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When Greenwich Village was farmland

Here in Greenwich Village, we are surrounded by history.  So sometimes when I walk the streets, I try to imagine what life was like at different times in the past. When I see modest Federal style houses, I imagine a time in the early 1800’s when fresh water didn’t come from a faucet, but was collected from a nearby stream, or saved in a rain barrel as it slid off the pitched roof. To heat your house and cook your food, you didn’t adjust the thermostat or turn up the flame on the gas range;  you had to chop trees to burn in the fireplace. And your garden provided your vegetables, not the supermarket.

Or I imagine the crowded streets of the late 1800’s, when tenements housing 20 families rarely had the luxury of indoor plumbing.   Coal-burning stoves had replaced wood-burning stoves, and a horse-drawn wagon would deliver coal to each building, sending it down a chute to the coal bin in the basement.  From there, each tenant would bring a bucket of coal up to each apartment, perhaps using the dumb-waiter.

But today I’m thinking of earlier times, when most of the Greenwich Village area consisted of large family-owned estates. From the Hudson River to the East River, there were the estates of Sir Peter Warren, Anthony Bleecker, Henry Brevoort, and Pieter Stuyvesant.

L: the Warren Estate; R: Sir Peter Warren (images courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Gallery)

Sir Peter Warren was a British naval officer who owned 300 acres of land in today’s Far West Village and Hudson River waterfront. In the early 1740’s he built a stately home overlooking the Hudson River near present-day Charles Street. You can read more about the history of this estate HERE and HERE. After Warren’s death in 1752, his estate was divided among three daughters, and by the early 1800’s further divided and sold. Some of the street names in the area are all that is left of Sir Peter’s family legacy.

Anthony Bleecker, circa 1810, source: wikipedia

Anthony Bleecker owned land that he inherited from his father, Anthony Lispenard Bleecker, whose own father, James, came to New York from Albany and married into the wealthy Lispenard family. Anthony Bleecker and his wife deeded a major portion of their land to the city in 1808, which was divided and sold as Greenwich Village began to appeal to people looking to escape squalid conditions of lower Manhattan, around today’s Financial District. You can read more about the Bleecker legacy HERE.

Henry Brevoort owned 86 acres of land between today’s 9th and 18th Streets, Fifth Avenue and the Bowery. The extended Brevoort family has a rich and colorful history, and Village Preservation is presenting a program about them on Wednesday, December 4th. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the Brevoorts are responsible for the fact that 11th Street is not a through street from 4th Avenue to Broadway, today the site of Grace Church. You can read more about the Brevoort family legacy HERE.

circa 1665 source: www.rootsweb.ancestry.com

And finally, Pieter Stuyvesant, who was Governor of New Amsterdam and died in 1672 (we’re going way back here), left a large estate to his extended family. The lands included much of today’s East Village and adjacent Stuyvesant Town. You can read more about how that family name lives on HERE. Some of his descendants are notable: his great-great granddaughter Elizabeth married a military hero from the American Revolution, one Nicolas Fish. Their son, named Hamilton, after family friend Alexander Hamilton, became governor of New York, and he and his descendants served in various political positions, several representing New York State in Congress.

We hope you can join us to learn more about the Brevoort family in Greenwich Village. Visit our website for more information about Village Preservation public programs HERE.

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