Manhattan: You’re Taller Than You Look

By | May 19, 2013

Taller? Longer? Whichever… it’s deceptive!

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Ever since I came home from the walk to the GWB/Light House last summer, I regretted not knowing how close I was to the Cloisters and pressing on.

On Friday, I had time to kill before meeting friends and it was a gorgeous day so I decided what would be interesting to see and do. After some random Googling I came upon Fort Bennett Park and Manhattan’s natural highest point and I decided that was a good fit. I don’t view it as cheating at all since it was at the 181st St. stop that I ended the walk from the UWS to the Bridge.


The original plan was to see the highest point marker, wander over to Inspiration Point and then double back. Best laid plans … and all that, seems to be the motto of this walk. Along the way I saw Castle Village, home to a fascinating history, and the Pumpkin House! The up side of walking with smart phones is, you can research on the go. The down side of researching on the go is a dead battery very quickly. So I found myself reading up on a lot of what I’d seen when I got back. What does that mean? That I want to do it again, of course, while being better able to appreciate what I’m seeing.

When I got to Inspiration point I realized two things: I really didn’t want to climb back up to Bennett Park and I was, once again, close-ish to the Cloisters with relatively fresh legs so I continued north. One of the first sites I came across, like remains in a jungle, turned out to be the remains of the Billings Estate (history, NY Times story). One thing that this walk has taught me is how much history there is still in Manhattan.

I drew even with Fort Tryon Park and realized there was no crossover of the highway so I pressed on north and… Inwood Hill Park! I had (accidentally) done it, the West Side. I briefly walked into Inwood Hill Park to a) make it count and b) see if I could reach the northern most point. But I was running low on time and decided it counted. Net result? My appetite was re whet for this walk and I decided to finish it this weekend or next.

I woke early Saturday and decided why not. My phone wasn’t ready though and while I charged it, I strategized where I was going to start the Eastern side. I had already walked from 120th – 42nd, Grand to E. 14th St.; and Fulton St. to the Battery. I knew I wanted to go north to “close the loop”, but where. A good chunk of the Harlem River side is on city streets (PDF) and I wasn’t interested in a boring, ugly walk and decided to supplement it with history. Also, I’ve walked a chunk of 125th before so I decided 125th & Amsterdam was a non- cheating start point. (Un)fortunately (the hills in that area are pretty steep), I missed that stop and ended up getting off at 135 & Amsterdam and headed northwest to the first stop on my itinerary: Hamilton Grange, home of Alexander Hamilton.

That was another case of not realizing where I was… or not realizing what was near I was as I’d been only blocks from Hamilton Grange and cut through the Park when I went to an event at Harlem Stage on Friday morning. Fail. I need someone to put a map in my head and alert me when I’m nearly something cool/funky/historical. I knew Hamilton Grange had moved, but I didn’t realize what other pieces of the area had pieces of Alexander Hamilton – specifically St. Leo’s, which has also relocated. I definitely want to re-visit when the Grange is open and learn a bit more about the neighborhood.

I continued my zig-zag north west along Jackie Robinson Park and down Macombs Place to Macombs Dam Bridge. Not on anyone’s version of the Loop, but on my bucket list to do it on foot. I ended up with a version of Abraham, Martin & John in my head… one the Daily News did in ’95 for the Yankees: Showalter, Stanley and Don. To this date I can’t find it online and I wish I could, because it was good. The Bridge was somewhat underwhelming, especially with post game traffic, but mid-span provided a nice view north up the Harlem River.

I doubled back up 8th/Frederick Douglass/whatever it’s called in the W. 150s. Hands down, the seediest piece of the “Greenway”. I did get another nice piece of history with the Polo Grounds Towers. It’s definitely more desolate and less well marked than Ebbets Field, even before this spring’s Jackie Robinson movie. I took a quick picture and just kept walking. Quickly. I have a feeling this is a perfect Catch -22. Few walk the section of the Greenway because it’s in such poor condition — and it’s not rebuilt because there isn’t the traffic to warrant it.

The overpass to the relatively new Harlem Speedway is in horrible condition, but it’s easy to find. The Speedway is an amazing walk – and with the cherry blossoms at the north end I’m sure it’s gorgeous in Spring. The Speedway has a fascinating history, but is rather desolate and barren on the southern end. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I really wished there were more people around. I wonder if that was a factor of the weather, or generally low traffic. A very awesome sight along the Speedway itself is the High Bridge Water Tower and the chance to walk under the High Bridge.

The High Bridge has an amazing history and I really hope the plans to reopen it in 2014 come true. That, combined with the possible re-opening and restoration of the Polo Grounds stairs (possible, because they’ve been talking about this for 5 years) in High Bridge Park would really mark a re-opening of this area for sightseeing and would lean toward the renaissance the west side of Manhattan’s waterfront has seen.

Reading on High Bridge and the Park that contains it, makes it easy to get lost in a sea of links… but none of those links have IDed this mystery “lookout” north of the High Bridge and Amsterdam Bridge, but south of Washington Bridge at about 180th St. It’s an amazing piece of architecture, but seems abandoned. It’s part of HighBridge Park, but I can’t find any information on it in the park’s picture page,  I’m fairly sure it’s not the old steps, which I don’t think are still standing, or the 178-179th St. Tunnels. Maybe time to pitch it to Curbed’s Camera Obscura or Infrastructure, who nailed Inspiration Point.

Speaking of CO, great post on Swindler’s Cove. I could see the boathouse entrance from the Speedway, but had no idea what I was looking at. What an amazing oasis. At only ten years old it’s fairly new, but a true hidden gem. How on earth does a park hide in plain sight? The floating boathouse is awesome, in design and purpose. As much as I was wishing for a little more company on the Speedway, I was regretting my wish when the Speedway ended and I turned onto the busy thoroughfare of Dyckman St. However, that also meant the end was in sight. It was just a quick walk down the block to the intersection of Broadway where I grabbed a Diet Coke to recharge my feet and plan my my next steps.

With the rain mostly stopped and plenty of daylight, I decided I wanted to go where the Greenway ended. I’d been down to the Battery and wanted to go up to the tip. I quickly realized that Broadway was the northernmost point, but I didn’t want the noise of a main route. I wanted quiet serenity so I went into Inwood Hill Park via a circuitous route around the peninsula so my first sight of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek was the Columbia “C”. Oddly? Google Mapping Spuyten Duyvil Creek on mobile Google maps is useless. It sends you to Brooklyn. That’s as bad as the ubiquitous Broadway theatre for the road.  Come on Google, get your shit together.

I didn’t really have the time to explore the park properly, but its present and history are intriguing and I definitely want to explore it further. With daylight fading and the temperature dropping, I headed south to my last stop — the Dyckman Farmhouse. Sadly, light was poor and it’s hard to see from the street so that goes back on the bucket list.

207th St. on the A was the end of the line and the end of the loop.

For now.

For more Greenway photos, Untapped Cities has great ones on the Hudson and Harlem/East Rivers.

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