They say you can have it all in New York City, but sometimes that's a tough proposition: You want to live in Manhattan, but you want your home to be an idyllic retreat. You're looking for an affordable co-op, but you think it should be spacious. You want to live minutes from downtown, but you want to have woods nearby! Most New Yorkers would laugh you out of the room if you voiced this wish list out loud. But they obviously don't know about Manhattan's best kept secret"¦Inwood.
For the uninitiated, Inwood is a virtually undiscovered gem of a neighborhood hidden all the way uptown, just north of Washington Heights. Although it might feel like it's a world away from the push and pull of downtown, in reality it's only half an hour from midtown via the A train, and it's also well served by the 1/9 local. Flanked by beautiful, expansive parks and rivers, the area is a haven for nature-lovers, families and all manner of New Yorkers seeking a quiet, peaceful oasis from the stress of urban living. Even more astonishing, Inwood still boasts truly nice apartments you can afford without selling off a kidney or hocking the kids.
Inwood may now be the best neighborhood to find a cheap two-bedroom in an Art Deco building, but it wasn't always so. Back in the day, Inwood was prime fishing and hunting territory for several groups of Native Americans, but mainly the Lenape (or "Turtle People"), a peaceful tribe that spoke the Algonquin language. According to Susan Wolf, who has been managing and selling real estate in Inwood and Washington Heights for 23 years, and is currently a broker for Stein-Perry Real Estate, "Inwood was originally a pastoral area, and the terrain was much more uneven than it is now. It was full of little inlets and streams, and crosshatched with beaver dams. People actually tamed it and smoothed it out fairly recently with landfill from various construction projects, like the building of the subway."
The first Europeans began arriving after Henry Hudson explored the river now named for him in 1609 while sailing the Half Moon for the Dutch East India Company. "The Dutch and subsequently the British granted huge tracts of land to wealthy individuals to manage and rent out to farmers," says Wolf, and the area remained largely rural until the twentieth century.
"In the early 1900s, there was a huge immigration wave," Wolf continues. "Eastern Europeans, Jews, Greeks, Italians and Irish, among others, began flowing into lower Manhattan, crowding what was then a much smaller urban area and fueling a building boom uptown. Next came the subway, in 1905, which made the area even more accessible. So you had large numbers of respectable, working poor moving uptown and turning it into a real residential community."