Pre-Revolutionary War Period
The history of Inwood dates back to the Native Americans who inhabited the area for centuries. Remnants of their settlements are still evident in Inwood Hill Park where Native American trails, caves and artifacts can be seen. Inwood is also reported to be the place where Peter Minuit paid the Lenape Indians $24 “in trinkets” to purchase Manhattan island in 1626.
After forcing the Native Americans to depart, the early colonists turned this area into farms. The Dutch West India Company administered the entire village of Manhattan calling it New Amsterdam. Peter Stuyvesant was named governor and later incorporated it as a city. In 1664, the British sent a fleet of warships to New Amsterdam demanding that the Dutch surrender to the Duke of York. By this time, many Englishmen had also settled in New Amsterdam and the colonists refused to fight. New Amsterdam subsequently came under English rule and was renamed New York.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, wealthy British and Dutch merchants owned most of the land in Washington Heights and Inwood. Because the hilly terrain inhibited the commercial development of this area, the landowners maintain their estates as summer residents.
Revolutionary War Period
The advent of the Revolutionary War changed this pastoral area into one of strategic military importance. Most of the residents abandoned their homes as the numerous hills were turned into forts during the war. The history of the war in Washington Heights really began when General Washington’s troops lost the Battle of Long Island (actually fought in Brooklyn). He led his army across the East River into Manhattan and was followed up the west side of Manhattan into Harlem. There the battle of Harlem Heights took place. The American forces ended up in what is now Bennett Park, and began fortifying the area into Fort Washington. An outline of the fort still exists in the park.
General Howe’s British army then moved from the Harlem River to Laurel Hill (now the site of Isabell a Geriatric Center and George Washington High School) where they established Fort George (named after their king). They then attacked Fort Washington, which extended from what is now 181st Street, north to the site of the Cloisters. When the northern outworks of Fort Washington were overrun, the British name that area Fort Tryon, after the last British governor of the island.
Captain William, an officer in the continental army, became America’s first traitor when he secretly left Fort Washington carrying with him the plans of the fort and brought them to General Howe’s headquarters. Meanwhile, the American officers met below the fort at the Blue Bell Tavern, which is now memorized by the frieze in the lobby of the apartment building at the eastern corner of Bennet Avenue and 181st During this time, Washington maintained his headquarters at what is now called Morris-Jumel Mansion.
The fort’s commander, Col. Robert Magaw (there is a street named for him), gallantly led the defense of the fort when Howe’s army attacked. Colonel Magaw defied the demand for surrender with the famous words inscribed on the plaque attached to the Fort Washington Collegiate Church at 11st street, “We will defend this outpost to the last extremity”. This was not to be as the fort was overrun and many soldiers were killed or captured.
Meanwhile, Washington led the main force from Manhattan to White Plains were they crossed the North River (now the Hudson) to Fort Lee, New Jersey. At one point, Washington was rowed across the river from Fort Lee to Jeffrey’s Hook (now the site of the famous Little Red Lighthouse) to confer with Fort Washington‘s few remaining soldiers. Ultimately, the colonial army lost the Battle of Fort Washington, struggled to survive and won the war seven years later.
The 19th and 20th Century
During the 1800s, wealthy New Yorkers again enjoyed Northern Manhattan as an area for summer retreats. Among the neighborhood gentry were James Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the New York Herald newspaper and John James Audubon, the famous ornithologist and illustrator. Audubon’s heavily forested property, 40 acres around 155th street from Amsterdam Avenue to the Hudson Rivers, was the place where he wrote his book about the mammals of North America. Early in the 20th century when subway lines began service to Northern Manhattan, the area began to change. The construction of multi-family buildings and the extension for the IRT subway line to Dyckman Street turned Washington Heights into a totally urban area.
Many immigrants from Ireland, Eastern Europe and Germany settled in the community. In the early 1960s, African Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans settled in this part of Manhattan. Russian-Jewish refugees arrived in the 1980s. A large number of immigrants from Dominican Republic started settling here as early as the 1960s and by 1990, represented the largest Dominican population outside of their native country and in the United States.
Today, many New Yorkers have rediscovered the beautiful landscape and residential communities. New restaurants and shops have opened to meet the demands of the diverse population.
The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum
In the 1680s, Jan Dyckman created a large farm and orchard at the northern most tip of Manhattan – on the corner of Broadway and 204th After the British troops destroyed the farm during the Revolutionary War, Jan’s grandson, William Dyckman, restored the farm and built the current house in 1785. By 1868, the Dyckman family found the house too small and sold the house and farm and moved nearby. Not long after, Broadway began to be developed, apartment houses were build, and the farmhouse fell into disrepair. In 1915, two Dyckman sisters saved the house from demolition. They initiated its restoration and presented the house to the City of New York.
The house is a two-story white building of fieldstone, brick and clapboard with a roof and full-length porch that are typically Dutch Colonial. Each floor features a central hall with four rooms. The house also showcases a winter kitchen located in the basement to provide heat, as well as a summer kitchen situated in an adjacent wing, to prevent the odors and heat of cooking from entering the rest of the house. The authentic furnishings and wares in the interior reflect life in Colonial America.
The museum provides educational programs and information about early American crafts. The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum is a National Historic Landmark, a New York City Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Seaman-Drake Arch
Have you ever looked west on 216th street, in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood, and noticed a seemingly out-of-place arch towering over a supermarket and an automotive repair shop?
This 19th century monument is known as the Seaman-Drake arch and it is one of the few remnants of the power and wealth of Manhattan’s former elite. Built in the mid-nineteenth century, the arch was once the entrance to a huge and magnificent hilltop estate owned by John T. Seaman and his wife Ann Drake . Seaman built his arch and mansion out of marble that was quarried where the arch stands.
The Seaman family were wealthy-early American settlers who immigrated from England (modern-day Britain). The most notable member of the family was Dr. Valentine Seaman (father of John T. Seaman) who is famous for introducing Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine to the United States.
After the death of John T. Seaman and his wife Ann Drake, the estate was passed down through family until it was sold to a building contractor named Thomas Dwyer in 1905. He used the mansion as his main residence but he built and operated his business in the land that surrounded the arch.
The expansion of the subway system to upper Manhattan opened a floodgate of new housing developments that were being built to accommodate the influx of people pouring in to the area. In 1938, Dwyer sold the Seaman-Drake estate so that it could be demolished and replaced by the Park Terrace Gardens, A 400-unit apartment complex.
Ever since then the Seaman-Drake arch has been tucked away from history by urbanization. The arch still stands in Inwood, located on 5065 Broadway, New York, NY 10034. The monument is decaying and has not been land-marked by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee and has not been listed on the National register of historic places.