New York City – Fifth Avenue, Around 58th And Central Park In 1858

This view is of particular interest as it shows Fifth Avenue looking south, from about 65th Street to 59th in 1858. This picture appeared originally in “Valentine’s Manual” for 1859, but the caption there given is so incomplete as to be wholly misleading. It is called “View in Central Park, 1858.” No attempt has been made to define the exact locality portrayed nor to give the names of the buildings shown in the picture, which would have served the same purpose. Consequently, one of the most valuable views in the entire series of New York’s iconography has thus been practically overlooked. At all events it has never received that measure of breathless interest with which we are sure it will henceforth be regarded when our description of it is read, and it becomes generally known that the little dirt road, running catty-cornered through the picture and half hidden by scrub pines and bushes, is no less a personage than our own ravishingly beautiful heroine—M’lle Fifth Avenue—the Pride of Manhattan. She looks somewhat bedraggled and forlorn in this picture, but that was before Prince Charming claimed the beautiful Princess. In the second scene she is arrayed in all the splendor of her present queenly state, and superbly well does she disport her royal raiment.

If we follow the little dirt road in the first picture to where it disappears from view in the lower left hand corner, we shall have traversed Fifth Avenue from about 59th Street to 65th along the Eastern wall of Central Park. If we reverse our steps and proceed toward the large building almost in the centre, we come first to a small wooden structure, probably an abandoned “shanty,” common in these regions at this time, at the edge of a pond. This afterward became the clubhouse of the famous New York Skating Club, so charmingly described in our last number by Mr. Irving Brokaw. It was a very swagger affair in those days. This site is now where the Cornelius Vanderbilt house and the Plaza hotel stand.

The avenue is still a dirt road and so continues for several blocks further down, but we now have the location more definitely fixed in our mind and we have no difficulty in recognizing the large, ornate building on the right as that of St. Luke’s Hospital. The dome to the right is the cupola of the Crystal Palace at 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue. Beyond 54th to about 45th Street there are no houses, most of the vacant land being the old Elgin Botanical Gardens, extending almost to Sixth Avenue and now forming the source of the wealth of Columbia College. The building of the latter is plainly seen on the left. This was formerly the old Deaf and Dumb Asylum. The University had only recently moved there from Murray Street and College Place. The Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum is the imposing building between the College and St. Luke’s and is in quite a wooded section, being almost hidden by trees. The present sites of the Union Club and of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are on the south.

At about 45th Street we see an indication of a half forgotten hostelry—Allerton’s Hotel, recalled to mind by the beautiful edifice of the same name now standing on 39th Street just beyond Lexington Avenue. East of this hotel were the cattle yards. Later on, Tyson’s market stood at the corner of 44th Street until the erection of the Harriman Bank building, and next to it was the old Willow Tree Inn. Allerton’s was the resort of the drivers and butchers, whose business brought them to this neighborhood. The Fifth Avenue bank commenced business in the house which afterward occupied the site of Allerton’s. It now occupies the old Langdon house directly opposite.

Private residences in this section, as can be seen from our picture, were not numerous nor closely built together. Dripp’s Map of 1860, however, mentions a few names as residents in the new neighborhood of “the 4th milestone” and mentions T. Ackerman, R. Cosine, J. Ward, J. Emmett, J. Kemp, C. McEvers, S. Hopper, D. Hertin, J. Wright and others. On another page we print a picture of a house on 45th Street which is a “close up” of a type of building common to the neighborhood. It is an interesting study in evolution when one compares the magnificent structures now occupying the same sites today.

Altogether this old view of Fifth Avenue is well worth while and will doubtless receive the closest attention of our readers. The magnificent private dwellings and clubhouses which now occupy the same section from 59th to 66th streets make a dramatic contrast to the open lots and the fenced-in corners of seventy years ago. No other city in the world can show such startling changes.

The final disappearance of the old house in which President Monroe passed the closing years of his life in New York is another reminder of the apathy displayed by the city toward such buildings of an historic nature as it still possesses. In the present instance the loss is not so keenly felt as would have been the case had the house been more of a personal possession of the author of the Monroe Doctrine. As a matter of fact, he came here after his terms of office were over—he was twice elected President—to share the hospitality of his daughter and his son-in-law, Mr. Samuel Gouverneur. So the building is somewhat bereft of the intimate personal association that would have been inseparable from a genuine home in which the statesman had played a more important role than that of a guest during a temporary sojourn.

