Heaven on the Hudson: How Riverside Park covered its tracks and became a breathtaking spot

PODCAST The highs and lows of the history of Riverside Park

In peeling back the many layers to Riverside Park, upper Manhattan’s premier ribbon park, running along the west side from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights, you will find a wealth of history that takes you back to Manhattan’s most rugged days.

The windswept bluffs overlooking the Hudson River were home to only desolate mansions and farmhouses, its rock outcroppings appealing to tortured poets such as Edgar Allan Poe. But the railroad cleaved the peace when it laid its tracks along the waterfront in the 1840s.

To encourage development, the city planned Riverside Park as a respite with commanding views of the river and a swanky carriage way for afternoon excursions. But the original plan by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted only went so far — right up to those pesky train tracks.

In the 20th century, residents along the newly chic Riverside Drive tired of the smoky mess. It would take the ‘master builder’ himself — Robert Moses — to finally conceal those tracks and create a new spot for recreational facilities. In doing so, he threaded his new park with a new noisemaker — the Henry Hudson Parkway.

We give you the grand overview history of this extraordinary park THEN we visit the park itself to give you the full dynamic sound experience, reviewing Riverside’s most spectacular attractions.

PLUS: The strange story of two great monuments at 125th Street, the final resting place for a great military leader and a five year old boy, whose tragic story has inspired generations of poets.

FEATURING: George and Ira Gershwin, Charles Schwab, Joan of Arc, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (in non political capacities!)

LISTEN HERE:

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From an 1855 map of Manhattan, showing the still-rugged terrain of the area west of Central Park

 

1896, Museum of the City of New York

 

Detroit Publishing Co.,Created / Published between 1910 and 1920 / Library of Congress

In the early 1900s, the park was extended further north. This depicts the scene near 148th Street, near a ‘bathing beach’ that couldn’t have been very pleasant to visit during construction.

MCNY

 

Riverside Park and Drive in the 1920s — the park stops at the tracks.

Another image from 1910, showing the exposed tracks and the waterfront.

 

Photograph shows the unveiling of the Joan of Arc statue, Riverside Park, New York City on Dec. 6, 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2013)

 

The original tomb of Ulysses S. Grant, circa 1886….

Library of Congress

Replaced by his more famous resting place in 1897, in Olmsted’s carriage loop. (Olmsted was no longer associated with Riverside Park or else he might have taken issue with its placement.)

1901/Library of Congress

The fabulous Claremont Inn which drew thousands of weary New Yorkers after a long stroll in Riverside Park.

Detroit Publishing Co., 1900/ Library of Congress

A view of Grant’s Tomb, Claremont Inn, the Manhattan Valley Viaduct and a glorious pier structure.

1906/Library of Congress
New York Public Library

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument. (Read more about it here.)

New York Public Library

The Rice residence at West 89th Street and Riverside Drive

Wurts Brothers/MCNY

The Firemen’s Memorial, pictured here in 1929

MCNY

 

The tomb of the Amiable Child, 1900 and 1925

MCNY

The Henry Hudson Parkway and the Boat Basin, 1975

New York Times/MCNY

A portion of Riverside Park South, developed by Donald Trump.

A glorious little marina sits in front of the Boat Basin.

The Hamilton Fountain, at West 76th Street, named for the man who bequeathed it to the city — Robert Ray Hamilton, the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton.

 

Up the hill and through the trees, you will find the contemplation spot for one of America’s most famous writers.

The Warsaw Ghetto Memorial — or rather, where a memorial should be.

Just west of the peacefulness of Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Plaza:

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, completed in 1902.

 

A message of thanks from the ASPCA….

The Amiable Child monument today…..

…just steps away from Grant’s Tomb.

 

All hail Joan!

 

FURTHER LISTENING

After listening to this story of Riverside Park, check out these related Bowery Boys podcasts —

For more information on Upper West Side development:

For more information on the westside railroad: