Tag Archives: Collect Pond

The Story of Bayard’s Mount, Lower Manhattan’s Missing Mountain

Bayard’s Mount, one of the highest points in Manhattan, has been gone for more than two hundred years. Where other hills and high points have been incorporated into the modern topography New York, this old hill was wiped from the map.

Bayard’s Mount used to sit at around where Mott and Grand Streets meet today, in today’s Little Italy. Indeed, back when nearby SoHo was but a dense thicket of oak and tulip trees, the Mount was the best place to view the waters of Collect Pond, the wild northern orchards, and the flat tidal creeks to the west.

A smaller hilltop, called Mount Pleasant, sat to its east and, with the introduction of Europeans, a farm road (Bowery) ran along it. Sitting atop Bayard’s Mount, a person could wile away the day watching travelers going along the Bowery, to and from the city.

A watercolor by artist Archibald Robertson in 1798, looking south, with Bayard’s Mount/Bunker Hill to the left and Collect Pond dead center.

Some reminiscences refer to Bayard’s Mount and Mount Pleasant as the same hill, and they were close enough they seem to be part of the same ridge.

After the territory went from Dutch to British hands in the mid-17th century, most of this property fell into the hands of Nicholas Bayard, and the “small, cone-shaped mount” took on the name of its landowner, who built his sturdy estate just to its north. Even by the early 18th century, Bayard’s family would still have few neighbors; swampy ground prevented much development west, while property to the east eventually belonged to James DeLancey, the governor of the colony.

Below: A later 19th century property map highlights the broken western border of Bayard’s farm. The wetlands known as Lispenard’s Meadow prevented the estate from developing further westward.

The mount took on a more serious purpose with the onset of the Revolutionary War. In March of 1776, “One third of the citizens were ordered out to erect new works; they began a fort upon Mr. Bayard’s Mount near the Bowery.” [source]

This fortification, built in anticipation of a messy battle with the British, was named after a critical battle the year previous at Bunker Hill in Boston; soon, the hill itself took on the name, and in most histories after 1776, this place at today’s Mott and Grand Streets is officially known as Bunker Hill. Notably stationed here at Bunker Hill was Nathan Hale.

There would be no significant altercations here between British troops and the Continental Army. No, in fact, the bloodshed would wait until after the war, when the hilltop would be known as a fashionable place to host your duel.

For instance, in 1787, a disagreement between two French men ended in a duel here and the death of one of them, a “Monsieur Chevalier de Longchamps” who was apparently no stranger to offense and violent response.

Below: From Montressor’s map of Manhattan, 1755, you can see Bayard’s property and both hills — Bayard’s Mount and Mount Pleasant, the elongated hill. The Bowery runs along the bottom right hand of the illustration, with Collect Pond in theĀ bottom left corner. You can also see the grid plan of Bayard’s farm (which was ultimately adapted for theĀ modern street plan of SoHo).

In July 1788, to celebrate the federal ratification of the Constitution, a procession marched through the city and ended its revelry at Bayard’s Mount/Bunker Hill, where “ten enormous tables laden with provisions” and hundreds of pounds of roasted ox were served to hungry patriots. Several years later, in 1795, a different gathering, angered by their governor John Jay over his (perceived) treasonous treaty with the British, burned his portrait in a bonfire here.

Another curious pastime at the hilltop was the British sport of ‘bull baiting’, where a bull would be tied to a stake and slowly tortured by angry dogs. Why this is of any visible amusement is beyond me, although its cousin ‘bear baiting’ is still sometimes practiced in Pakistan.

Below: A bit of this nasty little pastime out in Long Island as it was advertised in 1774

New York was outgrowing the southern point of Manhattan, and former deterrents for expansion — the marshes of Lispinard’s Meadow, polluted Collect Pond, and of course, Bayard’s Mount — were slated for elimination. The ponds and marshes would soon be drained, creating Canal Street, and Broadway expanded further north. (Listen to our podcast on Collect Pond and Canal Street for more information.) By then, Bayard’s was but a memory.

