What Was Greenwich Village Like Before the Beatnik Era?



Greenwich Village had a vivid life before the arrival of beatniks. This square mile of Manhattan is a magnet for expressive, varied personalities. History from generations gone by is cultural oral tradition – stories told by elders to children about the life of ancestors.

History and Location:

This square mile is a portion of Manhattan stretching from 14th Street to West Houston and from the Hudson River to Broadway. The village is one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods with surrounding areas including NoHo, SoHo and Union Square.

With a history two centuries in the making, give credit for expansion to epidemics. Then 1826 comes along and the area becomes a military parade site and park - with another population explosion. Most settlers went to West Village, an area attractive to writers, artists and academics.

Notes about Notables

Take a general tour and you will find places where notable personalities would gather:

• Hanging Tree

• Aaron Burr Carriage House

• St Luke’s in the Fields (a branch of Trinity Church)

• Home of Edna St Vincent Millay

• Paul Revere’s Workshop

• John Lennon’s Recording Studio

• Rumored Sites of the Underground Railroad

• CIA Safe Houses

People from generations prior to 1960 made Greenwich Village the place it is today. The common thread running through these generations is the designation of a gathering place.

Folklore Preserves Culture

Cultural change gives definition to a generation to benefit historians. Commonly, one generation morphs into another. This village has a continuum. It was a “Republic of Dreams” and our “American Bohemia” among other monikers.

New York has been the traditional destination for rebellious folk. This particular square mile is significant as the anchor of American cultural history. Folklore loosely preserves culture and the storytelling comes from older villagers telling new villagers about former villagers. This Greenwich Village is the poster child for folklore.

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