Smit's Vly

Two hundred years before P.T. Barnum opened his American Museum at Broadway and Ann Street, there was a large saltwater meadow bounded by the East River and Broadway north of Wall Street called Smit’s Vly (or Fly), for “blacksmith’s valley” T. Smit had a forge in this meadow near the foot of Maagde Paegje (Maiden’s Path), where a ferry to Long Island — actually a canoe — was operated by Cornelius Dircksen. This illustration shows Smit’s Vly and the forge at the foot of Maagde Paegje. That may even be Dircksen’s canoe at the dock or on shore. Museum of the City of New York Collections

When most of us hear the name P.T. Barnum, we automatically think of the circus and “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But many years before P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus made its debut in 1870 — and 40 years before he partnered with James A. Bailey – P.T. Barnum rose to fame with a very large collection of artificial and natural curiosities from around the world that he displayed at his American Museum in New York City.

In Part I of the American Museum story, I wrote about the history of the museum, which once stood at the southeast corner of Ann Street and Broadway. In this post, I’ll explore some of the fascinating history behind the land at this famous Manhattan intersection.

The Cows on Maiden Lane

Once upon a time in New Amsterdam, in other words, around the 1630s, all of the land bounded by Broadway (Heere Wagh), the East River, Maiden Lane, and present-day Ann Street was farmland owned by Anthony Jansen van Salee, the Turk, who arrived in New Amsterdam about 1633. This part of lower Manhattan along the East River north of Wall Street was called Smit’s Vly (aka Smit’s Fly or Smith’s Valley).

Maiden Lane and Pearl Street

Cornelius Van Tienhoven’s homestead was near the intersection of present-day Front Street and Maiden Lane, pictured here in 1816 when it was the site of the Fly Market, the predecessor to the Fulton Street Market. Before it was laid out and cobbled in 1698, Maiden Lane was a footpath along a pebbled freshwater brook that ran from Nassau Street to the East River. Van Tienhoven often led his cows up Maiden Lane to the common pasturage on Broadway.

Anthony Jansen Van Salee, a troublemaker who was married to Grietse Reyniers (dubbed Manhattan’s first “lady of the night”), and whose descendants include Cornelius Vanderbilt, reportedly acquired the land in 1638 and named the farm “Wallenstein” in memory of Albert van Wallenstein, a Bohemian military leader and politician. Van Salee transferred the deed to this land the following year.

According to historical records, the next owner of record was Cornelius Van Tienhoven, a womanizer and embezzler — or so they say. Born in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 1601, Van Tienhoven came to New Amsterdam as a Dutch West Indies Company accountant in 1633. He was promoted to schout-fiscaal (secretary) with the arrival of Director Willem Kieft in 1638, and later named receiver general under Peter Stuyvesant in 1651.

Ann Street, New York

If you’ve ever walked down the narrow part of Ann Street between William and Gold streets — as I did to take this photo — you would have walked over the old Van Tienhoven farm lane. This was also the site of Ann Kilmaster’s school (31 Ann Street), which is the school Washington Irving attended in 1786. Although the city widened most of Ann Street in 1830, for some reason this section was not included in the plans.

There was at this time a narrow lane that ran north through Van Tienhoven’s farm from about today’s Fulton and Gold streets to present-day Ann Street (where there stood a great tree), and then westward to Broadway. Van Tienhoven’s Lane, as it was called, was not carefully laid out, but was merely an access lane through underbrush and woodland to the triangular pasture where City Hall now stands.

(As an aside, for a very short time around 1690, part of today’s Pine Street between Pearl Street and Broadway was called Tienhoven Street. Tienhoven Street was absorbed by King Street in 1691, which was renamed Pine Street in 1694.)

Following Van Tienhoven’s death (murder?) in November 1656 – his hat and cane were found in the North River (Hudson), but his body was never recovered — the farm was sold to glassmaker Johannes (Jan) Smedes, who owned a glassworks on Glass Makers Street (today’s South William Street.)

Fast-forward 20 years to the Bolting Act of 1676, which forbade tanners, butchers, and shoemakers to operate within the walled city limits (south of Wall Street). At that time, Coenraet Ten Eyck, a tanner and shoemaker, owned a parcel of swampy land west of Broad Street (Heere Graft) and north of Beaver Street (a former sheep pasture). He and several other tanners and shoemakers operated the tanning pits at the intersection of Broad Street and Exchange Place (Prince Graft).

