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The Origins of Greenwich Village Street Names, Part V

The streets, parks, and squares of Greenwich Village are named for a unique collection of historical figures. Last year in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Greenwich Village Historic District we developed a guide to how many of the locations within the Greenwich Village Historic District got their names.  Today we go beyond the bounds of the Greenwich Village Historic District to explore street name origins all over the neighborhood — north, south, east, and west.

Washington Around The Village

The south end of today’s Washington Street were first seen on maps around 1797, back when it bordered the Hudson River.  In 1808 the land which formed the street was ceded by Trinity Church to the city and named for the first President of the United States. By the late 18th century, Washington Street extended north to 14th Street, largely on landfill. Since the 1950s, most of Washinton Street South of Hubert Street in TriBeCa has been demapped and built over for a variety of projects, including the World Trade Center, the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Independence Plaza. But north of Hubert Street it’s still going strong, forming the spine of the Far West Village and Meatpacking District.

Washington Square Park: this former potters field was named after George Washington on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Read more about Washington Square Park’s history here.

Washington Square Park Labor Day Parade, 1912. Village Preservation Image Archive, New York Bound Bookshop Collection — www.archive.gvshp.org.

Washington Place extends three blocks east and three blocks west from Washington Square Park. It was likely named Washington Place after the park, as there is no record of Washington Place in the 1827-28 NYC directory.

Washington Mews was laid out in the 1830s as the fashionable homes on Washinton Square North were being built. Along with MacDougal Alley and Stuyvesant Street, it was originally part of the Lenape trail that connected the Hudson and East Rivers. Many of the what look like stables built to serve the wealthy 1830s homeowners were actually built much later by the real estate industry as homes designed to look like stables in order to appeal to the “gentrifiers” of the day.

Late 1950s photo of the Washington Mews looking towards University Place. Image via the Village Preservation Image Archive www.archive.gvshp.org.
  • Fun Fact- Washington is the ninth most popular non-numbered street name in America. There are 4,974 streets in the country named Washington.

Greenwich Ave & Greenwich Street

Greenwich Street was one of the earliest roads running from the Battery to 14th Street. It was built on landfill between 1739 and 1785. originally named First Street, it was renamed Greenwich Street in 1761. There are a few places where Greenwich Street takes odd-angled turns, reflecting its former shoreline location.

The Ninth Avenue/Greenwich Street El, shortly after it was first constructed. the line once ran the entire length of Greenwich Street, pictured here at Gansevoort Street (image courtesy NYPL digital library)

Greenwich Ave was formerly named Greenwich Lane. This path connected Greenwich Village to the Bowery, the main north/south thoroughfare in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

  • Fun Fact- a block of Greenwich Street de-mapped to build the World Trade Center is now re-mapped as a walking path between Vesey and Barclay Streets.

Bleecker Street & Bleecker Playground

Bleecker Street is named for Anthony Lispenard Bleecker and his family. This street ran along the northern border of the Bleecker family’s farm and in 1808, Bleecker and his wife deeded most of the land where Bleecker Street is located o the city. Anthony Lispenard Bleecker was one of early NYC’s most wealthy and powerful men. He was a banker, merchant, auctioneer, a founder of the New-York Historical Society, and a vestryman and warden for Trinity Church. Read more about Bleecker Street here.

Early Bleecker Street maps0 1807 map by Wm. Bridges (left) and 1824 map by William Hooker (right)

Bleecker playground doesn’t have as much exciting history behind its name. It is a multi-use municipal playground that opened in 1966. It is named for its location on Bleecker Street and was the West Village’s first public playground.

  • Fun Fact- the current Bleecker Street includes the former Herring Street (renamed to Bleecker in 1829) and Carroll Place (renamed to Bleecker in 1860)

MacDougal Street & MacDougal Alley

MacDougal Street was named for Alexander McDougall, a Scottish-born representative of New York to the Continental Congress.  He was a successful New York merchant, one of the founders of the Sons of Liberty, and a founder and first president of the Bank of New York. He was friends with Alexander Hamilton and served under George Washington, eventually replacing Benedict Arnold as commander of West Point.

Alexander McDougall painted by Edgar Brown Smith, Frances Tavern Museum, New York City

MacDougal Alley, similar to Washington Mews, was formed to serve the stables that backed up the homes on Washinton Square North in 1833. The street was officially named in 1883.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in her studio 1920

4 responses to “The Origins of Greenwich Village Street Names, Part V

  1. I lived on West 8th Street, in an elegant parlour floor apartment during 1965 or so. Next to the school, it was demolished for a line of single story retailers, prior to landmarking. A great loss.
    Greenwich Avenue at 6th Avenue, meanders northwestward from this long block.

  2. I was born 77 years ago in Greenwich Village. So many fantastic indelible memories! Such as a kid playing in the Washington Square fountain – then later joining passionate political protests under the Arch – The coffee houses on McDougall Street -poets, black tights – listening to Nina Simone at the Vanguard, the crazy configurations of the streets in the west village that (I was told) were built along the already established cow paths!
    I was in the last graduating class of the old PS 41. And speaking of which…also indelible in my mind, where the air raid shelter drills held down in the basement at PS 41 or being told by our teachers, when the sirens went off , to duck under our desks. The memory of the underside of those Desks filled with bubblegum and old pumpkin seed shells is indelible. what do you see my last memory before I died ? Now, I think of the children in Ukraine doing the same, and I am heartbroken. No, the fear never leaves one!
    Maggie Kotuk

  3. My great-grandfather, Henry Martyn Baker, was born at 16 Gold Street in 1828. He was the son of Cornelius Baker who was one of the founders of NYU in 1831. His business interests were all down town, but in 1829 moved to 393 Greenwich at the “corner of Beach.” I always thought that Greenwich Street was the western most street – that everything west of Greenwich was on filled land. Am I correct?

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