When the dilapidated house at 906 Williamson Street was demolished several months ago in favor of a 26-unit upscale apartment building, it was done over the pushback of the residents of the neighborhood. No one thought we would be hearing anything more about it. “It was a nondescript dwelling that added nothing to the neighborhood”’ said Aldo Reemer, an unremarkable resident of the area.
Well, such was not to be the case. Under the concrete slab of the basement of that house, the demolition team discovered an old vault containing a few artifacts and a tied bundle of old correspondence. It seems that unexceptional house, originally built by Gladys Reiner, the unofficial area biographer, had something extraordinary to offer.
In that bundle, a letter was found dated June 23, 1897 from a Mr. David Pietersz de Vries, City Commissioner of Streets, New York, NY. It was addressed to the Honorable Mathias J Hoven, Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin.
Apparently Mr. Pietersz de Vries was working on a plan for a widened street that would incorporate Great George Street in lower Manhattan up through the town commons north of Wall Street, where traffic continued up the West Side via Bloomingdale Road. Bloomingdale Road was widened and paved and called “Western Boulevard” or “The Boulevard” north of the Grand Circle, which is now Columbus Circle.
The plan was to call that entire stretch of widened boulevard that ran from Mid-town to Lower Manhattan, Willy Street. The Commissioner of Streets was writing our mayor to get permission, officially, to use the name. Apparently “Willy Street” was the first urban and/or downtown avenue so named in the country.
The Streets Commissioner was the namesake of the Dutch explorer and entrepreneur David Pietersz. de Vries who, in 1642 wrote about this passageway in his journal. It was called the Wickquasgeck Road “over which the Indians passed daily”’ he wrote. It seems the early Dutch settlers, who were still struggling with the native American Algonquin language just called the passage, Willy Street. Why, is still unknown.
The mayor and the city planners met to discuss the request. They took an unprecedented three months to finally agree to approve the request. It turned out to be mute as the Commissioner later wrote that the naming committee voted on a different name. They called it Broadway.
We’ll be reporting on more of the finds in that vault found at 906 Willy Street, so keep checking back and clicking on the tag: “Found at 906 Willy” or find all of our historical reports in the “History” category.