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New York - Country Seats And Farms

( Originally Published 1902 )



ATTRACTIVE and delightful as the city itself undoubtedly was, the country beyond must have been still more charming. Manhattan Island as well as Staten Island, the Jersey shore and Long Island were dotted with country-seats, mansions and farm-houses pleasantly situated in fine grounds. In many cases these estates were comparatively small in area, as their owners did not depend on farming for a living, but had offices, shops or counting-houses in New York. They could come to town by boat, or drive, reaching their places of official or commercial business from 10 to 11 A. M. and leaving in time to dine from 2 to 3 P. M.

The great majority of the wealthy citizens were interested in the shipping business directly or indirectly. Even if they did not build or own trading ships, or privateers, they were generally direct importers. Everybody tried to make money, and ladies of the best families had shops of their own. Ease and luxury at home were cultivated, and in most cases the mansions were situated within reach of all that earth, forest and sea could yield. This will be made plain by a few descriptions of this class of real estate :

" A Large Brick House well furnished (where Mr. James Harding lately lived) near New York Ferry, on Long Island, with a large Barn well covered with Cedar, a large Hand-some Garden, and about Ten Acres of Land in a fine young Or-chard, finely situated either for a gentleman's country-seat or a Publick House, is to be sold at a Reasonable Rate by Edward Willet, the owner thereof." (1732.)

" The plantation of the late Captain Thomas Coddrington, of 30 acres of land and two out lots of 8 acres each, orchard, dwelling-house, etc. in the bounds of Harlem, 5 miles from the town, S. E. side of the island. Plenty of lobsters and fish near the house." (1738.)

" An estate at Whitestone, near Flushing, very pleasantly situated on the Sound, consisting of a good dwelling-house, stable, chair-house, &c. with or without a large storehouse, wharf, etc., a garden of two acres walled in and well laid out with the best of fruit trees, gravel and grass walks, asparagus beds, flowering shrubs, flowers, etc., a large orchard, with mowing and pasture land." (1753.)

"A farm for sale, a quarter of a mile beyond Flushing on the road to Whitestone Ferry, containing 110 acres whereof 20 acres are in wood, and a growing swamp, lying little better than a mile from the house, 7 acres of salt meadow close by and the rest all in one body within a good stone ditch .... with a good and convenient dwelling-house, barn, milch, hen and pidgeon house well stocked with pidgeons; a curious flower and kitchen garden, orchard and mowing ground before the door ; a well with a pump in the yard and a living spring a stone throw from the door and many other conveniences fit for any gentleman." (1754.)

" To be let May next: The farm or Plantation belonging to the Estate of Joseph Bowne, late of Flushing, deceased, containing 40 acres of choice Upland and Meadow, all in good Fence: There is on it a commodious, large Dwelling-house, furnished with nine Rooms, five of which have Fireplaces with a large Kitchen adjoining to the same ; likewise, a good bearing Orchard, with a variety of Fruit trees also a good Barn, Store-house, and other Out-Houses." (1760.)

'Mr. Bayard's, described below, was a good ex-ample of an ordinary country-seat near New York in the middle of the century (176o) :

" To be let : The island called Hoobock in New Jersey, directly opposite the City of New York, lying on Hudson's River, containing between 700 and 800 acres, two-thirds of which is upland and one-third salt meadow. It is in the best order, has on it a garden of about five acres filled with a choice collection of English fruit, such as peaches, pears, plums, cherries, necterns and apricots. There is on it a very large dwelling-house, which the landlord keeps himself ; and another very good one adjoining, both under one roof, which latter hires with the island; and under the whole are very large convenient cellars, together with an extraordinary kitchen. A few feet distance from the dwelling is a large new kitchen which has three rooms on each side, therefore more fitting for a family, having also the same conveniences as above mentioned; likewise the most commodious dairy for at least 30 cows.

" There are also other out-houses, as a new smoke house, fowl house, a large stable with stalls for ten horses on one side, and a fine roomly place on the other to work in when dirty weather, over which is a granary with apartments for all kinds of grain, and at the contrary end a hay-loft which will contain a great quantity of hay, besides all which there is a very large roomly barn for cows on the one side, and another for horses on the other. There are likewise on the farm a good cider mill and house over it, the loft of which will hold about 20 load of hay.

"There will be let with the premises a good wagon, cart, ploughs, harrows and farm utensils of every sort; as also 100 good sheep, among which are English rams; also 30 good milch cows and 30 head of cattle from one to four years old.

"Besides an old orchard, which in good years will produce 70 or 8o barrels of cider, there are also set out near 1,000 apple trees, all grafted with the best of fruits, some of which bore last year.

