NYC Greenthumb Community Gardens, An Open Data Gazetteer

NYC OpenData Portal contains information on over 530 GreenThumb Community Gardens. This information can be used to create a gazetteer of GreenThumb Garden data to plotted on a map.

Step One: Download the Data

NYC Open Data allows you to download a dataset into a CSV file.

GreenThumb Community Gardens Dataset

GreenThumb Community Gardens Dataset

NYC Greenthumb Community Gardens Dataset

Powered by Socrata

Next Step: Clean the Data

The dataset contains over 500 addresses which required some cleaning to correct input errors, include a complete address and ensure that none of the points are plotted. For this dataset I added a column for the City but didn’t attempt to clean all of the data points for now.

Next Step: Geocode the Data

Next, I tried a couple of batch geocoding services, including Google Maps and BatchGeo to get the latitude and longitude coordinates. Because I do not have a paid subscription, I was not able to process more than 100 addresses with Google Maps or 250 with BatchGeo. I also found an experimental batch geocoder, called Esa’s Google Maps API.

Google Maps GreenThumb test of 100 datapoints

Google Maps GreenThumb test of 100 datapoints

BatchGeo only geocoded the first 250 items on the list. The geocoder is rather slow. I will post the resulting map here as soon as it finishes processing.

Esa’s Google Maps API experiment provides a listing of items that processed properly and an error list noting the lines that need additional cleaning.

Esa's Google Maps API Experiments

Esa’s Google Maps API Experiments

It also provides a window with the addresses and latitude/longitude which can be used in a gazetteer. For example, the following lat/lon results can be combined with the full listing of datapoints in the master dataset and used to present gazetteer information on your map:

-73.97834, 40.72696, 626 East 11th Street New York, NY, CSV
-73.94732, 40.79616, 1651 Madison Avenue New York, NY, CSV
-73.94056, 40.79881, 172 E 117th Street New York, NY, CSV
-73.98288, 40.72873, 422 East 11th Street New York, NY, CSV
-73.86327, 40.87805, Carlisle Place New York, NY, CSV

etc.

Here is an example of gazetteer information in a popup window on Google Maps.

Example: Gazetteer Popup

Example: Gazetteer Popup

I plan to edit the list further to see if I can produce a full map, perhaps in GeoCommons, but I need to spend a lot more time!

Next Step: Make a Map

The results of geocoding may require additional data cleaning, which can be an iterative process over several passes to the map making program.

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The First Garden

The New York City Parks department provides an historical overview of community gardening and farm gardens in New York City, from the first farm garden created by Mrs. Henry G. Parsons at De Witt Clinton Park in Manhattan in 1902 to the movements that created and challenged gardening programs in New York City ever since. It has a small number of historical photographs and descriptions of various movements throughout the City’s history. It, unfortunately, does not include citations, which would have been helpful since the city holds a wealth of information about these programs in its Municipal Archives and the Parks Department Library.

De Witt Clinton Park and the First Garden

Frances (Fannie) Griscom Parsons oversaw the development of the farm garden at De Witt Clinton Park, located on the West Side of Manhattan at West 52nd to 54th Street between 10th and 11th avenue, from 1901 to its completion in 1906. She went on to become one of the City’s first senior–level park administrators, in addition to serving on her local school board. Her father, John Hoskins Griscom was the first tenement house reformer in the city and her grandfather John Griscom established the first city high school and first institution for juvenile delinquents.

The original design by Samuel Parsons Jr. (no relation to Mrs Fannie Parsons) was to be larger and less developed, however, the plans were altered by the construction of the New York Passenger Ship Terminal on its west side and subsequently by the development of the West Side Highway in 1932.

Today this park is dominated by ball fields and basketball courts, but at the time hosted 360 garden plots on ¾ of an acre of the park space. By 1932, the gardens closed to make way for construction of the West Side Highway. Early maps of the property may indicate the full boundaries as of 1902.

Gardening Develops Citizenship

An article in the September 16, 1902, New York Daily Tribune describes activity in the De Witt Clinton Park farm garden, centered on “Little Em’ly, a jolly, colored girl, who came with a load of crippled children from the Children’s Aid Society School for Crippled Children at No. 224 West Sixty-third-street.” If the language from 1902 sounds a bit archaic, it is interesting to note an adjacent article entitled, “Comely Women Scarce: PWL Selects from Thousands of Applicants for its Exhibition” as well as a notice describing the proper dress and behavior for Columbia University freshman called, “Musn’t Wear Golf Trousers.”

