Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Lost 1759 Yellis Hopper House - 2nd Avenue and 83rd Street

In 1860 the area around the Hopper house was still, mainly, rural; however it was being rapidly developed. -- NYPL Collection

 In the early years of the 19th century, the land north of the city, in what would become the Upper East and Upper West Sides, was bucolic farmland where grand country estates of the wealthy coexisted with long-established farms.   The landed gentry like Archibald Gracie and Alexander Hamilton built elegant Federal-style mansions while the simple homes of the farmers were, for the most part, Dutch colonial.

When Benjamin Waldron married his wife, Elizabeth, in 1736 he purchased the two lower lots of Hoorn’s Hook farm on the west side of Manhattan in what was called New Harlem.  The tiny farm ran approximately from what is today 83rd to 84th Street, and from 2nd Avenue to 1st Avenue. 

Waldron built a stone farmhouse on the land and established a tannery and shoe factory.  Characteristic of the Dutch colonial style, it had a low-pitched gambrel roof, curved to swing over a full-length porch.  Here the couple reared their seven children, John, Jacobus, Benjamin, Catalina, Elizabeth, Cornelia and Eve.

In the meantime another Dutch family, the Hoppes, were living on the western side of the island.  Eventually the name Hoppe became Hopper and in 1752 John Hopper built a home on Hopper’s Lane, later to become West 53rd Street.   The house and farm were noted landmarks and upon Hopper’s death in 1819 the property was divided among his sons, the youngest of which was Yellis.

Yellis, however, never resided on the family land.  In 1859 he had married Bejamin Waldron’s daughter, Elizabeth and when Waldron died in 1782 he left his farm to Yellis and “Amma,” as she was known.   The farm, according to historian James Riker a century later, “was thence known as the Hopper Place.”

The Hoppers had five daughters in the farmstead, Mary, Elizabeth, Ceary, Amma and Deborah.  Yellis, whose name was sometimes spelled in documents as Yallis, eked a living farming his modest land until his death in 1827.  A tidy picket fence divided the Hopper property from the adjoining farms.

Soon after Hopper’s death, Amma sold the property to Henry P. Robertson for $800.  The deed was signed on March 3, 1828.  Robertson, however, allowed the farm to decline.    Two decades later court papers described the land as “vacant and unfenced.”  In 1848 the land was sold for unpaid taxes.

George W. Matsell took a 25-year lease on the property.  By now urban pioneers were arriving this far north.  The New York and Harlem Railroad had established a station at 86th Street in 1837 making the area accessible to New Yorkers who longed for a less congested neighborhood.

Matsell built five homes on the property; preserving, however, the venerable Hopper Place that sat quaintly like a dusty antique in a changing landscape.

On November 15, 1861 the property was sold again for unpaid taxes, but Matsell managed to obtain another lease, this time for 15 years.  Once the lease expired, the charming little farmhouse lost its protector.

In the second half of the 19th Century, colonial houses were viewed with the same disinterest that Victorian homes received in the 1950’s.  They were interesting and curious, but not necessarily worthy of preservation.  The land on which the Hopper homestead sat had become very valuable as speculative property.

In 2011 a gargantuan high rise apartment house rose on the site of Yellis Hopper's farmhouse, eliminating the 19th Century tenements that had replaced it originally.  photo by Alice Lum
By 1881 not only were Matsell’s houses demolished, but so was Benjamin Waldron’s farmhouse.  In their place rows of brick tenements rose and all memories of the farm and stone house were soon erased.  

But in ever-changing New York City, even these were gone by 2011 when an architecturally uninteresting highrise apartment building took their place.


  1. This site is so amazing! I've never been to NY but I'd love to visit it (the histories of the major metropolises fascinate me, though I live in the country)and it's great that SOMETIMES the great cities honor their older architecture. Although I love the Victorian architecture most of all, the occasional glimpses of the even earlier New Amsterdam structures are wonderful--if only more buildings from that time were still in existance!

  2. Glad you're enjoying it. There is such a wealth of architecture and history in Manhattan ... but even more that was lost (both good and bad!).