“The ideal of quiet and genteel retirement, in 1835, was found in Washington Square, where the Doctor built himself a handsome, modern, wide-fronted house…
I do not know whether it is owing to the tenderness of early associations, but this portion of New York appears to many persons the most delectable. It has a kind of established repose which is not of frequent occurrence in other quarters of the large, shrill city….”
-Henry James, Washington Square
While approaching Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park from the north, one can’t help but notice the cobblestoned street that runs between 5th Avenue and University Place and which seems to be frozen in time from an earlier era. A quaint street; hardly wider than an alleyway— she’s lined on both sides by low rows of historic carriage houses…and she’s called Washington Mews.
“Mews?” Youze ask!? Yes “Mews!”
“Mews” is an old British term that simply described a row of carriage houses with storage on the first story (space to store one’s carriage/coach, horse, and related bits and pieces) and which featured living quarters on the upper floors. Often situated behind city dwellings and often narrow in character, mews offer a window into a time when horses provided the main means of transport.
A Brook Runs Through It
Long before the locals had any need for mews, a stream ran across what is today Washington Square Park. An Indian village known by the name “Sapohanikan” (or, Tobacco Field) occupied the area prior to 17th-century Dutch acquisition—and the villagers called the stream Minetta Brook. As the Dutch took hold of the land, they established a new village that they called “Noortwyck” (or, North District) because of its position in relation to New Amsterdam. But by 1664, the English had taken Manhattan from the Dutch, and the name was changed to “Greenwich.” Just imagine if,...