The article notes that the farmers had been invited to present their work to visitors, including beans and turnips. A wagonette brought “successive loads of children to the garden for a practical lesson in nature study.” In all 180 children from the Crippled Children’s school and 205 from public schools utilized the farm garden at De Witt Clinton Park. At this point the gardens were a demonstration project, as the land for the park would not be leveled until the following year.

One of the promotional ideas was the thought that allowing a park would reduce vandalism and loafing.  Complaints that such parks draw “loafers and bums” were noted in the article, and one gentleman, who had attended a tent meeting the prior Sunday, said that “…if it were a park of the normal description, like Bryant Park, which was mentioned as an example, that their daughters should never go into it.” Mrs. Parsons was quoted on the day of the demonstration saying, “Do you see our fence? Not a knifemark on it. Not so much as a name written on it? Doesn’t that show a good influence from this garden?” Bryant Park in fact did host a farm garden for a short period afterwards, but it was not as successful. Similar school gardens and gardens for infirm children soon followed, including a garden for children suffering from tuberculosis at Bellevue Hospital.

Developing a Curicullum

According to a New York Sun article dated June 18, 1906, advertised the need for teachers for a summer course at New York University that was designed by Mrs. Parson’s son, Henry, to prepare teachers to conduct children’s gardens. Many members of school boards in New York City and from four other cities requested help and advice, including Philadelphia, which at the time had ten school board gardens. Land at the old English garden of the Gustav Schwab estate, adjoining the University’s campus near 180th Street in the Bronx, was loaned as a training laboratory. The writer noted that the Schwab garden “…is overgrown with just the type of weeds its members should know of.” Both of these articles described the development of farm gardens as a “movement.”

Schwab Estate, South Hall, New York Univeristy, 1908
Schwab Estate, South Hall, New York University, 1908. Source: Frusciano, T.J. New York University and the City: An Illustrated History

By 1908, farm gardening was part of the NYC school curriculum, spreading to 80 locations citywide. Children’s Farm Gardens continued to flourish into the 1950s when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses championed further expansion as a means for teaching children to grow plants of “economic interest” such as cotton, wheat, flax and corn. The Parks Department website links to a school and youth garden resource, containing a long list of websites and journal articles related to school and youth gardens.

Urban Planning

I was curious about the role Robert Moses played in community and farm gardening in NYC. I read on the Parks Department website that he had been promoting gardening in schools when he was Parks Commissioner in the 1950s, ironically, while leading the development of highways that drastically reshaped or destroyed many local neighborhoods, similarly to how the West Side Highway destroyed the farm garden at De Witt Clinton Park in 1932. Good Robert Moses biographies include Robert Caro’s, The Power Broker, Anthony Flint’s Wrestling with Moses, and Robert Moses and the Modern City edited by Hilary Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson.

Citation:

Ballon, H. & K.T. Jackson. (2007). Robert Moses and the Modern City: the transformation of New York. New York : W.W. Norton & Co.

Caro, R. (1974). The power broker: Robert Moses and the fall of New York. New York: Knopf.

De Witt Clinton Park. (July 26, 2013). Web. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeWitt_Clinton_Park

Flint, A.. (2009). Wrestling with Moses: how Jane Jacobs took on New York’s master builder and transformed the American city. New York: Random House.

Frusciano, T. J. (1997). New York University and the City: An Illustrated History. New York: New York University.

History of Community Gardens, NYC Parks. (n.d.). Web. Retrieved from http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/community-gardens

“Little Em’ly, a gardner.” (September 16, 1902). New-York tribune. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Retrieved on July 23, 2013 from http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1902-09-16/ed-1/seq-5/

 

Maps of De Witt Clinton Park, 1815 to 1932

The following maps, mostly from the G.W. Bromley series, show how the neighborhood surrounding De Witt Clinton Park has changed over time. We begin with an 1815 view from the “Sackersdorff Farm Set” through the 1932 construction of the West Side Highway, which decimated the farm gardens. KML files allow you to view the georectified map, overlayed onto Google Earth, so you can compare historical features to today. A link to the map in the NYPL database is provided along with citations.

