Thursday, November 29, 2018

American Public Pleasure Gardens - New York City leads the way...

The Dutch, who settled on the southern point of Manhattan Island, had no Puritanical laws to prevent them from dealing in beer or stronger spirits. Beer was the Dutchman's drink, & the West India Company very early erected the company's brewery on the north side of Bridge Street, between the present Whitehall & Broad Streets, to supply the little town with its favorite beverage.  Hoping to broaden their base of sales, early colonial brewers of mead, ale, liquors, and beer set up the earliest commercial public pleasure gardens in the British American colonies in New York during the last quarter of the 17C.

New York maltster Richard Sackett became enchanted with a cherry orchard perched on an eminence of seven acres offering commanding view of the East River during the 1670s. He bought the land, spread seats and tables under the trees, laid out a bowling green, and invited guests. His was one of the first commercial public resort calling itself a garden--the Cherry Garden.

One early Dutch traveller in the colonies, Jasper Danckaerts, recorded visiting a such a public brewery garden in New York in 1679. "It was also a some extent a pleasant spot, it was resorted to on Sundays by all sorts of revellers, and was a low pot-house."

In the early 18th-century, Spring Garden House, now the block inclosed by Broadway, Fulton, Nassau & Ann Streets in New York City, was a public resort kept by a vinter with wines to promote.  In 1739, the tavern & land was occupied by Thomas Scurlock.  In an administration bond given by him in 1718, he is a vintner.  After the death of Thomas Scurlock in 1747, the tavern was kept for some years by his widow, Eve. When the house was advertised for sale in 1759, it was described as "in Broadway at the corner of Spring Garden, now in use as a tavern. Sign of the King of Prussia, and next door to Dr. Johnson's" (President of King's College).

 A writer, describing New York and its people in 1756, stated that, "New York is one of the most social places on the continent. The men collect themselves into weekly evening clubs. The ladies, in winter, are frequently entertained either at concerts of music or assemblies, and make a very good appearance." 

British royal governors sought to make New York City the most entertaining destination in the colonies. During the early decades of the 18th century, colonials began to enjoy public performances of secular music and plays; public participation in sports and games; and public dining & dancing. The venue for many of these entertainments was the public pleasure garden. A public pleasure garden was a privately-owned ornamental ground or piece of land, open to the public as a resort or amusement area, and operated as a business.

Vauxhall Gardens was a pleasure garden and theater in New York City, named for the Vauxhall Gardens of London. Though the venue passed through a long list of owners, and suffered buyouts, closings, relocations, & re-openings, it lasted until the mid-19th century.  Samuel Fraunces opened the New York Vauxhall in 1767, located on Greenwich Street near the Hudson River between what would later become Warren & Chambers Streets.  Fraunces operated the venue until 1773, when he offered it for sale. His notice mentioned 2 large gardens, a house with four rooms per floor and 12 fireplaces, and a dining hall that was 56 feet long and 26 feet wide, with a kitchen below. Vauxhall offered light summer concerts and featured an outdoor wax museum.  Vauxhall began operating as a theatrical venue before the Revolution. For the summer 1768 season, it hosted an exhibit on the life of Scipio Africanus that included a grove with a reconstruction of the military leader at his tent.

Elsewhere in the city, in 1748, what is now Lafayette & Astor Place, was New York’s first botanical garden, established by a Swiss physician, Jacob Sperry, who farmed flowers and hothouse plants. A mile from what was then the edge of the city, Sperry's gardens became the destination of weekend strollers up Broad Way from Wall St and the City’s Common (at Chambers St.). Fifty-six years later, Sperry sold his gardens to John Jacob Astor, who then leased the property to a Frenchman named Delacroix. Delacroix, who needed a larger garden for his already thriving pleasure garden business, transformed Sperry's property into the fashionable new Vauxhall Garden, where New Yorkers could also eat, drink, socialize, and be entertained by band music and, in the evenings, by fireworks and theatrical events.  Vauxhall Garden's days were numbered, however. With real estate values skyrocketing on nearby Bond, Bleecker, & Great Jones streets, when Delacroix's lease was up in 1825, Astor cut a broad street through the property to create Lafayette Place, reducing the garden to half its original size.

Not all New York garden propriators chose to set up business near the hustle of the city. Several visitors noted that New Yorkers seemed to enjoy long carriage and sleigh rides into the surrounding countryside. Henry Wansey visited Long Island in 1794, and reported, "we crossed at nine in the morning, at Brooklyn Ferry, with our horses, and rode through Flat Bush to Gravesend, near the Narrows, where there is a beautiful view of the sea and all the shipping entering the harbour. A Mr. Bailey, of New York, has just built a very handsome tea-drinking pleasure house, to accommodate parties who come hither from all the neighbouring ports...It seems parties are made here from thirty or forty miles distance, in the summer time."

When Daniel Mayer bought the Bloomingdale Inn and Tea Garden, situated at the present Broadway & 70th Street, he worried that some New Yorkers might lack the equipment or the desire to drive that far for breakfasting and tea parties. Mayer decided to buy a "neat Carriage and a good pair of Horses" and run the carriage on a regular schedule between his "delightful and rural spot" and town for five shillings. 

