Beak Street: The Umbrella Merchant Behind Manhattan’s Shortest Street

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Beak Street
Beak Street
Beak Street: Manhattan's shortest street.
Beak Street: Manhattan’s shortest street.

In northern Manhattan, between Seaman Avenue and Inwood Hill Park, runs what is said to be the borough’s shortest named street—and, measuring just one block, Beak Street is tiny indeed.

Beak Street from Google Earth
Beak Street from Google Earth.
Beak Street from Google map.
Beak Street from Google map.

Beak Street was named by the Board of Aldermen on May 11, 1925.  And, while the Board gave no attribution for the name, if we dig deep into Inwood history we will discover Mr. and Mrs. Albert L. Beak living within blocks of the itty-bitty street that now bears their name.

1855 New York State census (click image to enlarge)
1855 New York State census (click image to enlarge)

As early as 1855, according to census records, Albert Beak, 31, his wife Cornelia, 29, and their five-year-old daughter, also Cornelia, lived near Dyckman Street not far from the Hudson River.

Other occupants of the home included Albert’s 68-year-old mother, Elizabeth, Bridget McCabe, a 28-year-old Irish servant, Catherine McCabe, 19, presumably Bridget’s sister, another Irish servant, John Slater, 30, and Albert Beak’s cousin, Mary Fabes, 27, who listed her title as “Governess“.  (1855 New York State Census)

When the Beaks moved into the neighborhood, the region, then called “Tubby Hook,” was sparsely populated.

Dyckman Street circa 1904. (Collection of Cole Thompson)
Dyckman Street circa 1904. (Collection of Cole Thompson)

Local neighbors included sea captain William Flitner, whose family founded the Inwood Public Library, and Samuel Thompson, a wealthy contractor who built the nearby Mount Washington Presbyterian Church where the Beaks were devout congregants.

Albert Beak had immigrated to New York from England and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1854.

He was in the umbrella business.  His company, Doubleday & Beak, was located at 136 William Street.

Cornelia Sherman Beak was a native New Yorker and judge’s daughter. Her father, Alpheus Sherman, was a legendary jurist and New York State Senator.  Cornelia was one of twelve children.

Albert and Cornelia were married in 1850.

On October 25, 1862 the Beaks lost their ten-year-old daughter.  Cornelia was the couple’s only child.  One can’t help but wonder if Albert’s grief hastened his own demise—he would die of pleurisy (a lung disorder) just months later on New Year’s Eve.  He was 46-years-old.

1863 Albert L. Beak estate sale,  New York Times, April 29, 1863.
1863 Albert L. Beak estate sale, New York Times, April 29, 1863.

In the spring of 1863 auctioneer A. J. Bleeker announced the sale of the Beak’s “Splendid mansion and grounds at Tubby Hook…compromising about three acres of land with a full view of the North River (now the Hudson River).”

The property, on “high ground,” had a “fine garden,” not to mention both “fruit and shade trees”.  The 44×46 brick house had marble mantles and was “finished in an elegant manner.”  The home had “hot and cold water throughout” as well as gas provided by the Harlem Gas Company.  A “fine stable” sat on the property.   (New York Times, April 29, 1862)

Beak family plot, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Source: Findagrave.com
Beak family plot, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Source: Findagrave.com

Cornelia Beak died in 1885.  She was buried alongside Albert and young daughter in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Beak Street
Beak Street

Now, more than a century after their brief time in the neighborhood, tiny Beak Street, named after an umbrella merchant, remains a tribute to this Inwood founding family.

1 COMMENT

  1. Wow! I’ve never seen this view before. At the top left I can see the tower of the Home for Wayward Girls. What kind of structure is built on the left? Perhaps Jewish Memorial Hospital? Where did you find this!

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