" This farm has a right in Bergen Commons, to turn out what cattle you please, and be supplied with timber for fencing and firing; is finely supplied with fish and oysters in the greatest abundance all around it, and scarce anything in America can equal its convenience for marketing, as in good weather you may cross, take one time with another, in half an hour; and in the different seasons of the year abound with plenty of wild fowl; and the farm itself all in good clover. Of the salt hay may be mowed at least 500 loads per year, and of fresh at present 6o, but more may be brought. (Apply to William Bayard, living in New York ). There will also be let a good pettiauger and canoe.

The said Bayard has also on it 20 fat hogs, 6 head of fat cattle and a pair of fine oxen, besides some hundred bushels of corn, buckwheat, turnips and fresh and salt hay."

Another advertisement is of a

" Farm on Staten Island, 160 acres, house 45 X37 ; in the Front a Dining-Room and Parlour, and in the rear, three Bed-rooms, two of which have Fireplaces. The Dining-Room is 14X 19, hung with genteel Paper; the Entry or Passage from the Door, is hung with the same; the Parlour is 19 X 26, hung with Landskip Paper framed with Papier Machee. Above Stairs are two good Bedrooms, half Story over the Front part of the house; over the back part is a large Granary divided into two Rooms. To the House is joined by a Portal or Piazza, of ten feet, a new Stone Building, thirty Feet by Eighteen. The Part next the House is finished for a kitchen. The extreme End, fronting the South, is designed for a Conservatory or Greenhouse having three Frames of Lights in the Front, containing sixty-six Panes of Glass, 9X 11. Within one Inclosure next adjoining the House, is a small Orchard and Garden of about four Acres." This house was situated about a mile and a half from Johnson's Ferry upon a " Point projecting into the River, which opens a most agreeable and extensive Prospect." (1764.)

" In the Out-Ward of the City of New York, near the seat of Mr. De Lancey, called Bloonrendal, there is to be Sold a Plantation with a very good Stone House, Barn, and Orchard, containing about four or five Hundred Apple-trees and a Pair Orchard, with a great many fine grafted Pairs. The Land is very well Timbered and Watered; it has a very fine Brook very convenient for a Fish Pond, containing about Two Hundred and Sixty Acres of Land and six Acres of Meadow, situate, lying and being near Bloomendal as aforesaid." (1732.)

Another advertisement (1767) will give some idea of what was considered desirable in a typical house and grounds of the period :

" To be sold several lots at Corlear's Hook, about one mile from the City, now in the tenure and occupation of Edward Smith. Dwelling-house, stable, fowl-house and other necessaries; the house contains five rooms, four of which have fire-places with a good oven in the kitchen, there is a well in the yard 36 feet deep and stoned up all the way, with a new pump. The rest of the land is laid out in a spacious garden, which the present possessor has spared no pains to render both agree-able and profitable, in it there is near 300 fruit trees all in bearing order, consisting of apples, pears, plumbs, peaches, nectarines, apricots, quinces and English cherries; all of the choicest fruit and in great variety; likewise great plenty of currants, gooseberries, raspberries and English strawberries of the different sorts; also eighteen beds of the best Battersea asparagus, in full growth for cutting, besides many thousands of puny plants fit for transplanting the ensuing season with a nursery of several thousand young trees, many of them inoculated with the best kinds of fruit; there is also t00 hills of hops which may be cultivated to good account with little trouble; likewise a root cellar 22 feet by 11 stoned up all around ; also a summer house and alcove—the whole is in good board fence and is one of the pleasantest situations about the city as it commands a view of the East River and harbour from Staten Island almost to Hell Gate."

These farms or estates, therefore, were provided with all that could make life pleasant and luxurious. Gardens, greenhouses, fish-ponds, sometimes wharves, stables, paddocks, and, occasionally, deer-parks.

An example of a New York Colonial country-house is shown in the frontispiece. This was built in 1748 by Frederick van Cortlandt. It enables us to form a clear idea of the average solid mansion of the period.

The islands in the bay and river formed one of the important features of the landscape. Where the statue of Liberty now stands was a pleasant and profitable spot in the old days. At one time it be-longed to Captain Kennedy, afterwards Earl of Cassilis. It is thus described in 1753 :

" To be Let. Bedloe's Island, alias Love Island, together with the dwelling-house and light-house, being finely situated for a tavern, where all kind of garden stuff, poultry, etc., may be easily raised for the shipping, outward bound, and from where any quantity of pickled oysters may be transported; it abounds with English rabbits."

