It Takes a Village A Look At Manhattan's Greenwich Village

Say the name "Greenwich Village," and immediately images of quiet, leafy streets lined with brownstones, or beret-clad bohemians drinking coffee and discussing art come to mind. The Village is one of New York's most famous and recognizable neighborhoods, and for the last two centuries, it's been a hotbed of cultural and social activity.

The Early Days

In the early 16th century, prior to the arrival of Europeans, the marshy land that is now known as Greenwich Village was called Sapokanikan by the Native Americans who lived there. By the middle part of the 1600s, the Dutch were firmly ensconced in the region, renaming it Noortwyck and using it for pastures and croplands. When the English took control of Niew Amsterdam in 1664, what had been a rather remote settlement became a tiny township called Grin'wich.

Throughout the American Revolution, Grin'wich held its own as a quiet proto-suburb, largely removed from the action. When the war ended, Village-dwellers established a thriving network of produce markets on the West Side, all along the Hudson. The area enjoyed an era of pastoral prosperity until outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever drove thousands of people out of what was then considered the "inner city" - and what is now Lower Manhattan. Between 1825 and 1840, the population of Greenwich Village quadrupled, and what had once been marshy farmland began to resemble the rest of the city.

By the mid-1800s, wealthy landowners and businesspeople began making their homes along Broadway and around Washington Square Park at the terminus of 5th Avenue. Stately townhouses of red brick and brownstone began to replace the temporary housing that had been erected for those fleeing the plagues of preceding decades, and the area became a haven for high society. The final flourish that sealed the Village's cache as a desirable, fashionable place to call home was the construction of Stanford White's triumphal arch in the plaza of Washington Square Park in 1892, commemorating George Washington's inauguration a century before.

Changing Cultural Tides

For the first half of the 19th century, the Village was dense with cultural institutions, schools, houses of worship, and fanciful architecture. New York University was founded in 1836, and the school in turn attracted more intellectuals, political activists, artists, and their patrons and appreciators.


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