Archive for the ‘Cows and Cattle Stories’ Category


Mille Farm, painted by John Bradley in 1835, is the earliest depiction of a Staten Island. I’m not certain that Andrew Mille’s farm is the same one occupied by Joel Wolfe in the late 1840s and 1850s before New York State took over the land, but I do know that Wolfe’s Pond Park in Prince’s Bay is now on this very site. From the Staten Island Museum Collections

In 1799, the New York State Legislature relocated the Quarantine Establishment of the Port of New York from Governor’s Island to the northeastern tip of Staten Island, in the present communities of St. George and Tompkinsville.

This move to Staten Island was, for all intents and purposes, the start of the 60-year Quarantine War on Staten Island. The “war,” which pitted the local Board of Health and residents concerned about the spread of yellow fever against the Quarantine Commission, was a Not-in-My-Backyard (NIMBY) battle on steroids, with, sadly, vitriol and civil disorder not too different from what we see in our world today.

Joel and Udolpho Wolfe

In 1774, Benjamin Wolfe, a German Jew, emigrated to London. Two years later, he moved to Virginia, where he served under George Washington in the Revolutionary War for seven years. Major Benjamin Wolfe — now a very successful merchant — joined the army again in 1812, taking command of the troops in Richmond, Virginia. He passed away in 1818, leaving a large estate to his seven sons and one daughter.

Sometime around 1824, Joel Wolfe moved from his father’s home in Richmond to New York City, where he established a counting house at 109 Front Street. His younger brother Udolpho came to the city two years later and joined Joel as a clerk in the business. By this time, Joel was then largely engaged in the importation of brandy and gin from France and Holland.


The Wolfe’s counting house at 109 Front Street burned down during the great fire of 1835, which broke out on December 16. The two-day conflagration destroyed the New York Stock Exchange and most of the buildings on the southeast tip of Manhattan around Wall Street. New York Public Library Digital Collections

In 1839, Joel Wolfe established the first American-owned distillery in Schiedam, Holland. He also established a warehouse for his liquor business in a brick building at 27 Beaver Street (which burned down in July 1946).  Ten years years later, in 1849, Udolpho made some fortunate discoveries that led to the manufacture of the world-famous “Wolfe’s Aromatic Schiedam Schnapps,” which was manufactured at the Holland distillery.


I found several Wolfe bottles for sale on eBay.

By this time, Joel Wolfe had retired from the liquor business, having amassed a fortune not only in gin but in real estate. In addition to his Manhattan residence at 305 Fifth Avenue — a four-story brownstone with a stable for his horses —  Joel owned property at 121 and 124 West Houston Street, six lots in the village of Wakefield, Bronx, and a farm on Seguine’s Point in Prince’s Bay (Westfield), Staten Island, which served as the Wolfe’s country seat.

The Wolfe Farm at Seguine’s Point

Following his retirement in 1848, Joel Wolfe and his wife, Rachel, spent much of their time at the family’s country seat on Staten Island. The 131-acre farm featured a large mansion house, a farm house, and several outbuildings, in addition to a very large freshwater pond.

The farm was just east of Prince’s Bay Road (today’s Seguine Road) and adjacent to the 140-acre tract of Joseph Seguine, a farmer, oyster harvester, and factory owner who had a dock and palm oil factory (Staten Island Oil and Candlemaking) at the water’s edge.

(The Sequine Mansion, a Greek Revival-style house built in 1838, still stands on Seguine Avenue, as does the Manee-Seguine homestead, built prior to 1700 near Purdy Place.)

In addition to farming, the “retired” Joel Wolfe served on the first Board of Directors of the first railroad on Staten Island, a 13-mile track completed in 1860 that ran from Vanderbilt’s Landing (today’s Clifton Station) to Etingville. (Joel and Udolpho were also accused of being rebels who were loyal to the Confederates during the start of the Civil War, but that’s another story.)


The Wolfe Farm was directly opposite the Prince’s Bay Lighthouse, constructed in 1826 and pictured here in 1885. 

