God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb down Greenwich ways THOMAS JANVIBR.
DID you know that ” Greenwich Village” is tautology? That region known affectionately as ” Our Village ” is Greenwich, pure and simple, and here is the ” why ” of that statement.
The word wich is derived from the Saxon wick, and originally had birth in the Latin vicus, which means village. Hence, Greenwich means simply the Green Village, and was evidently a term describing one of the first small country hamlets on Manhattan. Captain Sir Peter Warren, on whom be peace and benedictions, is usually given the credit of having given Greenwich its name, the historians insisting that it was the name of his own estate, and simply got stretched to take in the surrounding country-side. This seems rather a stupid theory. The Warrens were undoubtedly among the earliest representative residents in the little country resort, but by no stretch of imagination could any private estate, however ample or important, be called a village. But Greenwich was the third name to be applied to this particular locality.
Once upon a time there was a little settlement of Indiansthe tribe was called the Sappocanicon or Sappokanikee. Like other redmen they had a gift for picking out good locations for their huts or wigwams–whatever they were in those days. On this island of Manhattan they had appropriated the finest, richest, yet driest piece of ground to be had. There were woods and fields; there was a marvellous trout stream (Minetta Water) ; there was a game preserve, second to none, presented to them by the Great Spirit (in the vicinity of Washington Square). There was pure air from the river, and a fine loamy soil for their humble crops. It was good medicine.
They adopted it far back in those beginnings of American history of which we know nothing. When you go down to the waterfront to see the ships steam away, you are probably standing where the braves and squaws had their forest home overlooking the river.
But their day passed. Peter Minuitwho really was a worth-while man and deserved to be remembered for something besides his thrifty deal in buying Manhattan for twenty-four dollars cast an eye over the new territory with a view to developing certain spots for the Dutch West India Company. He staked out the Sappokanican village tentatively, but it was not really appropriated until Wouter Van Twiller succeeded Minuit as director general and Governor of the island.
Van Twiller was not one of the Hollanders’ successes. R. R. Wilson says of him, ” Bibulous, slow-witted and loose of life and morals, Van Twiller proved wholly unequal to the task in hand.” Representing the West India Company, he nevertheless held nefarious commerce with the Indiansit is even reported that he sold them guns and powder in violation of express regulationsand certainly he was first and forever on the make. But before he was removed from office (because of these and other indiscretions) he had founded Our Village,so may his soul rest in peace!
Not that he intended to do posterity a favour. He never wanted to help anyone but himself. But, in the first year of his disastrous governor-ship, he got the itch of tobacco speculation. He knew there was money in it.
He, too, looked over the Indian village above the river, and he, too, found it good. He made it the Company’s Farm Number 3, but he did not work it for the company. Not he! He worked it for Wouter Van Twiller, as he worked everything else. He eliminated the Indians by degrees, whether by strategy or force history does not say. R. R. Wilson says it was ” rum and war-fare.’.’ Anyway, they departed to parts unknown and Van Twiller built a farm and started an immense tobacco plantation. As the tobacco grew and flourished the place became known by the Dutch as the Bossen Bouweriethe farm in the woods. It was one of the very earliest white settlements on the whole island. R. R. Wilson says, ” Rum and warfare had before this made an end of the Indian village of the first days. Its Dutch successor, however, grew from year to year.”
The names of these first Dutch residents of the Bossen Bouwerieor Sappocanican as it was still occasionally calledare not known, but it is certain that there were a number of them. In the epoch of Peter Stuyvesant someone mentioned the houses at ” Sappokanigan,” and in 1679, after the British had arrived, a descriptive little entry was made in one of those delightfully detailed journals of an older and more precise generation than ours. The diary was the one kept by the Labadist missionariesDankers and Sluyter and was only recently unearthed by Henry Murphy at The Hague. It runs as follows:
“We crossed over the island, which takes about three-quarters of an hour to do, and came to the North River, which we followed a little within the woods to Sapokanikee. Gerrit having a sister and friends, we rested ourselves and drank some good beer, which refreshed us. We continued along the shore to the city, where we arrived at an early hour in the evening, very much fatigued, having walked this day about forty miles. I must add, in passing through this island we sometimes encountered such a sweet smell in the air that we stood still; because we did not know what it was we were meeting.”
