Yorkville, Manhattan (History)

Yorkville is a neighborhood in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. Its southern boundary is East 79th Street, its northern East 96th Street, its western Third Avenue, and its eastern the East River.

 

HISTORY

17th and 18th centuries

In August 1776, George Washington stationed half of his Continental Army in Manhattan, with many troops in the Yorkville area in defensive positions along the East River to protect the other half of his army if they were to retreat from Brooklyn, and to inflict damage on invading land and sea forces. Following the Battle of Long Island defeat on August 27, the Continentals implemented an orderly pivoting retreat in the Yorkville area, leading the enemy to entice the Continentals to fight by piping “Fly Away”, about a fox running away from hounds. The Continentals’ disciplined northerly retreat created the successful Battle of Harlem Heights in September 1776.

In 1815, the Upper East Side was a farmland and market garden district. The Boston Post Road traversed the Upper East Side, locally called the Eastern Post Road; milepost 6 was near the northeast corner of Third Avenue and 81st Street. From 1833 to 1837 the New York and Harlem Railroad, one of the earliest railway systems in America, was extended through the Upper East Side along Fourth Avenue (later renamed Park Avenue). A hamlet grew near the 86th Street station, becoming the Yorkville neighborhood as gradual yet steady commercial development occurred. The current street grid was laid-out between 1839 and 1844 as part of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, so the Eastern Post Road was abandoned. The community had been referred to as Yorkville before 1867.

19th and 20th centuries

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Yorkville was a middle- to working-class neighborhood, inhabited by many people of Czech, Slovak, Irish, Polish, German, Hungarian and Lebanese descent. The neighborhood became more affluent.

Many of Yorkville’s original German residents moved to Yorkville and other neighborhoods from “Kleindeutschland” (Little Germany) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after the General Slocum disaster on June 15, 1904. The ship caught fire in the East River just off the shores of Yorkville. Most of the passengers on the ship were German.

In 1928, a one-block section of Sutton Place north of 59th Street, and all of Avenue A north of that point, was renamed York Avenue to honor U.S. Army Sergeant Alvin York, who received the Medal of Honor for attacking a German machine gun nest during World War I’s Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

The largest non-German group were the Irish.They attended mass at such churches as St. Ignatius Loyola on 84th Street and Park Avenue, Our Lady of Good Counsel (90th Street) and the Church of St. Joseph (87th Street). There were many Irish bars including Finnegan’s Wake, Dorrian’s Red Hand Restaurant, Ireland’s 32, Carrol’s Hideaway, O’Brien’s and Kinsale Tavern. Until the late 1990s, New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade ended at 86th Street and Third Avenue, the historical center of Yorkville.

Yorkville became the melting pot of populations arriving from various regions of the Prussian-dominated German Empire and its colonies, where many cultures spoke German. In the 1930s, the neighborhood was the home base of Fritz Julius Kuhn’s German American Bund, the most notorious pro-Nazi group in 1930s America. Yorkville was a haven for refugees from fascist Germany in the 1940s, and from refugees from communist regimes in the 1950s and 1960s. The neighborhood is the site of the annual Steuben Parade, a large German-American celebration.

At the turn of the 21st century, East 82nd Street was co-named St. Stephen of Hungary Way. The area from East 79th to 83rd Streets, spanning approximately four blocks east-west, is colloquially known as Little Hungary.