New York State Buys the Wolfe Farm

Back to the Quarantine War…

By 1849, infectious diseases from the Quarantine on Staten Island were epidemic among residents of the surrounding area. A Study Committee recommended that the Quarantine be removed to Sandy Hook, but no action was taken. The tipping point came in 1856, when 11 people on Staten Island died of yellow fever. A more remote location had to be found.

On May 1, 1857, the Quarantine Commissioners purchased 50 acres of the Wolfe Farm for $23,000 and vested the property in the people of the State of New York. Wolfe and his family moved out of the mansion and returned to their city residence (the mansion was going to serve as the residence of the quarantine’s physician). Wolfe put his former steward, Martin Morrison, in charge of the property until it could be fully conveyed to the state.

The Wolfe Farm Burns Down

On the morning of May 6, 1857, the Quarantine Commissioners issued an advertisement for the proposal of bids to erect several buildings for housing sick immigrants on the site. The ad enraged the local fisherman and oystermen, who feared that such a facility would contaminate the freshwater pond that they used to wash off their oysters. That evening, just around midnight, about 30 such men burned down one farm building after another in protest of the new quarantine.


This 1874 map of Richmond County (Staten Island) shows the Wolfe farm at left, most of which by that time was owned by New York State. Today’s Wolfe’s Pond is also visible.

They men started with the large mansion, which was occupied by Samuel Fitzpatrick (a family waiter), a young boy named James Murray, and a black girl named Mary Atkinson (possibly a slave; it has been reported that Joel and Udolpho had slaves). According to The New York Tribune, all three were sleeping in the house when the fire started. Fortunately, Mary heard the commotion and alerted the young men, allowing all three to escape by jumping from a second-story rear window.

The mob then proceeded to the two-story farmhouse, which was occupied by Martin Morrison, his wife and two children, a civil engineer, and a young boy hired to pack up the Wolfe’s furniture. Awakened by a flickering light from the flames, Mrs. Morrison alerted her husband to the fire. As the men set fire to the farmhouse, Martin shouted to his children and other occupants to make their escape as the flames closed in on them.

Within a few feet of the farmhouse was a large, nearly new cow barn filled with hay, straw, farming equipment, and two cows. One of the cows escaped but was severely burned and had to be killed; the other cow was consumed by the flames. A stable housing Joel Wolfe’s two horses — one a valuable brown mare — was also set on fire. According to news reports, both horses were led out of the stables safely by Mr. Fitzpatrick.

As the New York Herald reported on May 8, all the arsonists escaped:

At a distance, and within the confines of a wooded space, [the victims] saw the forms of men, gazing upon the spectacle with apparent delight. They laughed mockingly at the condition of the poor people, and then, like evil spirits as they were, disappeared in the darkness of night.

In June, the Quarantine Commission constructed two new hospitals, a wash house, and a small cook-house on about three acres of the former Wolfe Farm, all surrounded by a 10-foot-tall fence. The buildings were all constructed of wood on brick foundations. All of these buildings were set on fire less than a year later on April 26, 1858. No effort was made to rebuild or bring the incendiaries to justice.

Following this second fire, the quarantine station was relocated to Tompkinsville (and later, after mobs burned down those facilities, to Hoffman and Swinburne Islands). The state established a burial ground on the old Wolfe farm site — near today’s Holten Avenue — which it used for the burial of yellow fever victims through 1890. (Apparently, the cemetery was so close to the water that coffins sometimes washed out onto the beach.)

QuarantineBurning_HatchingCat.jpgOn September 1, 1858, leading citizens of Castleton and Southfield set several buildings of the new Quarantine at Tottenville on fire. The following night, the remaining buildings were burned to the ground. One man was killed during the ordeal. Following the fire, New York State brought suit against John C. Thompson and Ray Tompkins. They were acquitted of all charges by Judge Henry B. Metcalfe, a Staten Island resident who had argued for the removal of the old Quarantine in 1849.  

Wolfe’s Pond Park

Joel Wolfe died at his Fifth Avenue residence in November 1880 and was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery. In 1901, his estate sold the remaining 81 acres of the farm at Prince’s Bay. Although the land was sold to a private developer in 1907, it stood vacant, save for a summer bungalow colony, until New York City purchased the land in 1929 for the creation of a public park.

