Carnegie Hill received its name early in the 20th century, but the known history of the area begins more than 500 years ago. This section of Manhattan now noted for its historic architecture was once dotted with dwellings made of bent trees, the homes of the Wechquaeesgek Indians. These gave way in the mid-17th century to Dutch farmland, which was divided and sold in parcels beginning in the 1800s when the erection of private wooden houses made the first stake in the community. Today four of these wooden dwellings are preserved in Carnegie Hill, surrounded by the more permanent structures that followed including survivors from the age of rowhouses in styles ranging from Neo-Grec to Renaissance Revival, many early 20th Century mansions beginning with Andrew Carnegie’s pioneering move, and finally luxury apartment buildings.

1400 - 1500

  • In Upper Manhattan, near the East River, blueberry fields bisect the forests and provide food for both animals and the Wickquasgeck Indians. They call the place where they live “Manahatta,” meaning hilly island.
  • In the center of the hills, there’s an area named Konanda, a name that translates as “the place near the sand,” overlooking Hellgate Bay and the sandy point then extending along the mouth of the Harlem Creek into the East River. There, some 60 men, women and children under the leadership of a sacheu known as Rechewac lived in houses made of tall, bent trees covered with bark, with one hole in the center for ventilation.
  • The Dutch buy the island of Manhattan for goods worth approximately $24 and the Indians then became what amounted to tenants of unscrupulous landlords, the first of many such arrangements on the island. The area along the East River encompasses what we know as Carnegie Hill was considered particularly choice farming land.
  • An Indian war, stemming from the murder of a female Delaware Indian by a Dutch farmer, results in the formation of a fortified hamlet called New Harlem, the first farming cooperative in America. The farming cooperative evolves into a thriving little village by the latter half of the 17th century, adopting its name New Harlem as a homage to a beautiful city in Holland called Haarlem.

1664

  • The Dutch colony surrenders to the English and the British governor visits New Haarlem drawing a line across the map from the Hudson River around 129th Street down to 74th Street and the East River. These boundaries later include both Yorkville, which was established by German settlers in the 1890s, and Carnegie Hill.

In the Beginning, there were Native Americans

The Manhattan we see today with all of its neighborhoods presented a very different landscape 500 years ago, before the first white settlers appeared. In upper Manhattan, near the East River, blueberry fields bisected the forests and provided food for both animals and the Wechquaesgek Native Americans. They called the place where they lived Manahatta, meaning hilly island. Today the area of Carnegie Hill retains its designation principally in homage to the land before it that was gridded and flattened by development.

In the center of these hills, at about 94th Street and Park Avenue, stood an Indian village called Konanda, a name that translates as “the place near the sand,” overlooking Hellgate Bay and the sandy point then extending along the mouth of the Harlem Creek into the East River. There, some 60 women and children lived in houses made of tall, bent trees covered with bark, with one hole in the center for ventilation.

The village, bordered on a little brook fed by a spring, was situated on a branch of the footpath which went down the present Madison Avenue and across 96th Street into Central Park to meet with the Weekquaesgek Path, which led from the mainland down to the end of the island.

The Dutch “bought” the island of Manhattan in 16YY At the time, the area along the East River encompassing what we know as Carnegie Hill was considered particularly choice farming land. The curve of the East River protected the land from the intense cold and wind during the winter, and the land itself was relatively flat and easy to cultivate.

A Native American war, stemming from the murder of a female Delaware Native American by a Dutch farmer, resulted in the formation of a fortified hamlet called New Harlem, the first farming cooperative in America. The farming cooperative evolved into a thriving little village by the latter half of the 17th century, adopting its name New Harlem as a homage to a beautiful city in Holland called Haarlem.

After the surrender of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam to the English in 1664, the British governor visited New Harlem. Because the land boundary of the town never had been fixed, he drew a line across the map from the Hudson River around 129th Street down to 74th Street and the East River. These boundaries would later include both Yorkville, which was established by German settlers in the 1890s, and Carnegie Hill.