It is odd that the Dutch names in Greenwich have died out as much as they have. There is something in Holland blood which has a way of persisting. Theythe old Manhattan Dutch anywayhad a certain stubborn individuality of their own, which refused to give way or compromise. I have always felt that the way the Dutch ladies used to drink their tea was a most illuminating sidelight upon their racial characteristics. They served the dish of tea and the sugar separatelythe latter in a large and awkward hunk from which they crunched out bites as they needed them. Now I take it that there was no particular reason for this inconvenient and labourious method, except that it was their way. They were used to doing things in an original and an unyielding fashion. I believe a real old-world Mevrouw would have looked as coldly askance upon the innovation of putting the sugar in the tea, as she looked at the pernicious ingress of the devil-endowed Church of England.
In 1664 came the English rule in what had been New Amsterdam and with it British settlers and a new language. So the Bossen Bouwerie became Green Wich (later clipped in pronunciation to Grinnich), the Green Village, and a peaceful, remote little settlement it remained for many a long year.
Now came the rich and great in search of country air, health, rest or change of scene. Colonial society was not so different from twentieth century society. They, too, demanded occasional doses of rustic scenery and rest cures; and they began to drift out to the green little hamlet on the Hudson where they could commune with nature and fortify themselves with that incomparable air. Captain Warren, Oliver de Lancey, James Jauncey, William Bayard and Abraham Mortier all acquired estates there. The road to Greenwich was by far the most fashionable of all the Colonial drives.
Greenwich Road ran along the line of our present Greenwich Street, and gave one a lovely view of the water. At Lispenard’s Salt Meadows (Canal Street) it ran upon a causeway, but the marshes overflowed in the spring, and soon they opened another road known as the Inland Road to Greenwich. This second lane ran from the Post Road or Bowery, westward over the fields and passing close to the site of the Potter’s Field. This, I understand, was the favourite drive of the fashionable world a century and a half ago.
If anyone wants to really taste the savour of old New York, let him read the journals of those by-gone days. Better than any history books will they make the past live again, make it real to you with its odd perfumes, and its stilted manner-isms, and its high-hearted courage and gallantry.
I know of no quainter literature than is to be found in these very old New York papers. The advertisements alone are pregnant with suggestions of the pastcolour, atmosphere, the subtle fragrance and flavour of other days. We read that James Anderson of Broadway has just arrived from London ” in the brig Betsy ” with a load of ” the best finished boot legs.” Another gentle-man urges people to inspect his ” crooked tortoise-shell combs for ladies and gentlemen’s hair, his vegetable face powderhis nervous essence for the toothache, his bergamot, lemon, lavendar and thyme “and other commodities.
Sales were advertised of such mixed assortments as the following :
” A negro wench. ” An elegant chariot.
” Geneva in pipes, cloves, steel, heart and club, scale beams, cotton in bales, Tenerisse wines in pipes, and quarter casks.”
In several old papers you find that two camels were to be seen in a certain stable, at a shilling a head for adults and sixpence for children. The camels were a novelty and highly popular.
Take this item, for instance, from the good old Daily Advertiser, chronicler of the big and little things of Manhattan’s early days. It gives a fine example of old-style journalism. Observe the ingenuity with which a page of narrative is twisted into the first sentence. The last two are the more startling in their abrupt fashion of leaving the reader high and dry. The cow is starred; obviously the man appears a minor actor:
” On Thursday afternoon, as a man of genteel appearance was passing along Beekman Street, he was attacked by a cow, and notwithstanding his efforts to avoid her, and the means he used to beat her off, we are sorry to say that he was so much injured as to be taken up dead. The cow was afterward killed in William Street. We have not been able to learn the name of the deceased “! !
