Seaman-Drake Arch

by Cole Thompson

Tucked away between two buildings on the West side of Broadway near 215th Street is one of the few surviving relics of a once fabulously wealthy neighborhood whose residents included captains of industry.

Seaman Arch on Broadway and 216th.

Seaman Arch on Broadway and 216th.

Today a crumbling ruin, the arch, as evidenced in the below photo, was once a stunning sight to behold; even from afar.

Terrific shot of the arch in center of photograph shot in 1903

Terrific shot of the arch in center of photograph shot in 1903

Seaman-Drake Arch in Inwood, New York City in 1910

Arch in 1910

The 35 foot tall, 20 foot deep marble arch was built as the gateway to a grand hilltop estate owned by the Seaman family in 1855. According to a turn of the century history of the Inwood, the arch is said to be an exact scale replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Drawing entitled "Seaman's Folly" showing Seaman-Drake Arch in Inwood, New York City.In fact, the sheer audacity of the project led many locals to dub the arch and surrounding property as “Seaman’s Folly.”

The Seamans, who first settled in Long Island in 1653, bought the hilltop property a half mile north of the Dyckman estate on 204th and Broadway in 1851. Construction soon began. Teams of workers worked round the clock in the quarry located at the bottom of the hill where the arch is now located. By 1855 the massive marble home was complete. Where the quarry once stood, the Seaman’s erected the arch, complete with a winding driveway that led to their home atop the hill. According to a New York Times article, “The arch’s 40-foot-wide street facade had two large niches for statuary and two plain inset panels flanking a central barrel-vaulted archway. A projecting cornice, still intact, across the top of the arch is supported on carved acanthus-leaf modillions. 1929 photo of Seaman-Drake Arch in Inwood, New York City.Iron pivots for what must have been a huge iron gate across the vaulted passageway still survive, but the door and window openings on the ground-floor level are blocked up. On the upper section of the rear of the arch are a half-dozen window openings, apparently original, suggesting that it was once a gatekeeper’s quarters.” And what a sight it must have been. The Seaman estate was more a country getaway than a full time residence. For many years, the true man of the house was drug merchant John T. Seaman who married Ann Drake. Ann Drake outlived her husband and upon her death she bequeathed, “my marble house, grounds and outbuildings… furniture and plate” to her nephew, Lawrence Drake. 1935 photo of derelict Seaman Mansion that once stood on the grounds of present Park Terrace Gardens in Inwood, New York City. Details are sketchy on whether Drake’s young nephew used the manor as a full time residence, but we do know the home was used for various purposes near the turn of the century. Directories of the era say that in 1897 the Suburban Riding and Driving Club, of which Drake was a member, occupied the main house. Then in 1905, the property, including the arch, was sold to a building contractor named Thomas Dwyer. Dwyer is most famous for building the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument as well as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dywer continued to occupy the main house, but used the arch as his workshop and place of business.

1909  Suffrage meeting to gather at Seaman Drake arch.

1909 Suffrage meeting to gather at Seaman Drake arch.

By 1912, with subway extensions imminent, civilization slowly crept up to Inwood. Before long, small brick buildings began to surround the arch. Soon, a series of car dealerships moved in and began using the arch as an entranceway.

Seaman-Drake Arch in 1927. Inwood, New York City.

Arch in 1927

Ever since, this once grand structure, has faded, even crumbled into history. The mansion itself was demolished in 1938 to make room for Park Terrace Gardens. A fire in 1970 gutted the interior of the arch and left the roof exposed to the elements. Seaman-Drake Arch today. Inwood, New York City. Let’s hope some civic minded group preserves the arch before it settles back into the ground from which it was created.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

H.Lopez January 13, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I grew up in the Inwood area and went to PS 98 and Good Shepard. Spent all my summer days at the handball courts at Inwood Park and walking the trails from Inwood to Ft. Tryon Pk. It would be a shame if this one last piece of Inwood history disappeared for a lack of attention. If someone decides to resurrect the landmark, please let me know what I can do to help. I live in Los Angeles now and can produce a wide variety of media including commercials to showcase the need for preservation.

Karen October 20, 2010 at 2:03 pm

The arch was also part of Garon’s Coach Repair owned by my husband’s great grandfather around 1940. I havea pic from the archives, but it’s horrible :(

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