On a recent trip to the upper east side of Manhattan, New York, I had the opportunity to spend an hour walking where my grandmother likely walked a hundred years ago. To say Manhattan, New York has changed drastically in the past hundred years is an understatement. Most of it would be totally unrecognizable to its turn of the 20th century residents. Remarkably, I found that one of my grandmother’s neighborhoods of that time period that still bears a resemblance to the way it looked a century ago. Before I tell more about the neighborhood, let me tell you a little about my grandmother. My paternal grandmother was Mary Ann “Molly” Kenny. She used the nickname Molly probably because she had 4 sisters who were also named Mary. She was just 17 years old with just 5 dollars in her possession when she passed through Ellis Island in 1904 on her journey from Ireland, her birthplace, to start her new life in America. Molly is the girl on the left in the above photo which was likely taken in 1906. One of her Manhattan addresses was 122 East End Avenue which was at the corner of 85th Street and East End Avenue. Molly rented a room there as did her older sister, Tess. That boarding house has been replaced with this high rise condominium. The weekend of my visit, there was a unit for sale in this building for 12 million dollars. Just a block away at the intersection of 86th Street and East End Avenue there are homes that Molly would recognize if she returned to the neighborhood today. These brick row houses are so unique among the neighboring high-rise buildings that they have been designated a historic district.
This picture courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York show these row houses as they appeared when they were built in the 1880’s.
This housing development was the work of developer, John C. Henderson who created them for families of modest means. Today 24 homes remain of the original 32 that were built. Originally, a home here could be rented for 650 dollars a year. How times change! They now sell for 3 to 4 million dollars. Right across East End Avenue is Carl Schurz Park which has existed since the turn of the 20th century. It is very pleasant park to stroll through with a dedicated group of volunteers that keep it well landscaped and very clean.
This park borders the East River and as you look down the river, you can see the Queensboro Bridge. Molly married Cornelius T. O’Neill who worked for a short time as a conductor of a Queensboro bridge trolley.
There is also a small lighthouse in the river adjacent to the park. It stands on the northern tip of Roosevelt Island.
As I strolled the park, I thought about how it was likely Molly had spent time walking in the park a hundred years ago. It was sweet feeling to have that connection to my grandmother. There have been additions to the Carl Schurz Park in the years since Molly lived in the neighborhood. In 1975 this statue of Peter Pan, which was originally part of a 1928 fountain that stood in front of the Paramount Theater, was added to the park.
Vandals, perhaps friends of Captain Hook, removed the Peter from the park and he was eventually retrieved from the bottom of the East River. The statue was re-installed in the park in 1991. It is framed today by this lovely arch.
If you would like to explore more of this lovely neighborhood, search Google Maps for Carl Schurz Park, New York, NY.