Tulip Tree of Old Inwood

by Cole Thompson

"The Old Tulip Tree," by Ernest Lawson.

“The Old Tulip Tree,” by Ernest Lawson.

Before Inwood Hill Park, before there even was an Inwood, a mighty Tulip grew in the forest. In a new city lacking a sense of anything from antiquity, New Yorkers latched onto a tree.

The giant tulip of Inwood became a popular destination for picnickers, school children and hikers looking to escape the other world downtown.

In the minds of early New Yorkers the tree stood as the only witness to their then fairly recent past. It’s easy to imagine a teacher pointing to the Spuyten Duyvil and telling her young wards that this is the spot where Henry Hudson and his crew on the Half Moon first set foot on the shores of Manhattan.

1913 photo of Tulip Tree of old Inwood that once stood in what is now Inwood Hill Park.

Tulip tree in 1913

And while the tree no longer stands, the site is marked with a boulder, a magnificent body of photography and written word concerning the tulip has survived.

1913 photo of Tulip Tree of old Inwood that once stood in what is now Inwood Hill Park.

Tulip Tree in 1913

An annual report published by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society in 1913 describes both New York’s love for the tulip and the desperate attempts to save the dying giant:

On Wednesday, October 30, 1912, exercises were held under the auspices of Park Commissioner Stover at…’the oldest and biggest tree in Manhattan, the giant tulip of Inwood.’ This tree stands on the flat land on the east side of Inwood Hill, on the west shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek near the southernmost bend of the creek. Near it are shell deposits and rock habitation of the aborigines.

The Inwood Tulip, Source: NYC Parks Department 1930 Annual Report.

The Inwood Tulip, Source: NYC Parks Department 1930 Annual Report.

Tree surgery performed on the Inwood Tulip, Source: NYC Parks Department 1930 Annual Report.

Tree surgery performed on the Inwood Tulip, Source: NYC Parks Department 1930 Annual Report.

The Park Department has had all the dead wood cut out of the tree, filled the cavities with cement according to the methods of modern tree surgery, and erected around it an iron fence, in hope that this ancient tree may stand for centuries to come.”

1913 photo Tulip Tree of old Inwood that once stood in what is now Inwood Hill Park.

The following description, in gold lettering marked one of the cement fillings beneath the tree, “Tulip Tree. Liriodendron tulipifera. Circumference, 19 feet. Age 225 years. Henry Hudson entered this inlet in 1609 and may have met the Indians who used the place for a camp, as shown by the quantity of old broken oyster shells around this tree and nearby.”

At the time, the giant tulip grew on private property and a neighborhood movement to buy a small parcel of land surrounding the tree to be presented to the city never materialized.

1932 photo Tulip Tree of old Inwood that once stood in what is now Inwood Hill Park.

Tulip tree in 1932

The tree was an iconic symbol for generations. Countless photos and sketches show the tree in a constantly changing topography as the wheels of change widened waterways and altered the grade of the land.

Despite man’s best efforts to save the tree  the giant tulip fell victim to a storm in 1938.

The end of the mighty Inwood tulip, 1930's, NYHS.

The end of the mighty Inwood tulip, 1930′s, NYHS.

A tragic photograph captures the once mighty giant still standing her ground, gazing at the ever evolving neighborhood she had guarded through the centuries.

Today a new plaque marks the spot where the tree once stood. It reads:

According to legend, on this site of the principal Manhattan Indian Village (Shorakkopoh), Peter Minuit in 1626 purchased Manhattan Island for trinkets and bead then worth about 60 guilders.

This boulder also marks the spot where a tulip tree (Liriodendron Tulipera) grew to a height of 165 feet. It was, until its death in 1938 at the age of 280 years, the last living link between the Reckgawawanc Indians who lived here.

Boulder in Inwood Hill Park marks the site of the old tulip tree.

Boulder in Inwood Hill Park marks the site of the old tulip tree.

The new plaque was put in place in 1954 by the American Legion to commemorate New York City’s 300th anniversary.

The Fulton Patriot, December 8, 1938.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INWOOD HISTORY AND PHOTOS

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Norma Liliana Chafer December 3, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Excelente Web.-

michael boland December 3, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Someone did an excellent job putting this web site together. Kudos to you for a job well done. I grew up in Inwood and never knew or heard about the Tulip Tree or the name of the predominant tribe that resided along the banks of the bay. Very informative and the rest of the site is a goldmine of usefull information long overdue. Thanks for helping to put Inwood on the map. The best kept secret in Manhattan is now no longer a secret. It is a great nieghborhood to live in and getting better all the time. Keep up the good work.

Tim December 4, 2008 at 12:51 am

Thanks, Mike! I miss ya! Do you still eat Jelly Donuts? Cole told me you spoke of diving off the rock where the Columbia “C” is…. so much history!

I love this place..been visiting ever since Cole made it home…Manhattan’s best kept secret by far…

David December 7, 2008 at 7:42 am

Way to go Cole! This site is awesome and you have really done a service for the people of Inwood.

janice August 25, 2009 at 11:55 am

Thanks for this interesting article. The shorockapock rock (as I called it as a kid) and the dyckman house were my favorite thing to see as a kid. I still live nearby and love the park and house even more now!

Anjoli Roy March 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Hi there,

I just wanted to say thank you, so much, for this website! I am a resident of Inwood and am working on a novel set here, and the historical information you’ve compiled is incredibly helpful! I am indebted to you!

Sincerely,
Anjoli

Eric Otto September 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I agree! This website is very engaging and interesting. My wife Laura and I recently moved to Inwood from the upper east side and have fallen in love with the neighborhood. I am a history buff and I thoroughly enjoy browsing through the old articles and photos.

Eric

RJ February 28, 2014 at 8:25 am

I grew up on Sherman Avenue and went to school at Good Shepherd. I cannot count the number of times that I, as a kid, played near the marker for the tulip tree. Thank you so much for posting this and the many, many other chapters of Inwood’s history!

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