Jones's Wood

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Jones's Wood was a block of farmland on the island of Manhattan overlooking the East River that has left some vestigial mark on the present-day Upper East Side of New York City. The farm of 132 acres (53 ha), known by its 19th-century owners as the Louvre Farm, extended from the Old Boston Post Road (approximating the course of Third Avenue) to the river and from present-day 66th Street to 75th Street.[1] It was purchased from the heirs of David Provoost (died 1781)[2] by the successful innkeeper and merchant John Jones, to provide himself a country seat near New York.[3] The Provoost house, which Jones made his seat, stood near the foot of today's 67th Street.[4] After his death the farm was divided into lots among his children. His son James retained the house and its lot. His daughter Sarah, who had married the shipowner and merchant Peter Schermerhorn on April 5, 1804, received Division 1, nearest to the city. On that southeast portion of his father-in-law's property, Peter Schermerhorn, soon after his marriage, had first inhabited the modest villa overlooking the river at the foot of today's 67th Street.

In 1818 Peter Schermerhorn purchased the adjoining property to the south from the heirs of John Hardenbrook's widow Ann, and adding it to his wife's share of the Jones property— from which it was separated by Schermerhorn Lane leading to the Hardenbrook burial vault overlooking the river at 66th Street— named his place Belmont Farm. They at once moved into the handsomer Hardenbrook house looking onto the river at the foot of East 64th Street;[5] there he remained, his wife having died on April 28, 1845. The frame house survived into the age of photography, as late as 1911.[6] It survived an 1894 fire that swept Jones's Wood almost clear and remained while the first building of The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, now Rockefeller University, was erected to its south. The block of riverfront property now occupied by Rockefeller University is the largest remaining piece of Jones's Wood. The house was razed after 1903.[7]

After 1850 Jones's Wood entered the broader history of New York when suggestions for setting aside a large public park, which was eventually to result in the creation of Central Park, lit first on the wooded Jones/Schermerhorn estate on the East River.[8] Intermittent editorials in Horace Greeley's New York Tribune and William Cullen Bryant's Post had offered rosy images of rural Jones's Wood. State senator James Beekman, who had a share in the grand Federal-style Beekman house between today's 63rd and 64th Streets that abutted the modest Hardenbrook-Schermerhorn villa,[9] lobbied the city aldermen in 1850, and a resolution was duly passed in 1851 to acquire the Jones's Wood property, which, the New York Herald said, "would form a kind of Hyde Park for New York".[10]

When the Joneses and Schermerhorns proved reluctant to part with the property, Beekman introduced a bill into the state Senate to authorize the city to appropriate the land by eminent domain; Beekman's bill passed unanimously on June 18, 1851; it passed the Assembly as well, and the governor signed it into law on July 11.[11] The proposal for paying for the improvements through a general assessment met stiff opposition, however, and the Jones and Schemerhorn heirs, who had thwarted the project to open Second Avenue through their estate, successfully brought suit, and the application of eminent domain was declared unconstitutional. The clamorous arguments fought in the newspapers over a city park then shifted to proposals for a "Central Park" and the expansion of the Battery's grounds.[12]

Peter Schermerhorn died on June 23, 1852,[13] and during the next decade the Jones and Schermerhorn cousins soon discovered that though they had retained possession of their landscaped estate, the pressures of the city's inexorable northward growth soon hemmed them on two sides. Casual pilferage of fruit from their orchards and the presence of German beer gardens along the Post Road at the gates of their shaded country lane encouraged them to lease a portion of the land for a commercial picnic ground and popular resort hotel, the Jones's Wood Hotel; the hotel extended the old Provoost house,[14] adding a dance pavilion, shooting range and facilities for other sports. Jones's Wood became the resort of working-class New Yorkers in the 1860s and 70s, who disembarked from excursion steamers and arrived by the horsecars and then by the Second Avenue Railroad, to enjoy beer, athletics, patriotic orations and rowdy entertainments that were banned by the prim regulations of the city's new Central Park:[15] Valentine Mager, the proprietor, pointedly advertised in the New York Times on April 25, 1858, that his grounds (enlarged by additional leases from Joneses and Schermerhorns) were "on the whole, the only place on the Island where a person can enjoy or make himself comfortable."[16] Here the Caledonian Society repaired for Highland games, and the daredevil Charles Blondin performed, who "sought out perilous localities, eligible for his performance, in various parts of the Republic ; and, among other famous spots, Jones's Wood — a sort of wild and romantic Vauxhall or Cremorne, on the banks of the Hudson," George Linnaeus Banks (Blondin: his life and performances, 1862:42) had it, slightly misplacing the riverside site. Thomas Francis Meagher's address to the "Monster Irish Festival" at Jones's Wood on August 29, 1861, was memorable enough for excerpts to be printed among inspiring exemplars of oratory in Beadle's Dime Patriotic Speaker (1863:55).