In 1789, Jedidiah Morse reported that "New York is the gayest place in America. The ladies, in the richness and brilliancy of their dress, are not equalled in any city in the United States; not even in Charleston which has heretofore been called the centre of the Beau Monde...In point of sociability and hospitality, New York is hardly exceeded by any town in the United States."

By the turn of century, New York's most popular gardens took on a decidedly political bias, some favoring the French influence. Henry Wansey visited the tea garden in 1794, "We crossed the Boston road, to another tea drinking house and garden, the Indian Queen. This place was filled by Frenchmen with their families. Here they all wear the tri-coloured cockade...whether aristocarts or democrats."

One visitor was particularly impressed with the gardens kept by the French in New York City. "At the side of this...Battery is a Voxhall: it is illuminated at night in the summer and has music and cold refreshments. The is another one a mile from town with a much bigger garden. They are both kept by French people who through the sale of ice cream alone have gained a large fortune. Both these places are very much frequented. The inhabitants here are much more lively, much gayer, and enjoy their recreation much more than in Philadelphia."

One of these gardens was Columbia Garden owned by French immigrant Joseph Corré. Frenchman Jacques Madelaine Joseph Delacroix operated several others, including VauxhallFrenchman Joseph Delacroix arrived in New York City shortly after the Revolution and was for many years the most popular caterer & confectioner in the city. He established a commercial pleasure garden behind his little shop at 112 Broadway, between Pine & Cedar Streets, where he had a typical summer garden where ices were dispensed to vistors on warm summer nights. Before Delacroix transformed the small garden into a commercial enterprise, it had been Peter Stoutenberg's tulip garden.

As the popularity of Delacroix's pleasure garden grew, he was forced to move to more open fields uptown, but he did not relinquish his confectionary shop at 112 Broadway as his downtown quarters until 1836. He sold the shop on Broadway for $100,000; he had bought the former Peter Stoutenberg property for $10,000 in 1796. He moved to his more famous garden in Lafayette Place just below 9th Street.  In his public pleasure garden, originally named the Ice House Garden after his confections, he built an ornate Louis XIV orangery set in a French jardin regulier with parterres, pollarded trees, and a cascading fountain.

Justifiably proud of his efforts, he included a view of his garden creation on his business card. Delacroix opened his garden from ten to ten daily and offered nightly illumination and music in the gardens as well as regular concert programs. For concerts Delacroix charged four shillings admission, refreshments were extra. Delacroix's garden was situated on the west side of the Bowery and featured gravel walks adorned with shrubs, trees, busts and statues. In the center was a large equestrian statue of General Washington.

During the summer, garden patrons enjoyed theatrical presentations. Light musical pieces, interludes, etc., were performed in a small theatre situated in one corner of the garden. The audience sat in the pit and boxes in the open air. The orchestra was built among the trees, and a large apparatus was for the display of fireworks, which were elaborate and brilliant when the occasion required. On July 4th there was always an extraordinary display.

As the number of gardens and theaters grew in New York City, there was a tacit agreement among theater owners to avoid competing performances. The French garden owners Joseph Corré and Joseph Delacroix engaged in open disagreement about such a policy for public pleasure gardens. Corré wrote, "in this country we have no monopolies--if he should please to give Fireworks every evening, he has an unquestionable right...The public in America are not to be told, on Monday you must go here, and on Tuesday you shall go there; they must be the judges of where they chuse to receive their amusements."

In History of My Own Times, William Otter described Delacroix's garden as 4-6 acres of ground enclosed by a "board fence elevated above the view of any person, and white washed on all sides...The garden was nearly square and it contained six gravel walks, running north and south and six running east and west, elegantly gravelled; the garden being out into 36 nearly equal squares; at each square was erected images...The summer houses were placed at easy and regular distances apart, elegantly fitted up, the ground was occupied in the rearing of flowers and shrubbery generally. The rules of the gardens, which every visitor had to obsserve, were, pulling a flower fifty cents fine."  The grounds extended from Great Jones Street to Art Street (now Astor place), and from the Bowery Road to Broadway. The hall was on the Bowery, and there was also an entrance to the garden from Broadway.  Delacroix's gardens influenced the taste and imagination of other gardeners in New York and beyond.

In 1798 a newspaper advertisement offering for sale a small plot of land in New York City noted "A la (de) Lacroix, A Chinese Temple, placed on one or two inviting spots, would render the appearance at once romantic and delightful."  The propietor of the Columbian Garden, established in New Haven, Connecticut in 1800, patterned his garden as well as his entertainment after Delacroix's example.

Commercial garden owners outside of New York City understood the draw of the theater, even though they did not offer performances within their gardens. They sited their pleasure gardens near urban theaters to catch the food and drink trade before and after performances.

In Baltimore, Maryland, one of the town's first public gardens sat just next door to the theater and boasted "convenient ready for the Reception of Ladies and Gentlemen." The proprietor George Willis served hot tea, coffee, and chocolate, as well as "cold Collations." He stocked quantities of the best liquors to render his "summer retreat" a most agreeable experience for his visitors. Two servant boys assisted Willis in attending to the garden's guests.

