The Black Horse Tavern

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Black Horse Tavern, note the old Mount Washington Church  in background, NYHS.
Black Horse Tavern, note the old Mount Washington Church in background, NYHS.

In a very literal sense, Tubby Hook is where Inwood began and,  for nearly a century,  the Black Horse Tavern was the heart and soul of Tubby Hook.

The famous tavern and boarding house  located not far from the original Mount Washington Church, near where today Broadway, Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive intersect.

The following description of The Black Horse Tavern (sometimes called the Black Horse Inn), from an 1874 edition of Appleton’s Journal, describe a respectable roadhouse with a storied past.

The words sing with the antiquity of the age:

“Travelers by the old Albany post-road any time since the year 1805, will remember this inn as the half-way house between the starting-place in this city for the Albany coaches and the first change at Yonkers. The old post-road ran then, just as it does to this day, right by the door of the tavern, so that it was easy and common to stop and obtain refreshments, in a glass of something hot, without dismounting from the coach.

Black Horse Inn,  Appletons, 1874.
Black Horse Inn, Appletons, 1874.

The inn was also a famous rendezvous for the people of the region, rich and poor, who met there as on a sort of neutral ground for a social drink, and to exchange ideas on topics of the day. Henry Norman was the builder and original proprietor of the place, and was recognized in his time as an enterprising pioneer in the wilderness that lay beyond the city. The value of lands thereabouts was so little at that remote day that a tradition about John Francis, the cloth-weaver, which seems well authenticated by the ruins of the house he built himself on the spot, related that he was presented by the neighbors with the fee-simple of some acres lying between the Bussing and Beekman lots, on the sole condition that he would set up his loom among them.

A more picturesque situation than that of the old inn would be difficult to find, even in this most picturesque part of the Island of Manhattan. It stands about an eighth of a mile north of the barricade, or ‘Barry-gate,’ as the country-people then called it, because, it may be supposed, there really was a gate in the work where the post-road ran through. The site of Fort Tryon is directly above it, on the precipitous point of the high ridge behind and to the west, now known as Fort Washington Ridge. A gorge at the north end of the building runs east and west, forming the only level passageway from the valley of the Harlem River to the banks of the Hudson. It is the very gorge-or ‘slue,’ as it was termed by our grandfathers-where so many ‘hireling Hessians’ met death in their fruitless assault on Fort Tryon.

The Tubby-Hook landing road, now Inwood Street, leads through the gorge, and at the corner near the end of the inn stables are two remarkably gnarled old weeping willows, hanging their pendulous branches, ragged with age, down over the roadway; and, on the opposite side, a row of hoary poplars of giant size skirts the road.

They are old landmarks, like the inn itself, but must soon give way before the demands of our times for new streets and wide avenues. The word has gone out, the axe is to be laid at their roots, and an end made of them-they are, as is fitting, to finish their days at the same time with the old inn which they have sheltered from the hour of their planting and the day of its erection. These patriarchs are of the variety called Lombardy Poplars; nobody plants them nowadays , or likes them, for there is a sturdiness about them that belongs to that olden time, and but for ill fits this Sybarite age-sturdiness in the way they grow up in massy clumps of foliage, rusty and ragged, with a look of everyday battle against adverse weathers and formidable difficulties of labor, such as belonged to men’s lives in our early history. In the front of the tavern, to the east, the meadows spread themselves, the Harlem ‘Creek’ glistens beyond, and, to the southward, an ancient apple orchard is still vainly trying, in spite of its years, to bear itself upright, in emulation of youthful vigor, like an old man who tries to the last to hide the ravages of time under an erect carriage and agile bearing.

Black Horse Tavern, 1882 sketch.
Black Horse Tavern, 1882 sketch.

The inn is a homely affair, two low stories in height, partly built of stone, and having a small addition on one side, from the end of which projects the half-dome of a ‘bake-oven,’ constructed from the outside and reached from within. There are five rooms in all, large enough to have once been esteemed comfortable, but now pretty much given up to decay and dirt. When the ‘Widow Crawford’ kept the house, a sign, adorned with the portrait of a black horse, swung from a pole in front of the door, announcing ‘entertainment for man and beast.’ It is gone now; has, mayhap, helped to make a fire wherewith to cook the frugal meal of some wandering Vandal, who thought, if he thought at all, that the little antiquity of the New World was a matter of no consequence.

Black Horse Tavern, 1884, Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine
Black Horse Tavern, 1884, Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine.

Neither the inn nor the land on which it stands has had many owners. In 1740, John Schuyler, Jr., Phillip his brother, Stephen Boyard, Jr., and James Stephenson, had it by letters-patent from his majesty the then King of England, from them it passed to John Livingston, merchant of New York, who sold it, with all rights and titles, except to gold and silver mines, to Johannis Seckeles; he to Henry Norman; he to the old Dyckman whose son Abraham died in the house. Afterward it came into the Flint family, and now is in their possession.

George Washington
George Washington

There are some Revolutionary stories extant among the old settlers about the events which are supposed to have happened here. Of course, it is said that General Washington once made it his ‘headquarters,’ but it is impossible to believe that these tales have any foundation in truth, when the fact of its being built in 1805, years after the close of the war, is considered.” –Appleton’s Journal, 1874

By 1890 the Black Horse Inn had become but the bleakest of dive bars as evidenced by the 1890 observances of a passing traveler:

New York Herald, July 7, 1890

Of all bleak and dreary travesties of wayside inns, of all melancholy mockeries of old time hostelries the Black Horse Tavern is the dismalest.  When the Black Horse Tavern was in its prime the road lay at its feet.  A yard extended from the porch where swung the creaking sign to the gate where travelers entered to find entertainment for man and beast, and good entertainment it was, too!

Black Horse Tavern, New York Herald, July 27, 1890.
Black Horse Tavern, New York Herald, July 27, 1890.

The road now rises even with the windows of the porch, and a rickety flight o wooden steps leads down the quaintly fashioned door.  Time would have dealt more gently with the Black Horse Inn had the building been swept away with all there was that gave it charm.  It is now the home of a market gardener, and carts and garden beds cover the old lawn that reached from the rear of the house half way up the elm covered hill.  A poorly dressed urchin made melancholy music on a mouth organ on the porch behind the tavern, and an ill fed hound, tied to the old stone chimney, added his complaint to the general wretchedness of the scene.”

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