Doubtless many New Yorkers gasped with astonishment to learn that so distinguished a citizen was at one time a resident of our city. It may induce some of them even to go so far as to find out what the Monroe Doctrine is all about, anyway.

The President died in this old house and was at first. interred in the Marble Cemetery. Quite a number of years afterwards his body was removed with appropriate ceremonies to his birthplace in Virginia, where it now rests.

We present our readers with a view of the block of which it formed a part. At the time the President lived there the house was in the centre of the row, but the widening of the street caused the disappearance of the adjoining houses, leaving the Monroe house on the corner. The block retains its original aspect, how-ever, and our sketch, though of recent date, is fortunate in preserving the building practically as it was in Monroe’s day. The following tablet was placed on the building in 1905 :

In this house died James Monroe Fifth President of the United States, who proclaimed The Monroe Doctrine. Upon which depends the freedom of the American republics and the safety of the United States against foreign aggression.

Born April 28, 1758. Died July 4, 1831 Soldier in the Continental Army, Member of the Continental Congress, American Envoy to Great Britain, France and Spain, Negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, Secretary of State, Secretary of War. Twice Governor of Virginia, Twice President of the United States.

The birthplace of that great American, Theodore Roosevelt, also twice President of the United States, on 20th Street, as it looked when he was born (1858) forms another interesting item. Plans for restoring the site to its original condition are now proceeding rapidly and will soon be an accomplished fact.

Another view we are sure will interest our readers is that of old “Steamship Row,” now the site of the Custom House. In a sense, this location is the most import-ant historically we possess in the city. It stands on the ground originally occupied by Fort Amsterdam, the seat of Government during the Dutch occupation and of the first official building erected on the Island. For years, the entire social, political and commercial life of our city rose and eddied around the buildings erected on this site. From the days of Peter Minuit to the present only four changes have occurred here—the last being the most important of all. From 1625 to 1815 it remained the property of the Government, changing after the Revolution from Federal to city control. In 1815 the authorities disposed of this land to private persons. And we notice among the purchasers the names of John Hone, who paid $10,250 for lot No. 1 (this lot and the building thereon was cut in half to permit the extension of Whitehall Street in 1853), James T. Leonard and Peter Remsen bought the next for $9,500, James Byers No. 3 for $9,750, Elbert Anderson No. 4 for $11,000, Abijah Weston $10,000 for No. 5, Dominick Lynch $11,500 for No. 6, Noah Brown the shipbuilder $16,600 for No. 7, A. Weston $8,150 for No. 8, Thomas R. Mercein $8,250 for No. 9, Robert Lenox $8,250 for No. 10, Joseph Blackwell $8,000 for No. 11, John Swartwout $20,000 for No. 12, A. Weston $5,000 for No. 13, Ferdinand Suydam $5,000 for No. 14, Edmund Smith $5,200 for No. 15, John Sharp $5,700 for No. 16 and the same for No. 17, $6,100.

The plot was bounded by Bowling Green, State Street, Bridge Street. The city received a total for all its holdings, including the old Custom House, of $164,783. It paid all but $80,000 to the Federal and State Governments for their interest in the plot; and this result was considered a magnificent fiscal achievement on the part of the Controller of the City, Mr. Mercein, who received wide acclaim for his successful management of the transaction.

In view of the fact that the city bought back the same identical site in 1907 from private interests, who then owned it, for the rather goodly sum of three million.dollars, we are inclined to think that perhaps the applause bestowed upon the worthy Controller was somewhat premature, to say the least.

Nevertheless, the city today owns the land which it owned at the very beginning of things, and, no matter what the cost, it is a good thing to have the original ownership restored. It will impart a permanency to this section of our city which of itself is a decided novelty in this town, and which is bound to be of value to the city as a whole.

