ENDORSEMENTS

How It Started:

Sometimes All It Takes Is A Little Digging

Upper Riverside Residents Alliance & 
The Harris/Newhouse Home

A small group of Washington Heights neighbors learned that lesson in August 2020, when we formed the Upper Riverside Residents Alliance, unified by our concern for a small wood-frame house at 857 Riverside Drive, and the news that it was about to be bulldozed.

​A developer who had purchased the house had applied for a demolition permit and won preliminary approval to replace this two-story, single-family home with a 13-story apartment tower—more than twice as high as any building nearby—jammed with 46 mini condominium units.

 

A little digging revealed that one of the project’s developers appears regularly on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlords Watchlist, having racked up an average of nearly 500 open HPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) violations in 2019, and 620 in 2020.

We knew from a 1937 photograph by Berenice Abbott that the house, built in the Greek Revival–Italianate style, once boasted a wraparound porch and a cupola, and we hoped it might be restored.

IN OUR RESEARCH, WE LEARNED THAT THE HOUSE HAS A REMARKABLE HISTORY

 

Built in 1851, it was part of a little-known colony of abolitionists in northern Manhattan, then an area of woods and farmland.

 

Its first owner, Dennis Harris, was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and at the center of a well-documented fugitive slave escape when he lived in lower Manhattan.

 

After being suspended by his downtown Methodist church for anti-slavery preaching, the minister and entrepreneur moved his family, his business and his abolitionist fervor uptown.

In Washington Heights, he and his friend John Newhouse, who bought the home from Harris and lived there with his family for decades, established abolitionist churches in the area.

 

They also built and ran a sugar refinery, pier and steamboat line.

 

Harris had used his downtown refinery to smuggle escaped slaves to freedom.

Historians say the uptown refinery, steamboat and this house, too, so close to the river in a sparsely populated area, were likely used in further Underground Railroad activities.

 

In Upper Manhattan, where abolitionism is not thought to have flourished, little history — particularly little African-American history — has been recognized and preserved.

 

The house at 857 Riverside Drive is the last surviving remnant of this explosive chapter in the story of New York.

Today, the Harris-Newhouse home is a symbol of our community — a tolerant and diverse place that remains one of the few affordable, livable, and relatively low-rise neighborhoods in Manhattan.

 

The destruction of the Harris-Newhouse home, and its replacement by a 13-story sliver tower, would be a 135-foot-high assault on our community, casting a literal and figurative shadow on the diversity that is our neighborhood’s pride.

 

It would give the green light to high-rise development all along our stretch of the Hudson River, and eradicate the memory of the brave residents who helped transform the area into the vibrant corner of the city it is today.

So we’re digging in.

 

THIS HOUSE,
THIS HISTORY,
AND THIS
COMMUNITY
ARE WORTH SAVING.

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LETTER OF SUPPORT FROM JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

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CLOTH supports the development of affordable housing and preservation
of historical landmarks that tell the story of our community’s rich past.


We do not support the development 
of 100% market rate condominiums
that do not meet the housing needs
of the residents of our community.

 

 

YVONNE STENNETT,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

COMMUNITY LEAGUE OF THE HEIGHTS 
CLOTH

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