Gramercy Park New York’s Historic Landmark: Peace and Beauty Amid the Bustle of New York City

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The story of Gramercy Park, a New York City landmark.This private park has been in existence since the middle of the 19th century

Gramercy

Gramercy Park is situated in mid-Manhattan and is bounded by East Twenty-first and East Twenty-Second Streets, Park Avenue S., and Third Avenue. An historic oasis in the middle of Manhattan (it is the oldest private park in the United States), Gramercy Park first saw life as a swamp then as farmland.

The name Gramercy is most probably a corruption of two Dutch words “krom mesje” meaning little crooked knife.

Samuel Ruggles and Gramercy Park

In 1831, Samuel Ruggles purchased the property from James Duane (mayor of New York City from 1784 to 1789) and began plans for a private parkland for local inhabitants. The residents now purchase a key to the park and at one time the park was open to the public one day a year…Gramercy Day…but this custom has been stopped.

In the mid 1800’s, the park area was frequented by many celebrities and notables, including artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens, writers Stephen Crane, Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton, O.Henry and Nathanael West. It was also the site of Miss Henrietta Haines’ School for Girls, where many of the daughters of the elite studied.

Miss Haines’ School in Gramercy Park

Miss Haines’ School was also at one time the home of Mlle. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, a Frenchwoman of some notoriety, who came from Paris in1847 to teach at the school. Her story was told in the book, “All This and Heaven Too,” by her grandniece Rachel Field., and was later made into a movie of the same title with Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

Gramercy Park Residents

Many famous people lived around the park: Samuel Tilden, Democratic nominee for President in 1876 lived at 15 Gramercy Park; George Templeton Strong, the famous diarist, had a home at 55 Gramercy Park; Mayor Abram Hewitt resided at 9 Lexington Avenue; Cyrus West Field, the man credited with the laying of the Atlantic Cable, lived at 123 East Twenty-First Street, while his lawyer brother had an adjoining home at 125.

Dr.Valentine Mott, the leading surgeon of his time, took on the responsibility of reorganizing Bellevue Hospital while a resident of the park. Publisher James Harper and John Bigelow, co-owner of the New York Evening Post also had homes fronting the park. .

Actresses who have lived in or near the park were Mrs.Patrick Campbell, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Ethel Barrymore, Theda Bara and Helen Hayes. Helen Hokinson, cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine, was also a resident. The artist Robert Henri, whose works and philosophy gave birth to the Ash Can School of American realism, had a studio at 10 Gramercy Park.

Sources:

  1. “Gramercy Park, An Illustrated History of a New York Neighborhood,” by Stephen Garmey,Balsam Press, Inc, 1984
  2. “Gramercy Park, An American Bloomsbury,” by Carole Klein, Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1987.