Some of the items contain genuine if unconscious humour,such as the record of the question brought up before the City Council: ” Whether attorneys are thought useful to plead in courts or not? Answer: ” It is thought not.”
Then there is the proclamation that if any Indian was found drunk in any street, and it could not be ascertained where he got the liquor, the whole street was to be fined!
Among the earlier laws duly published in the press was that hogs should not be ” suffered to goe or range in any of the streets or lands.” In 1684. eight watchmen were appointed at twelve-pence a night. But read them for yourselves,they are worth the trouble you will have to find them !
There were many queer trades in New York, and all of them, or nearly all, advertised in the daily journals. In column on column of yellowed paper and quaint f-for-s printing, we read exhortations to employ this or that man, most of them included in the picturesque verse whose author I do not know:
“Plumbers, founders, dyers, tanners, shavers, Sweepers, clerks and criers, jewelers, engravers, Clothiers, drapers, players, cartmen, hatters, nailers, Gaugers, sealers, weighers, carpenters, and sailors!”
And read the long-winded, yet really beautiful old obituary notices; the simple news of battles and high deeds; the fiery, yet pedantic, political editorials. Oh, no one knows anything about Father Knickerbocker until he has read the same newspapers that Father Knickerbocker himself read,when he wasn’t writing for them!
The Revolution had passed and Greenwich was a real village, and growing with astonishing rapidity, even in that day of lightning development.
In 1807 they started to do New York over, and they kept at it faithfully and successfully until 1811. Then began the laying out of streets according to numbers and fixed measurements, instead of by picturesque names and erratic cow-path meanderings. Gouverneur Morris, Simeon de Witt and John Rutherford were appointed by the city to take charge of this task, and, as one writer points out, they did not do it as badly as they might have done, nor as we are inclined to think they did when we try to find our way around lower New York today. The truth is that Greenwich had grown up, and always has grown up ever since, in an entirely independent and obstinate fashion all its own. There was not the slightest use in trying to make its twisty curlicue streets conform to any engineering plan on earth ; so those sensible old-time folk didn’t try. William Bridges, architect and city surveyor, entrusted with the job, mentions ” that part of the city which lies south of Greenwich Lane and North Street, and which was not included in the powers vested in the commissioners.” And so Our Village remains itself, utterly and arrogantly untouched by the confining orthodoxy of the rest of the town!
The passing of the British rule was the signal for variously radical democratic changes, not only in customs and forms, but in nomenclature. After they had melted up a leaden statue of King George and made it into American bullets, they went about abolishing every blessed thing in the city which could remind them of England and English ways. The names of the streets were, of course, nearly all intrinsically English. A few of the old Dutch names persistedBleecker, Vandam, and so onbut nearly every part of the town was named for the extolling of Britain and British royalty. Away then, said New York, with the sign manuals of crowns and autocracy!
In 1783, when the English evacuated Manhattan, the Advertiser published: ” May the remembrance of this DAY be a lesson to princes! ” and in this spirit was the last vestige of imperial rule systematically expunged from the city. Crown Street was a red rag to the bull of Young America; it was called Liberty, and thus became innocuous! Queen Street doffed its ermine and became homely and humble, under the name of Cedar. King Street was now Pine. King George Street was abolished altogether, according to the chronicles. One is curious to know what they did with it; it must be difficult to lose a street entirely! A few streets and squares named for individual Englishmen who had been friendly to America were left unmolestedAbingdon Square, and also Chatham Street, which had been given its appellation in honour of the ever popular William Pitt, Earl of Chatham; Chatham Square, indeed, exists to this day.
Greenwich was at all times a resort for those who could afford it, an exclusive and beautiful country region where anyone with a full purse could go to court health and rest among the trees and fields and river breezes. It was destined to become the most popular, flourishing and prosperous little village that ever grew up over night. Those marvellously healthy qualities as to location and air, that fine, sandy soil, made it a haven, indeed, to people who were afraid of sickness. And in those days the island was continually swept by epidemicsviolent, far-reaching, and registering alarming mortality. Greenwich seemed to be the only place where one didn’t get yellow fever or anything else, and terrorised citizens began to rush out there in droves, not only with their bags and their baggage, and their wives and children, but with their business too!
John Lambert, an English visitor to America in 1807, writes:
“As soon as yellow fever makes its appearance, the inhabitants shut up their shops and fly from their homes into the country. Those who cannot go far on account of business, remove to Greenwich, situate on the border of the Hudson about two or three miles from town. The banks and other public offices also remove their business to this place and markets are regularly established for the supply of the inhabitants.”
Things went so fast for Greenwich during the biggest of the yellow fever ” booms ” that one old chronicler (whose name I regret not being able to find) declares he ” saw the corn growing on the corner of Hammond Street (West Eleventh) on a Saturday morning, and by the next Monday Niblo and Sykes had built a house there for three hundred boarders!”
Devoe says that:
” The visits of yellow fever in 1798, 1799, 1803 and 1805 tended much to increase the formation of a village near the Spring Street Market and one also near the, State Prison; but the fever of i 882 built up many streets with numerous wooden buildings for the uses of the merchants, banks (from which Bank Street took its name), offices, etc.”
” `The town fairly exploded,’” quotes Macatamney,from what writer he does not state,- ” ` and went flying beyond its* bonds as though the pestilence had been a burning mine.’ ”
It was in 1822 that Hardie wrote :
” Saturday, the 24th of August our city presented the appearance of a town beseiged. From daybreak till night one line of carts, containing boxes, merchandise and effects, was seen moving towards Greenwich Village and the upper parts of the city. Carriages and hacks, wagons and horsemen, were scouring the streets and filling the roads; persons with anxiety strongly marked on their countenances, and with hurried gait, were hustling through the streets. Temporary stores and offices were erecting, and even on the ensuing day (Sunday) carts were in motion, and the saw and hammer busily at work. Within a few days thereafter the custom house, the post office, the banks, the insurance offices and the printers of newspapers located themselves in the village or in the upper part of Broadway, where they were free from the impending danger; and these places almost instantaneously became the seat of the immense business usually carried on in the great metropolis.”
Bank Street got its name in this way, the city banks transferring their business thither literally overnight, ready to do business in the morning.
Miss Euphemia M. Olcott in her delightful recollections of the past in New York, gives us some charming snapshots of a still later Greenwich as she got them from her mother who was born in 1819.
” She often visited in Greenwich Village, both at her grandfather’s and at the house of Mr. Abraham Van Nest, which had been built and originally occupied by Sir Peter Warren. But she never thought of going so far for less than a week! [She lived at Fulton and Nassau streets.] There was a city conveyance for part of the way, and then the old Greenwich stage enabled them to complete the long journey. This ran several times a day, and when my mother committed her hymn :
“`Hasten, sinner, to be wise,
Ere this evening’s stage be run’
she told us that for some years it never occurred to her that it could mean anything in the world but the Greenwich stage.”
In further quoting her mother, she tells of Sir Peter’s house itselfthen Mr. Van Nest’sas a square frame residence, with gardens both of flowers and vegetables, stables and numbers of cows, chickens, pigeons and peacocks. In the huge hall that ran through the house were mahogany tables loaded with silver baskets of fresh-made cake, and attended by negroes.
In our next chapter we are going back to meet this house a bit more intimately, and find out something of those who built it and lived in it, that fine gentleman, Sir Peter Warren and his beautiful lady,Susannah.
But let us not forget.
