The Inwood Arch and Mansion: Circa 1896

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Seaman Arch on Broadway and 216th.

On the west side of Broadway, formerly known as the Kingsbridge Road, at 216th Street, stands a neglected and nearly forgotten monument to Inwood’s past.  The great marble arch, constructed in the 1850’s, once led visitors to the glorious Seaman mansion, which, until the 1930’s, stood on the current site of Park Terrace Gardens on Park Terrace East and 217th Street.

Just before the turn of the twentieth century the old mansion and surrounding property, built by the descendants of Dr. Valentine Seaman, who introduced the small pox vaccine to the United States, were rented to a group of wealthy equestrians.

What follows is an 1896 description of the new riding club that includes a spectacular sketch of the arch as it was seen before the encroachment the modern infrastructure and apartment buildings, which would soon wipe the mansion, but not the arch, off the face of a once rural little fiefdom.

Harper’s Bazaar
November, 1896

SUBURBAN RIDING AND DRIVING CLUB

The rapid improvement of the annexed district of New York for business purposes has been steadily despoiling the rural drives, which for many years have been one of the chief charms of the metropolis for horsemen.  The closing of Jerome Park two years ago for a public reservoir, and the temporary disuse of Jerome Avenue, due to the building of the new Central bridge over the Harlem River, forced the riders and drivers to seek other roads for reaching the suburbs.  Or many years the Jerome Park clubhouse was, by common consent, the rendezvous for gentlemen who owned and drove fast horses for pleasure, and its abandonment left them without a stopping-place on the east side of the city, save the many road-houses which line Jerome Avenue.

The rapid improvement of the drives on the west side of Manhattan Island, on the other hand, has attracted most of the riders and drivers to that side of the city. And Kingsbridge Road is gradually taking the place of Jerome Avenue.  That it will be the driving centre of the city in years to come is shown by the number of fine drives recently finished, in course of completion, and planned for that section of the city. What better place, therefore, could be selected for the new home of the lovers of horses than this thoroughfare?

A number of the leading spirits in the old management of the Jerome Park clubhouse got together two years ago and formed the nucleus of what is now the most promising organization of its kind within many miles of the metropolis.  The Suburban Riding and Driving Club has met with unusual success and already numbers among its members most of the better class of horsemen in the city.  Its clubhouse at 217th Street and the Kingsbridge Road is a convenient stopping place for gentlemen driving in or out of the city on the west side, and its comfortable reading-rooms and smoking-rooms, café and restaurant attract a goodly attendance of members almost every bright day.

The Old Seaman Mansion (Source- Harper’s Bazaar, 1896)

The Harlem River Speedway, now building and destined for use within a year or two, the new French Boulevard overlooking the Hudson River, and now almost completed, with Dyckman Street, already open for public use, to connect the two great boulevards with Kingsbridge Road, will offer to New York horsemen a circuit of fine drives not to be equaled by those of any other city in the country.  The upper end of the Speedway turns into Dyckman Street just under Fort George Heights, and will pour its steady stream of fast horses into that thoroughfare to seek other avenues of return to the Park and other drives of the lower part of the city.  Dyckman Street, a mile of fine level drive, intersects the Kingsbridge Road at 204th Street, and connects the new French Boulevard with that and the Speedway, at Inwood, just west of the Kingsbridge Road.  Thus is completed a network of fine public drives, combining opportunity for fast driving, fine views of both the Hudson and Harlem rivers, and complete isolation from the thickly settled parts of the town.

216th and Broadway in 1895 (Source-Harper’s Bazaar)

Only half a mile above the junction of Dyckman Street, and standing on a hill a few hundred feet back of the highroad, stands the new home of the horsemen in what for many years was known as the “Seaman Castle.”  The Suburban Riding and Driving Club is as thoroughly secluded as any other spot on Manhattan Island.

Seaman mansion and arch from a distance in 1903.
Seaman mansion and arch from a distance in 1903.

