If you are using a car for your exploration of Lower New York, you can easily see many interesting parts of the city on your way uptown from the Battery. If you are exploring on foot, you will probably be `through’ for the day after you have seen City Hall.
On Broadway between City Hall and Madison Square (23d Street) there is not a great deal to interest a visitor unless he is a special student of Old New York meaning New York of the nineteenth century in its middle decades: where Barnum had his first museum; where A. T. Stewart began business in a twelve-foot wooden store; where Christy’s Minstrels played; where `Jim’ Fisk was shot; etc. Wanamaker’s Department Store, which is one of `the sights’ of New York, is at Broadway between 8th and 10th Streets; and Grace Church is at Broadway and 10th.
West of this lies Greenwich Village, and east of it is the Bowery and Astor Place, with Cooper Union.
You might, if you took the Subway to Bowling Green or to the Battery, take a Broadway bus from City Hall to the Uptown street nearest your hotel; or take one to 8th Street, have a look at Wanamaker’s, or a rest there, with tea and music; and there board a Fifth Avenue bus for your ride uptown.
If you are sight-seeing by automobile, you may choose whether you would like to go north by way of Broadway with a detour to Greenwich Village and then from Washington Square up Fifth Avenue; or take a northeasterly route from City Hall through many foreign quarters, the Bowery, Stuyvesant Square, etc., to your hotel.
I suggest the latter, because it would be difficult to see other-wise, whereas you can easily go by yourself to Wanamaker’s, to Washington Square, and to Greenwich Village. What you can easily do, if you have a car for the day, is to go down to the Battery via Fifth Avenue, Washington Square, Greenwich Village, and Broadway; and after having seen Lower New York as outlined in the foregoing pages, return by way of Chinatown, Mulberry Street, the Bowery, Gramercy Park, etc. For many visitors, that one day of sight-seeing below 42d Street may be all they desire, leaving the other days of their stay in New York for Uptown delights museums, shops, etc. most of which can be explored without assistance.
I shall not attempt to offer step-by-step directions for that quarter which includes Chinatown, the Ghetto, and their neighbors; for I think that few of New York’s many visitors go there unguided. Many go to Chinatown at night in a sightseeing bus, on a `gaping’ expedition. If you want a real revelation of what interests lie in New York’s vast foreign population, you must go with someone who has studied it with sympathy and understanding, and learned to know it, not `in a mass,’ but through individuals who represent the whole. A few contacts with persons who typify either the dwellers in those quarters of New York or the little army of workers who devote their lives to social service there is worth any amount of such `gaping’ as a stranger may do. If you do not wish to take with you a courier from some such bureau as Mrs. Jennings’, then see if you cannot get a letter to one of the residents in a Settlement House like the Jacob Riis at 48 Henry Street, the University Settlement at Rivington and Eldridge Streets, or the College Settlement at 84 First Street, or the Nurses’ Settlement, 265 Henry Street. A letter is not necessary, but it helps.
That young person who so frequently made her way down to Franklin Square, used also to be (lucky youngster!) a very good friend of Jacob Riis and to spend time with him in his office on Mulberry Street, opposite the old Police Headquarters where his admirer, Theodore Roosevelt, had been Police Commissioner. What hours of enchantment those were! What with the Under-world being controlled (more or less) from across the street, and `the other half’ living thick on every hand, so that the great-hearted little police reporter for the New York Sun could not if he would! make a single foray from his humble office without becoming more and more conscious of their problems and more and more eager to make others conscious of them too. I sometimes think I haven’t forgotten a single thing Jacob Riis ever told me else how could so many treasured recollections remain? and though some of this may have been due to my eagerness, I’m sure that mostly it is due to the vividness of his personality and to the great sincerity of his fervor.
Police Headquarters, of which we hear so much on the radio that nearly everyone wants to visit it, is at Grand, Broome, and Centre Streets, and is a fascinating place to spend an hour if you can. The most interesting time to be there is in the morning at nine o’clock when the line-up of prisoners takes place before an audience of detectives assembled to look them over and listen to what they have to say in answer to the questions asked them. The prisoners appear on a small stage that is strongly lighted, and speak into an amplifier so that everyone in the big gymnasium can hear what they say. There is a good deal of comedy, induced by their efforts to be evasive, and an occasional touch of tragedy. Much to reflect upon.
Chinatown, like the `old gray mare,’ `ain’t what she used t’be,’ and no longer stages shows for the gaping tourists; but it is not without interest. The Bowery has become a humdrum, dreary street. There is a very considerable amount of slum-clearance going on in many parts of New York, though nothing like so much as there ought to be. The only way to get a worth-having idea of New York’s problem in this respect, and what is being done to meet it, is as I have said to go with some-one who knows where the most significant spots are; someone who has made a study of municipal and social endeavor.