Beginning in 1802, workmen began levelling Bayard’s Mount and Mount Pleasant which also included moving the old Bayard family crypt which had its entrance at the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately, it was discovered that a “hermit or ragman” had moved into the vault and turned it into his very own macabre home. Remarkably, the man was allowed to live there — “he was somewhat feared and not much troubled by visitors” — until he was found one day dead in the vault.

By the time Collect Pond was completely drained (around 1811), the hills to its north had gone, replaced with land lots and the first hints of townhouses and new businesses.

Below: From an 1821 New York Evening Post, an advertisement for plots on the old Bayard farm — at Bayard Street and Mott Street, just a couple blocks south of the location of the Mount

Another clipping from an 1888 New York Evening World, recalling the landscape here:


Below: The approximate position of where Bayard’s Mount would have been:

View Larger Map


A version of this article originally ran in October 2010

On The House: A history of New York City beer brewing

Behold the lager: A German variety of beer revolutionized American drinking, inspiring a new kind of drinking establishment (Courtesy the New-York Historical Society

Inspired by ‘Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History‘, the terrific summer show at the New-York Historical Society, the latest Bowery Boys podcast explores the story of one of America’s greatest, most treasured products– beer.

PODCAST New York City’s thriving craft brewing industry today hearkens to a time over a century ago when the city was one of America’s great beer-making capitals, the home to a robust industry of breweries and beer halls. In the 19th century, German immigrants introduced the lager to thirsty crowds, manufacturing thousands of barrels per year from breweries in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s ‘Eastern District’ (primarily Bushwick and Williamsburg). 

The top Manhattan brewers were Hell Gate Brewery and the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company, situated right next to each other in the old German neighborhood of Yorkville. Both Ruppert and Hell Gate’s founder George Ehret rode the beer craze to become two of New York’s wealthiest businessmen. Meanwhile, out in Brooklyn, a phalanx of brewers clustered along Bushwick Avenue in fine red-brick factories.

Following World War I and Prohibition, New York lost its hold over beer manufacturing to more savvy Midwestern beer makers. But a few local brands weathered the century with unusual marketing ploys — from sports sponsorships to the Miss Rheingold beauty pageant.

By the late 1970s, significant brewing had vanished from New York entirely. But somewhere in SoHo in the 1980s, a renaissance was about to begin…..

For a little extra ambiance, the show is recorded on location, live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, within a couple blocks of the original Brewers Row.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: New York Beer History


NOTE: It wouldn’t be a show without my vocal slipup o’ the month. Perhaps  I watched too much Buffy The Vampire Slayer when I was younger. I keep referring to Hell Gate as Hell’s Gate. Scott says it correctly. Both the turbulent confluence of waters and the brewery are called Hell Gate.  

Next Week: Some books, additional resources, a few more pictures and some more stories left out of this week’s podcast.

Perhaps the most notorious example of an early New York brewery was the Coulthard’s Brewery situated on the banks of Collect Pond. It survived the draining of that polluted body of water, only to survive as the center of the most disreputable elements of the Five Points neighborhood.  It was eventually demolished in 1853, replaced with a mission house.

George Ehret was New York’s most successful brewer of the late 19th century. His assertion that ‘no other brewery east of the Mississippi River has as large a storage capacity as Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery‘ was certainly accurate.  This ad from 1909 presents a company still at the top of its game. However Ehret would encounter serious opposition in the coming years, with both World War I and Prohibition cutting short the brewery’s meteoric success.

Ehret was stuck in Germany during World War I due to illness, not a great place to be during a war. His entire estate was seized by the government while he was away. When he finally returned, he threw his weight behind pro-American causes to banish any suspicions. This U.S bonds ad from 1918, the year Ehret returned to New York was one of many placed by the brewery.

The brewery of Jacob Ruppert wasn’t just situated next to Ehret’s in this 1894 New York World newspaper; the buildings themselves were near one another, in the burgeoning neighborhood of Yorkville on the Upper East Side.  (Newspaper clippings courtesy the Library of Congress.)

