Large expanses of grass and trees, stately manors and mansionsare not typically things that come to mind when one thinks of the Village. However, until the late eighteenth century,much of the Village was still very rural and was a part of the Warren Estate. Sir Peter Warren was a royal British naval officer who, by 1744, had purchased a 300-acre farm in the area known as Greenwich. His land stretched from the Hudson River to the Bowery and from Charles Street to West 21st Street. He and his wife, Susannah De Lancey, lived in a mansion on what is now the block bound by West 4th, Bleecker, Charles, and Perry Streets.
The estate’s final owner was Abraham Van Nest, a prominent New York City merchant who purchased the land in 1821. Mr. Van Nest, originally from a farm in New Jersey,ran his family’s saddlery business which extended from Chambers to Warren Streets. He was a benefactor and trustee of Rutgers College for forty years, served on the City Board of Aldermen, was President of the Greenwich Savings Bank and active in developing Bleecker and West 4thStreets. At first he used his residence, named “Greenwich,” only during the summer months but later, year round, until his death there in 1864.
According to the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report, “the Van Nest mansion resembled ‘Hamilton Grange.’ It was a rectangular, two-story clapboard house, five windows wide, and at each side there were two tall chimneys flanked by windows. Covered porches extended along both front and rear and were connected by a central hall. The paneled front door, crowned by a transom of simple glass panes, was reached by four steps from the drive, which led to the avenue of buttonwood trees extending to the Hudson River. The rear porch, approached by a flight of fourteen steps, overlooked the terraced flower garden that stretched across the block. The house, near Charles Street, was set in the midst of shade trees. Entered from Perry Street was the two-story brick stable and carriage house. Fruit trees, a large vegetable garden, a cow and a picket fence surrounding the block completed the picture of the attractive Van Nest home, which was finally razed in 1865, giving way to the solid block of City residences we see today.”
This had been the final remaining rural block in the Village. Jeremiah Pangburn, a real estate developer and mortgage broker, was the chief developer of the newly acquired land, owning in 1866 more than half of the lots on the Perry Street side, as well as some on the Charles Street side. Many of these houses were designed in the Second French Empire Style, a popular esthetic of the time.The Charles Street side of the block between Bleecker and West 4th Streets was named Van Nest Place, in honor of Abraham Van Nest. In 1936, after requests stemming from property owners due to confusion with Van Nest Avenue in the Bronx, the City changed the street name to Charles. Today, this stretch of Bleecker Street is remarkably intact, with almost every building dating to the 19th century, even as the storefronts have changed, attracting high end clothing retailers.
Van Nest House 1864 Caption: An image of the Van Nest House in 1864, just a year before its demolition. The shade trees mentioned in the designation report abound.