This is the first part of a three part series on the Weehawken Street Historic District. This small historic district is comprised of only fourteen buildings but represents a wonderful cross section of the development of Greenwich Village’s Hudson River waterfront. The designation of this District was due in large part to the efforts of GVSHP.
During Dutch rule in the 1600’s, what’s now the Weehawken Street Historic District was part of the land holdings in and around Greenwich Village of the second director general of New Amsterdam, Wouter van Twiller. This land made up his personal plantation, known as Bossen Bouwerie, where he cultivated tobacco. During English rule of New York, the area was part of the vast land tract along the Hudson of Sir Peter Warren, an admiral in the British Navy. Following Warren’s death in 1752, his heirs in England sold off these land holdings.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the area of the Weehawken Street Historic District was chosen to house New York State’s first prison, the Newgate State Prison, designed by Joseph-Francois Mangin and constructed in 1796-97. The four acre site was bounded by Christopher Street, Washington Street, Perry Street and the North (Hudson) River. The prison was comprised of a number of buildings surrounded by high stone walls on its perimeter and oddly became one of Greenwich Village’s first tourist attractions, according to I.N. Phelps Stokes’ Iconography of Manhattan Island.
Although Newgate was founded in the spirit of reform of criminal punishment, it had problems with overcrowding and poor conditions and was the scene of frequent riots and breakouts. In 1824, former New York City Mayor Stephen Allen (1821-1824) was appointed as commissioner to recommend changes in the state prison system. One of his recommendations was closing Newgate in favor of the newly constructed Sing Sing up the Hudson River. By 1826 the Newgate prison was bought by New York City from the State and the City plotted the land and sold it in 1829, reserving the block front along West Street between Christopher and Amos (later West 10th) Streets for the site of a future market. Jacob Lorillard, a successful New York City entrepreneur, purchased the prison buildings which he converted into a sanitorium spa in 1831.
In 1829 New York’s Common Council passed a resolution to create a new Greenwich Market fronting West Street between Christopher and Amos Streets. Speculative New Yorkers bought lots on the east side of the planned Weehawken Street (named for the ferry connection to the New Jersey town) in anticipation of the market; however, the market building was not constructed until 1834. It was officially known as Greenwich Market but unofficially known as Weehawken Market distinguishing it from the other Greenwich Market one block away on Christopher Street.
The market building was a long, open shed structure of wooden construction and with wide overhanging eaves. This type of construction was inexpensive and quick to build. The design allowed for ease of access by patrons and for unloading wares. Unfortunately the Weehawken Market was never wholly successful and the structure was only used until 1844 as a market for meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, then was abandoned. In 1848, it was divided into seven separate lots and sold by the City to four individual owners. No. 392-393 West Street/6 Weehawken Street is thought to be the sole survivor of the original Weehawken Market. It was sold in 1848 to George M. Munson, a boat builder who lived on Christopher Street. Munson was most likely responsible for enclosing the structure and adding the second story.
Other surviving buildings in the district from this era include No. 398 West Street (1830-1831) and No. 7 Weehawken Street (c. 1830-31). No. 398 West Street is a Federal rowhouse which was built for flour merchant Isaac Amerman. The house was next owned from 1832 to 1839 by William and Gerardus Post, paint dealers who were among the wealthiest men of the day in New York. No. 7 Weehawken Street, a rowhouse and stable, was built for Jacob P. Roome, a carpenter who served as New York City Superintendent of Repairs (1807-31). It was purchased in 1845 by Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt (1794-1871), father of future-President Theodore Roosevelt, and was retained by the Roosevelt Estate until 1920.
In the next installment of this blog series, we will look at the Weehawken Street Historic District following the Civil War and into the beginning of the twentieth century as the Hudson River surpassed the East River as the primary artery for maritime commerce.