The South Street Seaport is home to boisterous bit of New York City history. It's one of my favorite parts of the City, and although it's changing rapidly as lower Manhattan undergoes a residential transformation, I'm thrilled that it still has secrets to reveal.
The door to 206 Front Street was open last week when I wandered over to the Seaport. I was looking for a few minutes of quiet to think—really think—and if you walk north past the main thoroughfare of Fulton, you can lose yourself among the remaining 19th-century buildings for some alone time. What caught my eye was not the open door, however, but the glass doors inside that seemed to open to a small space. I hesitated for all of a heartbeat before I went in, making a mental note to inspect the brick fireplaces more closely on my way out. To my delight, the glass doors opened to a small courtyard that was entirely deserted and I found the solitude I had been seeking.
The space is known as Cannon's Walk, a public area opened in 1983 to commemorate the history of the seaport area. It's named for John Cannon, a 17th-century Staten Island native, who filled in the area in 1721 and built a wharf that would become one of the busiest docks in the 18th-century—before the Fulton Market would rise in this space. A map by James Lyne dating to 1728 indicates that Cannon's wharf was adjacent to a wharf owned by none other than the famed New York Schermerhorns. A plaque in the courtyard helpfully informs visitors that Peter Schermerhorn, who constructed the nearby (and still standing) commercial buildings called Schermerhorn's Row, was Cannon's grandson, so clearly the two families knew each other. Today, the small courtyard serves as the backyard to the Seaport Museum and some local shops.
Cannon's will gives us some sense of his maritime success:
Cannon's wharf was filled in around 1790, as the island continued to grow and the lower Manhattan shoreline expanded—this interactive National Geographic map provides a fantastic look at how the shoreline changed as the land was filled in.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find an image of the wharf to share, but there is a painting in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum that might be able to transport us back to the 18-century seaport: View of Cannon House and Wharf (1792) by Jonathan Budington. It'll be on the list of things I'll look for on my next trip to DC.
Those brick fireplaces I mentioned reside in 206 Front Street itself, which was built on the land that filled in the wharf in the 1790s. The building housed a grocery while the Fish Market developed nearby, transforming the neighborhood into a small shopping district. Here's a look at the Cannon's Walk today: