Inwood in 1886

by Cole Thompson

The below article originally appeared in the New York World on December 26, 1886. While much in Inwood has changed since this description was first set into type, much has remained the same.  The original clipping is housed the the genealogy room of the New York Public Library.

New York World, December 26, 1886

“Few New Yorkers are familiar with the charming scenery of the extreme northwest section of the city, although the picturesque hills of this region, covered with woods and dotted with beautiful residences, form one of the most attractive features of the great city. A ride of twenty minutes from the Hudson River Railroad Depot, at Thirtieth Street and Tenth avenue, brings us to a station called Inwood. Its distance from city hall is about eleven miles, and the ride in itself, is enjoyable, skirting the edge of the river all the way, in full view of the Jersey shore and the Palisades. Arriving at the station you step almost immediately from the platform of the car into a tract of beautiful woods, intersected here and there by country roads. In a few moments you have been transported from the feverish activity of the city into a region of delightful solitude and repose. You are indeed still within the city, and there is a satisfaction of knowing that the busy mart and crowded thoroughfare are within hailing distance, so to speak. Yet their oppressive features are left behind. The term road is exchanged for that of street, and boardwalks are substituted for the handsome flagged and graded avenues of the city proper. The houses are with few exceptions frame structures of old-fashioned pattern, and are generally perched on the summit of a rocky hill which commands a view of the country for many miles around.

Between Two Hundred and Sixth street and Spuyten Duyvil Creek there are precipitous hills covered with dense woods, and the latter, though somewhat thinned by the necessities of man, are still solitary and impressive, recalling the primeval grandeur of Manhattan Island. The imagination is quickened as one passes along the narrow footpaths over the rocks, and one pictures the experiences of the early colonists in the days when Wall street was the northern boundary of New York and these woods were peopled by wild beasts and savages.

"The Old Willow Stump" from 1886 New York World

At the junction of Two Hundred and Sixth street and the old Boston Road are the decaying stumps of two huge trees, relics of a pair of magnificent willows that many years ago marked the entrance to the property of Samuel Thomson. Mr. Thomson died in 1850, leaving a large fortune, and is remembered as one of Inwood’s most munificent citizens. Within the quaint little church nearby, which he materially aided in founding, a tablet on the left of the chancel commemorates the purity and generosity of his character. An unfrequented road diverges from Two Hundred and Sixth street leads us by a winding route along the brow of a rocky ridge, which towers 200 feet above the Hudson. The whole of this beautiful hill, a mile long from Two Hundred and Sixth street to Spuyten Duyvil Creek, was once the splendid property of a single family, but the vicissitudes of a quarter of a century have removed the original proprietors, and their fair acres are now divided among a score of wealthy New York Bankers, merchants and professional men.

"The Thomson Mansion," New York World, December 26, 1886.

The old Thomson mansion, now known as the Sutro place, is still standing, although for a long time it has been unoccupied by its owner, who resides in California. Desertion, however, seems only to increase its picturesqueness. The spacious portico supported by Doric columns and facing the Hudson, affords an enchanting view of that majestic stream, while the ample grounds, notwithstanding long neglect, reveal the traces of a rustic paradise. Upon the same road is the handsome country residence of D.C. Hays, President of the Bank of Manhattan Company, and on the opposite side lies the Brooks estate, now the home of C.M. Raymond, whose taste for fancy gardening is displayed in his hot-houses and cultivated grounds. The road here bends sharply to the left, and a few feet in front of us we come upon a lawn, upon which stands an animated statuette of Puck bearing in his hand the American flag. A short distance from the end of the road, embowered among the old forest trees, is the residence of Joseph Keppler, the caricaturist of Puck. Mr. Keppler is well known to the residents of Inwood. His portly form and dignified countenance, which are rendered all the more impressive by a broad-brimmed felt hat, ornamented with a peacock feather, and worn with a decided military grace. The path we have been on terminates a short distance beyond, at the countryseat of James McCreery, on a high bluff. The view of the river from this point is very extensive.

Map of Inwood, New York World, December 26, 1886

Retracing our steps over the Bolton road, we pause to note the elevation of the locality that we have been viewing. We can look eastward far over Westchester County and Long Island. Kingsbridge road, several hundred feet beneath us, winds along the base of another ridge, also occupied by handsome residences, including the beautiful Dyckman property, the Seaman estate, the country seat of W.B. Isham and several others, whose value must be reckoned in the millions.

