A Duel, A Land Sale, and A Very Unusual History (thanks, Aaron Burr)

On this date in 1804, just five days following his infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr sold two plots of land in our neighborhood. Why? Well, he was charged with multiple crimes in New York and New Jersey following the duel, including murder, and he would end up avoiding both states for many years (those charges were eventually dropped).

We all know what happened to Hamilton and Burr. But what happened to the land Burr sold?  Located at the present-day intersection of Spring Street and 6th Avenue, they certainly led an interesting life. On the occasion of the anniversary of Burr’s sale, we thought we’d trace what happened to them.

17th-18th Centuries

Nicholas Bayard (a nephew of Peter Stuyvesant) and his descendants owned a large swath of land from the 1690s to the late-1700s extending from what is now Chinatown to the southern portion of Greenwich Village. In 1788, the Bayard family commissioned Casimir Theodore Goerck to create a map of prospective streets and building lots of the area. Goerck, who later created the first “grid” map for the city in 1796, mapped out MacDougal, Sullivan, Thompson, Prince, and Houston Streets on the site.

This 1868 map shows the Bayard property as surveyed by Goerck in 1788 by Goerck.

19th Century

Aaron Burr purchased a large section of the Bayard property in the late 1790’s. These lands adjoined Burr’s Richmond Hill estate, which was 26 acres bordered by present day Varick, Charlton, King, and MacDougal Streets. The land Burr sold was lots 18 and 20 on Manhattan’s block 490. The rectangular lot 18 and the oddly shaped lot 20 can be seen on the 1899 Bromley Map, on the block bordered by Spring, Sullivan, and Clark Streets, highlighted below. Lot 18 was likely a brick-faced Federal-style house, based on its wood construction and masonry exterior. Lot 20 was likely a masonry row house. By the late 19th Century, significant changes were occurring in the neighborhood.

1899 Bromley Map, Plate 21

20th Century

By 1920, these buildings, as well as the one in between them on lot 19, had been demolished. Lots, 18, 19, and 20 were combined and a larger masonry structure was constructed. The seven lots to the west were combined and became home of the Exide Battery Depot. Many vehicles in the early age of automobiles were powered by electricity. Founded in the late 1800s, the Electric Storage Battery Co. developed and produced Chloride Accumulators, now known as batteries. In 1910, the company developed the “Exide” brand battery for use in electric taxicabs and while electric cars were popular in the early automobile age, these early batteries could not keep up with the power and speed produced by combustion engines.

In 1925, in conjunction with the construction of the IND (A,C,E) subway line, the work began to extend Sixth Avenue from its then-southern terminus at Carmine Street down to Canal Street. This destroyed hundreds of buildings in the process, including all of Aaron Bur’s former lot 18 and most of lot 20. Only a tiny slice of Lot 20 remains:

21st Century

Centuries later after this land passed from the Bayards to Burr to others, this tiny part of what is left of lot 20 is being used by the upscale seafood restaurant Aqua Grill at 210 Spring Street (lot 21). 210 Spring Street was built in 1902 as stable, transitioning to light manufacturing in 1946, and adding a ground floor restaurant in 1949. Aqua Grill has occupied this space since 1996.

The 1980 Tax Photo shows what appears to be outdoor seating for a restaurant.

So this tiny plot of land, an easily missed protrusion on the side of a tenement on Sixth Avenue in the South Village, is the last remaining vestige of a land sale spurred by the most infamous duel and one of the most storied rivalries in American history.

Current photo of Lot 20 attached to Aqua Grill.

Read more about the Sixth Avenue extension here. 

Read more about Aaron Burr here.

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