In the July 1868 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, a poet named Charles Dawson Shanly, 1811-1875 wrote an article about traveling the road along the Hudson River, in which he described the upper Manhattan countryside.
Become a Harlem insider - Sign-Up for our Weekly Newsletter!
“The road that leads by Washington Heights to New York…is the most picturesque route to the city. Trim hedges of beautiful flowering shrubs border the gravel walks that lead from the road to the villas. Cows of European lineage crop the velvet turf in the glades of the copses. Now and then the river is shut out from view, but only to appear again in scenic vistas.”
Another contemporary account called it “the watering hole of the blue-blooded…where social delights were the study and business of summer life.”
Carmansville, from which Carmansville Park takes its name, was one of several villages like Bloomingdale Village that extended from the 90s to 112th Street that lined the Hudson River along this road. It was named for Richard Carman, 1801-1867, a wealthy landowner in the area who lived on 153rd Street, making his fortune rebuilding much of New York City after the Great Fire of 1835. He was also friends with naturalist John James Audubon, who had his estate called Minniesland at 156th Street reports Source. Carman founded the village of Carmansville along today’s Amsterdam Avenue between West 150th-153rd Streets and was interred in the nearby Uptown Trinity Cemetery.
Hatching Cat NYC wrote that in the ‘s1800 In the 1800s, cattle stampedes were almost a weekly occurrence, especially on Sundays. The steer would scour the boulevards, avenues, and streets, and then charge through the crowds of people going to and returning from church.
On a typical Sunday, two or more steers would appear on the street, break into a trot, and then full-out charge into the crowd, scattering people in all directions. Neatly dressed women would throw aside their Sabbath decorum and make for the nearest cover at a racing pace. Shawls, hats, and other articles would go flying, no doubt contributing to the animals’ agitation. The gentlemen, forgetting all gallantry, would perform surprising stunts of agility to avoid harm’s way. The cattle would eventually head into the woods, and few people were actually harmed.
The cattle were escapees from the cattle trains on the Hudson River Railroad. These trains often had as many as 100 cars, each containing 16 heads of cattle. When the trains arrived at the Manhattanville passenger and freight station at 130th Street, the cows were driven into insecure pens by careless drivers. The fencing around the enclosure was composed of decayed boards, which allowed ambitious bulls to escape.
Each of the villages had its own smithy, grocery store, school, and church. The southernmost village, Harsenville, occupied today’s Lincoln Center area. Striker’s Bay, a term still in use, encompassed the streets in the 80s and low 90s, and Bloomingdale Village extended from the 90s to 112th Street. The next village, between 112th Street and 140th Street, continues to be known as Manhattanville, followed by Carmansville from 140th Street to 158th Street. Inwood Village—today’s Inwood—was the northernmost of the hamlets.
By the end of the 19th century, the “scenic vistas” had become urban landscape, and the “watering hole of the blue-blooded” was home to a more diverse population. Several wealthy residents remained, and the area consisted mostly of middle-class apartment buildings and tenements for the very poor. The turn-of-the-century transformation of the picturesque, meandering Bloomingdale Road into Broadway, the ultimate urban thoroughfare, epitomized the change.
Ephemeral new york writes that According to Phelps’ New-York City Guide, published in 1853:
“This is a pleasant village, situated upon the rising ground, on the Hudson River, in the vicinity of Fort Washington.”
It was a popular neighborhood for socially prominent families. An 1868 issue of the Atlantic Monthly described the setting:
“Trim hedges of beautiful flowering shrubs border the gravel walks that lead from the road to the villas. Cows of European lineage crop the velvet turf in the glades of the copses. Now and then the river is shut out from view, but only to appear again in scenic vistas.”
MCNY wrote that according to Resolvid Gardner, speaking to the New York Times in 1909, 1860’s Carmansville was the destination for picnickers and other pleasure seekers who would spend the afternoon fishing in the Harlem River catching boatloads of crabs.
By the end of the 19th century, the views had become obstructed with tenements and apartment buildings for middle-class families, and most of the wealthy residents moved out.
And according to a 1914 New York Times article, a Carmanville Park once was located at Amsterdam Avenue and 152nd Street. Still another NY Times article, published in 2004 to commemorate the opening of the New York City subway, has Carmanville at 125th Street. Yet, another reference, The Tree Bore Fruit, about nearby Manhattan College and published in 1953, puts Carmenville a good 28 blocks south at 155th Street.
DNAinfo writes that In “the 1950’s and 60’s, spectators would flock to the park watch pickup basketball games at Carmansville Playground — better known as the ‘Battlegrounds’ — on 151st Street and Amsterdam Avenues. ” Where Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Knicks Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton, Ray Felix, Freddie Crawford, Ed Warner, and Willie Mays. “Willie Mays used to play here when he was with the New York Giants,” said Jim Couch, 84, a basketball coach and fixture on the city’s outdoor courts. “He used to have a day game at the Polo Grounds and after the game was over he would come out and play stickball and basketball with the kids.”
Today the Carmansville Park has returned, located on Amsterdam Avenue between 151st Street and 152nd Street, is one of the few reminders of its namesake. The Committee on Streets, Highways, and Sewers named the new property in December 1913, choosing Carmansville to preserve the former designation of this section of the City. The property consists of two parcels: one acquired by condemnation in 1906, and a larger parcel granted to Parks in 1911 by the Department of Water Supply.
A village atmosphere still permeates the neighborhood surrounding the playground. The buildings, many of them brownstones built in the early 20th century, are small in scale, and the gently sloping streets recall the undulating meadows that once characterized this section of Manhattan, now known as Hamilton Heights or West Harlem.
Do you remember or did you live in Carmansville, Harlem? If so, let us know, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story with our readers.
Photo credit: 1) Audubon Estate at Carmansville postcard. 2) NYPL postcard of 155th and Amsterdam Avenue in 1917—the remains of Carmanville? 3) Carmansville postcard.