godwin terrace history

St. John's (now P.S. 207, The Godwin Terrace School) in the 1930's 

The History Of Our Neighborhood: Kingsbridge

It might be obvious, but our neighborhood is named for an actual bridge, the King’s Bridge!

The bridge was built in 1693 by Frederick Philipse, a local lord who was loyal to the British King. Philipse charged all who crossed, except the King's soldiers. The bridge spanned a now-filled-in section of Sputyten Duyvil Creek, which was about parallel to today's 230th Street. The King's Bridge was part of Boston Post Road, connecting southern Westchester County (which later became the Bronx) with Marble Hill, once part of Manhattan Island . 

But here is the most interesting part: in the early days of the twentieth century, the King’s Bridge was never officially taken down. This means that when they filled in Spuyten Duyvil Creek in 1914, the bridge was still there. So today, the oldest bridge in New York City is actually buried somewhere deep underneath the Bronx. No one knows exactly where it is.

The King’s Bridge is an excellent example of the hidden wonders of the Bronx, and a testament to the sheer volume of industry and change that swept over New York since the industrial revolution. In fact, it resembles the Bronx itself: often overlooked, but historically indispensable and an integral part of a rapidly evolving cityscape.

The King’s Bridge as it looked in 1856. Notice the hilly area in the background — today we know this as Broadway, Kingsbridge Avenue, and Godwin Terrace. The white house on top of the hill may be the Moller mansion.

The old King’s Bridge in 1900, about 16 years before the Harlem River was filled in

The Namesake Of Our Street: Joseph H. Godwin

Joseph H. Godwin purchased the Macomb mansion on the northwest corner of Broadway and West 230th Street and much of the surrounding property in 1838. He also enlarged the small island near the King’s Bridge in the Harlem River, called Lent’s Island in 1785 and Macomb’s Island in 1789, and built a summer home on it, which he named Godwin’s Island. A small footbridge connected the island to both Marble Hill and Kingsbridge.  From that day until his property was sold at auction in 1917, the land between Marble Hill, West 231st Street, and Bailey and Kingsbridge Avenues was known as the Godwin estate, and the old Macomb house was known as the Godwin mansion.  Born on Long Island in 1817, Joseph Godwin was a carriage maker, and later, a director of the Sixth Avenue and Ninth Avenue Elevated Railway Companies. He married Phoebe Godwin and had two children. The family owned 10 acres of land and lived in the old Macomb mansion at 332 Broadway.  In his later years, Joseph listed his occupation as “Gentleman.” He also was known as “The Squire” for walking around Kingsbridge with a cane and wearing a top hat. He was quite neighborly, and often invited the village residents to pick cherries from his orchards.  On November 2, 1899, Joseph sold his island to John C. Rodgers for $2,500 as part of the Broadway Extension project for the new Broadway Bridge and IRT subway.  When the Harlem River was filled in around 1917, the island was buried under what are today the Marble Hill Houses.  On August 3, 1903, Joseph H. Godwin died in his historic home.

A view of the King’s Bridge in 1885. By this time, the village had many houses, shops, churches, a grammar school, and a police station. The hill, which was part of Godwin’s estate, would later be developed as Godwin Terrace and Kimberly Place. The old Moller estate may be the home visible through the trees at the top of the hill.

Godwin’s Island and the footbridge are depicted on this 1890 map. (Back then, Kingsbridge Avenue was called Church Street and Corlear Avenue was called Water Street.) This map also clearly labels the Godwin and Moller houses, and the 35th Police Precinct station house, which occupied one of small buildings on Godwin’s property (much of the land surrounding the police station was soggy marshland, and the station often flooded).

The Moller Mansion was built in 1870.  and moved to Godwin Terrace around 1931. It was originally the home of George H. Moller and Emma Godwin Moller.  St. John’s church purchased the property from the family and for more than 75 years it was a convent and housing for the Brothers of Christian Schools.  However, it was just sold for 1.5 million in July, 2021 and was torn down with new construction in its place.

Footnote: Charles B. J. Snyder was an American architect who helped build NYC public schools between 1891 and 1923. His designs likely influenced our school construction, but since it was originally built as a religious school, there are some differences and a few highlights our building has that other public schools built in the same time do not enjoy.  Sign up for Tour Tuesdays if you'd like to visit!

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