1667

  • Now known as Carnegie Hill and its surrounding area, is a farmland traced back to Peter Van Ogliensis from what was 82nd Street to about 94th Street, and from Harlem Commons (Fifth Avenue) to the East River.

  • Area later known as Waldron Farm after Baron Resolved Waldron, who owns it until he dies in 1705.

1769

  • Adolph Waldron gains the bulk of the property and, apparently, loses it all as well. Abraham Duryea, a merchant of the City of New York, buys the farm at auction for 800 pounds current money of New York.

1811

  • Carnegie Hill, still very much farmland, the city commissioners begins a long-term plan to develop Manhattan above 14th Street in a rectangular grid.

On Waldron Farm

What today is Carnegie Hill and its surrounding area became part of a large tract of farmland which can be traced back to at least 1677, when it belonged to one Peter Van Ogliensis. The farm extended from what is now about 82nd Street to about 94th Street, and from Harlem Commons (Fifth Avenue) to the East River.

The area was known as Waldron Farm after a Dutch patent conveyed the land to Baron Resolved Waldron, who owned it until he died in 1705. His son Samuel and, in turn, his grandson William became owners of the farm. The farm underwent no material change for more than 50 years until it was divided by William Waldron’s heirs after his death in December 1769

One of Waldron’s sons, Adolph Waldron, gained the bulk of the property and, apparently, lost it all as well. Abraham Duryea, a merchant of the City of New York, bought the farm at auction for eight hundred pounds .The borders of the farm were described for the transaction in detail, following the style of the time, as “all that piece or parcel of land situated lying and being in Harlem division of the outward of the City of New York aforesaid on which William Waldron deceased lately lived beginning at a cleft in a large rock at the waterside, hence running south . . to a stone marked W thence south . . . to the stump of a large chestnut tree. . .etc. etc. along the waterside to the beginning bounded northerly and westerly by the land late of the said William Waldron deceased and easterly by the sound at Hell Gate Cove or Horn’s Hook containing thirty four acres . . .” There is no documentation regarding further distribution of the original Waldron Farm, although an 1880 map shows extinct borders of smaller farm parcels and is evidence that sections of Waldron Farm were eventually sold to a number of people. (This is awfully long, but I find it interesting. Better to delete?)

In 1811, when Carnegie Hill was still very much farmland, the city commissioners began a long-term plan to develop Manhattan above 14th Street in a rectangular grid, but streets and avenues were not cut into this area until late in the century. Until then, individual houses were scattered on lots designated on the grid plan.

At that time there were only two major thoroughfares in the upper part of the island: the Boston Post Road on the east side and the Bloomingdale Road on the west. The only traffic on Fifth Avenue was the drovers who used the old dirt road to travel down to the Bowery. The great houses were served by long lanes coming down from the two main north to south arteries. The grading of the road leading west from Hellgate Ferry, which became 86th Street, connected with the two main roads and added to the growing sense of a single municipality.

1834

  • The New York and Harlem Railroad runs from lower Manhattan to Yorkville, and ultimately extends to Harlem and beyond. To encourage use of the railroad for a day trip, Prospect Hall is built on Mount Prospect at the northwest corner of Fourth (later Park) Avenue and 93rd Street (now the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia). It’s advertised as Observatory Place with views of New Jersey and Long Island.
  • Railroads create growth with squatters settlements along Fourth Avenue as well as breweries and piano factories.