The northern section of the Louvre Farm, as the families still termed it, from 69th to 75th Streets, was divided into lots in 1855, advertised to the public as part of the "beautiful property so well known as Jones's Wood" and sold for residential development.[17]

The year 1873 marked the last of the old Wood, as trees were being felled to allow for construction.[18] Several proprietors succeeded to the leases of the amusement park, and John F. Schultheis, who had purchased some Schermerhorn lots outright, erected his "Colisseum" about 1874. It occupied the full frontage on Avenue A (now York Avenue) between 68th and 69th Streets, providing an entrance to Jones's Wood, and extended over most of the ground towards the river. It had seating for 14,000 spectators.[19] To the north, Schultheis established a second picnic ground, which he called "Washington Park." Below the bluff, right on the river's edge, a single-story Greek Revival structure behind a colonnade, alleged by a New York Times journalist to have been a riverfront chapel erected by the Schermerhorns for Sunday services for their neighbors along the river, was rented as a bathing house by the Pastime Athletic Club in 1877;[20] they remained there for twenty years, while Schultheis gradually raised their annual rent from $180 to $1250,[21] then decamped for 90th Street and the East River.[22]

"Jones's Wood, the general and inclusive term for the neighborhood, was razed by fire in 1894", Hopper Striker Mott recorded in 1917. "At break of day on May 16th the East River bluffs from 67th to 71st Street were practically swept of buildings".[23] The fire covered 11 acres (4.5 ha). Fifty horses perished in the stables, and the "Silver King" fire engine was overtaken by flames and incinerated. The Jones house, occupied by John F. Schultheis, Jr, was burnt, but the Schemerhorn house, standing in the path of 67th Street, was spared. On the site now stand several institutions: Weill Cornell Medical Center and the Hospital for Special Surgery.

In 1903 John D. Rockefeller purchased the remaining block of the Schermerhorn farm, which had already been subdivided into about 110 lots, preparatory to sale, and extended from 64th Street to 67th Street, and from Avenue A to the newly plotted "Exterior Street", for $700,000.[24] 65th Street and 66th Street had never been cut through the property and were de-mapped. The projected "Exterior Street" along the river was subsumed into the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive. This is the site today of Rockefeller University.

By 1911, "The Schermerhorn country place at Jones Wood, where until recently also there was a Schermerhorn residence, is now the site of model tenements.[25] The real estate holdings of the family rank about third in the scale of those having ownership for two centuries," exclaimed Town & Country on May 26, 1911, exaggerating by about a century.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Walter Lispenard Suydam, "History of the Schermerhorn family", The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 36 (July 1905:204); Hopper Striker Mott, "Jones's Wood" in Valentine's Manual of the City of New York 1917–1918 (1917:140-59).
  2. ^ William L. Stone, History of New York City from the Discovery to the Present Day 1872:491 notes the currently neglected grave slab over the broken walls of the family vault.
  3. ^ Suydam 1905; Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, The Park and the People: A history of Central Park (1994:20f).
  4. ^ Represented on map "First Avenue, Sixty Eighth Street, Louvre Farm 1855", Manhattan from Tuttle Farm Titles Directory, 1877; 71st Street, is the inaccurate estimate of Mott 1917:147.
  5. ^ The site, identifiable on the map "First Avenue, Sixty Seventh Street, Widow Hardenbrook 1830", Tuttle Farm Titles Directory 1877, is now the landscaped Peggy Rockefeller Plaza in the University's campus: (campus map).
  6. ^ The New York Times, 9 July 1911, describes the house as "overlooking the river at the end of Sixty-fourth Street, near the corner of Exterior Street"
  7. ^ New York Times, 9 July 1911.
  8. ^ Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (1994:20f) and Dorceta E. Taylor, The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600-1900s (2009: ch. 7 "Conceptualizing urban parks") summarize the agitation in favor of Jones Wood.
  9. ^ An early-19th-century river view (New-York Historical Society) showing both houses enveloped in woodland is illustrated as Rosenzweig and Blackmar 1994:figure, p. 21; Beekman's own seat was the Beekman house on a rise between 50th and 51st Streets between today's First and Second Avenues,
  10. ^ New York Herald, 15 July 1850, quoted in Rosenzweig and Blackmar 1994:28.
  11. ^ Rosenzweig and Blackmar 1994:21.
  12. ^ Rosensweig and Blackmar 1994:44f.
  13. ^ Suydam 1905.
  14. ^ According to Mott 1917:147; by 1872 the house was a dilapidated ruin, according to Stone's History of New York (noted by Mott p. 157).
  15. ^ Rosenzweig and Blackmar 1994:233-36; the "moral park" pp25f.
  16. ^ Quoted in Mott 1917:147.
  17. ^ New York Times advertisement, 16 October 1855 quoted by Mott 1917:147.
  18. ^ Mott 1917:155.
  19. ^ Mott 1917:156.
  20. ^ There appear on the 1877 map both a narrow rectangular "Swimming Basin" below the foot of 65th Street and a "Swimming Bath" below the foot of 64th Street.
  21. ^ New York Times 9 July 1911.
  22. ^ Listing in Handbook of the Amateur Athletic Union, 1908.
  23. ^ New York Times, "Jones's wood swept away; fire ravages the historic spot", New York Times, 17 May 1894; Mott 1917:156.
  24. ^ New York Times, July 1911.
  25. ^ The last survivor of the ten tenement buildings for working-class families, now considered luxury apartments, is 354 East 66th Street on the southwest corner of First Avenue, commissioned from the architect Henry J. Hardenbergh, by William C. Schermerhorn, F. Augustus Schermerhorn and Ellen Schermerhorn Auchmuty.