Digitized Bromley maps were not available for all years in this section of Manhattan; however, I pulled the original fire insurance maps from the NYPL Map Division and photographed them for this project. Unfortunately the mylar sleeves caused some glare, but the detail of De Witt Clinton Park is visible.

1815: The Sackersdorff Farm Set

These maps plotted property lines and ownership as of 1815 in a set of maps called The Sackersdorff Farm Set, commonly known as the Blue Book. In this map, In 1815, the area that would become the De Witt Clinton Park straddles the southern border of John Hopper’s Farm and parts of a property labeled “Sigmond.”

Sackersdorff Farm Set, 1815, 35th to 58th Street from 8th to 12th Avenues

Sackersdorff Farm Set, 1815, 35th to 58th Street from 8th to 12th Avenues

Lyman Horace Weeks’ Prominent families of New York is an excellent resource for discovering the history of property owners whose names appear on fire insurance maps. According to Weeks, John Hopper was a descendent of Andries Hoppe (or Hoppen), a Dutch settler from Holland who arrived in 1652 and was named burgher of New Amsterdam in 1653. John Hopper was part of a branch of the Hopper family who ultimately settled in Bloomingdale. He owned the farm located in what is now the area between Sixth Avenue and the Hudson River, roughly from 50th to 53rd Streets, in an area that in 1815 was considered the “upper west side” of Manhattan. The land was acquired by a Dutch grant in 1642, and confirmed by the English in 1667. Upon the death of John Hopper, in 1779, the farm was divided by his will among his children, for each of  whom he had erected a house. A mansion was built for his son John in 1752 on the banks of the Hudson at 53rd Street. If the location is correct, this would place the house directly on the site of the De Witt Clinton Park Farm Garden.

Citations:

Sackersdorff Farm Set from Maps of farms commonly called the Blue book, 1815 : drawn from the original on file in the street commissioner’s office in the City of New York, together with lines of streets and avenues / laid out by John Randel, jr., 1819-20. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1819 Last modified over 2 years ago. 3 control points.
View Digital Gallery record | Download KML

Weeks, Lyman Horace. Prominent Families of New York: Being An Account in Biographical Form of Individuals and Families Distinguished as Representatives of the Social, Professional and Civic Life of New York City. New York,, The Historical company, 1898.

1857: Homesteading Gives Way to Industry

In William Perris’ map from 1857, the home of the younger John Hopper at 53rd street is clearly visible on a section of what was Hopper Lane, a road that cuts diagonally across what is now De Witt Clinton Park. Hopper Lane appears to be oriented along a true East/West trajectory, while the Manhattan Grid is oriented a few degrees counter clockwise. At this time, most structures are build with wood materials. The property became the home of General Garret Hopper Striker and his descendants. The Mott homestead (another descendent), built in the mid-1700s, stood at Mott’s Point, at the foot of West Fifty-fourth Street, and was considered a landmark of old New York. It was demolished in November, 1895 to allow for the extension of that street.

A row of wooden structures oriented along what was renamed Strikers’ Lane can be seen just south of 53rd Street, east of 11th Avenue. Eleventh Avenue now features the Hudson River Railroad. We also see the beginning of brick and wood development oriented on the Manhattan grid between 52nd and 53rd west of 11th Avenue and at the southwest corner of 10th Avenue and 57th Street. The structures at 57th Street include a brewery. The Valley Iron Forge was located at northeast corner of 12th Avenue and 51st and a stone yard was located at the northwest corner of 11th Avenue and 51st. the Patent Roofing Factory at West 53rd and 10th Avenue. A “kindling wood factory” and a “lime kiln” on West 55th near 11th Avenue. The lime kiln would have been used for producing quicklime, or calcium oxide, a chemical compound whose properties include producing heat and light. The compound was used for stage lighting in theatrical productions before electric lighting was widespread. Calcium oxide is also an ingredient in cement, so the surrounding uses could be seen as important in the building construction trade.

Perris, 1857: 52nd to 57th Streets from 11th to 12th Avenues

Perris, 1857: 52nd to 57th Streets from 11th to 12th Avenues

Citations:

Plate 103: Map bounded by West 57th Street, Tenth Avenue, West 52nd Street, Hudson River from Maps of the city of New York. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1857 Last modified over 1 year ago. 5 control points.
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Image url: http://images.nypl.org/?t=w&id=1268264

Calcium oxide. (July 28, 2013). Web. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_oxide

1860: The West Side in the War Years

As of 1860 the waterline at the Hudson River was still roughly along what is now 12th Avenue. This map produced by I.C. Buckhout, a city surveyor in 1860, shows the plans for the new shoreline, which would extend the block to 12th Avenue and defined a bulkhead and pier line position parallel to the avenues. Buckhout’s maps do not contain information about structures or land use.

