With the construction of the New York State-financed Croton Water Aqueduct in 1842, the area began to lose its rural character. The aqueduct ran along present day Amsterdam Avenue, bringing water to the city through iron pipes placed inside masonry channels. The partially buried and covered over aqueduct created a ten-foot high roadway that impeded drainage and obstructed views from the surrounding grand estates.
The Landscape of West Harlem
West Harlem is comprised of three neighborhood areas linked together from 110thStreet to 155th Street along the Hudson River. Most of Morningside Heights, the southernmost neighborhood in West Harlem, was developed in a concentrated burst of growth between 1900 and 1915, galvanized by the advent of the IRT subway line. This compressed timeline fostered a variety of architectural styles and social and economic distinctions within a consistent physical framework. By WWI, Morningside Heights had emerged as New York City’s first middle-class apartment house neighborhood. Upper middle-class families settled into architecturally impressive apartment buildings along Riverside Drive, Cathedral Parkway, Broadway and Claremont Avenue. Middle-class households moved into more modest but comfortable six to eight story buildings on the side streets and Morningside Drive. Apartment buildings for lower middle-class families appeared along Amsterdam Avenue and some side streets. Clusters of single-family row houses, which have since been broken up into apartments, were built on side streets.
Manhattanville which is located in the valley near 125th Street, became incorporated as a village in 1806. The village soon boasted a commercial waterfront, stables, warehouses, icehouses, and factories. A rail station and ferry terminal in the 1800s, and then the IRT subway station in the early 1900s, helped spur industrial growth, and commerce and transportation converged in a thriving waterfront.
Dairies and meatpacking industries, including Sheffield Farms (today’s Prentis Hall) and the McDermott-Bunger Dairy, moved into the area. Automobile manufacturers established operations in Manhattanville in the 1920s, and the Studebaker and Warren Nash Service Center buildings still stand today.
The IRT subway viaduct, with an arch spanning 168 feet and rising 55 feet above the street, linked the two heights areas together making it one community. Historically and architecturally, Hamilton Heights & Sugar Hill are one of New York City’s richest and most diverse neighborhoods. The development of the area from West 135th to West 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue to the Hudson, spans a period of over 350 years and is an exciting and evolving chapter of the settlement of Manhattan Island and the development of New York City. The first non-native settlers of the area were farmers of diverse origins (eleven Frenchmen, four Walloons, four Danes, three Swedes, three Germans, and seven Dutchmen) who were offered land grants by the Dutch West India Company after founding Nieuw Amsterdam at the foot of Manhattan in 1625.In 1658, Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant established the Village of New Harlem, which includes the area now known as Hamilton Heights. During the Revolutionary War, temporary fortifications were built throughout Harlem Heights as far north as 160th Street. In September 1776, several skirmishes occurred between what is now West 130th Street and West 145th Streets. Following the defeat of the Continental Army at the Battle of Brooklyn in the previous August, these encounters were the first demonstration of the ability of the Continental Army to match at least the better-trained and equipped British forces.
In 1791, the Bloomingdale Road was extended to meet the Kingsbridge Road at present day West 147th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue giving easier access to the area and attracting residents who often created grand estates and country retreats, enticed by the cool breezes, panoramic views, and inexpensive land with rich soil. The last remaining great house of this period is The Grange (1801-2), the twelve-room country home of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. The Federal-style house, designed by John McComb Jr., a co-designer or City Hall, is now a museum operated by the National Park Service, open to visitors daily. Hamilton’s thirty-two acre property extended from present day Hamilton Place on the west, to Hamilton Terrace on the east, and from West 140th to West 147th Streets.