A Brief History of Washington Heights

A Brief History of Washington Heights

Washington Heights was off to an exciting start from the very beginning. Amongst the neighborhood’s hilly landscape took place one of the turning points in the Revolutionary War. Ever since then, this green corner on the north end of Manhattan has attracted immigrants from around the world. Read below to learn about the events that have shaped one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the city.

Townhouses in Washington Heights

 

The name for the neighborhood derives from Fort Washington. The fort was first built at the highest elevated point on the island by the Continental troops during the Revolutionary War. Fort Washington is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and it’s site can be visited by going to Bennett Park. The park is 265 feet above sea level and marks the highest altitude point in the city. The earliest recorded settlers of Upper Manhattan were Native Americans from the Lenape tribes who would use the fertile land for hunting, fishing, and trading goods. They established a home here long before the British conquered North America after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean.

Bennett Park in Washington Heights

 

The neighborhood played a key role in the formation of the United States thanks to its northern location and hilly landscape. It also happens to be where the Battle of Fort Washington took place in 1776.

A confident Continental Army led by George Washington camped on the higher ground for strategic advantage but the tactic proved to be futile when the British forces defeated them. The loss enabled the British Army to take over New York and neighboring eastern New Jersey which proved to be a major setback for their American counterparts. In fact, Washington ordered his troops to leave Manhattan behind after the disappointing results during a crucial standoff at Jeffrey’s Point, which can be seen in the picture by The Little Red Lighthouse. After this turning point in the war, Fort Washington became a crucial offensive position for American forces since it allowed them to prevent the British navy from sailing upstream and making advances further into the Hudson River.

Little Red Lighthouse in Washington Heights

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that homes were built in the area after the wealthy set their eyes on the neighborhood and developed the spacious plots of lands for the construction of mansions and estates. One of the more popular mansions from this particular frame of time was called Woodcliff Castle which was known for it’s large size and ostentatious architecture. A housing boom followed shortly thereafter but it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the neighborhood became a lively residential community.

Woodcliffe Castle

photo by http://www.metmuseum.org

Immigrants from Ireland and other parts of Europe started calling Washington Heights their home and the neighborhood grew tremendously in the time before World War II broke out. In fact, so many Jews flocked to the Heights after escaping from Germany that it was casually called the “Frankfurt on the Hudson”. The neighborhood continued to gain popularity after professional baseball players started playing at the iconic Polo Grounds between 1889 and 1957. Towards the end of the 20th century, Washington Heights started to house many cultural and educational institutions that consolidated its reputation of preserving its diverse and rich history. Washington Heights has recently acquired a vibrant Latin flavor after receiving an influx of Dominican immigrants. The neighborhood now counts with more than 150,000 residents and is continuing to grow and expand at a rapid rate.

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Edgar Catasus

Edgar is a a film fanatic, a food lover, and an Upper West Side enthusiast. After working in PR and marketing in Chicago, he is pursuing his dream of becoming a writer. He loves photography and on his spare time you can find him hiking or biking the great outdoors (while also snapping some pretty awesome Instagram pics!).

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