Berrian/Johnson House on Spuyten Duyvil

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    • #1504
      ndembowski
      Keymaster

      The article that I put up yesterday featuring more recollections of J.B. James of old Riverdale got me thinking about the Johnson/Berrian House that stood on Spuyten Duyvil.  (I recommend the article if you are interested in the historic houses in the neighborhood or if you commute to the city by train as the description of 19th century train rides near the bottom of the article is really interesting).

      But back to the Johnson/Berrian house–I am struggling to find out information about why it was torn down.  It was clearly a beautiful building.

      The Riverdale Press newspaper archive that I use to investigate these sorts of things has no issues from 1952 in its collection.  Apparently that is the year it was torn down. My understanding is that the Parks Dept. destroyed after the surrounding land became a Park only to build an ugly looking utility shed in the spot where it once stood.  I would really like to know what efforts were taken to save it and what was the justification for its demolition.

      The house predated the American Revolution and it appears on numerous British Intelligence maps.  Before the war, it was occupied by Samuel Berrian and his wife Dorcas (Tippett) Berrian.  Samuel apparently sympathized with the patriots during war and fled the area after the British took control of New York City.  Samuel’s neighbor, Gilbert Tippett, wrote to the local British commanders to ask for permission to seize Berrian’s property while he was with the “rebels” and Gilbert was given permission to use Berrian’s farmland. After the war, Gilbert Tippett, a loyalist, fled to Nova Scotia with other New York loyalists and the Berrians returned to their old house and farm.  Before the war, Spuyten Duyvil Hill was commonly referred to as Tippett’s Neck since the Tippett family owned nearly all of it.  After the war, it was renamed Berrian’s Neck.

      Samuel and Dorcas lived until the 1790s on Berrian’s Neck. Their descendants lived in the Kingsbridge area well into the 20th century.  Samuel and Dorcas were buried in the Kingsbridge burial ground (aka Tippett/Betts) burial ground in today’s Van Cortlandt Park.  Their headstones were removed from the cemetery sometime in the 1980s and lie on a tarp behind the Van Cortlandt House Museum.  Between the destruction of the Berrian house and the removal of the headstones, the Parks Dept. has not been too kind to the Berrian legacy!

      The house later became the home of the Johnson family, who owned the Johnson Iron Works. I imagine they were the ones that made the Victorian additions to the house.

      Given that historic significance, I have to imagine the KHS resisted the house’s destruction.  However, I cannot find any records or articles about it.  I am wondering if anyone can dig up something to share.

       

       

       

    • #1505
      Peter Ostrander
      Moderator

      The force behind the destruction of the Berrian-Johnson house was Robert Moses.  Moses had many hats two of which gave him the power to destroy the B-J house. He was the head of the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority and Parks Commissioner.  As I understand it his first effort was that the house was in the way for a reconfiguration of an exit from the Henry Hudson Parkway. The other was expanding of Henry Hudson Park. The Kingsbridge Historical Society under its President and founder, Rev.Dr. William Tieck, engaged Robert Moses in requests to save the Berrian-Johnson house and  protest. One request was to save the house and use for both Parks Dept use and as a museum for local history by the Kingsbridge Historical Society. It should be noted that the KHS was the only historical society in the Bronx as the Bronx County Historical Society was not founded until 1955.

      The KHS’s effort failed and the building was destroyed in 1952.

      This is not a unique decision by Robert Moses. When they were building the New England Thruway entrance from the Hutchinson River Parkway the original plans by Moses would have been  built directly through the location of the historic Split Rock. Eventually Robert Moses was pressured to change his plans and moved the Exit off the Hutchinson Pky to the New England Thruway. The exit was moved a few yards to the East leaving the Split Rock isolated on a  piece of land between a busy exit to the NE Thruway on the west and the Hutchinson River Parkway to the East making it had for anyone to find and visit the historic Glacial erratic and Native American site.

      Regarding  copies  of the Riverdale Press early editions, the KHS has the early decades of the Press in  bound book copies but unfortunately with the pandemic the KHS archives are not accessible at this time.

    • #1506
      spittingdevil
      Participant

      Great article, Nick. Thanks! So this house stood near the baseball field in the lower half of Henry Hudson Park, where there’s now a utility shed?

      • #1508
        Thomas Casey
        Participant

        Nick  & Peter,

        I read from some newspaper, that Parks…” Robert Moses”  wanted swings & sprinklers and bathrooms etc

        for the ” Community ”  He stated that the building was in ruin, to expensive to repair and no important historical event ever happened there.  His opinion, backed by a few mothers and children.  So sad.

         

        TX Casey

         

    • #1507
      ndembowski
      Keymaster

      Thanks for the info, Peter.  That would have been a real game-changer for local history–to have that house as KHS headquarters.  My mother was born in The Bronx in the 40’s and she has VERY strong feelings about Robert Moses (mostly about the Cross Bronx Expressway).  Yet another reason to be angry at Moses.

      Yes, my understanding is that the house stood where there is now a utility shed/bathroom building by the baseball field.  The below animation shows where it was.  There is a contemporary Google map there showing the park, an 1885 map with the Johnson house labeled, and a map that I made depicting the area during the Revolution (The red square on the map represents the Berrian House).

      If you want to fool around with my map program the link is here (although it is still a work in progress).

      Here you can see the house on a map from the Revolution that is in the collection of the Library of Congress:

       

       

    • #1648
      ndembowski
      Keymaster

      I finally know how the Berrian/Johnson house of Spuyten Duyvil met its fate.  Thank you to Tom Casey for sharing this article.  It sure would have been nice to have this house for KHS headquarters.  After all, we are chartered as a museum in New York State.  But unlike some other museums you may know of–we don’t have a building!

      One thing I wonder is how the author figured that this house was originally built by William Betts.

    • #1649
      Thomas Casey
      Participant

      I double checked my files, after re-reading the article….I found a copy of a “Charles Buck ” postcard that I forgot about ” A Reconstructed Old Time Residence of Spuyten Duyvil. New York City ”  Johnson/Berrian  Spuyten Duyvil.

    • #1762
      Peter Ostrander
      Moderator

      Regarding the old Berrien-Johnson house. The only known artifact that I am aware from the old Berrien- Johnson house is a oak gavel made from one of the beams from the house.  The gavel was made for the Kingsbridge Historical Society  I believe  by George Younkheere  a founding member of the KHS and owner of a lumber store that was once located about 235th and Bailey Ave.  The gavel is part of the  KHS archives.

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