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What’s in a Name: Bleecker Street

Image Courtesy of Frances Roberts for The New York Times

It is hard to imagine Bleecker Street, with its high fashion boutiques, small businesses, cafes, and food shops as farmland, but then again it is hard to visualize any part of Manhattan in its rural state. Bleecker Street’s provenance is that of the Bleecker family, prominent New York City citizens who owned farmland in the Village, as well as land downtown. While some publications, notably The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and their Origins credit Anthony Bleecker as the street’s namesake, other sources note his father, Anthony Lispenard Bleecker, as the source. Today, we will look into this as part of our series, ‘What’s In A Name?. The elder Bleecker was a prominent merchant and auctioneer, as well as a vestryman and warden of Trinity Church.  In 1809, he and his wife Mary ceded land to the city for the streets running through their property including  what was already named Bleecker Street.  His son was a lawyer and an author, and his poetry and prose was published in a number of periodicals.  He was also a founding member of the New-York Historical Society.

1807 map by Wm. Bridges (left) and 1824 map by William Hooker (right)

Bleecker Street’s unique shape is a helpful clue in understanding its provenance.  The original Bleecker Street ran from the Bowery to Broadway, and was the northern border of the Bleecker farm. A map surveyed and drawn by Wm. Bridges in 1807 shows that the western portion of Bleecker is named David Street. By 1824, the section between Broadway and what is to become 6th Avenue, where the street begins to turn northward, is now Bleecker as well. It is not until 1829, two years after the younger Anthony Bleecker dies, that this section of the street running northwest to Abingdon Square is changed from Herring Street to Bleecker Street. More about old Greenwich Village street names can be found on the site Forgotten New York.

An 1834 map drawn by D.H. Burr shows Bleecker Street as we know it today

So, it seems that perhaps Bleecker Street was named for both Anthony Bleeckers. However, whether the street was named for the elder or younger, New Yorkers certainly know how the name is spelled. Residents were more than mildly upset when the Department of Transportation inadvertently dropped the “c” in the street sign, as reported in the Villager in 2006.

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