Greenwich was not exclusively a settlement of the rich and great nor even solely a health resort and refuge. There were, besides the fine estates and the mushroom business sections, two humbler off-shoots : Upper and Lower Greenwich. The first was the Skinner Road-now Christopher Street; the second lay at the foot of Brannan Streetnow Spring. To the Upper Greenwich in 1796 came a distinction which would seem to have been of doubtful advantage,-the erection of the New York State Prison. It stood on Amos Street, now our Tenth, close to the river and was an imposing structure for its timetwo hundred feet in length with big wings, and a stone-wall enclosure twenty feet in height.
Strange to say the Greenwichers did not object to the prison. They were quite proud of it, and seemed to consider it rather as an acquisition than a plague spot. No other village had a State Prison to show to visitors; Greenwich held its head haughtily in consequence.
A hotel keeper in 1811 put this ” ad.” in the Columbia:
” A few gentlemen may be accommodated with board and lodging at this pleasant and healthy situation, a few doors from the State Prison. The Greenwich stage passes from this to the Federal Hall and returns five times a day.”
Janvier says that the prison at Greenwich was a ” highly volcanic institution.” They certainly seemed never out of trouble there. Behind its walls battle, murder and sudden death seemed the milder diversions. Mutiny was a habit, and they had a way of burning up parts of the building when annoyed. On one occasion they shut up all their keepers in one of the wings before setting fire to it, but according to the Chronicle ” one more humane than the rest released them before it was consumed.”
Hugh Macatamney declares that these mutinies were caused by terrible brutality toward the prisoners. It is true that no one was hanged in the jail itself, the Potter’s Field being more public and also more convenient, all things considered, but the punishments in this New York Bridewell were severe in the extreme. Those were the days of whippings and the treadmill,a viciously brutal invention,of bread and water and dark cells and the rest of the barbarities which society hit upon with such singular perversity as a means of humanising its derelicts. The prison record of Smith, the ” revengeful desperado ” who spent half a year in solitary confinement, is probably of as mild a punishment as was ever inflicted there.
In the grim history of the penitentiary there is one gleam of humour. Mr. Macatamney tells it so well that we quote his own words:
“A story is told of an inmate of Greenwich Prison who had been sentenced to die on the gallows, but at the last moment, through the influence of the Society of Friends, had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment, and was placed in charge of the shoe shop in the prison. The Quakers worked for his release, and, having secured it, placed him in a shoe shop of his own. His business flourished, and he was prominently identified with the progress of the times. He had an itching palm, however, and after a time he forged the names of all his business friends, eloped with the daughter of one of his benefactors and disappeared from the earth, apparently. ` Murder will out.’ A few years after the forger returned to the city, and established him-self under an assumed name in the making of shoes, forgetting, however, to maintain complacency, and thinking that no one would recognise him. In a passion at what he considered the carelessness of one of his workmen regarding the time some work should have been delivered, he told the man he should not have promised it, as it caused disappointment. ` Master,’ said the workman, ` you have disappointed me worse than that.’ ` How, you rascal?’ ` When I waited a whole hour in the rain to see you hanged.’ ”
In 1828 and 1829 the prisoners were transferred to Sing Sing, and the site passed into private hands and the Greenwich State Prison was no more. I believe there’s a brewery there now.
It is an odd coincidence that the present Jefferson Market Police Court stands now at Tenth Street,though a good bit further inland than the ancient State’s Prison. The old Jefferson Market clock has looked down upon a deal of crime and trouble, but a fair share of goodness and comfort too. It is hopeful to think that the present regime of Justice is a kindlier and a cleaner one than that which prevailed when the treadmill and the dark cell were Virtue’s methods of persuading Vice.
Someone, I know not who, wrote this apropos of prisons in Greenwich :
“In these days fair Greenwich Village lept by Hudson’s rural shores, Then the stage from Greenwich Prison Drove to Wall Street thrice a day Now the sombre `Black Maria’ Oftener drives the other way.”
But I like to think that the old clock, if it could speak, would have some cheering tales to tell. I like to believe that ugly things are slip-ping farther and farther from Our Village, that honest romance and clean gaiety are rather the rule there than the exception, and that, perhaps, the day will sometime dawn when there will be no more need of the shame of prisons in Greenwich Village.
