Significant Landowner Directory

As the grid plan approached, there were virtually unlimited opportunities, for Colonial- and Federal-era landowners. Throughout Manhattan, every up-andcoming residential hamlet and rural community as well as all the farmland along the riverside railroad track edges, eventually, would succumb to the grid.

It was simple to tap into the northward-moving commercial swath on and off Broadway, or the residential migration along Fifth Avenue and adjacent to Central Park. On-the-spot speculators were handy and ready to forward every transaction. Many gambled and lost their land once an economic boom was followed by a panic.

Also, with the major players, say, an Astor or Wendel, willing to step in and to capitalize with each recurring stock market crash. The long-term investors had the means to amass more farm tracts as the city expanded farther north, along Broadway from Union and Madison Squares to Greeley and Herald to Times Squares and then into the Upper West Side—always northward.

This continual trend of encroaching commercialization on high-end specialty shops and upper-crust brownstone homeowners caused store owners and residents alike to again move on. The “Gold Key of Hanover Square” opened the way for the Goelet family real-estate fortune. Their sizable holdings between Union and Madison Square, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue cross one another, provided continuously increasing property values and revenues from their leased holdings.

No doubt the “grid plan” was all-encompassing and without regard to established owner’s boundaries and borders. Farther along Fifth Avenue, third- and fourth-generation Goelets amassed tracts already cut-up into plots, which they further divided into lots, and were way ahead of the crowd there, too.

Although this dead-center alley of resident’s to retailers to commerce buildings, proved to be among the most lucrative lots and plots in Manhattan, the significant outlying areas—those nearby the New Amsterdam settlement, now considered Downtown Manhattan, were great consecutive farm and pasture tracts, which were owned by a few families, namely Stuyvesant, Bayard, De Lancey, Warren, and Moore. Their holdings, as rural estates, could be measured in square miles.

The two largest homesteaders, the Hopper homestead (now, Hell’s Kitchen to Clinton) and Benson Farms (present-day, Southcentral Harlem to northeastern Yorkville) were within the Colonial-era Bloomingdale district or Harlem Commons. Both considered far from civilization when their boundary and border markers were staked out and registered.

From the beginning, there was resistance to urbanization as well. First, the landowning families were politically connected powerhouses. The more adventurous among them had improved their tracts prior to the War of Independence. Additionally, farming villages had established themselves between the harbor settlement and Love Lane. The westernmost was Hampstead Hamlet, approximately within the five Tribeca historic districts. It was incorporated into the Trinity Church King’s Farms, in the early 1700s. The enlarged 1600s Greenwich Hamlet, the “Village” as it is referred to today, began at West Houston Street and was contained between Seventh to Sixth Avenues, which remained intact by the “Grid Plan” designers. The Bowery Village, beginning on East Houston Street abutting a tax-free farmer’s market, spread to East 12th Street, at Union Square. It ran along the Bowery Road, between Broadway and Second Avenues, centered at Copper Square, the confluence of the Bowery, Astor Place, and Stuyvesant Street. Another community followed the Union-Place-to-Love-Lane triangular extension of Bloomingdale Road, as East 17th to 21st Street Fifth Avenue, today’s Flatiron and NoMad.

The next semblance of country villages was in the West Nineties to 116th Street, in the northern Bloomingdale District, as Morningside Heights. Below, within the Harlem the Harlem Plains, spreading from West 126th to 130th Street, is Manhattanville. A Lenape trading post, at a shoreline flat region. And, the Harlem Common Village, near to the Harlem Bridge, from East 117th to 128th Streets. Finally, in Upper Manhattan, near to West 168th Street at the Knightsbridge Road, a stagecoach station evolved into a first Washington Heights enclave on improved streets.

As the surface grid brought change, mass transit accelerated the unrelenting grading progression from rough terrain into standard lots. Many additional significant and very asymmetrical outlying Manhattan tracts—whether left fallow or tilled, a country seat or future building site—were amassed shortly after the 1684 British takeover, and consolidated through to 1775. The significant landowners’ boundaries, by neighborhood—rather than ordered by purchase or deed registration—are based on the John Randel Jr. Manhattan Farm Maps identifications, surveyed in association with Charles Clinton, after 1813, and drawn between 1818 and 1820, north from East Houston Street or Greenwich Avenue at West 13th Street, to the city limit, as West 155th Street.

Wherever there was a question. The matter was resolved, as best as possible, by cross-referencing comments or notations on the Dripp’s Map of 1860 or the 1865 Viele Map of Manhattan boundaries and waterways.

The additional investigator’s estimated boundaries included, for the most part, were unearthed while tracing a parcel’s ownership lineage. They only need to be considered better than interesting accumulated impressions, and far short of flawless. They are, therefore, to be enjoyed, hopefully as asides, and never to serve as proof-positive and absolute identification for the past, present, or future inheritance matters. Or, any other matter, as a matter of fact. Then, within present-day Lower Manhattan the Significant Landowners, are:

East River Waterfront and Financial District.


Abraham de Peyster was a New Amsterdam-born mercantile scion and the British-appointed New York City mayor. In 1695, a mansion he built on Pearl Street and Wall Street was gifted as the official mayor’s residence. Furthermore, he donated his garden lots for the first New York City Hall.

His son, also Abraham de Peyster, owned several Lower Broadway lots, at “Bowling Green,” now Battery Park. His grandson (Abraham), as mayor arranged a gift of a field or “Vlak” as the first city Common. (Presently, it is New York City Hall Park.)

Subsequent de Peyster generations (presumably, some named Abraham), sold an eight-acre Minetta Brook parcel to the City Council. Later, it was to be Washington Square Park.

Greater Chinatown.

Hermanus and Anthony Rutgers acquired a 55-acre parcel with extensive East River shoreline frontage. At its northwestern point, barely touching the Bowery, their heirs developed the tract as the Rutgers Property— an upscale, planned, commercial and residential community.

This was the City’s first multi-usage enclave, and a distinctive retail strip of specialty and dry-goods stores formed to the immediate south, which included Brooks Brothers and Lord & Taylor, during the Federal-era.

Abraham Schermerhorn and his brother Simon, along with extended Schermerhorn generations, were upstate, Dutch settlers engaged in Hudson River shipping. Their New York Harbor mansion was where Caroline “Lin” Schermerhorn Astor, a 10th-generation heiress, “the Mrs. Astor,” was born. Her husband, William Blackhouse Astor Jr, was John Jacob Astor’s grandson.

The family counting house, Schermerhorn Row, a National Historic Place, is the base for the South Street Seaport Historic District.

Peter and Sarah (nee Jones) Schermerhorn enjoyed a 200-acre Upper East Side shoreline tract, which was vast enough to be the contending option to be a Central Park.

Civic Center.


Mrs. Mary (nee Rutgers) Rhinelander obtained by inheritance 70 acres, 27 on Fresh Water Pond, which would become Five Points. Mrs. William Rhinelander, great-granddaughter of Anthony Rutgers, was Mrs. Catherine dePeyter Rutgers’ great-niece as well. In 1907, William C. Rhinelander held the property in his $50,000,000 estate.



William and Frederick Rhinelander, wartime sugar refiners, came to dominate western Lower Manhattan commercial tracts—say, about all Tribeca—by a 99-year lease from the Trinity Corporation westerly King’s Farm tracts and King’s College (Columbia University, presently).