“As the population crowds around the park in commercial and residential buildings, this breathing space of exceptional beauty, with its varied topography, will be more and more appreciated and remain a constant reminder of the generosity of the donors and the wisdom of the city officials in accepting and preserving such a noble gift for the benefit of the people of the City of New York.” -Borough President George McAneny on the gift of Isham Park (New York Times, March 24, 1912)
Sketch of the William B. Isham home, New York Sun, August 3, 1934.
An Uptown Oasis
In the summer of 1862, shortly after General Robert E. Lee assumed control of the Confederate Army, a 35-year-old leather merchant named William Bradley Isham rented a sprawling wood-frame house on a verdant promontory on the uppermost tip of the city.
William Bradley Isham portrait from Warrensburgh Historical Society.
The rental was intended as a seasonal retreat, but the businessman with the blue eyes, beard and mustache apparently made a connection with the land, for two years later he returned to purchase the home and surrounding property.
For half a century the Isham family tended lovingly to their uptown oasis, in northern Manhattan’s Inwood section, before donating the land to the city for use as a park that would bear their family name.
The Isham Estate
The Isham’s two-story house rested squarely on a hilltop with sweeping views of both the Harlem and Hudson Rivers.
Isham Estate, circa 1905. The Isham home is located at the rear center of the lawn. Photo courtesy of Don Rice.
Dr. Floyd T. Ferris, the principal physician to the Cholera Hospital on Duane Street, had occupied the home until his death seven years before the Isham’s first visit.
Dr. Ferris’ old home, likely built in the 1850’s, was of an unusual design. Three extended wings together formed a cross that maximized both light and ventilation.
Isham mansion in 1934 photograph.
“It is an interesting brick and frame building of peculiar shape, having a spacious central hall with a winding staircase and gallery from which the rooms extend in three wings,” wrote Reginald Bolton, an eminent turn of the century Manhattan historian. (Reginald Bolton, Washington Heights Manhattan: Its Eventful Past, 1924)
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