Governor's Island, then known as Nutten Island, was both useful and ornamental. The channel between it and New York was very shallow ; in fact, at low tide, cattle used to walk from one to the other. The Council set it apart as a private domain for the governor of this province. Governor Cosby used it as a game preserve. ln 1738, the legislature passed an Act to preserve the breed of English pheasants in this colony. This act declares that "whereas the late Governor [Cosby] did place about a half a dozen couple of English pheasants on Nutten Island and first pinioned them to the end that they might remain there to propagate their species with a view that their increase would spread from thence and stock the country with their kind ;

And whereas, the said fowls not only have increased vastly on the said island, but many of them already spread over to Nassau Island, and in all probability will soon stock the country if people are restrained from destroying them for a few years, the present Governor being also desirous that the whole colony may be stocked with these birds," it was enacted that no birds should be killed nor eggs taken for a year. The experiment was not a success.

The first bridge connecting New York with the mainland was the King's Bridge, across the Harlem River, erected by Frederick Phillipse at the close of the Seventeenth Century. It was a toll-bridge and the charges were ninepence for each carriage ; three-pence for each horse and head of cattle ; and one penny for a person. The people objected to the toll and also to the fact that the gates were locked at night. However, this was the only crossing until 1759, when Free Bridge Dyckman's was opened. This had been built by several private individuals upon Jacob Dyckman's land, a little to the south of the King's Bridge, from which the toll was lifted almost immediately.

The oldest ferry was from the present Peck Slip to the Fulton Ferry in Brooklyn, but no ferry-house was erected until 1698, when one was built on Nassau Island (Long Island), "a good sufficient house of stone and brick, forty foot in length and twenty-four in breadth, for ye accomodation and conveniency of ye persons that farmeth ye said Ferry." The " farmer" kept it as a public house of entertainment. The point where the people from Brooklyn were landed, " Burgher's Path," the " first slip," was known subsequently as the " Old Slip." Ferry-boats landed here in 1703, and also at "Countess Key" (Fly Market).

About 1732, the ferry rates between Long Island were twopence for every person and double that rate after sunset ; for every horse or beast, one shilling; calf or hog, three pence; dead sheep, lamb or calf, twopence ; bushel of grain, one penny; every waggon, five shillings ; for every gammon of bacon, turkey or goose, one half-penny ; and for every hundred eggs, three eggs.

The Ferry at the foot of the Fly Market had be-come so congested with boats in 1761 that it was found necessary to pass a law "that no sloop, boat or vessel, except small craft such as ferry-boats, market-boats, pettiaugers and canoes shall come within the slip." The penalty was forty shillings. This gives us some idea regarding the size of the ferry-boats.

In 1772, the city agreed to establish ferries " from Coenties Market to the landing-place of Philip Livingston, Esq., and Mr. Henry Remsen on Nassau Island ; another from Fly Market to the present ferry at Brooklyn, and a third from ` Peck Slip' to land at the place last mentioned." Two years later Saint George's Ferry was provided "from a stairs directly fronting the Broad Street at the east side of the Long Bridge, and on Long Island at a stairs built at the dock of Mr. Remsen."

The slips were Whitehall, named from Colonel Moore's large house which was near by ; Coenties, named for Coen and Antey (Conrad and Jane) Ten Eyck, who lived at the corner of Little Dock Street ; Burling, named for the Quaker Merchant, Edward Burling ; Beekman, named for the family of that name ; Peck, named for Benjamin Peck, a wealthy citizen ; and one slip on the Hudson side at the foot of Oswego (now Liberty) Street.

In addition to these, there were ferries to Powles Hook, Perth Amboy and Staten Island. Some idea of the latter may be gathered from the following announcement :

" The subscriber (John Watson) intending to remove to New York, will dispose of the Ferry and Farm he now lives on, being on the East End of Staten Island.

" In regard to a ferry, it is the best situated on the Island, as the boats can go and come from New York with most winds, and but one tide to encounter with, which is of great ease to the passengers, and is the reason that it is more frequented than any of the rest of the ferries; it has also a considerable run for carrying passengers to Long Island, which brings a handsome yearly income. Most of the shipping that goes out of New York anchors just opposite the door, being the anchoring ground for the watering-place, which makes it not only very pleasant, but of considerable advantage to the place, in carrying the passengers and ships crews backwards and forwards to New York. It also occasions a great run to the house which is the very sinew of a tavern. The boats that attend this ferry are often employed to run down to the Hook with despatches for vessels that may be there; and the men of war which often lie here, employ them to bring their ships' stores, etc. from New York. There is an excellent dock for the conveniency of the boats ; and the best roads on the island are from this place to Am-boy, the old and new Blazing-Star and Elizabeth-Town Point."

A ferry from Perth Amboy to Staten Island was provided in 1737. The rates were fourteen pence (Jersey currency) for man and horse, and fivepence for a single passenger.



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