A sample page from a 1909 New York Sun newspaper illustrating some of the many breweries in the region.   Included here are the Liebmanns (who produced Rheingold Beer), the Otto Huber Brewery, William Ulmer, Trommer’s and the Excelsior Brewing Company — Brooklyn most prominent lager brewers.

Temperance causes were greatly beginning to clamp down on the brewing industry, so beer makers attempted to market their product as true American beverages — with links to the Founding Fathers — or as products important to a person’s health. This Knickerbocker Beer ad from 1914 gamely attempts both.

New York’s ‘boy mayor’ John Purroy Mitchell sits with Jacob Ruppert at the Polo Grounds in anticipation of a game by the team owned by the brew man, the New York Yankees. The Yankees would play at the Polo Grounds until 1923, when they moved to the newly built Yankee Stadium.

Rheingold Beer was one of the few remaining locally-based brewers to survive by the mid 20th Century, partially thanks to their annual Miss Rheingold beauty competition. [source]

This jingle, with true New York flavor, was featured in our podcast, but it really works better as a vintage television commercial!

And this Schaefer’s advertisement visualizes a world where robots are all-in-one bartenders. _____________________________________________________________________

I want to especially thank my guest host this week, Scott Nyerges, photographer, filmmaker and my old college friend! 

Please visit Scott’s website (nyerges.com) to check out some of his recent work. And he’ll be having a gallery show in Bushwick coming up in August! The show is at Sweet and Shiny, located at 214 Knickerbocker Ave. (at Troutman),. You can get there on the  L train to Jefferson Street. 

The show opens Saturday, August 4, 7 p.m. and runs through Sept. 7.

Just one example of his work:

Oh, and do you need another reason to have a beer today? Well, it’s the birthday of Joseph Mitchell, born in 1908, the author of a great many profiles for The New Yorker. One of his best known collections is ‘McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon‘ from 1943, featuring a classic New York profile of the old ale house on East 7th Street.

New York City Hall: Open for business for 200 years!

Above: City Hall in 1900 (Courtesy NYPL)

Never have I been more elated to write about a City Council meeting.

At the start of the 19th century, city affairs were still being conducted on Wall Street at Federal Hall. For many years they shared the corridors with George Washington and the first American Congress.  By 1800, the federal offices were long gone, but that ‘old City Hall’ was no longer an adequate structure for the affairs of a fast growing city.

So a new City Hall was planned in 1803 by New York’s most notable designers of the day, Joseph Mangin and John McComb, to be placed at the site of the city’s old common grounds. After years of delays, however, it seems city leaders grew a tad impatient. Although the new City Hall building would not officially be completed until 1812, the mayor and the Common Council moved in anyway.

According to state records, the very first meeting between Mayor DeWitt Clinton and the council was held on August 12, 1811.

“The Common Council met agreeably to adjournment in the new City Hall in the room designed for the Mayor’s office.” Mayor Clinton was joined in his chambers by a recorder and the 17 members of the Common Council, including both Caleb and John Pell, whose family holdings would become the basis of Pelham Bay Park.

And what, you may ask, was the big item on their agenda? The proposal to fence in Chatham Square.

That open patch of land, on the Bowery and to the west of City Hall, had become an open air livestock market. The famous old Bull’s Head Tavern was located nearby, and farmers from all over Manhattan came to this area to sell their wares to merchants and to factories located around Collect Pond. Some on the council believed a fence around this place of business would constrict farmers attempting to move in and out of the property.

Still, a fence brought the promise of cleanliness. Collect Pond was being drained and levelled, and city leaders expected the land values surrounding it to increase. Thus the fence was approved. You can find a picture of Chatham Square and the newly constructed fence below.

But more importantly, with this decision, two hundred years of civic bureaucracy were well underway!

For more information, check out our podcast on the history of City Hall and City Hall Park (Episode #93).

