GREENWICH VILLAGE

Sheridan Square:  The Crossroad of the Village


GREENWICH VILLAGE (fondly called "the Village" by New Yorkers) was a marshlands known as Sapokanikan by the Native Americans who fished and camped at Minetta Brook, then a trout stream and now the small Village street Minetta Lane.  Russell Shorto (author of THE ISLAND AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD) reports that Greenwich Village, was so named for the Long Island village, Greenwyck, by a former resident of that town who moved into this Manhattan neighborhood.  Shorto also notes that the Village had previously been called Noortwyck or North District.

The Village has always had a worldly reputation as a Bohemian place of tolerance and progressive thinking.  Minority groups have thrived in this neighborhood and community.  Many of the City's first black families settled in the Village especially in the area around Bleecker, MacDougal, Sullivan and Thompson Streets -- an area that became known as "Little Africa."  The country's first black newspaper, "Freedom's Journal" (1827-1829), was located in Little Africa and America's first professional black theater, the African Grove on Mercer Street (1821-1823), was established by William Henry Brown, a free black immigrant from the West Indies.   

Sheridan Square  is a main cross-street in the Village at Seventh Avenue South and Christopher Street.  Christopher Street, first known as Skinner Road, was renamed Christopher Street in honor of Charles Christopher Amos, the son-in-law of Sir Peter Warren, who owned a large portion of the land in the area.   In the early days of the City, the Village was a separate rural area, a marshland, and considered to be far from lower Manhattan.  In 1629, Wouter Van Twiller was granted two acres which became a tobacco plantation.  The plantation was named “Bossen Bouwery” or “Farm in the Woods.”   Residents in downtown Manhattan fled to the Village during the yellow fever epidemic of 1822.  The Christopher Street area was very popular with sailors, merchant marines and dockworkers.  Ships and ferries docked at the Christopher Street pier and until the late 1950’s, the shipping industry played an important role in Village life.  Longshoreman taverns and bars were abundant and many of them later became gay bars.  “The ships’ crews also supported local businesses:  In port for four to twelve hours a day, sailors patronized the street’s speakeasies, poolrooms, cafes and boarding houses,”   Rick Beard and Leslie Cohen Berlowitz noted in their excellent history, GREENWICH VILLAGE CULTURE AND COUNTERCULTURE.  From 1865 to 1868, Christopher Street was also the “central oyster market ” of Manhattan. 

The opening number, “Christopher Street,” in the WONDERFUL TOWN musical proclaims:  “Life is mad.  Life is sweet.  Interesting people on Christopher Street.”  In 2003, the Christopher Street Piers were renovated and have become a lovely park, and a great spot to walk, bike, jog or sunbathe. 

The Village Cigars store (tobacco was once grown in the Village) with its bright red sign has been at this corner since 1922.   Sheridan Square is named in honor of General Philip Henry Sheridan, who served as Chief of Calvary for the Army of the Potomac during the Civil  War.  General  Sheridan's  victory at Petersburg, Virginia cut off the Confederate troops  and General Robert  E. Lee's retreat.  Sheridan also led the struggle to drive the west American Indians  onto reservations.  The park has both a bronze statue of Sheridan by Joseph P. Pollia (installed 1936) and  a Gay Liberation statue depicting male and female same-sex couples by George Segall (installed 1992).

The Village has been immortalized in American literature, books and paintings as a Bohemian spot of the avant-garde and is the home of the Provincetown Theatre and Gay Liberation.  During Prohibition, the Village was a “center of speakeasy culture.”   At many establishments booze was served in paper coffee cups.  

A list of writers and artists who have lived in Greenwich Village would be endless.  Famous Village residents have included playwright Edward Albee, Louisa Mae Alcott (Little Women), James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain), Willa Cather (My Antonia), Clement Clarke (A Visit from Saint Nicholas), James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans and founder of a literary club named "Bread and Cheese"), Hart Crane (The Bridge), Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage), poet E.E. Cummings, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser (An American Tragedy, Sister Carrie), poet Alan Ginsberg, Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), painter Edward Hopper, Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) -- the first American writer to gain international fame, Henry James, (The Portrait of A Lady), Jack Keroauc (On the Road), Sinclair Lewis (Elmer Gantry), playwright Eugene O'Neill, O'Henry, Edgar Allen Poe, artist Norman Rockwell, poet Edna St. Vincent Millary, Mark Twain (who founded  the "Damned Human Race Lunch Club"), Edith Wharton, and William Carlos Williams.

The wealthy Mabel Dodge lived at 23 Fifth Avenue where she held salons that attracted very well known and legendary writers, artists, and politically active personalities:  everyone from Alfred Stieglitz to Emma Goldman, John Reed, and Margaret Sanger.  Her salons can be compared to those held by Gertrude Stein in Paris.  

Eugene O’Neill’s favorite hangout, the Golden Swan (also know as the “Hell Hole”) at Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street, would become “Harry’s Hope,” the saloon setting for his play THE ICEMAN COMETH.  O’Neill describes the bar as “a cheap ginmill of the five-cent whiskey.”  One of the regulars at the Hell Hole was “the penniless drifter and spellbinding dreamer Terry Carlin”  on whom the character Larry Slade, is based.  Edward Albee allegedly got the title of his most famous play, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, from graffiti written on the men's room wall of a Village bar, the Ninth Circle.


Expect almost anything in New York City and especially the Village.  One evening in 2005 a strange and mysterious smell, much like that of maple syrup, suddenly appeared in the Village.  It was an almost intoxicating odor and something that caused alarm.  What was it?  Was it some kind of terrorist attack?  Where was it coming from?  The smell occurred several times over a period of time and was eventually discovered to be coming from a facility in North Bergen, NJ from a seed used in the manufacturing of fragrances (and maple syrup too).  The seeds of herb fenugreek which contain sotolone -- also used in making maple syrup.