fort Washington Avenue, was designed by George F. Pelham, who also designed the nearby upscale 1908 rental apartment house, Pinehurst.
  • George F. Pelham Jr., his son, designed Castle Village, on Cabrini Boulevard, between West 182nd and 186th Streets which overlooks the Hudson River as well. This five apartment house series, each with four wings, was completed in 1939, and converted to co-operative ownership in 1985.
  • The third complex, at West 190th Street, between Fort Washington Avenue and Cabrini Boulevard, is the 16-story, post-war Cabrini Terrace, likewise co-operatively co-owned.

Northernmost—In Inwood

This was Lenapehoking (the Land or Hunting Grounds), with several small seasonal villages. Nipinichsen—the fort from which the Wappinger confederation war canoes sallied out to attack Henry Hudson’s Halve Moon returning down-river—was here. The hillside slope forests were thickly covered, with hilltop chestnut-oak trees, white oak-tulips, hemlock-northern and red maple hardwood forests, and shrub swamp and beech softwoods, such as white pine, spruce, fir, as well as broadleaf deciduous forests. The Dutch settlers cleared the timber, rolled it down the Harlem River, beyond Hell’s Gate to Saw-Kill in the East Seventies, to be milled for shipment to Holland.

The Dutch magistrate farmers, Jan Jopsten, Jan Broersen, and William Jansen Schudt, carved out homesteads. They also shorn and sowed the fields that had been reserved for fishing and hunting only, which sparked conflicts and limited settlement—until the disputed Wappinger claims were settled. Then, 65 years passed before Revolutionary forces enforced an evacuation of the region to build the five side earthwork Fort Cock; Hessian troops captured the fort in November 1776, and held it until 1783. It, then, was Fort George. For 150 years, what is the Inwood Hill parkland as well as the immediate valley remained the country estate of Jacobus Dyckman. To the south was owned by: Abraham Dyckman, Henry and Dennes Post; Jacob Hyatt; and Dominick Lynch; the northernmost tip was exclusively Augustus Van Courtland’s. In 1917, John D. Rockefeller II purchased and gifted a prominent southern portion for The Cloisters.

North of Hudson Heights the craggy Fort Tyron Park ridge falls sharply, creating a narrow plain, before rising precipitously as Inwood Hill Park. The surrounding slopes both protected and isolated the enclave. To reach Inwood requires traversing a narrow pass, at West 191st Street, between the Hudson Heights and Fort George ridges. On the valley floor, there is room for one roadway, Broadway. Beyond the pass, Broadway immediately fans out heading northwest. At this point a second thoroughfare, Nagel Avenue heads northeast: their V-shape encases the westerly residential enclave. Additionally, at West 188th Street and running along the westerly ridge, Bennett Avenue abruptly hooks east. As West 195th Street it crosses Broadway immediately. As Hillside Avenue, then, it moves east-northeast across the Inwood valley, then up and along the easterly ridge. All the streets and avenues are perpendicular, and set slightly askew to the traditional right angle grid; moreover, they wind around quite steep hills, especially when climbing to Inwood Hill Park overlooking the Hudson River. What’s more, the nine avenues (running northeast-to-southwest), have a family’s name, such As (the Dutch colonial) Vermilyea Avenue, (the Irish-American) Payson Avenue, and (the English colonial) Seaman Avenue, names existing in no other part of town.

There are nine residential Streets running northwest to southeast, with a given surname as well. The two major retail strips radiate out from the Broadway and Dyckman Street intersection. A north-central rolling knoll, comprising Isham Park, ends the principal residential streets. A four-squareblock community is nestled at the west ridge’s base, north of Isham Park, and abuts the farthest northwest structures, Columbia University’s Baker Athletic Complex and Lawrence A. Wien (football) Stadium.

Meanwhile, from the southeast, Amsterdam Avenue loops at West 190th Street, atop the eastern ridge. It reemerges a few blocks farther north, renamed Tenth Avenue. Now, running parallel to the Harlem River shoreline, East of Tenth Avenue, the adjacent side-streets are numbered, starting with West 201st and continuing to 222nd Street, where the island ends at Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The industrial portion includes a power plant, warehouses, freight tracks, rail yards, vast parking lots, and several bridges to the Bronx.

