Blizzard of 1888, 11th Street.

In March of 1888 New York City was slammed by one of the most devastating blizzards in recorded history.   From March 11th to 15ththe city was buried underneath a fifty-inch blanket of snow.

The Great White Hurricane, as it came to be known, disabled transportation and telegraph communication from the Chesapeake Bay to Montreal.  Huge, “modern” cites suddenly found themselves cut off from the rest of the world.

For the first time in history the New York Stock Exchange closed, and would remain so for two days as the storm raged on.

In New York City alone more than 200 perished in the extreme cold.  In the icy darkness of night fires raged as helpless volunteers watched from afar, their teams trapped in the deep drifts that formed in the howling winds.

Blizzard of 1888

With surface transportation crippled, many credit the Blizzard of 1888, or “The Blizzard,” as it was known for fifty years hence, with the creation of New York’s underground subway system.

The below report, filed in the New York Herald, just as the storm abated describes both the horrors and bravery experienced by everyday New Yorker’s as they weathered one of the worst storms in U.S. history.

The Blizzard of 1888, New York Herald, March 14, 1888.

New York Herald
March 14, 1888

With men and women dying in her ghostly streets, New York saw day breaking through the wild clouds yesterday morning. Nature had overwhelmed the metropolis, and citizens were found dead in the mighty snowdrifts.  White, frozen hands sticking up out of the billowed and furrowed wastes testified to the unspeakable power that had desolated the city.

Had Jules Verne written such a story a week ago New Yorkers would have laughed and pronounced it a clever but impossible romance.

Yet here was the stupendous reality.  Within forty-eight hours the city was converted into an Arctic wilderness, cut off from all railway and telegraph communication.  The white hurricane had strewn her busiest and gayest thoroughfares with wreck and ruin.  Courts of justice were closed and the vast machinery of commerce Europe could not was paralyzed.  Groans of mutilated humanity filled the air.
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Colonial Gardens real estate brochure. Courtesy of the New York Real Estate Brochure Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

As many of you know, I both sell and rent apartments in the Inwood area.  So it was a true joy to come across the following article describing the Inwood rental scene of 1936.

I am intimately familiar with many of the buildings described below.  Many are still rental properties.  Others have gone co-op through the years.

At the time the article was written, not a single apartment rented for more than $100.  For comparisons sake, today,  in 2015, a studio rental in the neighborhood rents for about $1,300, a one-bedroom $1,700 and two-bedrooms start in the $2,200 range.

Now, step into the real estate time machine…

The New York Sun December 12, 1936
What Inwood Offers Renters
Modern Apartments at Modest Rentals Are Filled as Fast as They’re Built
By Gerry Fitch

The Dyckman section of upper Manhattan is becoming so popular as a residential locality that it seems almost as if tenants lie in wait for a new apartment building, to swoop upon it the minute it’s finished and fill it up overnight.

The reasons are simple, pleasant ones, that make for happy home life.  Convenience, comfort without ostentation, handsome dwellings and unpretentious rents.  It’s ideal for the family on a limited budget.

Not only are the apartment values remarkable, but garage rents are in keeping.  Just about everybody can produce a car around here, especially on Sundays.  It’s so easy to get to and from the country if you live here that Sunday motorists are home when most New Yorkers are just beginning the long grind through traffic.

Rapid Transit New

The Eighth avenue subway is an appreciated blessing.  It gets Dyckman residents to Times Square in half an hour—a bit more for Chambers street.  The section lies close to the Hudson River, near where Spuyten Duyvil Creek flows into the Hudson, and boasts wooded hills—like Inwood Hill, and a delightful park—Isham Park.  It has high rocky ground, fresh air and lots of charm.  Not to mention a fleet of new apartment buildings, with others about to open, and still others in the skeleton stage promised for next summer.

Colonial Gardens real estate brochure. Courtesy of the New York Real Estate Brochure Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

Just a few steps from the 207th street subway station is the largest of the new apartment structures, the Colonial Gardens at 4915 Broadway.  It is of a Colonial design, with two wings, and a court surrounded with little Christmas trees.  It was opened last October 15 and of the ninety-six apartments only ten are available, most of them not quite completed.
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91 Payson Avenue: An Art Deco Masterpiece

91 Payson thumb

In 1935 a new apartment house opened on 91 Payson Avenue in the Inwood section of Manhattan. The stunning apartment building, named “Payson House,” cost  $250,000 to erect. Today, the co-op building, across the street from Inwood Hill Park, is one of the finest examples of art deco design in northern Manhattan. Stepping into the […]

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The Greening of Inwood: The Children’s Garden of P.S. 52

Inwood farming

Inwood boomed with the thump of heavy equipment at the dawn of 1905.  The newly arrived elevated subway had ushered in unprecedented development. Apartment houses were erected at a dizzying pace. The chaotic environment grated one’s nerves. Early residents, lured  uptown with hollow promises of “Country Quiet and Pure Air,” found themselves living amid a […]

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Inwood’s 215th Street Incinerator Smokestacks

Inwood Department of Sanitation on 215th Street

“When the Mayor of New York dedicated the new incinerator at 215th Street and Ninth Avenue a little while ago, he said plainly that he didn’t like it. Perhaps he was justified in his opinion of it as a piece of sanitary engineering, but when he went on to say that it looked ungainly and […]

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Happy Holidays Inwood

Prohibition cartoon

Happy Holidays Inwood! And what would the season be without a few memories of yesteryear? The accompanying photos were taken on Broadway near Academy Street in December of 1925. The city was entering its fifth year of Prohibition and the Great Depression was just around the corner. Sure the times were a bit different, but […]

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Happy 150th Birthday “Inwood”

tubby hook

Down there, on old Manhattan, Where land-sharks breed and fatten, They wiped out Tubby Hook. That famous promontory, Renowned in song and story, Which time nor tempest shook, Whose name for aye had been good, Stands newly christened “Inwood,” And branded with the shame Of some old rogue who passes By dint of aliases, Afraid […]

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Inwood’s Hurst House: Then and Now

William H. Hurst

In 1912 an Irish architect named James O’Connor constructed a beautiful brick home on Park Terrace East and 215th Street. While O’Connor would later go on to design “Great Gatsby” style playhouse homes for wealthy clients, this particular design had children in mind. Lots of children. William H. Hurst, the President of the New York […]

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