Audubon Park’s journey from farmland to cityscape
The study of Audubon Park’s origins, maturation, and disappearance is at root the study of a rural society evolving into an urban community, an examination of the relationship between people and the land they inhabit. When John James Audubon bought fourteen acres of northern Manhattan farmland in 1841, he set in motion a chain of events that moved forward inexorably to the streetscape that emerged seven decades later. The story of how that happened makes up the pages of The Neighborhood Manhattan Forgot: Audubon Park and the Families Who Shaped It.
With a colorful cast of characters drawn from the upper crust of nineteenth-century New York City, this fully illustrated history peels back the many layers of a rural society evolving into an urban community, enlivened by the people who propelled it forward: property owners, tenants, laborers, and servants. Thoroughly researched through primary and secondary sources, as well as private collections, The Neighborhood Manhattan Forgot tells the intricate tale of how individual choices in the face of family dysfunction, economic crises, technological developments, and the myriad daily occurrences that elicit personal reflection and change of course pushed Audubon Park forward to the cityscape that distinguishes the neighborhood today.
A longtime evangelist for Manhattan’s Audubon Park neighborhood, author Matthew Spady delves deep into the lives of the two families most responsible over time for the anomalous arrangement of today’s streetscape: the Audubons and the Grinnells. Buoyed by his extensive research, Spady reveals the darker truth behind John James Audubon (1785–1851), a towering patriarch who consumed the lives of his family members in pursuit of his own goals. He then narrates how fifty years after Audubon’s death, George Bird Grinnell (1849–1938) and his siblings found themselves the owners of extensive property that was not yielding sufficient income to pay taxes, insurance, and maintenance. Like the Audubons, they planned an exit strategy for controlled change that would have an unexpected ending.
Beginning with the Audubons’ return to America in 1839, The Neighborhood Manhattan Forgot follows the many twists and turns of the area’s path from forest to city, ending in the twenty-first century with the Audubon name repurposed in today’s historic district, a multi-ethnic, multi-racial urban neighborhood far removed from the homogeneous, Eurocentric Audubon Park suburb.