Little more than a century ago Inwood was mainly farmland. Cows plodded about on the current site of Baker Field. Children chased chickens down dirt lanes. Farmers raised vegetables and plucked fresh fruit off of trees.
By the late 1940’s the rural character of the neighborhood had all but disappeared. Decades of development had pushed aside nearly all traces of Inwood’s agrarian past.
Three beloved pear trees, for a time, managed to survive the urban conquest of northern Manhattan.
The following story from the New York Sun takes us back to the spring of 1946 as the trees were beginning to bear fruit:
New York Sun
April 17, 1946
Pear Trees Grow in Manhattan
All Three Bear Fruit on Meager Acre at 213th St. and Broadway
By Patricia Brown
Brooklyn, as any one familiar with a publisher’s list of best sellers knows, once grew a tree, but unless you’ve lived in the upper reaches of Manhattan it’s doubtful if you’d know that the borough is resting securely on its reputation for having grown three trees. Pear trees, in fact, and all of them in full bloom.
The sign swings crazily on the abandoned shack close by, the lot is full of cars, two billboards announce the merits of wine and beer but elsewhere on the meager acre at 213th Street and Broadway, just off center, stand the trees which have survived war and peace, carbon monoxide and the rumble of adjacent elevated trains, as well as the amazement of neighbors.
According to old residents of the neighborhood, “they’re a sight to behold!” And at least one old resident is more or less counting the days till harvest when he expects to sink his teeth in the fruit, which he said he expects to be “as delicious as it always was.”
“The trees are in better shape this year than in seasons past,” Edward P. Chrystie of 50 Park Terrace East, who has lived on the Heights for more than thirty years, added that they bear small pears, “like you get in the country,” and that he ate a good many of them, “because I liked that kind. They’re so nice and fresh.”
Chrystie would not estimate how old the trees actually were but thought they must be of considerable age and pointed out that they are standing on what was described a few years ago as the last farm in Manhattan, an area bounded by Broadway, 10th Avenue, 213th and 214th Streets.
“That was part of the land forming the old Nagel farm,” he revealed, “the homestead of which was built in 1735 on the banks of the Harlem River at 213th Street. It lasted until 1907 and was known for many years as the Century House. As a matter of fact, it is so titled on the Valentine’s Manual view of it in 1861.”
Chrystie, who can see the trees from his apartment window, pointed out that the neighborhood wasn’t always so quiet as it appeared today. Exactly 170 years ago the hills were bristling with Redcoats and resounding to the roar of muskets. “That was when the British and Hessian brigades attacked Fort Washington and rebel redoubts near New York,” he said. “Why, there were British camps right in the hills on the west side of Broadway!”
The trees, according to Chrystie, did not bloom last year. He doesn’t know why, but said it looked like a good crop coming up this year. Taking another peek out the window, he added, “I surely hope so.”