Due to all of our free time lately (Yay Summer!), Husband and I have been taking advantage of the warm weather and extra daylight by taking lots walks around the city. We LOVE getting to know Manhattan better, learning about the history of NYC, and going to places for the first time. My 24 Great Walks in New York book may be completed by the time Autumn gets here.
Yesterday we took the “Harlem and Hamilton Heights” walk, in Harlem…if that wasn’t obvious.
The only time we venture into Harlem is when we are desperate to go to Target. You’d think that would happen pretty often, but having to take a train there and taxi back (due to the many purchases) is surprisingly discouraging. To be frank, I am a little frightened of Harlem. I wish I wasn’t, but it has such a bad rep. It doesn’t feel dangerous as I walk the four blocks from the train to Target, it just feels different.
Let’s face it, Husband and I are spoiled to growing up in majority white, majority middle-class suburban-America. Yeah, we may travel quite a bit, and have moved away from our childhood homes, but we still live in a predominately white, now predominately upper-class fancy-pants neighborhood. I HATE to admit it, but a little color and a little culture makes us a little uncomfortable. It isn’t right, or fair, or decent, or okay in any way. It’s just something engrained in us from childhood through media and narrow-mindedness, and it’s a challenge to erase.
So, to counter what most of you probably hear in the media…Harlem is NOT what it seems. Harlem is so full of history, culture, and some of the most beautiful homes and churches you will ever find in New York.
During our walk we learned about some really interesting and beautiful places in Harlem. The most unusual was Alexander Hamilton’s “country retreat”. Apparently, he used to travel 2 hours by stagecoach to Wall St, and built this house as an escape from the city. Crazy to think that Harlem used to be an escape from the city. It was really strange to see this old and very large home right in the middle of Manhattan.
City College, very old, originally opened for the children of immigrants. It was built with the debris from subway tunneling, and has a medieval architectural theme throughout the campus. It grew to become a pretty radical school and was nicknamed “Harvard of the Proletariat”. We really liked walking through this campus, it was gorgeous, and another odd structure to be found in Manhattan.
Right next to the college is St. Nicholas Park. This park was designed by the same creators of Central Park, but on a MUCH smaller scale. Belle did not seem to notice the size difference. She was just thrilled to rub her back in the grass and get the recent bath-smell off of her.
We saw lots of enormous old churches on our walking tour, but the most impressive was the Abyssinian Baptist Church. It was built in 1808 as a protest against racial segregation. In the 1930’s it was the world’s largest protestant church, and one of its pastors was Adam Clayton Powell Jr. He was a member of the US House of Representatives, and was a powerful force in anti-segregation movements in NYC.
The YMCA in Harlem is famous for allowing African-Americans to stay there when they were refused service in most white-run hotels in the city. Several famous artists and musicians once stayed at this YMCA.
Our last stop on the tour was the very famous Apollo Theatre, which actually opened in 1914 as a burlesque house. It’s probably most famous for amateur night where amazing talents like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder all made appearances.
We really enjoyed our time in Harlem. It’s still too far from our favorite places for us to consider moving there, but its worth a walking tour, a trip to Target, and from what I’ve heard, there are some really good restaurants. So add Harlem to your NYC itineraries!