New York City – Gramercy Park And The Draft Riots, 1863

While Dr. Bellows and the Sanitary Commission were supplying the needs of our troops at the front the quiet of the Park was shattered by something very like the din of war, for during the Draft Riots of July, 1863; when negroes were strung up to lamp-posts and the negro Orphan Asylum was burned, Gramercy Park was in the midst of the turmoil. “From the Cooper Institute to Forty-sixth Street,” says the “Memorial History of New York,” “Third Avenue was black with human beings who hung over the eaves of the building, filled the doors and windows and packed the street from curb to curb.” Chief of Police George W. Walling, in his “Recollections” says : “At Third Avenue and Nineteenth Street, I learned for the first time, that riotry was in progress. I was told that the mob had attacked an enrolling office in Third Avenue, driven off the police and set fire to the building.” Dr. Austin Flint recalls that he made the acquaintance of Dr. William T. Lusk, when the latter „was in command of a detachment in Gramercy Park during the draft riots of 1863”; and the Minutes of the Park Trustees show that two years later they applied to the Government, unsuccessfully, to be reimbursed for “the expenses incurred by the Trustees of the Park in consequence of its occupation by a military force during the July riots in 1863.” Augustus Saint Gaudens at this time lived near the Park and in his autobiography he de-scribes the riots, and comments that “Later on, as the storm lessened, it was strange to see two cannons posted in Twenty-first Street at the northeast corner of Gramercy Park, pointing due East in the direction of the rioters.”

Happily the Park soon resumed its peaceful tenor, and its home life went on as before, perhaps even more actively than at present, for, though it is difficult to realize, it is none the less the fact, that in the early 60’s Gramercy Park was only a little northward of and very near the social centre of the City, as that was represented by the Academy of Music, on Irving Place and Fourteenth Street, then the only opera house which the City possessed, and the scene of all large social functions. Here was given the ever famous ball to the Prince of Wales on his visit in 1860, and at least two generations of old New Yorkers associate with the Academy all their recollections of Italian Opera, Philharmonics, College Commencements and public receptions. No part of the city, it may be safely asserted, has preserved its original character so consistently or retained its appearance with so little change. In 1883 one of the first co-operative apartment houses built in New York displaced several of the old dwellings at the east end of the Park and in later years this has been followed by three other apartment houses but there still remain most of the original houses built in compliance with the requirement of the trust deed that they should be of brick or stone and should be at least “three stories high.”