1875

  • Much of the open railroad track is lowered and partially covered at street level. The railroad switchs from coal to electric power, alleviating the noise and pollution, and Fourth Avenue is renamed Park Avenue.
  • Notable buildings in the area are churches and charitable institutions — the New York Magdalen Asylum, “affording an asylum to erring females,” at Fifth Avenue and 88th Street; the St. Luke’s Home for Indigent Christian females at Madison Avenue and 89th Street; the Protestant Episcopal Church of the beloved Disciple, subsequently the Reformed Church of Harlem and since 1950, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Thomas More, on 89th Street between Madison and Park avenues; the New York Christian Home for Intemperate Men on 86th Street between Madison and Park Avenues; and the Emmanuel German Evangelical Lutheran Church, which moves to the southwest corner of 88th Street and Lexington Avenue in 1885.
  • Notable residences include George Ehret, who owns the largest brewing business in the United States, builds a house on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 94th Street. He’s followed by Jacob Ruppert, whose mansion on an open lot at Fifth Avenue and 93rd Street, is an isolated structure. Neither building still stands.

Wooden Houses Survive Today

According to records provided by the Landmarks Preservation  Commission the lots of the two joined clapboard houses on East 92nd Street were sold from a small remaining portion of Abraham Duryea’s land in 1834 and 1835, but the houses not erected until 1859 and 1860. These wooden houses, and a third on East 92nd Street built about 1852-53, are the oldest buildings in Carnegie Hill today and the only link to a time when the area from, “the cleft in a large rock, . . . to the stone marked W . . .and to the chestnut stump, etc.,” was known as Waldron Farm. (And the fourth? This and Waldron Farm were written by Seymour Palistine who lived at 120 E. 92nd.)

1891

  • Elevated railroad lines are in operation on Second and Third Avenue, triggering building activity on the side streets between Madison and Third avenues and on the avenues themselves.

  • Rows of brownstones are developed on speculation and, as speed is the driving factor, the houses follow a fairly standard set of plans aiming for uniformity.

  • Among the first rowhouses in Carnegie Hill are twelve units on the south side of 95th Street and six on the north side of 94th Street east of Lexington Avenue, all of which are present today, though many have lost their stoops. There are more than a dozen others throughout Carnegie Hill, few of which survive today. Carnegie Hill, however, is unique in having many groups of rowhouses that are designed by professionally trained architects and that are distinguished by their attention to detail. Among these are six brownstones on the north side of 93rd Street between Fifth and Madison avenues and five red brick houses on the east side of Madison Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets. The Carnegie Hill rowhouses represent many of the new styles popular for residential architecture in New York City during the last decades of the 19th century: neo-Grec, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, and neo-Renaissance.

Prospect Hall on Carnegie Hill, Followed by Institutions and the First Mansions

In 1834, the New York and Harlem Railroad ran from lower Manhattan to Yorkville, and ultimately extended to Harlem and beyond. To encourage use of the railroad for a day trip, Prospect Hall was built on Mount Prospect at the northwest corner of Fourth (later Park) Avenue and 93rd Street (the site of the George Palmer mansion, now the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia).  It was advertised as Observatory Place with views of New Jersey and Long Island.

 The railroad precipitated growth in the Carnegie Hill area. In the mid-19th century there were squatters settlements along  Fourth Avenue as well as breweries and piano factories. By 1875, much of the open railroad track was lowered and partially covered at street level. By the end of the 1880s, the railroad switched from coal to electric power, alleviating the noise and pollution, and the thoroughfare was renamed Park Avenue.

The most notable buildings in Carnegie Hill in the late 19th century were churches and charitable institutions—the New York Magdalen Asylum, “affording an asylum to erring females,” at Fifth Avenue and 88th Street; the St. Luke’s Home for Indigent Christian females at Madison Avenue and  89th Street; the Protestant Episcopal Church of the beloved Disciple, subsequently the Reformed Church of Harlem and since 1950, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Thomas More, on 89th Street between Madison and Park avenues; the New York Christian Home for Intemperate Men on 86th Street between Madison and Park Avenues; and the Emmanuel German Evangelical Lutheran Church, which moved to the southwest corner of 88th Street and Lexington Avenue in 1885.

