This is one in a series of posts marking the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District. Click here to check out our year-long activities and celebrations.
The streets, parks, and squares of the Greenwich Village Historic District are named for a unique collection of historical figures. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Greenwich Village Historic District (GVHD), we have developed a guide to how these locations got their names. Click here to read other posts about the origins of GVHD Street names.
Today we look at a few along the western edge of the neighborhood.
Bethune Street is one of the few streets in our series that is named for a woman. Joanna Graham Bethune was an early 19th-century educator and philanthropist who ceded the land for the street to the city. Joanna, along with her mother Isabella, were founders of some of the first charitable associations to aid poor women and children.
- Interesting Fact: Joanna Bethune opened the first school for “young ladies” and in 1806 joined Mrs. Alexander Hamilton in founding the New York Orphan Asylum at Barrow and Fourth Streets, which was demolished in 1833.
Perry Street was named for Commodore Perry. Not for Commodore Matthew Perry, who opened Japan to the west and was (for a time) entombed in the St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery burial ground, but his older brother, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. He was nicknamed “The Hero of Lake Erie” for his role in the decisive American victory in the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813 during the War of 1812. Oliver may have become the more famous Commodore Perry brother if not for his early demise at age 34 from Yellow Fever.
- Interesting Fact: On October 19, 1817 Perry fought a duel with Captain John Heath on the same field where Alexander Hamilton faced Aaron Burr thirteen years earlier. Heath shot first and missed. Perry declined to return fire. Perry was then challenged to another duel by Captain Jesse Elliott, which he declined to fight. His status as a war hero allowed him to escape being branded a coward.
Grove Street / Grove Court
Grove Street and Grove Court are named for the verdant groves that were here prior to the site being developed in the mid-19th century. In 1799, the street was named Columbia Street. It was soon changed to Cozine Street after a well-known local family. It was changed to Burrows Street for Captain William Burrows. The captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the War of 1812, Burrows captured the H.M.V. Boxer in a battle on September 13, 1813 in which both ship captains were killed. Due to confusion with nearby Barrow Street, the name was later changed to Grove Street. The six small Grove Court brick townhouses were built in 1853-1854 to house laborers and tradesmen. The area was nicknamed “mixed Ale Alley,” after the cheap liquor drank by the working-class residents.
- Interesting Fact: Grove Court survived a 1950s demolition plan and this private enclave is now one of the most coveted row of townhouses in Greenwich Village. Grove Court is also well-noted for being the setting to O. Henry’s 1907 short story “The Last Leaf”. The 1952 film version was shot on location.
Like Commerce Street, Bank Street was named after the Bank of New York located here when Yellow Fever epidemics in lower Manhattan drove business uptown to Greenwich Village. In 1798, a clerk in the Bank of New York on Wall Street contracted Yellow Fever. The bank purchased eight lots on the then nameless Greenwich Village lane. It constructed a bank on the site in the case its Wall Street location was quarantined.
- Interesting fact: Established in 1784 by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (among others), the Bank of New York provided the United States government its first loan in 1789. The loan was arranged by then U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to pay the salaries of Congress and the President. It would go on to fund the Erie Canal, the federal government in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and the NYC Subway.
Want to learn about the story behind more street names in the Greenwich Village Historic District, or more interesting facts about and sites within the Greenwich Village Historic District? Check out our Greenwich Village Historic District 1969-2019 Map and Tours at www.gvshp.org/GVHD50tour.