The early social growth of the city naturally centred about its churches. Even in Colonial days conservative English society in New York assembled on Sunday with a devotion directed not less to fashion than to religion. We must not forget that America was really not America then, but Colonial England. A graceful militarism was the order of the day, and in the fashionable congregations were redcoats in plenty. The Church of England, as represented and up-held by Trinity Parish, was the church where everyone went. If one were stubborn in dissentingwhich meant, briefly, if one were Dutch one attended such of those sturdy outposts of Presbyterianism as one could find outside the social pale. But one was looked down upon accordingly.
It is not hard to make for oneself a colourful picture of a typical Sunday congregation in these dead and gone days. Trinity was the Spiritual Headquarters, one understands; St. Paul’s came later, and was immensely fashionable. Though it was rather far out from Greenwich the Greenwich denizens patronised it at the expense of time and trouble. A writer, whose name I cannot fix at the moment, has described the Sabbath attendance:ladies in powder and patches alighting from their chaises; servants, black of skin and radiant of garment; officers in scarlet and white uniforms (Colonel ” 01″ de Lancey lost his patrimony a bit later because he clung to his!)a soft, fluttering, mincing crowdmost representative of the Colonies, and loathed by the stiff-necked Dutch.
Trinity got its foothold in 1697, and the rest 56 of the English churches had holdings under the Trinity shadow. St. Paul’s (where Sir Peter Warren paid handsomely for a pew, and which is today perhaps the oldest ecclesiastic edifice in the city, and certainly the oldest of the Trinity structures) was built in 1764, on the street called Vesey because of the Rev. Mr. Vesey, its spiritual director. The ” God’s Acre ” around it held many a noted man and woman. Yet, as it is so far from the ground in which we are now concerning ourselves, it seems a bit out of place perhaps. But one must perforce show the English church’s beginnings, soon to find a more solid basis in St. John’s Chapel, dear to all New Yorkers even nowadays when we behold it menaced by that unholy juggernaut, the subway.
St. John’s was begun in 1803 and completed in 1807. It was part of the old King’s Farm, originally granted to Trinity by Queen Anne, who appears to have done quite a lot for New York, take it all in all. It was modelled after St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, in London, and always stood for English traditions and ideals. This did not prevent the British from capturing the organ designed for it and holding it up for ransom in the War of 1812. The organ was made in Philadelphia, but was captured en route by the British ship Plantaganet, a cruiser with seventy-four guns, which was in the habit of picking up little boats and holding them at $100 to $200 each. Luckily the church bell had been obtained be-fore the war!
In regard to the organ, the Weekly Register of Baltimore has this to say:
” A great business this for a ship of the line. “Now a gentleman might suppose that this article would have passed harmless.”
St. John’s Park, now obliterated and given over to the modernism of the Hudson River Rail-road Company, used, in the early fifties, to be still fashionable. Old New Yorkers given to remembrance speak regretfully of the quiet and peace and beauty of the Old Parkwhich is no more. But St. John’s is still with us, ” sombre and unalterable,” as one writer describes it, ” a stately link between the present and the past.”
And doubtless nearly everyone who reads these pages knows of St. John’s famous ” Dole “the Leake Dole, which has been such a fruitful topic for newspaper writers for decades back.
John Leake and John Watts, in the year 1792, founded the Leake and Watts’ Orphan House and John Leake, in so doing, added this curious bequest:
” I hereby give and bequeathe unto the rector and inhabitants of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the State of New York one thousand pounds, put out at interest, to be laid out in the annual income in sixpenny wheaten loaves of bread and distributed on every Sabbath morning after divine service, to such poor as shall appear most deserving.”
This charity has endured through the years and is now the trust of St. John’s. I have been toldthough I do not vouch for it that the bread is given out not after divine service but very early in the morning, when the grey and silver light of the new day will not too mercilessly oppress the needy and unfortunate, some of them once very rich, who come for the Dole.