WolfePondColony2_HatchingCat.pngWhen the City acquired land for Wolfe’s Pond Park in 1929-30, it was a popular recreational spot for Staten Island residents and visitors from other boroughs and New Jersey. More than 90 bungalows and summer cottages that surrounded the freshwater pond were razed as a result of community protest in 1933, and substantial park improvements were undertaken.

SeguinePointAerial_HatchingCat.pngLocated just 100 yards from the ocean, Wolfe’s Pond at Seguine’s Point is a freshwater pond that was once a tidal inlet. In the 1700s and 1800s, oystermen used the pond to wash off their hauls of shellfish. Today, Wolfe’s Pond Park is one of Staten Island’s largest parks, offering numerous facilities including a beach, hiking trails, and tennis courts. 

Day C

The Running of the Bulls is a practice that involves voluntarily running in front of a small group of cattle that has been let loose on a fenced-off part of the town’s streets. The most famous running of the bulls takes place during the eight-day festival of Sanfermines in Pamplona, Spain. Every year, about 250 participants receive minor injuries from falls, while a few unlucky people are gored by the bulls’ horns.

Charging bulls of Carmansville

The flimsy fencing around the cattle pens at the Manhattanville train station could not hold back a determined bull.

For residents of New York City’s Manhattanville, Washington Heights, and Carmansville, running of the bulls was almost a weekly occurrence in the 1800s. But for these poor folks, participation was not voluntary.

Where in the World Is Carmansville?

Carmansville, New York

This 1875 map shows the little hamlet of Carmansville from about 145th to 158th Street.

Named after its founder, Richard Francis Carman, Carmansville was a small 19th-century village that encompassed the land between Broadway and the Hudson River from 145th to 158th streets. Today we call this area Hamilton Heights.

Born in New York in 1801, Richard Carman was a wealthy contractor who learned carpentry and construction while making packing boxes for merchants. Following the Great Fire of December 1835, in which about 600 buildings were destroyed in lower Manhattan, he won numerous building contracts and began using his new wealth to deal in speculative real estate investing.

On October 1, 1841, Carman purchased a portion of the former John Watkins – John Maunsell farm from the New York Bowery Fire Insurance Company at a foreclosure auction. He absorbed this land, which encompassed from 152nd to 158th Street, into Carmansville, a small working-class village he was already developing between 152nd Street and 155th Street. A year later, while serving as a New York City Alderman, he sold 24 acres of this land to Trinity Church for a cemetery (the only active burial ground in Manhattan today).

Minnie's Land, Audubon House

On the same day Carman purchased his acreage, John James Audubon, the renowned ornithologist and painter, bought an adjacent 14 acres of woodlands for his own estate (located at present-day 156th Street and Riverside Drive). He called it Minnie’s Land in honor of his wife, Lucy Bakewell (Minnie was a Scottish endearment for “mother”). The property was originally a working farm with gardens, orchards, and livestock. It featured a stream just about where 157th Street is now, rocky outcroppings, and dense woodlands of oak, elm, and hemlocks. After Audubon’s death in 1851, Lucy and her sons, Victor and John, built and rented about 10 houses on their property. Residents called the neighborhood Audubon Park.

Over the years, the small village of Carmansville built up around the train station for the Hudson River Railway at the foot of 152nd Street. By the 1860s, Carmansville had become a destination for picnickers and other pleasure seekers who would spend the afternoon fishing or catching crabs.

Carmansville 1885

Tracks for the Hudson River Railway at Carmansville in 1885. Carmansville was the first northbound stop on the railway. Museum of the City of New York Collections.

In addition to the railroad station, cemetery, and several churches, the village had a police station (the former 32nd Precinct Mounted Police station house at Amsterdam Avenue and 152nd Street), blacksmith, butcher, and grocer, as well as some modest frame houses and estates. In the 1880s, other businesses sprang up in and around Carmansville, including Major George W. Sauer’s Atalanta Casino and roller skating rink on 8th Avenue and 155th Street.

The Charging of the Bulls

Back to the bulls.

In the 1800s, cattle stampedes were almost a weekly occurrence, especially on Sundays. The steer would scour the boulevards, avenues, and streets, and then charge through the crowds of people going to and returning from church.

