William Allen Butler

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        On another thread we were trying to figure out the origins of a mysterious stone marker and I made a map overlay to try to help that effort.  The top map layer from 1872 shows a few interesting things:

        First I was struck by how many of the numbered streets in this part of Spuyten Duyvil were originally property boundaries between the big estates.  But the other thing I noticed was a 13 acre property called “Dunsnab” owned by William Allen Butler.  His property sat between modern 236th and 238th Streets between Riverdale Ave and the Henry Hudson Parkway.

        William Allen Butler was quite a big deal in his day.  His obituary in the Sept. 10, 1902 issue of the New York Times was a full column long and printed on the front page:

        William Allen Butler was a very important figure in the legal world but well-known for his poems in particular.  “Nothing to Wear” was one of his most popular poems but the one I really like was called “Dobbs His Ferry,” which was about how so many locations in the Hudson River Valley were renamed as real estate developers and wealthy landowners purchased property along the river.

        Down there, on old Manhattan,

        Where land-sharks breed and fatten,

        They’ve wiped out Tubby Hook.

        That famous promontory,

        Renowned in song and story,

        Which time nor tempest shook,

        Whose name for aye had been good,

        Stands new christened ‘Inwood,’

        And branded with the same of some old rogue who passes

        By dint of aliases,

        Afraid of his own name!


        See how they quite outrival,

        Plain barn-yard Spuyten-Duyvil,

        By peacock Riverdale,

        Which thinks all else it conquers,

        And over homespun Yonkers

        Spreads out its flaunting tail!

        There new-named Mount St. Vincent,

        Where each dear little inn’cent

        Is taught the Popish rites;

        Well, ain’t it queer, wherever

        These saints possess the river

        They get the finest sites!


        photo of William Allen Butler
        William Allen Butler, Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Division
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