I.C. Buckhout 1860 Survey, Map bounded by Pier - Line, W. 53th St, Eleventh Avenue, W. 45th St; Including Twelfth Avenue, W. 46th St, W. 47th St, W. 48th St, W. 49th St, W. 50th St, W. 51st St, W. 52nd St

I.C. Buckhout 1860 Survey, Map bounded by Pier – Line, W. 53th St, Eleventh Avenue, W. 45th St; Including Twelfth Avenue, W. 46th St, W. 47th St, W. 48th St, W. 49th St, W. 50th St, W. 51st St, W. 52nd St

Citation: Map bounded by Pier – Line, W. 53th St, Eleventh Avenue, W. 45th St; Including Twelfth Avenue, W. 46th St, W. 47th St, W. 48th St, W. 49th St, W. 50th St, W. 51st St, W. 52nd St  from Maps of the wharves & piers from the Battery to 61st street on the Hudson river and from the Battery to 41st street on the East river, New York. Surveyed by I.C. Buckhout, city surveyor. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1860 Last modified almost 2 years ago. 4 control points.
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Image URL: http://images.nypl.org/?t=w&id=1648027

1897: The Grid Is Realized

By 1897, we now see the modern grid, fully realized, with predominantly brick construction throughout the area that was largely empty only 40 years earlier. Block and lot numbers are now visible on the fire insurance maps, to help in identifying locations in an increasingly crowded area. What soon will be De Witt Clinton Park is at blocks 1100 and 1101. The map below presents a larger area to show the extent to which the neighborhoods have been developed.

The Hopper homestead has been razed and 53rd street is fully extended to 12th Avenue. While there are some structures within the park area, primarily brick structures, including a factory, along the north side of 52nd Street and wooden buildings on the south side of 54th Street, much of the area along 53rd street and what was Hopper Lane remains vacant. These vacant lots are finely subdivided with a dissection line along the former Hopper Lane, however, these lots would never be developed.

The stone works remains at 12th Avenue and 51st Street, joined on the block by a barrel factory. Other surrounding uses include stone and coal yards between 54th and 55th Streets at 12th Avenue; an iron foundry, coal yard and silk manufacturing facility to the east between 54th and 55th Street; the Belt Line Railway Depot, taking up the entire blockfront of 10th Avenue to midblock between 53rd and 54th Streets; large stone, coal and lumber yards north of 55th Street and a large stoneyard south of 51st street. There was a rather large piano factory on 49th Street, midblock, between 11th and 12th Avenue. Twelfth Avenue is labeled but does not appear to be utilizes as a road yet. Piers on each crosstown street have now been constructed.

Bromley, 1897

Bromley, 1897

Citation: Part of Section 4 : New York City.  from Atlas of the city of New York, Manhattan Island. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1897 Last modified over 1 year ago. 4 control points.
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Image url: http://images.nypl.org/?t=w&id=1516786

1899: De Witt Clinton Park Is Designated

In 1899, the area between 52nd and 54th Street and 11th and 12th avenue is now labeled “De Witt Clinton Park” on Bromley’s fire insurance map. The full blockfront, 200 feet long, at 12th Avenue between West 52nd and 53rd Streets, extending inland 250 feet, was home to the David S. Browne and Co. Soap Works factory where the stoneworks used to be. Midblock on the north side of 52nd Street, the City’s Department of Street Cleaning has moved into a brick building. To the north of the designated park, across West 54th Street near 12th Avenue, a large wooden structure where another stoneworks used to be now houses the Sicilian Asphalt Paving Company. Twelfth Avenue is now shown to be a working street.

Bromley, 1899: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.

Bromley, 1899: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.