Courtesy the New York Public Library Digital Image gallery

Sailin’ with Stephen Allen, NY’s first elected mayor (sorta)

KNOW YOUR MAYORS Our modest little series about some of the greatest, notorious, most important, even most useless, mayors of New York City. Other entrants in our mayoral survey can be found here.

Mayor Stephen Allen
In office: 1821-1824

There was a time when New Yorkers were told who their mayor was going to be. Imagine Governor David Patterson with the power to install who he chose, or worse, a handful of Albany insiders entirely beholden to special political interests.

This was precisely the manner in which New York City adopted its mayors every year. The Council of Appointments, four specially selected state senators, were in charge of hundreds of yearly state and local appointments, approving and (just as often) altering the wishes of the governor. Those appointed to the job were either prominent citizens, figureheads, or politicians with strong connections to the governor.

After a groundswell of dissent over this and many other eccentricities of the New York constitution, the rules were finally amended in 1821. Among its changes were a new method of choosing a mayor — still appointed, but by the city’s Common Council (or city council). Citizens voted for the aldermen who then voted, among their membership, who would become mayor — indirect, imperfect, but seen at the time as a great step forward. It would not be until 1834 that New Yorkers could directly vote for a candidate (Cornelius Lawrence).

For their first appointment, city leaders did not stray from the successful formula of choosing one of the wealthiest, well-connected businessman among them. In 1822, Stephen Allen became the first mayor appointed by the Common Council, ‘chosen’ by the people because he had first been elected to the council in the first place.

Allen was an inspired candidate, a self-made success story with roots in the American Revolution. According to an 1848 biographical ‘sketch book’, Allen “affords another instance of what may be accomplished without money, without family connexions or friends. Mr. Allen commenced life, it is said, as a poor sailor boy.”

He was born here in New York in 1767 and remained here with his family through the British occupation during the Revolutionary War. During that time he became an apprentice to a British Tory sail maker when he was only 12 years old. Times were rough for young Stephen in the stressed, over-crowded city; he lived with several other apprentices in a tiny ‘sail loft’, eating only bread and butter for supper.

The Continental Army couldn’t have won the war fast enough to young Allen’s liking. A teenage Allen was witness to Washington’s return to the city in November 1783: “This was a happy day for the real friends of America and it was celebrated accordingly by young and old, particularly by those who had left the city at the commencement of the troubles and had now returned for the first time from an exile of eight long years.”

Allen worked his way into the sailmaking partnership of Hillson and Allen by age 22. Disgruntled with his partner’s lack of business acumen which, in his own words, tended to “irritate and promote altercation,” Allen launched his own sail-making business by the age of 30.

With the war ended, the British gone and New York becoming the dominant American port, Allen soon became one of the city’s wealthiest artisans by the 1810s. As a member of the Tammany Society — he would eventually become grand sachem — he transitioned seamlessly into local politics, first as a member of the Common Council in April 1817 then finally as their first appointee for mayor in December 1821.

For a man who made his fortunes from sails, it’s not surprising that his primary concern as mayor was water. Clean drinking water was a scarcity; the city’s previous source for fresh water, Collect Pond, had been levelled just years due to pollution from local industry. What would replace it?

He headed a committee that sought additional sources of drinking water, eventually focusing on Rye Pond in the future borough of the Bronx, and a potential canal to be built in Westchester. Allen and the council were raring to move forward, but state bureaucracy, yellow fever outbreaks and focus on the Erie Canal would delay the development of a viable aqueduct for many years.

Allen made a bigger impact on New York’s prison system as a member of a state committee that inspected conditions at the first state prison in Auburn, New York. Their evaluations eventually led to the construction of Sing Sing prison.

He left office after three years as mayor, but he didn’t leave politics or Tammany behind, eventually becoming a state senator and helping raise money to build the first Tammany Hall.

He spent his latter days at home on Washington Square, but tragically, he did not end up dying peacefully in bed here as other future mayors would do. He was aboard the steamship Henry Clay in July 28 1952 when, after an ill-advised race with another vessel, it caught fire and crashed on the Hudson River, killing dozens of passengers including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sister, famed landscapist Andrew Jackson Downing and, sadly, our former mayor Allen.

