“DON’T talk to me,” said my grandmother-and when that revered woman made use of this emphatic preface, I knew that something as infallible as the acts passed by the Senate and Assembly of the Medes and Persians was to follow-” don’t talk to me, Felix, for I always felt that it was flying in the face of Providence to use a teakettle to travel with. Wasn’t I on board the Samson one Fourth of July when the upper deck fell through and crushed some of my friends to death, and didn’t we run over a cow and skin it when we were going to Rahway? I am out of all patience with steamboats and locomotives. No, I am not going one step out of town this summer. When I want to go into the country, I’ll take the Bloomingdale omnibus and visit my friends. There’s all the country I want on this side of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and I can get there without a sputtering teakettle to drag me.” I confess to have grown up in these late years into my grandmother’s state of mind-believing that there is no spot on earth so beautiful as this city, and having every year less inclination to leave it. I crave no distant journeyings; my heart turns to no other people. At home among the swarming streets, I would not exchange their summer sights and sounds for Newport sands or Adirondack woods.
Speaking of journeys, here is the itinerary of two journeys made by an old merchant of this city, written by a nonagenarian hand that is lifeless now, but that had a vigorous clasp for a friend only a few short weeks ago. It is the record of his first and last journeys between New York and Philadelphia, and presents an extremely suggestive contrast. The old merchant writes:
“Previous to the year 1817 the mail service between the two cities, as almost everywhere else in the United States, was in a most unsatisfactory condition. About that time Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins set him-self to establish a shorter mail route, and with this view opened the Richmond County turnpike across Staten Island, where he already owned nearly the whole of the North Shore, with the land under water and the Quarantine Ferry. About February 20, 1820, there was a severe thunder-storm, which apparently broke up the winter, as there was none to speak of afterwards, though there was plenty of disagreeably cold weather. Towards the middle of March business called me to Philadelphia, and I availed myself of ,Governor Tompkins’s shortened route for the trip, of which here is the history: I was boarding at No. 40 Broadway, and it was a very cold, raw March morning, when, at five o’clock, I was summoned to the carriage at the door-which carriage turned out to be a great, heavy, lumbering stage-coach, in which, on entering, I found five other half-frozen passengers. We were driven down to Pier No. 1, North River, and there transferred to the steamboat Hercules, a veritable tub, with no saloon nor protection on deck, and only a small unventilated cubby-hole down-stairs, called by courtesy the cabin. After a most uncomfortable pas-sage we landed at Quarantine, Staten Island, and were placed in large four-horse stages, in which we at once started on our journey, passing over the Richmond County Turnpike, the hardest, roughest road I had ever travelled, crossing the Kill von Kull to Perth Amboy, and thence to ‘Trenton, where we arrived after dark. The road from Perth Amboy to Trenton redeemed the Richmond Turnpike by contrast, it was so much worse. We remained at Trenton all night, for we were thoroughly exhausted and needed, rest, and next morning took steamboat to Philadelphia, which we reached a little after ten o’clock, being thus enabled to deliver the mail from the New York Post-office to the office in Philadelphia in the almost in-credibly short time of thirty hours. So much for the fast mail delivery in 1820. Sixty-five years afterwards, on Tuesday, May 26, 1885, at 5 P.M., I left Victoria, Vancouver’s Island, British Columbia, by the Northern Pacific Railroad for New York. After a most pleas-ant journey I arrived at the Pavilion Hotel, New Brighton, Staten Island, on that day week, having travelled 3500 miles in seven days without the slightest feeling of fatigue. I timed the distance from Philadelphia to New York-or, rather, to the terminus at Jersey City-a few minutes less than two hours. So I have seen the time between the two cities shortened from, thirty hours to two, with luxury. of travel substituted for discomfort.”
The old merchant has gone a longer journey since he wrote this record, and on still swifter wings than those of steam. He loved New York, as well he might, for he had been in business here for more than sixty years, and it was a comfort to him, as the silver cord of life was loosened, to remember that his dust would rest within the city’s confines, and in hearing of the tramp of its myriad feet and the roar of its sleep-less traffic. In the last lines his hand penned he wrote : ” I hope that in your tour you will not omit that gem of country churches, the church of my affections, where I was married in 1825, in which my children were baptized, and where wife and children, brothers and sisters, are entombed-namely, St. Mark’s Church, in the Bowery. It was situated in a true bowery in those days, constituted by a succession of leafy bowers. There are no ties more binding to a feeling heart than attachment to the graves of our kindred, and I have cherished with wonderful love for more than half a century the little green church-yard that surrounds the old .Bowery `:chapel’ which Peter Stuyvesant built and endowed, and which his hereditary enemies afterwards consecrated to their own form of worship.”
