Significant Landowner Directory

As the grid plan approached, there were virtually unlimited opportunities, for Colonial- and Federal-era landowners. Throughout Manhattan, every up-and-coming 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 realestate 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 land 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 small portions of their farms 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 UnionPlace-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 crossreferencing 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, by neighborhood, the Significant Landowners of the Upper East Side, are:

Yorkville.

(1845-75)

The smaller mid-island and eastern farm tracts caved to the looming urbanization first, and then many estates were subdivided into portions as the “Grid Plan” arrived. At the mid-century mark and grading began, the Yorkville District’s rustic ambience, overlooking the East River, vanished.

The Second-to-Fourth-Avenues blocks were dotted with farms, a few homes, and outbuildings, as the grid grading began. The existing tracts were extremely asymmetrical, sometimes on sharp southeasterly diagonals, though absolutely contrary to the rigid “Grid Plan.”

By far, the most unorganized, triangular leased farm tracts spread between East 87th and 94th Streets, with boundaries running northeast to southwest. A perfect example would be Mrs. Mary and William Rhinelander. They had a home built, with formal gardens planted between East 91st and 93rd Streets—at the riverside, and on the narrowing portion of their sizable estate.

Among other properties, Rhinelander developed the southwest estate tip—on East 86th Street, at Second Avenue. It is the oldest surviving, innovative apartment house—The Manhattan, designed by George Clinton and completed in 1880.

Running on a gentler diagonal, in the Riverfront-to-Second-Avenue blocks, but undergoing a familiar fear as the grid plan approached, from south to north, involved the following owners:

In the East Sixties and Seventies.

  • East 61st to 64th Streets, Park Avenue to the East River, the Beekman family;  East 64th to 66th Streets York to Second Avenue, the heirs of Peter Van Zandt.
  • East 64th to 66th Streets, Peter Shermerhorn.

NOTE: Peter Schermerhorn added to his estate, with Mrs. Peter (nee Sarah Jones) Schermerhorn’s huge inheritance (see Louvre Farms below), and by acquiring the neighboring 20-acre, Hardenbrook Farm, spanning East 64th to 66th Streets, and stretching from Third Avenue to the East River. The one-half-mile-square estate included a riverside summer villa. It was then Yorkville’s largest retreat and renamed Belmont Farms. This was referred to as Jones’ Woods, an alternative to Central.

  • East 66th to 75th Streets to Third Avenue was Louvre Farms, a 132-acre farmland tract, owned by John Jones;
  • East 75th to 76th Streets, to Second Avenue, Richard Riker;
  • East 76th to 77th Streets, to Second Avenue the Lawrence family;
  • East 78th to 79th and East 77th to 76th Streets, Third to Second Avenue, John Wilkes;
  • East 77th to 80th Streets, to Second Avenue, John Asten;
  • East 77th to 81st Streets, Third to Second Avenue, Corporation of the City of New York.

In the East Eighties.

  • East 82nd Street, at the East River, Peter Schermerhorn, bought four-plus acres in 1806;
  • East 83rd to 85th Streets, Third to York Avenue, Yellis Hopper (of the West Forties’ Hoppers);
  • East 80th to 83rd Streets, Second Avenue to the East River, Joshua Jones;  East 84th to 86th Streets, Second Avenue to the East River, Isaac Chauncey.
  • East 85th and 89th Street, along the riverbank, Archibald Grace;
  • East 89th Street, (a spit only), John Jacob Astor;
  • East 89th to 91st Streets, Nathaniel Prime;

In the East Nineties.

(1690-1890)

Where a marshy valley formed by ponds, creeks and streams flowing into the East River and Harlem Creek, converged as the Hell’s Gate inlet. The natural East River shoreline, at East 91th Street, moved west. Moreover, three creeks and numerous streams ran into the river from holding ponds, obliterating Avenue A to Second Avenue.

More so when nearing Harlem Marsh, on East 106th to 109th Streets. As well as along the increasingly crooked shoreline, where the Harlem and East Rivers merge, below East 101st Street, the large, but very asymmetrical tracts nearby, were owned, as:

  • East 86th to 90th Streets, along Third Avenue, and narrowing, at East 91st to 93rd Streets, and abutting a marshy creek, which overlooked the riverfront, Mrs. Mary and William C. Rhinelander;
  • East 87th to 90th Streets, along Third Avenue, was divided into two small parcels, held by Philip Rhinelander and Robert Latimer;  East 91st to 93rd Streets, Xaviero Gantro;  East 91st to 94th Streets, Nathaniel Sandford.

The more westerly, though still conical-shaped parcels in the Fourth-to-Third-Avenue block fronts were apportioned, as:

  • East 90th to 92nd Streets, between Fourth and Third Avenues, the Douglas family;
  • East 92nd to 94th Streets along Fourth Avenue, John G. Bogert;
  • East 93rd Street, from Fourth to Second Avenues, just a slice, the Durye heirs.

Across Treadwell and Lenox Farms.

