The Shadow of the Knickerbockers
The Shadow of the Knickerbockers—An Old-time Map—The Beginnings of the Avenue—Watering Place Life—The Beach at Rockaway—Coney Island—Newspapers in the Thirties—Early Day Marriages—The Knickerbocker Sabbath—Home Customs—Restaurants and Hotels—The Leather-heads—Conditions of Travel—Stage-coaches and Steamers—The Clipper Ships—When Dickens First Came.
Boughton, had you bid me chant
Hymns to Peter Stuyvesant.
Had you bid me sing of Wouter.
(He! the Onion-head! the Doubter!)
But to rhyme of this one-mocker,
Who shall rhyme to Knickerbocker?
Before the writer, as he begins the pleasant task, is an old half-illegible map, or rather, fragment of a map. Near-by are three or four dull prints. They are of a hundred years ago, or thereabouts, and tell of a New York when President Monroe was in the White House, and Governor De Witt Clinton in the State Capitol, at Albany, and Mayor Colden in the City Hall. To pore over them is to achieve a certain contentment of the soul. Probably it held itself to be turbulent in its day—that old New York. Without doubt it had its squabbles, its turmoils, its excitements. We smile at the old town—its limitations, its inconveniences, its naivetes. But perhaps, in these years of storm, and stress, and heartache, we envy more than a little. It is not merely the architectural story that the old maps, prints, diaries tell; in them we can find an age that is gone, catch fleeting glimpses of people long since dust to dust, look at past manners, fashions, pleasures and contrast them with our own.
But to begin with the old map. The lettering beneath conveys the information that it was prepared for the City in 1819-1820 by John Randel, Jr., and that it shows the farms superimposed upon the Commissioner’s map of 1811. Through the centre of the map there is a line indicating Fifth Avenue north to Thirteenth Street. Here and there is a spot apparently intended to represent a farmhouse, but that is all; for in 1820, though Greenwich Village and Chelsea were, the city proper was far to the south. Some of the names on the old map are familiar and some are not.
Just above the bending lane that ran along the north side of Washington Square, then the Potter’s Field, may be read “Trustees of Sailor’s Snug Harbor.” The land thus marked extends from what is now Waverly Place to what is now Ninth Street. In 1790 Captain Robert Richard Randall paid five thousand pounds sterling for twenty-one acres of good farming land. In 1801 he died, and his will directed that a “Snug Harbor” for old salts be built upon his farm, the produce of which, he believed, would forever furnish his pensioners