In 1822 St. Luke’s was builtalso a part of the elastic Trinity Parish, and probably the best-known church, next to old St. John’s, that stands in Greenwich Village today.
The prejudices of the English Church in early New York prevented the Catholics from gaining any sort of foothold until after the British evacuation. In 1783 St. Peter’s, the first Roman Catholic Church, was erected at Barclay Street, and much trouble they had, if account may be relied on. The reported tales of an escaped nun did much to inflame the bigoted populace, but this passed, and today St. Joseph’s, which was built in 1829, stands on the corner of Washington Place and Sixth Avenue.
It is not far away, by the bye, that the old Jewish cemetery is to be found. Alderman Cur-ran quaintly suggested that an unwarned stranger might easily stub his toe on the little graveyard on Eleventh Street. It is Beth Haim, the Hebrew Place of Rest, close to Milligan Lane. The same Eleventh Street, which (as we shall see later) was badly handicapped by ” the stiff-necked Mr. Henry Brevoort” cut half of Beth Haim away. But a corner of it remains and tranquil enough it seems, not to say pleasant, though almost under the roar of the Elevated.
The Presbyterian churches got a foothold fairly early;probably the first very fashionable one was that on Mercer Street. Its pastor, the Reverend Thomas Skinner, is chiefly, but deservedly, renowned for a memorable address he made to an assembly of children, some time in 1834. Here is an extract which is particularly bright and lucid:
” Catechism is a compendium of divine truth. Perhaps, children, you do not know the meaning of that word. Compendium is synonymous with synopsis ” ! ! !
The old Methodist churches were models of Puritanism. In the beginning they met in carpenter shops, or wherever they could. When they had real churches, they, for a long time, had separate entrances for the sexes.
It was after I had read of this queer little side shoot of asceticism that I began to fully appreciate what a friend of mine had said to me concerning the New Greenwich.
” The Village,” he said, ” is a protest against Puritanism.” And, he added: ” It’s just an island, a little island entirely surrounded by hostile seas! ”
The Village, old and new, is a protest. It is a voice in the wilderness. Some day perhaps it will conquer even the hostile seas. Anyway, most of the voyagers on the hostile seas will come to the Village eventually, so it should worry!
The Green Village is green no longer, except in scattered spots where the foliage seems to bubble up from the stone and brick as irrepressibly as Minetta Water once bubbled up thereabouts. But it is still the Village, and utterly different from the rest of the city. Not all the commissioners in the world could change the charming, erratic plan of it; not the most powerful pressure of modern business could destroy its insistent, yet elusive personality. The Village has always persistently eluded incorporation in the rest of the city. Never forget this : Greenwich was developed as independently as Boston or Chicago. It is not New York proper: it is an entirely separate place. At points, New York overflows into it, or it straggles out into New York, but it is first and foremost itself. It is not changeless at all, but its changes are eternal and superbly in-dependent of, and inconsistent with, metropolitan evolution.
There was a formative period when, socially speaking, the growth of Greenwich was the growth of New York. But that was when Greenwich was almost the whole of fashionable New York. Later New York plunged onward and left the green cradle of its splendid beginnings. But the cradle remained, still to cherish new lives and fresh ideals and a society profoundly different, yet scarcely less exclusive in its way, than that of the Colonies. It has been described by so many writers in so many ways that one is at a loss for a choice of quotations. Perhaps the most whimsically descriptive is in 0. Henry’s ” Last Leaf.”
” In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called ` places.’ These ` places’ make strange angles and curves. One street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paint, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent having been paid on account! ”
And Kate Jordan offers this concerning Waverly Place:
” Here Eleventh and Fourth streets, refusing to be separated by arithmetical arrangements, meet at an unexpected point as if to shake hands, and Waverly Place sticks its head in where some other street ought to be, for all the world like a village busybody who has to see what is happening around the corner.”