Map of Shoemakers' Pasture

Shoemakers’ Pasture is #7 on this 1852 map of New York City farms. The Vandercliff Farm was east of the Shoemakers’ Pasture (#8), and Beeckman’s Pasture (#10) and the Commons (#11) were to the north. The small triangular lot south of Park Row was owned by Andrew Hopper, who had a store on this site in the late 1700s.

When the Bolting Act was passed under British control, Ten Eyck and his fellow shoemakers were forced to find another location for their tannery. Enter Jan Smedes.

At this very same time, in 1676, Governor Edmund Andros had directed all owners of vacant lots or ruinous lands to build upon or improve them under penalty of having them sold at auction. Smedes sold his farm to Coenraet Ten Eyck and three other shoemakers — John Harpendinck (aka Harpending or Herbendinck), Carsten Luersen and Jacob Abrahamson.

For 20 years, the shoemakers’ tannery, or “tan pitts,” operated on the marshy land near the southeast corner of Maiden Lane and William Street (right about where the Louise Nevelson Plaza is today). All the land including and surrounding the tannery — about 16 acres — became known as the Shoemakers’ Pasture (aka Shoemakers’ Meadow).

In 1695, Shoemaker’s Pasture was divided into lots, a majority of which were acquired by John Harpendinck. In 1720, Ann Street (Van Tienhoven’s lane), John Street (named in honor of Harpendinck), and Fulton Street were laid out through Shoemakers’ Pasture. Following Harpendinck’s death in 1724, all of his deeded land was bequeathed to the Consistory of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. The Consistory built the North Dutch Church in 1769 on the northwest side of Horse and Cart Lane (now William Street) at Fulton Street.

Old North Dutch Church

The North Dutch Church was built in 1769 on at the northwest side of Horse and Cart Lane at Fulton Street. During the Revolution, the church was used as a prison and a hospital. It was demolished in 1875 and replaced by shops. Today it is the site of apartments and a Chipolte Mexican Grill.

From about 1700 to 1770, the northwest corner of Shoemakers’ Pasture, bounded by Broadway, Nassau, Fulton and Ann streets, was occupied by the city’s first pleasure garden known as “Spring Garden.” The garden was lined with shade trees, and featured walkways and small grassy squares bordered by hedges. There was a large public house called Spring Garden House at the Ann Street corner, which was occupied by winemaker Thomas Scurlock (1739), and later by John Elkin (1760) and Henry Bicker (1770).

In March 1770, the Sons of Liberty persuaded Bicker to sell the house to them for use as their headquarters. They named it Hampden Hall, in memory of John Hampden, who had given his life in the struggle against arbitrary taxation 100 years earlier. Their first meeting here took place on March 19, 1770.

Following the Revolution, Ann Street had about 20 houses, most of them on the south side of the street. Mr. Ketchum lived at 22 Ann Street, where the Society of Peruke Makers and Hair Dressers met; St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1 occupied 2 Ann Street; Washington Irving lived at No. 40; Mrs. Ann Kilmaster’s school was at No. 13; Christ Church in Ann Street was at No. 49; and Johnathan Pearsee kept a tavern at No. 16.

Liberty Pole, New York

On May 21, 1766, the Sons of Liberty erected a Liberty Pole on the site of today’s City Hall Park in celebration of the repeal of the 1765 Stamp Act. Over the next four years, British solders chopped or burned the pole down many times, but each time the townsfolk would replace it. The final straw came on January 19, 1770, when the pole’s destruction set off a series of riots on John and William streets known as the Battle of Golden Hill. This battle, just six weeks before the Boston Massacre, was reportedly the first time blood was shed during the Revolution.

In 1803, the old Hampden Hall at the corner of Ann Street and Broadway was the town residence of Andrew Hopper. He also had a dry goods store on this block in a building at 222 Broadway that he shared with John Scoles, an engraver and bookseller. A few years later the site was occupied by Jotham Smith, who also operated a large dry goods store on this corner.

In 1825, Nos. 220 and 222 Broadway — now occupied by the stores of John Vreeland and others — was sold at auction by the estate of Andrew Hopper. The land was purchased by Francis W. Olmstead, who constructed a large, 5-story marble building on the site. John Scudder opened the American Museum in this building in 1830. P.T. Barnum entered the picture in December 1841.

And so we’ve come full circle. In Part III, I’ll tell you about the animals at Barnum’s museum and the horrendous fire that took their lives.

Broadway and Ann Street

Broadway, looking north from Ann Street, was very serene in 1819 when this illustration was drawn. St. Paul’s Church is to the left, and 220-222 Broadway, a dry goods store, would have been just to the right. Museum of the City of New York Collections

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