On East 4th Street, between Lafayette Place and the Bowery, you will find, at No. 29, an amazing bit of Old New York: the dwelling of one Seabury Tredwell, a prosperous hardware merchant who built it in 1830. It was surrounded then by a garden with magnolia trees; and John Jacob Astor lived just over a brick wall.
Tredwell, of aristocratic English and Knickerbocker stock, was the nephew of a Tory clergyman who was the first Episcopal bishop of New York after we became a nation. The nephew was not a Tory, but he was intensely conservative. He is said to have been the last man in New York to wear a pig-tail.
He furnished his new home with the best pieces brought from his earlier residence, on Dey Street (south of Fulton Street) and added new articles which were the best of the period. The house was elegant; it satisfied Mr. Tredwell and presumably his family; they settled down to enjoy it, and as years went by they made no changes. They added nothing, discarded nothing.
One after another the Tredwells went on, till there was just one daughter left. She lived to a very great age (ninety-two), dying only in 1933, more than a century after her father built this house; and for forty years she was a helpless invalid who never left the bedroom floor. But all that time the whole house was kept as it had always been.
After her death (she died in the crimson-canopied mahogany bed in which she was born) the house was bought by a new society formed to preserve New York’s historic monuments, and it is now open to the public.
I’d go, by all means, to see it, if that sort of thing interests you. And if you go, ask to be shown the mysterious `well’ between the master’s and the mistress’s bedrooms on the second floor. A trapdoor, concealed by a drawer in the dressing-room between those chambers, gives access to a dark well down which ran a ladder to the level of the drawing-room floor; and there is a niche in which a man can stand upright. No one living knows for what use Seabury Tredwell intended it, or whether he ever utilized it.
As you go uptown from the Bowery, you pass Astor Place, where Cooper Union is, on the site of Peter Cooper’s grocery store. It was, however, not the grocery business that enabled Peter to found and endow Cooper Union to be `forever devoted to the advancement of science and art in their application to the varied and useful purposes of life.’ He built, when he was thirty-seven, the Canton ironworks in Baltimore, where he designed and constructed for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad the first steam locomotive built in America, the Tom Thumb. In one of his several factories the first iron structural beams were made (in 1854) and the Bessemer process was first tried in America (in 1856). He was actively interested with Cyrus Field in the laying of the first Atlantic cable, and it was his money which made possible the New York, Newfoundland and Telegraph Company, of which he was president; he was also president of the North American Telegraph Company, which controlled more than half the telegraph lines of the United States.
Himself practically unschooled, he took a prominent part in educational affairs, and in 1857 more than twenty-five years before his death he founded Cooper Union to provide free courses in instruction, lectures, and other opportunities for self-advancement. Cooper Union, further endowed by Peter’s son, Edward, and his son-in-law, Abram S. Hewitt, by Andrew Carnegie and others, has done a great work of education for tens of thousands of New York’s underprivileged youth. Many famous speakers have been heard there. It was at Cooper Union that `the prairie giant,’ Lincoln, made the speech of February 27, 1860, which changed New York’s opinion of him from derision to respect.
You may want to see the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, which contains many treasures, including the Pierpont Morgan Collection of Textiles, a fine collection of laces, the Jacob Schiff Collection of eighteenth-century French and Chinese silks, and several collections of old furniture.
When you leave Cooper Union, take Stuyvesant Street, which runs northeast from Astor Place, to Second Avenue. At 10th Street and Second Avenue you will find the famous old Church of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie, where Peter Stuyvesant’s burial vault is incorporated in the east wall. It was from a grave in that churchyard that the body of A. T. Stewart was stolen, soon after burial; it was never recovered. St. Mark’s was built at the end of the eighteenth century; but there has been nothing of the eighteenth century, nor even of the nineteenth, in the interpretation given there, these twenty-five years past, to the religion of Christ. Its former rector, the Reverend Dr. William N. Guthrie, used to be a thorn in the flesh of his bishop and of other staid churchmen; but he made an earnest, and intelligent, effort to bridge the gap between traditional, formal religion, as many churches preserve it, and the seething modern life of such a population as now exists on the fringes of the Bowery.
It was the annual Sunday-school picnic of St. Mark’s, on June 15, 1904, which took the old steamer, the General Slocum, to go up the East River to picnic grounds. Off Blackwell’s Island she caught fire and more than a thousand perished by burning or drowning.