Citations:

Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.  from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1899 Last modified over 1 year ago. 3 control points.
View Digital Gallery record | Download KML
Image URL: http://images.nypl.org/?t=w&id=1524458

1902: A Garden Grows

A 1921 article from the New York Times describes the development of De Witt Clinton Park with some criticism. It noted that “picturesque” Striker’s Lane had been lined on both sides with trees, then “…the city ‘stepped in’ to establish a park and when it did, romance and forest beauty stepped out–and has stayed out since.” It goes on to describe how the park was originally adopted in 1896, buildings demolished in 1902 and a demonstration tent for children’s nature study was installed in 1903. The park was graded in 1904 at a cost of $200,000 and the park opened in 1906 with a gymnasium, farm gardens and a playground. The author ultimately conceded that the goals for the park, nature study for children and reduced vandalism, in fact paid off.

The Bromley map as of 1902 shows the remaining structures between West 52nd and West 54th Streets and between 11th and 12th Avenue that would be demolished. Much of the are was vacant and at that time owned by the City. Nearby, across 12th Avenue on West 50th Street is a pier labeled “Recreation Pier,” which is the only apparent recreation space in the vicinity, prior to the gymnasium construction in 1906.

Surrounding structures are primarily brick. The David S. Browne and Co. Soap Works factory remains along the blockfront of 12th Avenue between West 52nd and 53rd Streets. The City Department of Street Cleaning, mid-block across 52nd Street to the south and the Sicilian Asphalt Paving Company, across 54th Street on the north, remain. An ironworks is located on West 55th Street near 11th Avenue. Farther north we see the stone yard  between 56th and 57th Streets, as well as stock yards on 12th Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets and an abattoir (slaughterhouse) taking up much of the block between 58th and 59th Streets.

Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.

Bromley, 1902: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.

Citations:

Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.  from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley.

“West Side Park Among Tenements”The New York Times. October 2, 1921. Retrieved 2013-08-01.

1905: Park Plan is Complete

The following map shows the plan for the De Witt Clinton Park design which would be completed by 1906. Many of the surrounding uses have not changed since 1902, although there are some anomalies which could represent the existence of paste-over sections updating the map from an earlier edition. For example, the 1905 map shows the Auto Piano Company has moved into the David S. Browne Soap Works building on East 51st Street and a number of brick structures bearing hte name Buick Motor Company are located on the north side of 51st Street; however, in the 1911 map, the soap works is still shown and the Buick properties are not labeled. Further investigation would be required to determine exactly when Buick and Auto Piano moved in. (The Antique Piano Shop website has some lovely examples of ephemera from the AutoPiano Company, including advertisements and logo design).

Bromley, 1905: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.

Bromley, 1905: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.

Citations:

Antique Piano Shop. (2013). Web. Retrieved on August 1, 2013 from http://www.antiquepianoshop.com/online-museum/autopiano/

Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 50th Street.  from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1905 Last modified over 2 years ago. 4 control points.
View Digital Gallery record | Download KML
Image url: http://images.nypl.org/?t=w&id=1524644

1911: Transportation Transformation

By 1911, we see a significant change to the neighborhood land use, with more owners from the auto industry and related domains, such as paving and street cleaning. We see the rise of transportation related businesses, including Motor Car Works located at the corner of 51st Street and 12th Avenue, a property of the New York Taxi Cab Co. on West 57th Street and the Thomas Motor Car Garage, replacing the former stock yard on West 58th Street. The stone yard to the north is now an extension of the Department of Street Cleaning and also houses a box factory and lumber yard. A number of piano factories are located south of the park, including one on the corner of 50th and 11th. 

The slaughterhouse between 58th and 59th Street is now home of the Rapid Transit Subway Co. Power House. West 60th between 11th and 12th Avenues continue to hold stock pens, and the Union Stock yards and 60th Street Freight Yard hosts a large terminus of railroad tracks above 60th Street.

De Witt Clinton Park is shown fully developed with green areas, pathways, a running track east of the center building and a second buildings in near the western end of the park. The Children’s Aid Society has a building on West 53rd Street near 11th Avenue.

Bromley, 1911: Plate 24: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 60th Street, West End Avenue, W. 64th Street, Columbus Avenue, and W. 47th Street.

Bromley, 1911: Plate 24: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 60th Street, West End Avenue, W. 64th Street, Columbus Avenue, and W. 47th Street.