I have already spoken of this ancient and once renowned edifice, which, like old Trinity, is a landmark among a strange people who have to be taught its history-a landmark which, I trust, will never be re-moved. Its story is part of the city’s history, and if its foundations were removed away from the region of the ancient “bouweries ” of New Amsterdam, its record would be meaningless. What is needed to accentuate the good it has accomplished and is still doing is a shaft to the memory of hard-headed Peter Stuyvesant, last and most valiant of the old Dutch Governors of the ancient Holland colony. Shaft and church together would mark the complete blending of religion and patriotism which produces the most perfect of citizens.
No, I do not go into the country for the summer. The newspapers are filled with advertisements of fresh country air, delightful sea-breezes, the joys of lake and mountain and ocean during the dog-days, but they have no attraction for me. I am content with the city, even in the heated term, for I have learned all its secrets, and know just where to turn for shelter from the torrid skies, just how to enjoy a day’s outing, just when to look for the refreshing evening breeze to lift the curtain at my window. Be-sides, I cannot part with the streets filled with people “as trees walking,” as changeful as the leaves of the forest. The country road, half-hidden by trees through which the stars shine dimly, has a charm of its own, but it cannot compare with the broad avenue in which electricity creates a second daylight, which is terraced by long lines of shop-windows glittering with the wares of all nations, and whose sidewalks present a bewildering array of the fair faces of young girls and the gentle graces of matronhood. As if there were perpetual moonlight in our parks, the shadows of the trees make a wonderful lace-work on the pathways, and long processions of lovers, seeking the ark of matrimony in pairs, as all animated creation swept into Noah’s ship of fate, forever wander there, and forever reveal in their happy faces the story of our first father’s love. If I could take these with me-the churches and shops, the libraries and picture-galleries, the theatres and hotels, the beehive homes, the pavements, and their occupants-I might be persuaded to desert the city of my love ; but until this is possible I am content to remain here in town.
What is there that I need which the city will not supply? There is no sea-breeze that blows on distant coasts that is half so sweet as that which sweeps over the Battery, and comes freighted with memory as well as health. There are no stretches of rural landscape more beautiful than those which sweep down to Kings-bridge, along the Harlem, or up beyond Manhattanville and around Fort George. I know where to find traces of village life in those ancient parts of the city that were once known as Greenwich Village and Chelsea, Bowery Village and Yorkville, but which to this generation are only handed down as a tradition. I know where to go to find the fragments of the once powerful old Scotch Presbyterian colony (who opened in this city nearly a century ago the first theological seminary which New York could boast, and in which the famous Rev. James M. Mathews, D.D., was a professor eighty years ago), and to hear droned out in the summer afternoons and evenings from old-fashioned homes, without the intervention of a “kist o’ pipes,” the ancient psalms in which the soul of the Covenanter delighted, and which told how “Moab my wash-pot is; my shoe I’ll over Edom cast,” and which provoked piety by putting into rhyme every verse of the Psalms, and found religious exaltation in chanting David’s curious criticism of his foes “They through the city like a dog Will grin and go about.”
I know where to go to find a quiet Quaker street, whose houses have that unaffected air of repose which other homes cannot copy. Whenever I turn the corner into this haven of social rest the atmosphere seems to change, and care is left behind, and the mind grows serenely contemplative. The blinds of the houses are carefully closed-this is a peculiarity of the neighborhood; but from the doors of these homes come forth such peaceful faces, delicate types of fair maidenhood, with downcast eyes, and of happy motherhood only a shade less. beautiful in its maturity of charms, as are found nowhere else.
There are old frame-houses in Orchard and Market streets which recall the time when that neighbor-hood was a Quaker settlement, full of gardens and or-chards, with comfortable homes set in with trees and shrubbery. Old people still live who remember it as the garden spot of the city, in whose vicinity young couples of a past generation were glad to set up their household gods. Market Street, in the days of its roistering youth, was known as George Street, and had an exceedingly evil repute. A perpetual sound of revelry pervaded it, and its inhabitants were of the spider family and spared no victims whom their nets had enmeshed. The place was an eyesore to the Quakers, who, finding that the authorities would do nothing to mend matters, adopted their own measures of reform. Their plan was radical. They bought up the entire property, rebuilt some of the houses, and purified all of them, changed the name of the street to Market, and then settled down and made their homes there. It was a wonderful transformation scene, and a very suggestive one to the reformer of a later day.