(1845-75)

The Second-to-Fourth-Avenues blocks were dotted with farms, a few homes, and outbuildings, as the grid grading neared. After the Civil War, East 68th to 66th Streets and comprising Fifth to

Third Avenues, (a Corporation of the City of New York controlled parcel, specified as Hamilton Square), for the most part, were open lands when Hunter College moved to East 68th and 69th Streets and Lexington Avenue. Its Gothic Thomas Hunter Hall stood alone as the only major structure nearby until the 1880 Seventh Regiment Armory rose on East 66th to 67th Street on Park Avenue.

Running on a gentler diagonal, in the Fourth-to-Second-Avenues blocks, but undergoing a familiar fear as the grid plan approached, from south to north, involved the following owners:

In the East Sixties.

(1845-75)

  • East 60th to 64th Streets, Tredwell & Thorn farmlands;  East 63rd to 65th Streets, a Beekman family holding.
  • East 69th to 71st Streets, Martin Hoffman.

In the East Seventies to East 86th Street.

  • East 71st to 75th Streets, Nichols Governeur;
  • East 75th to 77th Streets, John N. Grenzebach;
  • East 77th and 79th Streets, John Robison;
  • East 79th to 81st Streets, the Sherman family;
  • East 81st to 84th Streets, the heirs of Edward Dunscomb.

Likewise, for the neighboring Second-to-First Avenues farmland, just below the leased farms, on the hill, and these parcels were owned by:

  • East 76th to 78th Streets, Martin Hoffman;
  • East 78th to 79th Streets, Richard Lee;
  • East 79th to 83rd Streets, John P. Schermerhorn;
  • East 83rd to 86th Streets, Isaac (Second Avenue to the East River);  East 83rd to 86th Streets, Third to Second Avenues, Benjamin Waldron.

Along The Avenue—East Sixties.

(1811-60)

Before Central Park was conceived Fifth Avenue, the Old Middle Road, parcels remained primarily open lands. By mid-century, each farmland tract neighboring Fifth Avenue was impacted at Central Park’s completion. These were owned, from south to north, by:

  • East 59th to 62nd Streets, Hugh Gaine heirs;
  • East 62nd to 64th Streets, Peter P. Van Zandt;  East 64th and 65th Streets, George Grosman.
  • East Sixty-Sixth to 68th Streets, comprising Fifth to Fourth Avenues, was controlled by Corporation of the City of New York. The Fourth to Third Avenue swath (specified to be Hamilton Square) became Hunter College the Seventh Regiment Armory.

Along The Avenue—Lenox Hill.

(1820-60)

No other parcels were in higher demand (eventually) than the East 68th to 74th Streets farm tracts that Robert Lenox leased to tenant farmers. These 30 acres were purchased in the early 1820s from the bankrupted Archibald Gracie estate.

During the Civil War-era, his son James Lenox converted the East Seventies tracts (piecemeal), as standard 25-by100-feet lots. James built the Lenox Library at East 70th Street. It was later moved to its current home on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, and the Frick mansion, later the Frick Museum replaced the library.

By mid-century, the neighboring Fifth Avenue farmland tracts were impacted by central Park’s completion, and the owners were:

  • East 74th to 77th Streets, Henry Post;
  • East 76th to 78th Streets, Martin Hoffman;
  • East 78th to 79th Streets, Richard Lee;
  • East 79th to 83rd Street, Museum of Art Historic District, John P. Schermerhorn;  East 84th to 87th Street, George McKay.

Likewise, the Lenox Hill Fourth-to-Third-Avenues rectangular tracts, also running on a sharp southeast diagonal, were undergoing similar subdivisions, involving:

  • East 71st to and 75th Streets, Nichols Governeur;
  • East 75th and 77th Streets, John N. Grenzebach;
  • East 77th and 79th Streets, John Robison;
  • East 79th to 81st Streets, the Sherman family;
  • East 69th to 71st Streets, Martin Hoffman;
  • East 81st to 84th Streets, the heirs of Edward Dunscomb.

Along The Avenue—Carnegie Hill.

(1835-90)

Ob servatory Place occupied East 89th to 94th Street and stretched east from Fifth to Fourth Avenues. These fields and woods were the 1830s Lower Manhattan residents’ daytripper destination. Although set aside as a common open space by the New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan, the Madison Avenue incursion, and shortly after, Central Park cut its existence short.

East Ninety-fourth to 98th Streets (and way, way beyond) was settled, in the 1650s, as the Captain Johannes Benson homestead. Many generations later, the land fell to Sampson and Lawrence Benson. These Johannes Benson heirs were the largest Manhattan landholders.

(A goodly chunk of the Benson homestead was incorporated into Central Park, and then as its northern extension, to West 110th Street.) The Benson holdings spread south to Yorkville, tracing the Harlem Marsh at the East River. What would become of their Carnegie Hill southeasterly tracts? Sampson and Lawrence Benson interests, like so many others, sold their Upper East Side lots (piecemeal, to speculators), as the “Grid Plan” progressed.