Citation:

Plate 24: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 60th Street, West End Avenue, W. 64th Street, Columbus Avenue, and W. 47th Street.  from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1911 Last modified over 1 year ago. 10 control points.
View Digital Gallery record | Download KML
Image url: http://images.nypl.org/?t=w&id=1512235

1920: Continued Growth

The 1926 Bromley map contains a label identifying the location of the Farm Garden in De Witt Clinton Park. It was located on the western portion of the park, opposite the structure on the western end. The pathways and entrances to the park remain the same as they were in 1911. Now, a playground inhabits the eastern portion of the park.

Some changes in the neighborhood include the addition of H.W. Miller company, an interior design firm at 12th Avenue and 51st Street. There are more garages here and there. Sheffield Farms Slawson-Decker Company, a dairy producer, is located at 56th Street and 11th Avenue. It appears that much of the block north of the park on 54th Street is now vacant.

Bromley, 1920: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Bromley, 1920: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Citation:

Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.  from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. (In 2 layers) Depicts: 1920 Last modified over 2 years ago. 3 control points.
View Digital Gallery record | Download KML
Image url: http://images.nypl.org/?t=w&id=1526341

1926: The Dominance of the Automobile

Some neighborhood land uses we notice cropping up are a number of garages and service stations for the growing automobile industry. We see Republic Motor Sales Company service station and Peerless Motor Car Company Service station near 12th Avenue on West 57th. General Motors Truck Co and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. have moved into 11th Avenue between West 57th and 58the Streets. The subway powerhouse is now the Interborough Rapid Transit Company.

The David S. Browne soap works is now home to the Auto Piano Company, which expanded from its location mid-block on West 51st Street. Most of the piano companies to the south are still there. Many of the nearby ironworks and foundries are also still in existence as well.

Bromley, 1926: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Bromley, 1926: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Citation:

Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.  from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. Depicts 1926.

1934: The Highway Arrives, The Farm Garden Dies

Construction to make way for the West Side Highway began in 1932, creating a major change to the western frontage of the blocks surrounding De Witt Clinton Park. The park is shown at its location between West 52 and 54th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues. Frontage along the East and West sides is 461.8 feet and 550 feet along the North and South edges. At the east side of the park, 11th Avenue has two railways of the NYC Rail Road running north and south. Twelfth Avenue indicates an area of the “Elevated Public Highway” in tan color to indicate transportation networks.

The layout of De Witt Clinton Park shows a Soldiers Monument at the eastern entrance with an athletic field taking up the eastern part of the park. A running track and gymnasium are located at the center of the park and a structure (perhaps bathrooms?) on the west side of the park with a wading pool near the western entrances.

Measuring the blockfront of buildings that existed prior to the West Side Highway, we see that about 245 feet of the blocks along 12th Avenue were removed. The block to the south of the park which used to extend to the 642 East 52nd Street where the Auto Piano Company building used to be as shown on the 1926 map has been demolished to make room for the highway.  Similarly on the block to the north at West 54th Street, we see a similar amount of space has been removed and the entire block redeveloped into larger units to house The G.B. Seely and Sons Cana Dry Buildling, Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. and Packard Motor Company Sales and Service (a common use along Eleventh Avenue to this day).

Bromley, 1934: Citation: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Bromley, 1934: Citation: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.

Citation: Plate 40, Part of Section 4: Bounded by Twelfth Avenue Hudson River Piers, W. 59th Street, Eleventh Avenue and W. 59th Street.  from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. Depicts 1934.

Garden Farms in NYC

A 1912 article from The Sun exclaims that there are “…more farmers in New York City than bankers.” It goes on to describe three kinds of farming activity taking place in the City.

  1. “Real farmers” meaning amateurs and children who produce crops for sale.
  2. Those backyard gardeners who grow food for their own consumption either in their own yard or illicitly in vacant lots without the owner’s knowledge or permission.
  3. School and community gardens like the farm garden at De Witt Clinton Park.

By all accounts, gardening in New York City was not economical at all. An agricultural expert interviewed in the article noted that one 50 by 100 foot plot in University Heights, Bronx, which was worked by three families on a vacant lot worth $5000 and taxed at $100 per year produced less than $25 worth of vegetables annually. Certainly, the families would not have been able to afford the rent and it was doubtful that the property owner knew about the garden. Moreover, “Manhattan soil which has not been cultivated for years and which has become hard as rock needs five times as much manure and twice as much commercial fertilizer as country soil.” Since it was, and still is, against the law to store fertilizer in Manhattan, add in the cost of transporting the stuff from outside. The amount of clearing and work in sweetening the soil was estimated to be $500 to improve the average vacant lot to be suitable for farming.

