It is sometimes hard to imagine that the East Village was once farmland, but so was nearly everything in Manhattan at one time or another that lay north of the city that was once concentrated on the far southern tip of the island. What makes the East Village special is that it was once all part of one great estate owned by a single family, the Stuyvesants. Today there only remains a single remanent of that family estate, a quirky little street with their name: Stuyvesant Street.
Today Stuyvesant Street is squeezed between Second and Third Avenues, though it originally stretched from what is today Fourth Avenue to First Avenue near 16th Street. Stuyvesant Street was laid out by Petrus Stuyvesant, great-grandson of New Netherland’s director-general Peter Stuyvesant, in 1787. The street was what we might today call a ‘driveway’ that ended at the site of the long-gone Stuyvesant mansion.
Petrus Stuyvesant would create his very own street network on the family estate. Streets were named after family members. Stuyvesant Street was at the core of this network with Nicholas William, Verplanck, and Quick Streets running parallel to the south and Peter, Governor, Gerard, Winthrop, and Ten Broeck Streets running parallel to the north. Named after his daughters Judith, Eliza, Margaret, and Cornelia Streets intersected these streets as they ran north to south.
This family road network would survive until the 1811 Commissioners Plan began to subsume these streets into the orderly grid as the city expanded north. Today only this tiny snippet of Stuyvesant Street remains. This private family road was finally opened to the public on January 25, 1830. The Minutes of the Common Council of that date stated the street was opened to the public as a “Public convenience and for the accommodation of a large and respectable Congregation attending St. Mark’s Church as well as the owners and occupants of several large and commodious dwelling houses… all of which would be destroyed, or rendered of little value, if that street were closed.” However, beyond just their name, the Stuyvesant legacy remains strong on this tiny street, even today.
At 21 Stuyvesant Street stands the 1804 Federal-style Stuyvesant-Fish House. The house was a gift from Petrus to his daughter Elizabeth and her husband Nicholas Fish. Their son Hamilton Fish was born and grew up in the house, and would go on to be Governor of New York, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant.
At the corner at which Stuyvesant Street currently ends at Second Avenue stands St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. The current structure was completed in 1799 and was by then part of the Episcopal Church. From 1660 to 1793 the site was home to the Stuyvesant family chapel and remains the resting place for nearly 80 members of the family, including Peter Stuyvesant himself.
While there are some hints of how far Stuyvesant Street once stretched, especially in the layout of some buildings east of Second Avenue, only this last piece of remaining street remains and is protected as part of the St. Mark’s Historic District. You can read the full St. mark’s Historic District Designation report and many others here.
But, a pressing question remains. Is Stuyvesant Street really the oddly laid out street that it seems to be, or are the rest of New York’s 1811 grid-planned streets really the slanted ones? It’s arguably a matter of perspective. Stuyvesant Street is in fact the only street in Manhattan that runs true west to east, which makes it appear crooked or off kilter in the context of Manhattans orientation towards the countries of the island. The rest of the Manhattan Street grow follows the only approximately north-south and east-west orientation of Manhattan island, and is about 29 degrees off axis.
If you are interested in learning more about the East Village’s streets and buildings, make sure to look at the East Village Building Blocks resource.