If the summer sojourner in the city wishes for change of scene from bricks and mortar, I can take him to thick woods that fringe the Hudson, and that recall the time when a large portion of the island was covered by dense forests. There the primeval oak still flourishes, and the lichens yet cling to the rocks as in the days when the foot of the Weekquaesgeek warrior pressed the mosses so lightly that it failed to crush them. Between the rocks and over the fallen leaves trickles the ghost of a brook in which trout once leaped and played, and which, so tradition says, was once powerful enough to turn the wheel of a mill where it sprang into the embrace of the Hudson. Here is rest from the city’s roar, and here is a solitude of nature as complete as one can find in the heart of the Adirondacks. Come with me for a walk to Tubby Hook, and before we have turned homeward you shall confess that by land or sea there is no more beautiful spot on which the sun shines. Or if you tire of the land, let us embark on the waters of the Spuyten Duyvil, and up in the creeks which are its tributaries we shall find a wilderness of marsh and shrubbery which will make us fancy that a hundred miles intervene between our boat and the guardian statue of ” Justice” on the City Hall. The old King’s Bridge is unchanged since the day when the Hessian allies of Great Britain under command of Knyphausen marched across it to make a raid upon the ” neutral ground ” of Westchester County, and the ancient hostlery of the Blue Bell presents the same appearance that it did to Lord Howe and his staff when they halted there and ordered one of his famous dinners. Towards the Hudson is the spot where the Half Moon anchored and had its first battle with the Indians, and where its crew dug the first grave on the Island of Manhattan. If we turn the other way and sail beyond the steep and wooded headlands known as Washington Heights, the river brings us to a battle-field of a later day and a different kind. For at the bridge which bears his name, General Macomb dammed the Harlem River, to the great and general indignation of his neighbors. The men of lower Westchester reached such a pitch of wrath that they determined to take the war into their own hands, and marching down to the dam in a body, they removed the obstruction and let the river have free passage. Twice this was done, and then the dam ceased to exist except in name. The authorities have tried in vain to make the public patronize their title of Central Bridge; the old name, Macomb’s Dam Bridge, still lingers gratefully among the natives. I remember some twenty years ago to have attended church at Mott Haven, and to have been horrified to hear the minister announce that, the annual picnic of the Sunday-school would be held during the week ” at the Dam Bridge.”
There are bits of farm scenery on the upper part of the island which seem to have remained unchanged for a century-little oases of garden and field, with a brief stretch of country lane shaded by locust and cherry trees. It is noticeable that the houses, like the old Bussing farm-house, between One Hundred and Forty-sixth and One Hundred and Forty-seventh streets, and east of Eighth Avenue, exactly face the south, as accurately as if set by compass. The builders had the correct sanitary idea as well as a proper knowledge of comfort. These homes of a dead ancestry will soon be blotted out. The hand of improvement, a rough and unsentimental fist in its way, has already cut a street through Breakneck Hill, and the perils of the precipitous road over its crest have wellnigh vanished. The highest point of the hill was near the intersection of One Hundred and Forty-seventh Street with the south side of St. Nicholas Avenue, which was opened in 1871 as a prolongation of the once celebrated Harlem Lane, which ran from the intersection of Eighth Avenue with One Hundred and Twenty-third Street, diagonally to Sixth Avenue, at One Hundred and Tenth Street, on the northern end of Central Park. Harlem Lane, now St. Nicholas Avenue, was a dead level for the distance of three-quarters of a mile, and here the owners of fast horses tested their speed on pleasant afternoons, while all the sporting world looked on and wondered. The prolongation of the lane, before St. Nicholas Avenue was projected, was Eighth Avenue, then a level earth road to Macomb’s Dam, where stood, a half century ago, two famous road-houses from which the glory has departed, though they still exist. An-other road led out of Eighth Avenue to the left, at about One Hundred and Forty-first Street, called Breakneck Road. It ran up Breakneck Hill, and continued along until it intersected Tenth Avenue at One Hundred and Sixty-second Street, opposite the Jumel mansion, and crossing into the present Kings-bridge Road, opposite the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, kept on to Kingsbridge, two miles or more beyond. This was the steepest, most difficult and dangerous road on Manhattan Island, even more wild and precipitous than the McGowan’s Pass Road at the north end of Central Park. Several fatal accidents occurred there and almost innumerable severe ones.
Why should I go to the country for change of air, for recreation, or for comfort, so long as I have all these delights at my door, made ready for my enjoyment? No. For me the breezes shall blow from river to harbor; for me the streets shall every night put on their holiday attire ; for me the green spots on this island shall shine in summer garb, and the waters that gird them in shall twinkle in the sun-shine by day and dance with silver gleams by night. ” Don’t talk to me, Felix,” said my grandmother, and I emphasize her dictum out of my own -experience ; “there is no spot on earth half so lovely as this city of New York.”