The Jefferson Market Branch of The New York Public Library has been meeting the informational needs of the people of Greenwich Village for over forty years. But one hundred years before the library, people in the neighborhood got their information from the Old Grapevine Tavern.
The three story clapboard roadhouse was built in the 18th century and was located on the southeast corner of 11th Street and 6th Avenue. Originally a private home, it eventually became a saloon know as The Hawthorne. The 11th Street side of the building was covered in a gnarled old grapevine and by the early 1800s the establishment was simply known as the Old Grapevine. It quickly became a favorite destination for those wanting to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city (lower Manhattan) and head north towards into the open country (11th Street).
During the Civil War it was a popular hangout of Union officers and Confederate spies. Later, when the Jefferson Market Courthouse was built the local lawyers and politicians would gather there to talk business. Artists and actors also met there. It was the ideal place to get news and information, or in the case of spies and politicians, the ideal place to spread rumors and gossip, leading to the popular phrase “heard it through the grapevine”.
The vine died in 1883 and was cut down. The Old Grapevine Tavern was demolished in July, 1915 to make way for a six story apartment building. The average room rental for the area was $8. These suites were instantly occupied at $12 a room.
The area is certainly changed today. There is still hustling and bustling in the financial district of lower Manhattan but heading north to 11th Street is no longer considered making a trip into the country. One spot that hasn’t changed much at all since the time of the Old Grapevine Tavern is just steps from where it was located. The Second Cemetery of Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, Shearith Israel is on 11th Street just east of 6th Avenue. The cemetery opened in 1805 and closed in 1829. The east wall was aligned with a portion of the now long gone Skinner’s Road. I’ll have more on this triangular jewel of old New York in a future blog post.
Incidentally, on this day in history in 1713, "Greenwich" was for the first time noted by name in city records.
To learn more about Greenwich Village please browse the New York Collection in the reference room of The Jefferson Market Library. To learn interesting facts about your own neighborhood visit your local library.