A Marriage Leads to Construction of Manhattan’s Oldest Residence

A Marriage Leads to Construction of Manhattan’s Oldest Residence

On January 31, 1795, Nicholas William Stuyvesant, descendent of Director-General Petrus Stuyvesant, married Catherine Livingston Reade, herself a descendant of New York royalty of sorts (the family name can be found on streets in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn). While clearly this was a significant date for these two early New Yorkers, why should we care over two centuries later?

44 Stuyvesant Street, 2011

Because that marriage led to the construction of what is today the oldest residence in Manhattan, 44 Stuyvesant Street.

Nicholas built 44 Stuyvesant Street for his wife and what would end up being a very, very large family. Walking down the unusually angled Stuyvesant Street today, this subtly elegant early Federal building may seem to fold seamlessly into the streetscape. However, if you were to stand across the street and turn the clock back to 1795, you would see the surrounding buildings disappear one by one, and the street grid as we know it dissolve in place of a completely different configuration. You would recognize but one structure: No. 44, the oldest building in the Village and the oldest structure in Manhattan continuously used for residential purposes.

The land upon which 44 Stuyvesant Street was built was part of the original farm of Petrus Stuyvesant, Director-General of the West India Company in New Netherlands. Almost a century and a half before Nicholas and Catherine started their life together, Petrus Stuyvesant purchased two adjacent “boweries” (rooted in the old Dutch word for “farm”) from the West India Company on March 12, 1651. On November 30, 1787, a lane was cut between the two sections, running true east-west. The path became Stuyvesant Street, the only street preserved from the period when the Stuyvesants owned a huge swath of land within and beyond today’s East Village (roughly between Fourth Avenue, the East River, East 5th Street, and East 20th Street). The Stuyvesant street grid squared with the points of the compass: the streets running north-south were named for the female members of the family, and those bisecting them were named for the male members of the family.

William Bridges and Peter Maverick Map showing a portion of the Stuyvesant Street pattern, 1807. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A map of the 1811 street grid that shows Stuyvesant Street. The red line indicates the original street, which was laid out in 1787. The blue lines indicate what actually remains of the street today.

When Nicholas Stuyvesant built 44 Stuyvesant Street, it was a free-standing structure at the southwest corner of Stuyvesant Street and the no-longer-extant Judith Street. Nicholas and Catherine lived here together for twenty-three years, raising six sons and three daughters, just as the generations that followed them would raise their own families. When Nicholas’ mother, Margaret Livingston, passed away in 1818, Nicholas and Catherine moved into the Bowery house where she had lived. Nicholas had inherited the building upon the death of his father, Petrus Stuyvesant. After moving, he and Catherine rented out their former home at 44 Stuyvesant Street for the rest of their lives. It was during this period, in 1832, that the parlor floor of the house was remodeled in the later Federal style. In 1861, the rows of Anglo-Italianate homes that today fill in and form the rest of the St. Mark’s Historic District and ‘Renwick Triangle’ were finally developed.

1831 map showing the Stuyvesant’s landholdings, courtesy of NYPL Digital Collections.

No. 44 Stuyvesant Street’s historical significance is amplified all the more by its important place in New York City landmarks history. After the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission began to identify and protect significant buildings and districts in the city in 1965, this was one of the first buildings, within one of the first districts, to be formally recognized. No. 44 Stuyvesant Street was designated as part of the St. Mark’s Historic District on January 14, 1969, almost one hundred seventy-five years after its original date of construction.

38-48 Stuyvesant Street (r. to l.). Photo from the Evalyn Haynes Collection in the Village Preservation Historic Image Archive.

Today, 44 Stuyvesant Street is one of two remaining houses from the early generations of the Stuyvesant family (along with the Stuyvesant Fish House at 21 Stuyvesant Street, built in 1803 by Petrus Stuyvesant and similarly rich in architectural integrity and historical associations).  Along with the Jumel Mansion and the Dyckman Farmhouse in Upper Manhattan, this is the only surviving residential building from the 18th century in Manhattan, and the only one “which has been solely used for residential use, successfully retaining …its original plan (which is two rooms off the hall) and its many architectural elements.” It also reflects the early building traditions in the area, displaying original Flemish-bond brickwork, splayed lintels, and a brownstone basement. Furthermore, 44 Stuyvesant Street showcases a 20th-century artist’s studio window, emblematic of the cultural and demographic shifts that took place in the East Village at that time, and the architectural features that defined it.

Here at the Village Preservation offices at 232 East 11th Street, we need only peek through one of our back windows to see 44 Stuyvesant Street, a singular structure that anchors our neighborhood to the almost fleeting history of the once-dominant Stuyvesant family.

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