Cut From a Different Cloth

Overall, the neighborhood ambiance is somewhat akin to the Bronx Grand Concourse and environs. Which raises the question, whether the uppermost Upper Manhattan neighborhood, Marble Hill—before its 1914 obliteration for the manmade Spuyten Duyvil Creek Expansion—would have remained even more so? All the while that the sole downtown access was the Broadway (M101) bus, residential development was limited. Due to the Great Depression and World War Two, the side and cross-street residential dwellings remained modest, five- or six-story (some are late 1930s Art Deco-style multiple-family dwellings), predominantly they have an unattended entrance. The IND express line reached Inwood in 1936, nonetheless, little changed. Even with an ongoing Washington Heights migration, the extent of recent working-class residential activity is three low-rise, riverfront clusters: two at Tenth Avenue’s juncture with Nagel Avenue, one alongside the Columbia University sports complex. Manhattan’s northernmost community, therefore, is somewhat underdeveloped and continues, as though frozen in its 1950s existence, Brigadoon-like.

East—On Fort George Hill

Reaching the easternmost neighborhood, Fort George, from the Inwood valley requires mounting Fort George Hill Street—and is it ever steep, indeed! Below the far eastern ridge, Highbridge Park runs continuously along the riverbank. Atop the ridge, extending from West 193rd to 156th Streets, the neighborhood spans four avenues. The north-to-south avenues, from east to west, are: Broadway, Wadsworth, St. Nicholas, Audubon, and Amsterdam Avenues, and Laurel Hill Terrace (running from West 182nd to 188th Street). The prominent shopping strips are Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue as well as West 181st Street. Within the northern sector, two residential enclaves break the ever-present, always consistent, monotonous east-to-west grid plan, and they are:

  • Washington Terrace, a one-half-block-long row of setback houses, at 601- 11 West 187th Street, and spans St. Nicholas to Wadsworth Avenue. They are identical, red-brick, distinctly working-class, single-family homes, a generous yard in back.
  • Laurel Hill Terrace, off Amsterdam Avenue, running from West 188th to 182nd Streets, juts over the Highbridge Park, and consists of a string of flats-building-style apartment houses, with an open view east overlooking the Harlem River below.

Additionally two-story, single-family (semi-attached but, still, atypical of Manhattan row houses) are scattered near to and along Audubon Avenue, between West 183rd to 182nd Street.

Southeast—Morris-Jumel District

At West 162nd Street, where St. Nicholas crosses Amsterdam Avenue, is a quirky Piece de Resistance, the Jumel Terrace Historic District. Between West 162nd and 160th Streets there are 49 fine single-family row house examples, primarily of wood or brick construction, and consistent with Queen Anne and Romanesque architectural tenets. Echoing the ten Jumel Terrace homes, 29 additional row houses, on West 160th and 162nd Streets, complement the custom-designs on equally generous 25-foot standard city lots, also each boasts town-house quality exterior terra-cotta and limestone detailing. In addition, one pre-war apartment house, the Schwartz & Gross developed 555 Edgecombe Avenue, has a commanding southern vista. On a gentle rise, set within a mews-like lane, is the 1884 bijou, Sylvan Terrace. This one block, gaslight, Belgian-cut cobblestone-paved lane, with a story-book look, consists of twenty three-story clapboard, row houses, each in a consistent yellow hue with black shutters. The entire row includes matching exterior staircases and under-the-stoops service entrances. Moreover, this jewel leads to the historic district anchor, Manhattan’s oldest home—where George Washington actually slept in, his Continental Army marshaled as headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Plains, and Aaron Burr committed his final dalliance—the MorrisJumel mansion. Despite its checkered past, the mansion is perched above Highbridge Park and bounded at the east by a sheer cliff, with the Long Island Sound beyond, as well as open views west to New Jersey’s Palisades. Once, when Sylvan Terrace lead to the Jumel family mansion, seen through its Palladian portico windows, below the bluff and stretching south for three miles, lays the Harlem River Plains and mid-Manhattan hills, and in sight is McGowan’s Pass—the key military installation protecting the city. Beforehand, however, directly below the bluff is Sugar Hill Historic District Northeast Extension. Despite the Panic of 1873 which crippled most Manhattan lot and plot speculation, little effect was apparent in rural Harlem. The Benson tract farms were already melded into Central Park; between 1880-9, the adjoining Benson tracts were sold off as standard city lots. Pinehurst, the 110-acre private Bradhurst (father and son) reserve, was subdivided with the anticipated elevated roadway coming on Ninth Avenue. It would service the estate’s north and south extremes, at West 145th and 155th Streets. It came to pass, in 1879 therefore, the surrounding area was attractive to both developers and a new slew of middle-class residents. By 1889, along with the “Closing of the West,” Manhattan was build-out with row houses at last. With the 1904 IRT subway opening, Upper Manhattan gave way to flats buildings rows. By 1909, apartment house construction followed, and then permeated. A swath, which had been a rural retreat, with a wellbred, seclusion charm for a select few to enjoy, vanished.