During the Revolutionary war, when Washington was withdrawing his forces from New York, the whole of Manhattan Island became a battleground, and many sharp engagements between our troops and the British were fought around Inwood. The old residents will tell you that oftentimes the heavy rain-washed bullets out of the ground, and that many rusty swords and bayonets have been found in the neighborhood. Near Two Hundred and Fifteenth street, on the Kingsbridge road and old mansion is pointed out as the house in which the Red Coats, after their successful attack on Fort Washington, assembled at night to celebrate their victory. At the present time you find in this romantic suburb nothing suggestive of disorder, unless it be the mounted police of the Thirty-fifth Precinct. The appearance of a cavalcade of these handsome fellows, mounted on fine horses, is martial enough, though in a district, which boasts neither grocery nor groggery within a radius of a mile, a policeman’s life becomes a rather quiet one.

Remains of Fort George, New York World, December 26, 1886

Inwood is accessible by the Hudson River Railroad, by the New York City and Northern road and by the recently completed cable line. The former runs frequent trains morning and evening in connection with the Ninth avenue elevated express between the Battery and One hundred and fifty-fifth street, and persons bound for Inwood can leave the train either at Fordham Heights or at Kingsbridge, whence the walk to any part of the place is short and pleasant; but the ride over the cable to the terminus and a walk thence over the rough country to Two hundred and Sixth street form a delightful jaunt. Beautiful scenery and points of interest are encountered on every hand. At the end of Tenth Avenue we climb a rocky prominence of Revolutionary fame, known as Old Fort George. The earthworks that were hastily thrown up are no longer visible, and the only battlements that we see now are the huge boulders which nature has piled high. Mounting the rocks a scene of uncommon beauty is spread out. The Harlem lies 250 feet below. Fordham Heights, Long Island and Westchester County are seen in the east and in the distance toward the north are the spires of Yonkers.

"Washington House", New York World, December 26, 1886

Through an opening in the hills to the west we get a glimpse of the waters of the Hudson, and the Palisades, more conspicuous than all the rest, are seen for a stretch of many miles. Descending through a half finished street and over a meadow, a church spire, almost hidden amid foliage, guides us to a point where Two Hundred and Sixth street intersects the Kingsbridge road. This little frame structure has bravely withstood the storms of forty years. The sole house of religious worship in Inwood, it is an object of interest to the visitor and of affection to the residents.

Estate of Samuel Thomson, New York World, December 26, 1886

The march of improvement, which is so rapidly transforming the west side, must in time embrace the whole territory north of the Hudson and below Spuyten Duyvil. The great activity in building operations attracts the notice of the most casual observer who rides over the Sixth avenue elevated road to One Hundred and Fifty-Fifth Street. But far beyond this point lies a district as yet comparatively undisturbed by the building speculator and projector of railways, yet it is not too much to predict that ten years will witness an immense exodus from the present crowded districts to these picturesque and wonderfully healthful hills overlooking the Hudson. It seems especially the place where families of moderate means and of refined instincts might secure something more worthy of the name of home than their restricted resources will permit in the heart of the extravagant city. Inwood is certainly destined, in the course of the city’s growth, to lose its present air of seclusion, but those who have explored its shady dells and enjoyed its rustic solitude must regret the approach of the contractor leveling the woods and blasting the rocks. It is no wonder that the residents of the place are jealous of all innovations looking towards its popularization. An excursionist is rarely seen above Two Hundred and Sixth street, and even upon a Sunday afternoon one may pass hours in the woods along Spuyten Duyvil Creek in perfect retirement. From the crest of the beautiful hill that Bolton road traverses we take a farewell view of Inwood. A sea of green foliage surrounds us; the evening breeze rustles the leaves and bends the strong arms of the giant trees. Beyond the Palisades the brilliant glow of sunset is melting into twilight, and the darkening waters of the Hudson flow along in silence. It is a picture of peace.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

John J Bruggemann March 17, 2011 at 11:22 am

My Grandmother Genevieve Snyder( formerly spelled Schnieder) was born there in 1878 along with my cousin Henry Miller who pitched for the Inwood Mudhens at the Oval.Her parents had a truck farm and would load their produce and bring it down to 125th St.to sell.JJB

Doug Miller April 12, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Thank you again for the fine portrait of Inwood. Which I call home.

Mark Stern December 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm

In 1880, Adolph Sutro sold out his interests in the Sutro Tunnel Company yielding nearly $1 million. He acquired a huge amount of property in San Francisco (more than 1/12th of the city’s land area) and built (or overhauled) a home on Bolton Road in Inwood for his mother, Rosa Warrendorf Sutro. He never lived there. Rosa Sutro passed away just three years later and the property was sold in 1888.

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