Carmansville 1885

A typical street in Carmansville, looking west toward the Hudson River. If you look closely, you can see two goats. Museum of the City of New York Collections

On a typical Sunday, two or more steers would appear on the street, break into a trot, and then full-out charge into the crowd, scattering people in all directions. Neatly dressed women would throw aside their Sabbath decorum and make for the nearest cover at a racing pace. Shawls, hats, and other articles would go flying, no doubt contributing to the animals’ agitation.

The gentlemen, forgetting all gallantry, would perform surprising stunts of agility to avoid harm’s way. The cattle would eventually head into the woods, and few people were actually harmed.

The cattle often escaped after existing the cattle trains on the Hudson River Railroad.

The cattle often escaped after existing the cattle trains on the Hudson River Railroad.

The cattle were escapees from the cattle trains on the Hudson River Railroad. These trains often had as many as 100 cars, each containing 16 heads of cattle. When the trains arrived at the Manhattanville passenger and freight station at 130th Street, the cows were driven into insecure pens by careless drivers. The fencing around the enclosure was composed of decayed boards, which allowed ambitious bulls to escape.

The Church of the Intercession

One of the main churches in Carmansville was the Church of the Intercession, an Episcopal church that held its first services in the parlor of New York merchant John Rowland Morewood’s home in 1846. In 1847, Richard Carman offered the church its first home in a small frame building opposite Trinity Cemetery at the corner of West 154th Street and Tenth Avenue (Amsterdam Avenue).

Church of the Intercession

This small frame building (center) on West 154th Street served as Carmansville’s first Episcopal church from 1847 to 1872. The building to the right is still standing. Museum of the City of New York Collections.

Church of the Intercession

In 1874, when this story takes place, some of the residents of Carmansville would have attended this new Church of the Intercession, which was constructed in 1872 at the corner of 158th Street and Grand Boulevard (now Broadway). In 1906, this building was turned over to the Trinity Church Corporation for use as a Trinity chapel.

429 West 154th Street.

Today you can still see the outline of the old frame church (brown lines) on the side of 429 West 154th St.

Bulls Gone Wild at Audubon Park

The bulls did not limit their stampedes to the main avenues of Carmansville. One time, a herd of about 30 cattle dashed up the train tracks from Manhattanville, turned to the right, and galloped through Audubon Park, destroying everything in their path. One bull broke from the pack and ran toward the river. He jumped into a rowboat moored at the pier, fell into the river, and started swimming across the Hudson River.

The bull reached about halfway across the river but turned around and was eventually lassoed by one of the drovers. Another bull swam across the river to the Jersey shore. It wasn’t until the following evening that the entire herd was captured by police and a group of citizens.

Audubon Park, 1891

The bulls charged through Audubon Park and destroyed the property of several homes, like this one photographed in 1891.

Following a rash of stampedes, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt told the public that the stampedes would come to end when the new cattle yards of his New York Central and Hudson River Railroad were completed. The cattle yards, which occupied 60th to 65th Street between 11th Avenue to the North River, opened in January 1875.

Broadway north from 157th St., New York.

In this 1910 photograph of Broadway and 157th Street, we can see the Church of the Intercession (minus the steeple) and some horses. With the new stock yards, residents no longer had to worry about charging bulls. New York Public Library Digital Collections

The Passing of Richard and Mary

“Mr. Carman dispensed his wealth liberally, and his ear was ever open to the appeals of the needy and friendless.”–The New York Times, July 14, 1867

Two years after Richard Carman served as a pall-bearer for his famous Washington Heights neighbor, Madame Eliza Jumel, his wife, Mary Baker Carman, passed away. One month later, in July 1867, Richard died and was laid to rest in Trinity Church Cemetery. His holdings were divided into 257 lots that were subsequently subdivided into smaller land holdings, leading to the development of the residential neighborhood we know today.

Audubon House

The Audubon house, pictured here in 1917, was torn down in 1931. All efforts to preserve the home failed due to the Great Depression. Today the site is occupied by the 1932 apartment building at 765 Riverside Drive.