You ought to see something (and know something) of Fourteenth Street; but you can do that on another day. So, continue up Second Avenue to Stuyvesant Square, where you will find St. George’s Church, of which the first J. P. Morgan was a warden and a faithful attendant. When St. George’s was built, in the forties, there was an unimpeded view from it to the East River. Members of New York’s `best families’ began to settle in the vicinity, and Stuyvesant Square, Rutherford Place, Irving Place, became among the most desirable addresses in New York. By the last decade of the nineteenth century they had been pressed out by the tide of German immigrants coming northward on Second Avenue. But for a considerable period after the fine old houses were abandoned by the very elegant, they were even more notably occupied by a literary colony. And always, these forty years past, Tammany chiefs have lived here, close but not too close! to the `pee-pul.’ Many doctors live there now, close to the hospitals.
It is, perhaps, the Quaker meeting-house, next to St. George’s, which gives Stuyvesant Square an air that reminds some of old Philadelphia. There are many hospitals there, now; but the charm of yesteryears has not wholly departed.
From Stuyvesant Square, turn west on 17th Street to Irving Place, which begins at East 14th Street and runs north to Gramercy Park.
The Washington Irving High School, between 16th and 17th Streets, is one of the outstanding high schools of the country and much visited by persons interested in education. The murals by Barry Faulkner, the gift of Mrs. E. H. Harriman, depict many scenes in the early history of New Amsterdam. At the southwest corner of 17th Street and Irving Place is the house which once belonged to Washington Irving’s nephew. There, in his later days, Irving spent some time, occupying the large room on the ground floor. At No. 55, north of 17th Street, 0. Henry once lived.
Don’t miss `Pomander Walk,’ or `Cottage Row,’ on East 19th Street between Irving Place and Third Avenue. There, prosperous architects and artists have remodeled old houses and stables and created what many persons consider the most charming block in New York.
At Nos. 26-28 East 20th Street is the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt, now the Roosevelt Memorial Museum.
Gramercy Park has suffered a good many changes in recent years, but still retains much of its aristocratic charm and exclusiveness. It was part of a twenty-acre farm, back in the mid-years of the eighteenth century; the farm belonged to James Duane, once Mayor of New York, and he named it `Gramercy Seat.’ In 1831 a large portion of this farm was bought by Samuel Ruggles, who laid out the park and cut up the land around it into sixty-six large lots which he sold to a very select list of New Yorkers each of whom became a joint owner of the little park. Peter Cooper, who had just built the first American locomotive, probably was not yet affluent enough to buy one of those lots; but he built a house as near to them as he could get, on Lexington Avenue (where some of his descendants still dwell), and when he had founded Cooper Union and helped to lay the Atlantic cable, the trustees of Gramercy Park conferred on him, as an Order of Merit, a key to Gramercy Park.
In the iron-fenced, box-hedged and beautifully shaded Square stands a bronze statue of Edwin Booth as `Hamlet.’ In 1888 Booth bought No. 16 Gramercy Park and gave Stanford White a commission to remodel it as a club for members of the dramatic profession and of kindred professions. He lived at the club, and died there on June 7, 1893. His room is piously preserved, just as he left it. His fine collection of books, pictures, playbills, prints relating to the theater has been greatly augmented by other gifts and is now the most important in America.
Walls may have ears; but if those at 16 Gramercy Park had tongues, they could tell tales that would last more than a Thousand-and-One Nights and never for a moment lag in interest.
No. 17 was the boyhood home of James W. Gerard, former United States Ambassador to Germany. Nos. 14 and 15, now the National Arts Club, were the home of Samuel J. Tilden, eminent lawyer, reformer, governor of New York, and candidate for the Presidency, who was one of the founders of the New Public Library. No. 21 was the home for many, many years of John Bigelow, father of Poultney Bigelow, who was once joint-editor with William Cullen Bryant of the New York Evening Post; later, United States Minister to France. He and Tilden were close friends.
Stanford White, Cyrus W. Field, and Robert Ingersoll were a few among the many other noted residents of Gramercy Park. Today, the Park is the home of many clubs, including The Players and the National Arts.
Go, now, west on 23d Street to Madison Avenue and turn north, following the east side of Madison Square which once upon a time was the Potter’s Field; and years later was supremely elegant. Madison Square Garden, Stanford White’s triumph, with its Giralda tower atop which stood Saint-Gaudens” Diana,’ occupied the square bounded by 26th and 27th Streets, Madison and Fourth Avenues, where the New York Life Building is now. (The new Madison Square Garden, which has nothing to do with Madison Square, is on Eighth Avenue, at 49th to 50th Streets.) Note the Eternal Light in Madison Square, a memorial to Gold Star Mothers. And of course you’ll identify the famous clock tower of the Metropolitan Life Building.
Baseball, which used to be called `The New York Game,’ was much played in Madison Square before the Civil War. Some think that there it had its genesis.