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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Postcard Thursday: The Battle of Washington Heights


Should you find yourself in Washington Heights, stop by Fort Tryon Park (home to the Cloisters); today marks the 241st anniversary of the battle of Fort Washington, where 3,000 Hessian troops and 5,000 British regulars overwhelmed the American troops. 

In the fall of 1776, the Americans were on the run. They'd abandoned Lower Manhattan in September and despite a minor American victory in Harlem Heights on September 16, George Washington's troops were then routed at White Plains on October 28. In the wake of that loss, Washington ordered General Nathanael Greene to abandon Fort Washington in Upper Manhattan and head to New Jersey. However, Greene and the post's commanding officer, Colonel Robert Magaw, convinced Washington that the fort was defensible. That turned out to be a grave miscalculation, in part because one of Magaw's soldiers, William Demont, turned out to be a traitor, and had already given the British details of the fort's defenses.

By the end of the battle, 59 Americans had been killed and nearly 3,000 taken as prisoners of war. Many of these prisoners would subsequently die in the fetid conditions of British prison ships in Wallabout Bay, Brooklyn.

One American killed was John Corbin. His wife Margaret, a nurse who been allowed to join the soldiers in the fort, took his place at his cannon and continued firing until she was gravely injured. She never fully recovered from the wounds she received that day and later became the first woman to receive a military pension.

Fort Washington itself stood where Bennett Park sits in Washington Heights. After the British victory, the fortifications were renamed after Sir William Tryon, the British governor; today, the main road in Fort Tryon Park honors Margaret Corbin.




Thursday, November 9, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Armistice Day and Sgt. York


This Saturday marks the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1919, America created a new holiday, Armistice Day, to mark the fact that the peace treaty was signed on November 11, 1918. In 1954, that holiday became Veterans Day, honoring all those who have served in the armed forces.

The photo above shows Wall Street in 1918 celebrating the end of the war with a spontaneous barrage of ticker-tape.

After the war, Avenue A on the Upper East Side was named York Avenue after one of the heroes of the war, Sgt. Alvin C. York. Below is the text from one of our most popular posts (slightly modified) about York and his eponymous street.

* * *

Most New Yorkers probably haven’t given a second thought to York Avenue, the thoroughfare that runs from 59th Street to 91st Street just east of First Avenue. And if they have thought much about its name, they probably ascribed it to the Duke of York, for whom the city was named back in 1664.

However, York Avenue is actually a much more recent appellation: it was named in 1928 to honor Sergeant Alvin C. York, America’s most renowned World War I hero. Alvin York (1887-1964) was drafted in 1917. Though a conscientious objector (his application for CO status was denied), York became a hero during the Battle of the Argonne Forest. In an improbable feat of courage, York found himself in charge of his unit after many of his compatriots were killed and he managed to kill over 20 Germans soldiers and capture 132 more.

York was awarded the Medal of Honor and upon his return to the United States was feted in New York with a ticker tape parade. York regularly stayed in the news over the next decade, both for his efforts to help the rural poor of Tennessee (his home state) by building a school as well as for his aversion to accepting charity. When offered a free honeymoon, he turned it down stating it would just be a “vainglorious call of the world and the devil.”

In April 1928, York had the honor of having Avenue A from 59th Street northward named for him. The move was sponsored by the First Avenue Association in an effort to revive the fortunes of the east side, which was better known for its German enclave (later dubbed “Yorkville”) and Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert’s brewery. Back in 1807, when the city deployed surveyor John Randal, Jr., to map out the new Cartesian grid plan, he and his team chose to create twelve wide avenues that ran the length of the island from Houston Street north. However, this left the problem of the area of the Lower East Side and Upper East Side where there was enough room east of the grid plan for more streets. Randal solved this problem by naming these eastern avenues “A,” “B,” etc. and on the original 1811 map of Manhattan, there is both an Avenue A in today’s East Village and one on the Upper East Side. (East End Avenue was originally designated Avenue B.)

This idea of renaming a street after a war hero to bolster its real estate values was not new. Anthony and Orange streets—two of the worst streets leading into the old Five Points neighborhood—were renamed Worth and Baxter in the early 1850s after two of New York’s two great heroes from the Mexican-American War, General William Jenkins Worth and Colonel Charles Baxter.



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Martin Luther


In the midst of Halloween and the terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan, it may have slipped by that October 31 was also the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, perhaps the most important moment in western culture in the last millennium.

James wrote a travel story for The New York Post about visiting sites in Germany associated with Luther and his circle. You can read it at: http://nypost.com/2017/10/30/tour-the-germany-of-luthers-reformation-500-years-later/

(James was also interviewed for this story about haunted New York, also in the Posthttp://nypost.com/2017/10/28/nycs-most-haunted-spots-will-terrify-you/)




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