Among the earliest large residences in Carnegie Hill were those built for brewers whose businesses were nearby. George Ehret, who by 1877 owned the largest brewing business in the United States, built a house on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 94th Street in 1879. He was followed by Jacob Ruppert, whose mansion on an open lot at Fifth Avenue and 93rd Street was an isolated structure surrounded by small farms when it was built in 1881. Neither building now exists. Scattered farm houses, two-story brick buildings, and a few rows of brownstones erected by developers were interspersed with squatters’ shacks, which also lined the edges of Central Park.

The Age of Rowhouses

After several false starts, elevated railroad lines on both Third and Second avenues were in operation by 1891 triggering building activity on the sides streets between Madison and Third avenues and on the avenues. Rows of brownstones were developed on speculation and, as speed was the driving factor, the houses followed a fairly standard set of plans aiming for uniformity. The ornamentation used was dependent on the whim of the builder and his notion of what would sell.

Among the first row houses in Carnegie Hill were 12 on the south side of 95th Street and six on the north side of 94th Street east of Lexington Avenue, all of which survive, though many have lost their stoops. There were more than a dozen others throughout Carnegie Hill, few of which survive today.  Carnegie Hill, however, is unique in having many groups of row houses that were designed by professionally trained architects and that are distinguished by their attention to detail. Among these are six brownstones on the north side of 93rd Street between Fifth and Madison avenues and five red brick houses on the east side of Madison Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets.

The Carnegie Hill row houses represent many of the new styles popular for residential architecture in New York City during the last decades of the 19th century: neo-Grec, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, and neo-Renaissance.

1935

  • The luxury apartment building begins to appear as a trend in the now-affectionately named Carnegie Hill. The high-ceilinged luxury apartment building with one or two apartments to a floor, wood-paneled rooms, and other amenities normally found in private residences, signals a new way of life for upper-income families. The popular styles are French and Italian Renaissance and post-Renaissance. Frame houses, brownstones, other row houses, and vacant lots give way to what is  the standard living arrangement in Manhattan.

1965

  • The Landmarks Preservation Commission is created to preserve historical architecture in the city.

1970

  • Carnegie Hill Neighbors is founded with Fred Papert as the first President, leading to the designation of two small sections of the neighborhood as the Carnegie Hill Historical District.

1993

  • The enlarged Carnegie Hill Historical District is designated and encompasses 40 percent of its residences and cannot be altered without review and permissions from the LPC.

1998

  • The Hardenburgh/Rhinelander Historic District is designated to protect significant rowhouses on Lexington Avenue and on 89th Street.

2015

  • The Park Avenue Historic District extends from below 86th Street to 94th Street expanding landmark protection to almost 50 percent of Carnegie Hill.

Luxury Apartment Buildings Become The Standard

The most recent trend in Carnegie Hill is the luxury apartment building, which began to appear shortly after the Carnegie mansion and burgeoned after World War I. The high-ceilinged luxury apartment building with one or two apartments to a floor, wood-paneled rooms, and other amenities normally found in private residences, signaled a new way of life for upper-income families, Whereas at the turn of the century the great majority of society lived in private residences, by 1935, most of them lived in luxury flats, While the first construction was on Fifth Avenue, elevator buildings soon appeared, and were fashionable, on Park Avenue, The popular styles of the time were French and Italian Renaissance and post-Renaissance. Frame houses, brownstones, other row houses, and vacant lots gave way to what has become the standard living arrangement in Manhattan.

Over time, major alterations have changed the facades of some of the houses in Carnegie Hill, particularly those dating from the 19th century. Stoops have been removed, ornamental have details been cut away, and in several cases, entirely new facades have been applied. The lower floors of many of the rowhouses on Madison and Lexington avenues have been converted to storefronts. The larger apartments have been converted to apartments and private schools. In fact, Carnegie Hill is said to have the largest concentration of private schools in the city. Nevertheless, most changes have been done attractively, and the neighborhood retains its unique residential character.