But what of the spirit of Greenwich? The truth is that first and foremost Greenwich is the home of romance. It is a sort of Make Believe Land which has never grown up, and which will never learn to be modern and prosaic.
It is full of romance. You cannot escape if, no matter how hard you try to be practical. You start off on some commonplace stroll enoughor you tell yourself it will be so; you are in the middle of cable car lines and hustling people and shouting truck drivers, and street cleaners and motors and newsboys, and all the component parts of a modern and seemingly very sordid citywhen, lo and behold, a step to the right or left has taken you into another country entirely I had well-nigh said another world. Where did it come fromthat quaint little house with the fanlight over the door and the flower-starred grassplot in front? Did it fall from the skies or was it built in a minute like the delectable little house in ” Peter Pan “? Neither. It has stood there right along for half or three-quarters of a century, only you didn’t happen to know it. You have stepped around the corner into Greenwich Village, that’s all.
” In spots there is an unwonted silence, as though one were in some country village,” says Joseph Van Dyke. ” . . . There are scraps of this silence to be found about old houses, old walls, old trees.”
Here, as in the fairy tales, all things become possible. You know that a lady in a mob-cap and panniers is playing inside that shyly curtained window. Hark! You can hear the thin, delicate notes quite plainly: this is such a quiet little street. A piano rather out of tune?. Perish the thought! Dear friend, it is a spinet,a harpsichord. Almost you can smell pot-pourri.
Perhaps it was of such a house that H. C. Bunner wrote:
“We lived in a cottage in old Greenwich Village, With a tiny clay plot that was burnt brown and hard;
But it softened at last to my girl’s patient tillage, And the roses sprang up in our little back-yard;”
The garden hunger of the Village! It is some-thing pathetic and yet triumphant, pitiful and also splendid. It is joyous life and growth hoping in the most unpromising surroundings : it is eager and gallant hope exulting in the very teeth of defeat. Do you remember John Reed’s
“Below’s the barren, grassless, earthen ring Where Madame, with a faith unwavering Planted a wistful garden every spring, Forever hoped-for,never blossoming.”
Yet they do blossom, those hidden and usually unfruitful garden-places. Sometimes they bloom in real flowers that anyone can see and touch and smell. Sometimes they come only as flowers of the heartwhich, after all, will do as well as another sort,in Greenwich Village, where they know how to make believe.
Here is how Hugh Macatamney describes Greenwich :
” A walk through the heart of this interesting localitythe American quarter, from Fourteenth Street down to Canal, west of Sixth Avenue-will reveal a moral and physical cleanliness not found in any other semi-congested part of New York; an individuality of the positive sort transmitted from generation to generation; a picturesqueness in its old houses, ` standing squarely on their right to be individual’ alongside those of modern times, and, above all else, a truly American atmosphere of the pure kind.”
“Please remember, too, that in 1816 Greenwich Village had individualism enough to be the terminus of a stage line from Pine Street and Broadway, the stages ` running on the even hours from Greenwich and the uneven hours from Pine Street.”
You walk on through Greenwich Village and you will expect romance to meet you. Even the distant clang of a cable car out in the city will not break the spell that is on you now. And if you have a spark of fancy, you will find your romance. You cannot walk a block in Greenwich without coming on some stony wall, suggestive alley, quaint house or vista or garden plot or tree. Everything sings to you there; even the poorest sections have a quaint glamour of their own. It gleams out at you from the most forbidding surroundings. Sometimes it is only a century-old door knocker or an ancient vine-covered wallbut it is a breath from the gracious past.
And as you cannot go a step in the Village without seeing something picturesque so you cannot read a page of the history of Greenwich with-out stumbling upon the trail of romance or adventure. As, for example, the tale of that same Sir Peter Warren, whose name we have encountered more than once before, as proper a man as ever stepped through the leaves of a Colonial history and the green purlieus of Old Greenwich!