The massive arched stone entrance attracts much attention from the passers-by, but the road up to the clubhouse winds around the side of the hill, and thus isolates the building.  Once inside the grounds, the picturesqueness (sic) of the place is perhaps its most noticeable feature.  The property has been laid out with an eye for the landscape effect, and with much success.  Facing the entrance is a small pool with a fountain in its centre, which is supplied from a stream falling over the rocks from the hill above, where stands the clubhouse.   The road bends around through a grove of trees, and finally emerges at the crest of the hill facing the old homestead of the Seaman family.

The old Seaman mansion once occupied the site of today's Park Terrace Gardens apartment complex.
The old Seaman mansion once occupied the site of today’s Park Terrace Gardens apartment complex.

The building, which is of white marble, faces west, and from its porch and front windows can be seen the silvery line of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, a mile or so above, winding its snakelike course toward the cleft in the hills which overlook the Hudson.  Through this opening the “Rhine of America,” with the Palisades beyond it, can also be seen.  From the back and north end of the building the valley of the Harlem, with the river itself winding through it, is also spread out before the eye as in a panorama.

Southwest of the clubhouse are the stables and sheds for the accommodations, both temporary and permanent, of the members’ horses.  A large white marble stable was found on the property when the Suburban club took possession, but additional sheds have been added.  Near the stables, too, is the great quarry from which was taken the marble for the buildings on the place. The great archway entrance, the “Castle” itself, the stable, and even the walls that surround the property, are built of the fine quality of marble that was found on the land.  On the side of the hill just below the clubhouse are extensive greenhouses, which furnish flowers for the decoration of the rooms, while vegetable gardens on the property supply many of the necessaries of the kitchen.

Main Hall of the old Seaman mansion (Source-Harper’s Bazaar, Nov., 1896)

Within, the building has been altered somewhat for its new tenants.  The bedrooms have become private dining rooms; the great dining-hall and parlors are used as a café, public dining room, and reception-room; while an old conservatory at the southeast corner of the “Castle” has been altered for a smoking and “sun” room.  Over $10,000 has been spent in alterations and repairs on the clubhouse and grounds by the members of the Suburban club.

During the winter the wives and sisters of the members make the place attractive by a series of receptions at the clubhouse, while sleighing and driving parties frequently stop there.  A number of other attractive features have been added.  Golf links have been laid out on the big meadow west of the “Castle,” and twenty-six acres of land afford ample opportunity for the sport.

Interior of Seaman Mansion (Source-Harper's Bazaar, Nov. 1896)
Interior of Seaman Mansion (Source-Harper’s Bazaar, Nov. 1896)

Over two hundred members have been enrolled already, and the list is growing rapidly.  The men who headed the movement for the new club, and who have since been elected to the principal offices, are representative horsemen of the better class, and their names guarantee the permanency of the organization.  The initiation fee is set at $25, and the annual dues are the same figure.

Today-Inside the arch looking out.

For another description of the Suburban Riding and Driving Club, click here.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Cole: The description of the Seaman mansion/Suburban Riding and Driving Club makes me wonder about the block of houses on 217th St. between PTW and PTE. Do you know when they were built? They look 20s or 30s-ish.
    Betty Lee

  2. […] This is right next to our apartment and is what remains of a famous arch built in the 1850s as part of a mansion. It might not look it, but this is one of the cool tourist spots of the area, although the exhaust from the auto shop that now occupies part of the space means its popularity will never likely match that of the Met. […]

  3. Thank you so much for this information. I do so love the upper reaches of Manhattan Isle, especially Ft. Tryon Park and The Cloisters. Would like to explore more of it, perhaps develop a tour of the area. Although a walking tour may be a rough go what with all the hills, the ups and downs, in the area. It sure would be a vigorous workout! Discovered your website via a high school friend whose daughter & son-in-law live in Inwood.

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