Saturday, June 2, 2012

1st Lecture in a series related to Isham Park's Centennial

Cole Thompson with tour at Church of the Good Shepherd.  Photo: Jeff Dugan.
This morning, Saturday June 2nd, the 1st of four Centennial related lectures/walking tours for the June NoMAA Art Stroll was held.  

Beginning at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum on Broadway at West 204th Street at 10am, the tour group heard about the preservation history of Dyckman Farmhouse Museum from Susan De Vries, DFM director.  Introducing a New York Times article from 1913 that revealed a plan to move the Dyckman Farmhouse to Isham Park as a means of preserving it, Susan explained that the move would have been necessitated by the owner of the DF at that time who did not want to give up ownership of the land in order to preserve the house.  She also revealed that the drawn image of an historic house used in the article was not the DF.  We then moved to the interior and a question lead to the fact that the DF is actually built into the rock substrate resulting in an odd series of steps above, so a move would have been particularly impossible for its fragile wooden structure.  We learned that when that owner died, the house was sold back to Dyckman family members who preserved it and gave it to New York City as a museum.

Leaving DFM behind, we strolled down Broadway past the Church of the Good Shepherd where Cole Thompson spoke briefly about the centennial of the church, which is also being celebrated this year.  A New York Times article dated October 7, 1911 describes that the land for the church was purchased from the Isham family estate.  The announcement of the purchase was actually made at the Celebration of Isham Park on September 28, 1912.
Moving on to the entrance to the park, the former entrance to William Bradley Isham's estate just above Isham Street on Broadway, the group then heard about the structures given with the six acres of land Julia Isham Taylor originally donated for the park.  The letter to the Manhattan Borough President in May 1911 describing her gift was reproduced in the New York Times.  Her quoted letter states, "The proposed park would include the entrance, gardener's lodge, driveway shaded by elms, and the residence, lawns, and gardens of the estate."

Cole then described the history of the mile marker built into the wall of Mr. Isham's stone entrance gate.

Next, we showed images of the gardener's lodge which stood behind and next to the Ginkgo tree. We also described the Ginkgo as most likely planted by WBI, as Samuel Isham, WBI's second son and a well known artist and author, is quoted in 1912 saying his father razed all the trees from the land and replanted "nearly all of the trees that remain." The Ginkgo also appears in a photograph on the park's 1912 celebration pamphlet.

Then we scaled the steps up to the summit of the park, pointing out the sites of the gardener's lodge and the greenhouses, using physical evidence of their foundations' footprints.

At the circular stone memorial terrace, photographs of the Isham's residence were shared and a suggestion that the principles of design of Andrew Jackson Downing seem apparent in both the residence with its unique, cross-shaped plan and the garden, which were designed and built for the former owner, Floyd T. Ferris, a Cholera epidemic doctor.  I suddenly realized after the tour that the form of the terrace itself echos the entrance hall of the Isham residence which is described by both Helen Worden and Reginald Pelham Bolton as circular in plan.  All  of the structures in Isham Park were demolished in the 1940's during Robert Moses era as Parks Commissioner.   (More on that in the lecture on June 24th, see next June 2nd blog entry for calendar). 
Cole then showed some amazing family photographs of the William H. Hurst House which is located next door to the site of the Isham residence at the corner of West 215th and Park Terrace East.  Descendants of the Hursts (the couple had 13 children) discovered his blog and the entry he put up about the history of the house  They are now in touch with each other and Cole, greatly expanding our knowledge of the house and their Irish American family.
Tour at the SD Arch. Photo: Jeff Dugan

Cole then spoke about the now lost Seaman Drake estate mansion and its replacement by the Park Terrace Gardens apartment complex designed by Albert Goldhammer and completed in 1939. We then descended the West 215th Step Street, hearing about its soon-to-begin reconstruction guided by the architecture firm WXY, which preserves the historic composite material and the steps double-sided configuration and two historic lampposts that remain.

The tour strolled a block north to the entrance arch of the Seaman Drake estate on Braodway.  We were able to enter the arch and look at its interior, so that the tour could gain real insight into its structure.

We crossed the street to look at the site from a distance and Cole called attention to the new Campbell Sports Center for Columbia University under construction at Baker Field on West 218th Street and Broadway.  Designed by Steven Holl - - who teaches at Columbia, an architect with international "starchitect" status, the building created controversy in Inwood when its contemporary design was revealed a few years ago:


With that, the June 2nd tour concluded.  Please come to the next tour on June 9th:
10:00am, meet at the Inwood Hill Nature Center, West 218th Street

peninsula in Inwood Hill Park
Shorakapok: Native Americans of Northern Manhattan
Northern Manhattan has a vibrant history of the Nativespeoples of this land.  The Urban Park Rangers along with Harlan Pruden, a member of the Cree Nation, will lead am interactive lecture and walk on the Lenape and other Native Peoples of Northern Manhattan as they also explore the Indian rock shelters and Inwood Hill and Isham Parks.

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