Harlem Song An Historic Neighborhood Rises Again

Just about every neighborhood in New York City has had its ups and downs and its own particular stereotypes. Areas rise and fall as centers for culture or as fashionable places to live. For whatever reason, few places have been on the roller coaster longer than Harlem. Harlem is home to both jazz and hip-hop, the rich artistic history of the Harlem Renaissance, and the stereotypical concept of the urban ghetto.

As the Manhattan real estate market constantly evolves and with New Yorkers yearning for more space on the finite island to call home, Harlem is looking down the barrel of full-scale gentrification - for better or worse.

Early History

Established in 1659 by Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant and originally called Nieuw Haarlem after the old Dutch city, the area now known as Harlem was home to rich farmlands, and some of New York City's most illustrious families, including the Delanceys, the Bleekers, the Rikers, the Beekmans, and the Hamiltons. By the 1830s, however, soil was depleted and many of Harlem's sharecropping tenants abandoned their dwellings. The large estates to the west were sold at public auctions, transforming Harlem into a dumping ground for the destitute and downtrodden. Newly arrived immigrants in search of cheap housing and land found a home in Harlem's scattered shantytowns.

New and better forms of transportation and the rapid population growth of New York City at the turn of the 19th Century once again brought about another transformation: this time morphing it into a middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhood. The introduction of three elevated rail systems was the impetus for the residential development of the area, and virtually all the vacant land in Harlem was built upon between 1898 and 1904. Harlem was once again a viable place for the masses to live - though this was not where the story concludes with a fairy tale ending.

Overbuilding led to massive vacancies and over-inflated rents, which the neighborhood's laborers and domestic workers, simply could not afford. The undulating market once again called for drastic measures. Enter Phillip Payton.


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