Tucked away in a section of the stone wall near the 212th Street and Broadway entrance to Isham Park is an often overlooked survivor of Inwood’s past. The old Albany Post Road mile marker blends into its surroundings, but is hard to miss when you know what to look for.
Curved at the top, this rectangular stone stands upright in the shadow of the giant ginkgo tree, just below the spot where the Isham Park caretaker’s house once stood. (Shown in 1925 photo below.)
This anonymous mile marker, its number wiped clean by the ravages of time, once told travelers they were 12 miles from City Hall in downtown Manhattan. Similar markers ticked off the miles to Albany in a path now followed by Route 9.
This neighborhood treasure might have been forgotten completely; if not for Inwood historian William Calver, who put these words to paper in 1932:
“In the days of our earlier outings about Inwood there stood by the roadway two of the ancient milestones; these were the 12th and the 13th indicating the distance from “N York.” The 13th milestone which stood on the west side of the Kingsbridge Road near the extreme north end of the island has disappeared, but the 12th milestone still remains- built into the retaining wall at the Isham Park entrance. We were told that the stone originally stood at the 203rd Street corner; the present pitted appearance of the stone is attributable to a shotgun charge fired by a hunter who wished to empty his piece on the return from a hunt.”
The “modern” Post Road opened for business in 1672 under orders of England’s Charles II, but, it must be remembered that the Post Road had been used long before European discovery by Native Americans.
Initially, the road was no more than a dirt path later widened and marked for stagecoach travel. As early as 1673, riders often carrying royal dispatches through a dangerous northern wilderness, carried axes to mark the trees and thus the route for future riders. In 1753, after abandoning the old postal system, wagonloads of heavy stone markers were planted at one mile intervals along the length of the route. The work was supervised by none other than Benjamin Franklin who measured every inch with the help of an experimental coach rigged with an odometer of his own design.
The old Post Road would prove an innovation in early communication between the colonies, but was also used for more nefarious purposes. In his history of Inwood, Calver writes of the dangers of highway travel near the turn of the century:
“In contrast with its rustic beauty and apparently pastoral innocence by day, the Inwood district was in the 1880’s, and early 90’s, far from safe after the evening shades had fallen. The pedestrians one would meet then along the Kingsbridge Road might be a resident who was abroad on legitimate business, but the chances always were that travelers northward bound were desperados fleeing from justice, while other travelers southward bound were culprits of one sort or the another bent on hiding their identity in the big city; or were crooks journeying in from the provinces with their spoil. Frequently, perhaps, they were of the latter sort...”
And while today’s mile marker is easy to miss, its location would have been seared into the minds of early New Yorkers. In an era before grids and urban planning the markers would have been local landmarks, serving as addresses in property deeds, calling cards and wedding announcements.