The arches at Fort Tryon Park

The 154-foot-long gallery at Tryon Hall is visible from the Henry Hudson Parkway. It was constructed in 1913 of rock quarried from the property.

If you’ve ever driven along the Henry Hudson Parkway, you may have wondered about the enormous, vine-covered granite arches on the steep slope of Fort Tryon Park at the northern end of Manhattan. What appears to be the remnants of an old Roman aqueduct, like the Pont du Gard in southern France, is actually part of the most elaborate and most expensive private driveway in New York City.

In 1907, Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings, the multi-millionaire equestrian renowned for his celebrated “Horseback Dinner” of 1903, moved into his lavish new residence situated 250 feet above the Hudson River. He shared the huge Louis XIV château, which was called Tryon Hall, with his wife Blanche E. MacLeish Billings, two children, and 23 servants. The estate was considered among the most lavish private houses in Manhattan, and featured several large towers, a bathhouse with a 75-foot marble swimming pool (heated), squash courts, a “fumed oak” bowling alley, and a yacht landing on the Hudson at Dyckman Street.

CKG Billings Estate

Tryon Hall was located near site of the former Fort Washington, which was lost during the Revolutionary War when the British and Hessians mounted a joint attack on November 16, 1776. The British renamed the fortifications Fort Tryon, after Sir William Tryon, who was last British colonial governor of New York.

One of Billings’ favorite pastimes was driving his four-in-hand (a carriage with four horses) along the newly paved Riverside Drive below his estate. On a whim, he decided that it would be wonderful to be able to enter his estate by carriage via Riverside Drive rather than from Fort Washington Road, which was a much easier access.

The only problem with this idea was that a driveway would have to ascend 100 feet within a section of property that was 200 feet wide by 500 feet long – and it would require an easy grade to accommodate the horses and carriages.

Billings Estate Tryon Hall

This view of Tyron Hall shows the elaborate driveway leading up to the hillside estate.

According to a report in The New York Times in September 1912, Billings’ neighbor, W.C. Muschenheim of the Hotel Astor, came up with an idea for mapping out the driveway. His advice:

“You aren’t in any great hurry, so why don’t you have it done right? Put one of your cows on that land and give her time to lay out a path up that hill. Trust her to find the easiest and most comfortable grade.”

Sure enough, over time, the cow traced out the easiest and best way to her barn at the top of the hill. The result: A 1600-foot double-switch-back drive built to follow her tracks.

Billings proceeded to hire the architects Buchman & Fox to design this extravagant driveway to his estate. They laid out the roadway and proposed a great arched stone gallery to accommodate a portion of the roadway that would leave the face of the ridge. By creating this 50-foot-high gallery, or bridge, the architects were able to create a driveway with a 6 percent grade.

Take a Look Inside Tryon Hall

Fortunately for us, there was a publishing fad among the rich and famous at the turn of the century in which the privileged showcased their wealth in leather-bound books. These books were printed in limited, private runs, and are highly prized colletibles today. Billings commissioned a book in 1910 that offers a glimpse inside his private realm. You can view the volume here at the blog My Inwood.

Fountain Room Tryon Hall Billings

The Fountain Room was just one of the many lavish rooms in Tryon Hall.

CKG Billings driveway

Billings’ 18-foot-wide driveway was covered with macadam and specially made paving bricks that were designed like those in New York City firehouses, so the horses could get a good foothold.

Get an Eagle-Eye View of the Billings Driveway

If you want a great view of the switch-back driveway, go to Google Earth and type in Fort Tryon Park. Although Tryon Hall burned in a spectacular fire in 1926, the famous driveway and the old gatehouse (now near the entrance to the 67-acre Fort Tryon Park) still exist on the property.

1915: The “Farnsworth” Estate

In 1915, Billings hired architect Guy Lowell to design a new estate on Long Island, near what is now the intersection of Chicken Valley Road and Oyster Bay Road in Locust Valley. The mansion and caretaker’s cottage were demolished in the late 1960s, and the land was subdivided into smaller lots. Today, the garages and stables from the former estate are private residences.

Farnsworth Billings Estate

The driveway of Billings’ Farnsworth estate on Long Island was not quite as elaborate as his driveway at Tryon Hall.