The old Fort remained here for almost two centuries, but after the departure of the English at the end of the Revolution it was plainly seen that the use of this site as a fort had been outgrown. New York was then the capital of the United States and there was no reason to suppose that it would not so remain. Plans were immediately set on foot for the creation of a group of administrative buildings that would be commensurate with the importance and dignity of the newest of nations. And we must admit that the site chosen was one that even today dazzles the imagination with the architectural triumphs which might have been achieved with so noble, so inspiring a location. There was still time to have reserved all the island south of Bowling Green from river to river for Government purposes.

New York as the capital of the United States is an alluring picture. What might not have been done with the administrative buildings grouped behind the elms, the sycamores and the velvety lawns of Battery Park and the sparkling blue waters of the bay just beyond!

But it was not to be. One of the buildings—the Government House—was actually planned and erected. It never was occupied by President Washington, the House and Senate, as was originally intended. The capital was grabbed by Philadelphia within a year and the new building was turned over to the State. It was demolished about 1816 and never rebuilt. The land, as we have just related, was then sold to private par-ties.

We have chosen, therefore, to present as one of our supplements this year the four changes that have marked this site since its inception, and the first view shows it in its Dutch period.

This little sketch hung for many years in the room which served Director Stuyvesant and his nine men as an office. It was drawn by Kryn Fredericks, the engineer who accompanied Peter Minuit, and who superintended the erection of the Fort and the little houses of the settlers just outside the walls. We read in one of the day’s transactions in the Minutes of the Council that Stuyvesant suggested that it would be a nice thing to send over this little sketch of New Amsterdam, so that the Directors of the Company could see what a brave little settlement it was. And so it found its way to Holland, there to remain in obscurity until published some years later by Joost Hartgers, a printer in Amsterdam, who used the picture as an illustration to an eight-page ,pamphlet describing the little settlement which is now the great City of New York. So you are looking not only at a very interesting picture of Manhattan, but also at the first view of New York ever shown to the world.

The second picture shows the Government House. It is taken from a lithograph published at the time. This building seems to have been of quite substantial character for its time and quite imposing. It failed of its original purpose, however, and seems never to have had a very warm place in the affections of the city. A fire destroyed its usefulness and shortly after the War of 1812 it disappeared completely, to be succeeded by a row of private residences which for gorgeousness and luxury were without a rival in the city.

This short block became known as Bowling Green and was conceded to be the most exclusive and prominently social street in town. Yet for several years after their erection they were sans heat, sans bath, sans practically everything we now deem absolutely indispensable. There was no running water, the pump on the corner supplying their needs in this direction. Yet the houses themselves were of the finest construction and were furnished on a scale that would be called elaborate even today. Yet there was no gas ; light was supplied by candle or by wicks sticking in a dish of whale oil. And wood burning stoves were all that could be had to supply heat. Yet they were the highest type of private residence known to the city at that day and were occupied only by families of the largest means. Stephen Whitney was considered the richest man in the country at that time and the Hones, Lenoxes and other families were already among the very wealthy.

The old Row, therefore, came by its high social prestige quite legitimately. The first intimation of its coming fall from grace was when the Cunard Line seized upon one of the houses for an office. This thoroughly alarmed the remaining occupants, who were already sorely distressed at the continued influx of business immediately around them and the increasing distance between Bowling Green and the new fashionable districts–St. John’s Park, Second Avenue and Union Square. So the complete surrender to commerce was not long delayed. Curiously enough, the steamship men all seemed to be of the Cunard mind regarding the desirability of this location, and soon all the transatlantic lines were domiciled here.

As “Steamship Row” this old block is best remembered by old New Yorkers. So, as No. 3 in this series of changes, we are fortunate in being able to present this group as it looked in the heydey of its second period of popularity. Our view is from a sketch by Mr. Leo Hunter made in 1880, and we have no doubt it will be as greatly enjoyed by those who know it only by tradition as by those to whom it is a living pertinent memory.

Our last view brings us back to New York of today. The Custom House is a building of which the city is justly proud. It is of comparatively recent construction and is suitably inscribed with bronze tablets setting forth its history as the site of Fort Amsterdam, etc., as we have just recited.

We feel sure that our readers will enjoy these changing scenes of the site famous in our earliest annals, and once more restored to the ownership of its original proprietors.