Originally settled by Dutch farmers in the late 1600s, after the American Revolution (1775-1783) the neighborhood’s agricultural yield began to wane. Many residents moved to southern Manhattan’s newly industrialized areas. In the 1880s, the area developed quickly as the elevated trains and tenement houses were constructed in Harlem, Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville.
The City acquired some of the land for St. Nicholas Park by condemnation for the construction of the Old Croton Aqueduct in 1885-86. New York State laws of 1894 and 1895 authorized the creation of a public park instead, and it was called St. Nicholas Park. The name for the park was taken from the adjacent Harlem streets, St. Nicholas Terrace (to the west) and St. Nicholas Avenue (to the east). These streets honor New Amsterdam’s patron saint, whose image adorned the masthead of the New Netherland that brought the first Dutch colonists to these shores. St. Nicholas of Myra is also known as the patron saint of children, sailors, bankers, pawnbrokers, travelers, and captives--as well as the inspiration for Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Legend claims that he gave his considerable inheritance to charity and often made secret and anonymous gifts to the desperately needy. He served as bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the 4th century where he was venerated even before his death as a man of exceptional holiness. St. Nicholas’ relics are enshrined in the Italian town of Bari.
HTB QUICK FACT: 1934. Federal landmark. Formerly a burlesque theater. Now an African-American community theater for concerts, performing arts, education and community projects.