In the 18th century travelers into and out of New York City had essentially two choices if traveling by land--the Eastern Post Road on the east side, and the Bloomingdale Road, opened in 1703, which ran diagonally to the upper west portion of the island. The Bloomingdale Road would eventually connect with Broadway, taking on the latter's name.
At intervals along both roads were roadhouses--places where horses could be rested and fed, coach passengers be housed for the night, and food and drink obtained. In 1716 the Horn family purchased land from the widow of Solomon Peters at what would become the southeast corner of Broadway and 22nd Street. By the second half of the century John Horn's Buck's Horn Tavern stood on the site. The inn itself was a handsome Georgian-style clapboard structure two stories tall fronted by a prominent porch and veranda. As with other roadhouses, it was a complex of buildings including a stables to accommodate the vehicles and horses of travelers.
Although the Buck's Horn was remote, according to Suzanne Hinman in her The Grandest Madison Square Garden, "In 1783 Horn's tavern hosted General George Washington."
Historian Stephen Jenkins commented in 1911 that the Buck's Horn Tavern was "spoken of in 1816 as 'an old and well-known tavern.'" Decades before Manhattan would be graded, the buildings sat "about ten feet higher than the present grade."
By the beginning of the 1830's the city had expanded far enough northward that on December 30 that year an announcement was posted in the New York Evening Post that going forward political meetings of the 12th Ward would be held at Buck's Horn Tavern.
Coaching parties were a favorite pastime among New York's upper class and the Buck's Horn Tavern, by now operated by P. Shepherd, was a popular stop by the early 1840's. In his The Greatest Street in the World: The Story of Broadway Old and New, Jenkins recalled:
It was a favorite road-house for those who drove out upon the Bloomingdale Road (Boston Post-road)...The drivers of that day used to come as far as the Buck's Horn, then turn through the quiet and lovely Love Lane [later West 21st Street] to Chelsea, and thence by the river road through Greenwich village back to the city across the Lispenard meadows.
|from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
Shepherd added to the attraction by having "ten pin alleys" installed around this time.
Westchester thoroughbred horse breeder and racer Abraham Miller took advantage of the inn's popularity with well-heeled patrons when he offered a renowned racehorse for sale. On October 23, 1841 he advertised in The Spirit of the Times "The celebrated Stallion FACTOR, the sire of Greenwich Maid, Dolly, and Caty Q and other fine trotting horses, well known on the Turf, is offered for sale on accommodating terms." The advertisement noted "Factor may be seen at Shepherd's 'Buck's-horn Tavern,' corner of 22d street and Broadway."
A year later, on September 6, 1842, tragedy befell the old hostelry. The New York Herald reported "Between four and five o'clock yesterday morning, a fire broke out in a building between 21st and 22d streets, occupied as a tavern, kept by P. Shepherd, and called the 'Buck-horn Tavern." The blaze quickly spread from the wooden building to the two large stables.
Henry C. Platner, a wealthy upstate visitor from Cherry Valley, New York, was one of the boarders and his team of valuable horses was in the stables. One man, possibly a stable employee, did his best to save the panicked animals. The New York Herald reported "We regret to say, a gentleman named Campbell, was severely injured by a kick from one of the horses he was endeavoring to rescue from the flames." The Eagle added "He was considered to be in a dangerous state yesterday." All four horses, valued by Platner at $1,000--nearly $32,000 today--perished.
The following day The Sun reported on the devastation. "The Buckhorn Tavern, in Broadway, above 21st street, kept by Mr. Shepherd, together with the stables and out-houses, was destroyed by by fire...Mr. Shepherd estimates his loss at $1000, no insurance." Along with the buildings, Shepherd "lost his fixtures, ten-pin alleys, $800 worth of furniture, and a gold watch worth $160," said the New-York Daily Tribune. (A reporter from The New York Herald doubted that the valuable watch was lost in the flames. "Mr. Shepherd's watch, no doubt, was stolen.")
Abbey's Park Theatre was erected on the site of the Buck's Horn Tavern in 1874. When it, too, burned to the ground in 1882, it was replaced by the Brooks Brothers building. The sleek structure on the site today was completed in 1986.