East Village History & West Village Historical Sites
A Look At The History Of The West & East Village Neighborhoods
Manhattan Neighborhoods / Manhattan History / Gotham Buzz. The following provides both a history and links into some of the current day things to do in the East Village neighborhood and the West Village Neighborhood including schools, restaurants and shops. More will be added as time goes on.
Greenwich Village History – Dutch Farmlands – 1600’s
The area now covered by the western section of Greenwich Village was once farmland owned by the Dutch settlers. In 1664 the English won the colony from the Dutch in the war. At the time the area was somewhat separate from lower Manhattan.
Click here to read the rest of our report about the history of the West Village & East Village NYC including historical sites. Or click here to see a listing of things to do in the East Village & West Village NYC.
The East Village Neighborhood & The West Village Neighborhood
Greenwich Village Neighborhood History – 1700’s
Around the turn of the 18th century [1700’s] the area had been parceled and began to take on the name of Greenwich Village. The oldest surviving structure in the Village dates back to 1799. It is the Isaacs-Hendricks House at 77 Bedford in what is now the West Village neighborhood. Forgotten NY informs us that it was owned by a copper merchant who supplied Robert Fulton with the material for the boilers on the Clermont steamboat in 1807.
The streets of the West Village evolved out of natural pathways and were given names prior to the implementation of the city planning grid and street numbering of 1811, which now dominates the New York City grid. Hence it’s easy to get lost in the West Village as the names and streets remain largely as they were set out centuries ago.
Greenwich Village Neighborhood History – Washington Square Park – 1800’s
According to Wikipedia, some of the area today known as Washington Square Park was purchased by the city in around the turn of the 19th century  to serve as a public burial ground or potters field. In 1826 the city purchased the additional land and laid out the Washington Military Parade Ground.
The row of houses lining the northern perimeter of the Washington Square Park, were erected a few years later around 1830 and many are still standing today. In 1889 a large wood and plaster arch was erected in commemoration of the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration. It was so popular that in 1892 they erected the marble arch that stands there today. The arch was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe erected in Paris during Napoleon’s time .
Click here for a Washington Square Park map in the Village Neighborhood of NYC [TBD].
The History Of Greenwich Village - Union Square - 1815
In 1815 the city declared a section of the former potters fields, of what was then the northern end of the city, Union Place.
According to Wikipedia, Union Place was where the union of Broadway and Bowery Street met and hence the name ‘union’ - even though subsequently it became known for large labor union rallies and also rallies for Union soldiers. In 1832 the boundaries were enlarged and the name changed to Union Square at the urging of Samuel Ruggles, one of the organizers behind Gramercy Park.
In 1882 it became the site of the first Labor Day gathering and in 1992 was made an historic site because of that event. Bronze statues of both George Washington [shown returning to New York atop a horse after the British conceded the war] and one of Abraham Lincoln standing are featured in the park [see Cooper Union].
One of New York City’s first greenmarkets was opened in Union Square in 1976. Click here for a map of Union Square Park just north of the Village in NYC.
The History of Greenwich Village - New York University - 1831
In 1831 New York established the University of the City of New York, which would later become known at NYU. It was founded as a non-denominational school [non-religious] through the efforts of former Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin [under Jefferson & Madison]. The first classes began downtown before the university settled in and around Washington Square in Greenwich Village. Most of its present day campus is located around Washington Square Park and to the east between Broadway. As with many American schools started in the 19th century, the school was founded with the intention that admission be based on merit, not social / economic class.
The History of the East Village Neighborhood - Tompkins Square Park – 1829 - 1850
The area that now encompasses Tompkins Square Park and the surrounding East Village neighborhood was once referred to as Stuyvesant meadows, as it was once owned by the first Dutch Mayor, Peter Stuyvesant. One of the Stuyvesant heirs gifted the land to the city in 1829 with the understanding that it remain public space. A forerunner to the park, a square, was opened in 1834 and named after Daniel Tompkins who was a Governor of New York and a vice president under James Monroe. The park was opened in 1850.
Throughout its history the park has been a gathering place for the oppressed, starting in 1857 with immigrant protests, in 1863 the Draft Riot protests, in 1874 the Tompkins Square Riots where workers and police clashed, and so on. In the late 20th century there were anti-Vietnam War protests and in 1988 the last protest by homeless people who were removed from the park with a curfew.
Today Tompkins Square is home to the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival and other such events. Click here to read a story about the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival Tompkins Square Park East Village [includes photos & music video].
The History of the East Village Neighborhood - Cooper Union - 1859
Peter Cooper, inventor of the first railroad steam engine, founded Cooper Union in 1859. The school was modeled in part after the French Polytechnic School and the goal was to provide people of merit with free access to an excellent scientific school. NY Post Publisher William Cullen Bryant and NY Tribune Publisher Horace Greeley were board members. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave an important address in the Great Hall at Cooper Union which many credit as helping him win the nomination and subsequent election.
History of the West Village Neighborhood - The Whitney Museum of American Art – 1930
The Whitney Museum was founded sometime around 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Whitney had an extensive collection of works by American artists and she decided to start her own museum of American art in the West Village on 8th Street. In the 1950's the museum began moving north, with a stop in Midtown near MoMA and eventually settling on the Upper East Side neighborhood at Madison and 75th Street in 1966. In 2014 the Whitney vacated the space and moved back down to the West Village.
West Village Neighborhood History - The Stonewall Riots - 1969
The Stonewall Riots which began at the Stonewall Inn at 51-53 Christopher Street between Waverly and 4th Street in the West Village is considered the flashpoint for the organization of the Gay Lesbian Liberation Movement. The nightclub was apparently Mafia-financed and in violation of many city regulations and operated as a gay club - which in itself was, at the time – illegal. When the police attempted to close the club at 1 am, a riot broke out between them and the gay crowd. The event became a catalyst for gays to organize politically to obtain equal rights / recognition under the law.
The History of the East Village Neighborhood - The Tenement Museum – 1988
The Tenement Museum was founded in 1988 and is actually not in the East Village but rather the Bowery. The Tenement Museum has preserved some of the history of tenement dwellers, keeping their stories alive through in situ tours, complete with recordings by the children and grandchildren of German / Russian Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants. It is the story of the melting pot and of the lives of real 19th and 20th century immigrants, living in the East Village and Bowery neighborhoods of New York City.
Art, Music & Pop Culture Scene
The west village is a mixed, straight, gay-influenced scene - likely evolving, in part, out of the Stonewall Riots. There are several legacy jazz clubs, most notably the Blue Note, which continue to entertain jazz enthusiasts to this day. Charlie Parker and others used to frequent / live in the East Village which was a big hippie scene in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There are also a number of modern music clubs.
Most of the art scene has migrated north into Chelsea, Midtown West and Hells Kitchen. As the area has become gentrified over the past couple decades, most of the young artists and musicians have migrated to the outer boroughs, initially Brooklyn, then Queens and increasingly into the Bronx.
West & East Village Restaurants
The West & East Village neighborhoods are home to a wide variety of restaurants befitting a wide range of budgets. The East Village culinary / cuisine heritage has been predominantly Jewish, Italian and Ukranian. There are still a few legacy restaurants left, including Katz Delicatessen, Veselka Ukranian Diner and Lanza Italian Restaurants. Click here to visit our West & East Village Restaurants section, which will continue to evolve.
West & East Village Shops
The West & East Village neighborhoods are home to a wide variety of shops and shopping venues providing an opportunity to purchase a wide variety of unique clothing and things. Click here to visit our Shopping the West & East Village section which will also continue to evolve.
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