In Norfolk, Virginia, Riffaud's Gardens sat near the local theater. On evenings when no actors graced the stage, Proprietor Riffaud announced that a "Concert will be repeated on those nights on which the Theatre is shut." None of these gardens could rival the pleasure gardens of New York City.

The other large commercial garden in New York City was known as Mount Pitt, or Ranelagh. It commanded some extensive and beautiful views of the city and harbor. It was on an eminence near the junction of Grand Street with Division Street, near Eidge Street, where there were still the remains of a battery erected on the hill during the Revolutionary war. In front of Mount Pitt, and back of the Belvedere Club house, were the remains of an intrenchment made by the British in 1781, to defend the city against the American army.

At the turn of the 19th century, garden entrepeneurs attempted to foil nature's inclement inconveniences by building large shelter structures within their gardens. In 1800, Joseph Corré bought a new garden in New York City where he built a "great room" that could contain "tables 30 to 200 feet long." The great room contained "a large Finger Organ with a large neat outside case." Corré also built an open theater-in-the-round in his new garden. Guests could sit around the stage in private boxes or stand in "the Promenade above the boxes" to view the productions.

In 1803, Corré's successor, Samuel Wade, added a cover over his theater, "The audience will be effectually secured from the dampness of the midnight air by a large covering of the rotund." Wade explained that he had made "many alterations...since last season...particularly a canvas awning which covers the whole of the pit and boxes, which renders the spectator's situations at once healthy and comfortable, being secured from the night dews."

Not to be outdone by Corre or his successor Wade, Joseph Delacroix had a vision of the pleasure garden extraordinare; which he turned into reality, when he signed a lease for the seed and nursery gardens of Jacob Sperry in 1805. When Delacroix took over the 3 acre New York garden which already contained "a great variety of fruit of the best quality, a hot-house, etc."

In 1805, he moved the greenhouse to the center of the garden and rennovated it into an orangery dining room. In one of Sperry's seed beds, Delacroix created a new "Field of Mars" for the life size equestrian statue he had commissioned of George Washington from one of his earlier public pleasure garden sites. He converted the seed & nursery beds into grand parterres with shrubbery, flowers, grass plats, and trees and laid gravel walks in the center separating the beds. He added supper boxes, pavilions, temples, monuments, and pillars and erected an elevated orchestra stage and a fireworks scaffold facing an earthen mound built to improve his spectators' views.

Delacroix then "procured from Europe a choice selection of Statues and Busts" to inspire his guests including Washington, Cicero, Ajax, Antonious (in two poses), Hannibal, the Belvidere Apollo (in four sizes), Venus, Hebe (in two poses), Hamilton, Demostenes, Plenty, Hercules, Time, Ceres, Security, Modesty, Addison, Cleopatra (in two poses), Niobe, Pompey (in two poses) Pope, the Medici Apollo, and Thalia.  He placed each statue on a pedestal with gilt names inscribed on them and dotted the marble heros and symbols along the walkways and in the middle of the parterres. Delacroix then hung 2000 lamps in the trees lining the walkways and along ornamental arches he built over the gravel walks. This was Delacroix's masterpiece.

One New York City newspaper reviewed Delacroix's new garden in an editorial, "VAUXHALL GARDEN.--This elegant place of public amusement...may be justly said to rival in point of elegance and beauty any place of the same kind in the European world...In the United States it is without parallel, and in this City there is no place of public resort that offers so great attraction to the gay, fashionable, and the pleasure-taking world.--The Garden, besides its general tasteful disposition, presents all the variety of natures ornaments in their regular succession, and those who delight in "contemplating her handy works" will find abundant sources of satisfaction and delight.--The exhibition of Fire-works occasionally given are well executed and the illumination of the Garden which always takes place on these occasions, presents a spectacle enchantingly beautiful and picturesque."

In 1805, New York's Longview's Directory reported, "There are many places in the city dignified by the title of public gardens, but they are mere punch boxes, except Delacroix's, and his would not bear a competition with Milton's garden of Eden. It is but justice to Mr. Delacroix, however, to say that the works of art which have been exhibited at his garden have not been inferior to anything of the kind ever seen in America."

Travel writer John Lambert visited New York City in 1807 and wrote, "New York has its Vauxhall and Ranelagh; but they are poor imitations of those near London. They are, however, pleasant places of recreation for the inhabitants. The Vauxhall garden is situated in the Bowery Road about two miles from the City Hall. It is a neat plantation, with gravel walks adorned with shrubs, trees, busts, and statues. In the centre is a large equestrian statue of General Washington. Light musical pieces, interludes, etc. are performed in a small theatre situate in one corner of the gardens: the audience sit in what are called the pit and boxes, in the open air. The orchestra is built among the trees, and a large apparatus is constructed for the display of fireworks. The theatrical corps of New York is chiefly engaged at Vauxhall during summer."

This is only a small segment of the history of New York City's public gardens. For everything there is to know about commercial gardens in New York City, from their heyday in the federal period to their decline after the Civil War, see Thomas M. Garrett, “A History of Pleasure Gardens in New York City, 1700-1865,” Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1978.