Bull’s Head Tavern: treating you like cattle since 1755

To get you in the mood for the weekend, every other Friday we’ll be celebrating ‘FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER’, featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse clubs of the mid-1990s. Past entries can be found HERE.

Last time around, I wrote about Max’s Kansas City, a steakhouse that served up a side of punk and pop celebrity like a glamorous cattle call. It has a few things in common with another centerpiece of social life that attracted a few of New York’s boldfaced (in this case, Washingtons and Astors), combining truly Revolutionary business with pleasure. And it had plenty of red meat, of the pre-prepared variety.

The Bull’s Head Tavern was the gathering-place for farmers, drovers, and merchants in the 18th century, located well outside city boundaries just east of Collect Pond. (At the Bowery, right at the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge.)

It soon became the center of Manhattan’s entire meat selling and rendering industry, with the area surrounding the nearby Collect overrun with tanneries and slaughterhouses. As the Bull’s Head was also located right on the Boston Post Road (later the Bowery), situated at a crossroads of livestock yards and stables, it became an ideal place for both commerce and carousing.

The Bull’s Head was in operation as early as 1755, enjoying business as “the last halting-place for the stages before entering the city.”

Within the next few decades, industry enveloped the area, transforming the Bull’s Head into a cattle market, with pens adjoining the main building where farmers from the surrounding area herded their best specimens for sale. Inside the tavern became a literal stock market, with transactions, news and gossip being shared over brew and a hot meal. Those who lingered well into the night sometimes played a strange game called crack loo — often gambling away any profits they might have made earlier in the day. Out in the pen, dog fights and “bear baiting” sometimes occured as entertainment.

As Washington Irving describes, at the Bull’s Head he would “hear tales of travelers, watch the coaches and envy the more pretentious country gentlemen in Castor hat, cherry-derry jackets and doeskin breeches.”

On November 25, 1783, Evacuation Day, the Bull’s Head entered history. As the British fled New York that day, George Washington and his entourage met at the Bull’s Head, preparing themselves for their triumphant entry into town. Governor George Clinton and over 800 uniformed troops and townfolk gathered right outside, preparing for the procession.

Henry Astor, the older brother of John Jacob, stepped in as owner of the Bull’s Head in 1785. Already an accomplished butcher, Henry served his “celebrated cuts of meats” and often outpriced his own clientele when a particularly choice herd of cattle came travelling by.

Of course, New York was outgrowing its old boundaries by then. By 1813, Collect Pond had been drained and high society eyed the Bowery, sweeping away the filthy stockyards and factories to construct homes, shops and theatres. Moving with the changing times, some civic minded businessmen bought out Astor and moved the Bull’s Head somewhere safely outside the city — this time at 3rd Avenue and 24th Street!

In 1830, this new location fell into the hands of young rancher and entrepreneur Daniel Drew, who turned the tavern into a sort of bank, marketplace and social club for local cattlemen, upgrading the establishment and building his own reputation as a saavy financier.

As this time, according to an old history, “various types of men mingled in the bar-rroom of the Bull’s Head, from the rough country man to the speculative citizen, butcher and horse-fancier. Plain apple-jack and brandy and water… were the principal liquors passed over the bar. Guests were so numerous that at the first peal of the dinner-bell. it was neccessary to rush for the table or fail miserably.” And of course, after hearty meal and vigorous drink, came the gambling, “throwing dice for small stakes.”

Drew eventually went on to become a steamboat mogul. The site of the old Bull’s Head eventually hosted the notorious Bowery Theatre (built upon its old cattleyards), then the sumptuous Atlantic Gardens by the mid-19th century.  Drew’s uptown location on 24th, of course, caved in to a growing residential neighborhood. However, today there is a new Bull’s Head Tavern, at that exact location, that probably smells a lot better than the original.