And yet gardening was happening all over the city. Richmond town, Staten Island, had a “poor farm” of 10 to 12 acres. Manhattan had five farms, one of which was used by 2,000 school children on two acres of land. This of course was the De Witt Clinton Park farm garden, once “the sink of Hell’s Kitchen”, “an open waste place at 54th and 12th Avenue,” “cherished haunt of a local gang known as the Sons of Reet.” Of course the police expected extra trouble when they learned a garden was being planned. But they were soon proved wrong.

Farm Garden in De Witt Clinton Park
Farm Garden in De Witt Clinton Park

Mrs. Fannie Parsons acquired a street breaking plow to level and break up the soil, carting away tons of bottles, cans, wire, rags and lime. She had planned to clear seven acres but ended up with a plot of 84 by 114 feet. On this land with one teacher and zero tools (children used clam shells to clear the soil) the De Wit Clinton Park farm garden was born.

By 1903 the garden had produced:

  • 30,000 radishes
  • 1,745 beets
  • 350 quarts of beans
  • 3,000 heads of lettuce

The yield and the fact that no major incidents occurred ensured that the garden would be made into a permanent feature of the park by 1905.

Other gardens soon followed. In 1909, Bellevue Hospital created a school garden to be cultivated by children ill with tuberculosis. In 1910, PS 177 in Brooklyn had a garden near the Brooklyn Bridge. The biggest was built at Thomas Jefferson Park at 111th Street and 114th Street at the East River in what was  “the heart of Little Italy.” This garden served 1,017 boys and girls on 1,017 four by eight foot plots. It was so popular they had to bring the children out in two shifts. The site “…used to be a summer bedroom for men of the kind whose room is better than their company”. The police again suspected trouble, and yet as with De Witt Clinton Park, they found none attributed directly to the garden. There were murders. Three of them. And “night sleeping” was common, but no reports of trespassing or stealing and the garden itself was untouched. The police reportedly made a public apology.

Thomas Jefferson Park as of 1911
Thomas Jefferson Park as of 1911

The School Farm League subsequently set up under the direction of Mrs. Parson’s son, Henry. Mr. Parsons became the director of the Department of School Gardens at New York University and taught its course at NYU’s University Heights campus at 180th and Acqueduct Avenue in the Bronx. Students at the first Spring semester course included men and women, with half coming in from the suburbs. A Summer course for teachers was established with the aid of private funds in 1906. This course trained teachers from all over the country in five gardens connected to the city through the parks department.

Pratt Institute in Brooklyn followed with a garden lab developed for its domestic science course. The garden would specialize in greens which apparently do well in low sun. The specialties included spinach, chard, dandelions, beet tops, mint and horseradish.

The National Highways Protective Society loaned a two acre garden at 66th Street between first and Second Avenues to be cultivated by school children. In fact, school and community gardens were catching on nationwide.

In 1911, Minneapolis was a place where entire families engaged in community gardens on 600 acres of vacant lot on one side of the main street for two miles. 18,000 people from mixed cultural backgrounds (Jewish, Norwegian, German, as well as more established Americans) started home gardens, which gave this diverse community something to talk to one another about.

Yonkers started an innovative children’s garden in 1903. In summer, 600 children kept 10 by 16 foot garden plots. These were leveled in the Fall after harvest for games and flooded in the Winter for ice skating.

In Worcester MA, 800 plots were dug at the charmingly named “Dead Cat Dump.” Cleveland had eight school gardens and distributed 500,000 seed packets to home gardeners as a way of promoting gardening.

These gardens became even more important at the dawning of World War I. So called “victory gardens” helped alleviate pressure on the food supply and served as a morale booster. Similar effects can be seen in gardening projects in the now bankrupt Detroit, whose citizens organized informal community gardens on vacant plots. More information on that effort in the Food Justice section.

Citation:

“Real Farmers Tilling New York City Soil: Genuine Reubens Come to Town Long Ago Had Plant and Hoe Within Municipal Limits – Ground worth Hundreds of Dollars an Inch Utililzed to Raise All Sorts of Produce.” (May 12, 1912). The Sun. in Chronicling America: Historic American NewspapersLib. of Congress.  [Electronic database]. Retrieved from http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030272/1912-05-12/ed-1/seq-55/>