And not to forget, there was also a Bull’s Head Tavern in Staten Island, at Victory Boulevard and Richmond Avenue. Built in 1741, this Bull’s Head was a popular destination for British-loving Tories before the days of the Revolutionary War. Before it was destroyed in a fire, “people from all over the country made special trips to the old house, just to see the famous Tory headquarters,” according to one old history.

The neighborhood that sprouts around that intersection at Victory and Richmond is named Bulls Head in the old tavern’s honor.

Was there really a British sex prison in SoHo?

Above: Peaceful Lispenard Meadow, future home of a British prison brothel?

In the days of Collect Pond, the surrounding area was equally diverse and almost impossible to mentally construct today. Southeast of the pond was a place known as Beekman’s Swamp, a wetland drained by British landowner Jacobus Roosevelt on what would much later become the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

A more disturbing legacy lurks on land in today’s Soho — Lispenard’s Meadow (or simply Lispenard Meadow). The rather un-meadow-like marshland lay on property owned by merchant Leonard Lispenard, an early treasurer of King’s College (later Columbia University).

Situated north of Collect Pond (“from… Worth Street to Spring Street“) and just west of today’s Broadway, the swamp was eventually split by the newly built canal and drained in the 1810s.

But prior to that, according to legend, acts of horror and depravity supposedly took place here in the latter years of British occupation of the city.

Thousands of British and Hessian soldiers poured into the British holding of New York between 1776 and 1783. You can find details of the outrageously crowded conditions on one of our prior podcast on the subject of life in British New York.

Below: The intersection of Canal Street and Broadway, circa 1812. Lispenard Meadow would have been on the west side of Broadway

To satisfy these men’s carnal cravings, an enterprising captain named Jackson “kidnapped” 3,500 prostitutes from England. Most likely the women were coerced with promises of cash or opportunity in a time when it appeared New York would forever remain a British property.

Packed into twenty boats, they sailed to New York. Not all of them made it. One boat sank mid-voyage presumably killing all onboard, so Jackson decided that to make his quota of women, he would simply swing by the West Indies and take 350 more — possibly slave women already but all of African background.

Once arrived in New York, the captives were kept in a stockade located here in Lispenard Meadow, where the women became sexual prisoners to serve the needs of the British troops. Known as the ‘Jackson Whites’ and the ‘Jackson Blacks’, these women were allegedly locked inside the stockade until the moment the British fled New York in 1783.

There’s really little documentation to prove all the seamier details of this story. Although such a lurid story isn’t outside the realm of possibility, it exists only as a story among the native people of the Ramapo Mountain range, who supposedly trace their lineage to these women, fleeing from New York after the war to reside in this supposedly Tory-friendly area of northern New Jersey.

Still, strolling through Soho past high fashion boutiques and major chain clothing stores built on land that potentially kept a massive sex prison has a odd symbolic quality to it, no?

PODCAST: Collect Pond and Canal Street

Collect Pond (and what I assume to be Bunker Hill) as depicted in watercolors by artist Archibald Robertson in 1798

We celebrate a year of New York City history podcasting by re-visiting the topic of our very first show.

Downtown Civic Center used to have a big ole pond in the middle of it which provided drinking water for the island’s first inhabitants.

What happened to it, why is it important today and how did it give rise to Canal Street, New York’s biggest traffic thoroughfare?

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

From the Mannahatta Project, a visualization of downtown Manhattan, with Collect Pond and acres of forest

Hard to believe, but this is downtown Manhattan and Collect Pond

An early 19th century map of Collect Pond and the streets that usurped it. (Click into it to see details.)

A mid-century depiction of Five Points, this corner in particular being where Paradise Square sprang up, an ambitious residential project doomed by soggy land and noxious odors

The Tombs Prison, in 1890, before being condemned. Its squalid conditions are legendary and are due in part to unsatisfactory construction over the former Collect Pond area

The early days of Canal Street. The actual foul-smellin canal was concealed with a row of lovely trees shielding the new tenements and businesses surrounding it

A tiny park surrounded by government buildings pays homage to the early (and far more natural) days

The most dramatic reminder of the neighborhood’s early days, however, is the African Burial Ground Memorial, which opened last year