Historic, but not famous

Augustus Van Cortlandt, city clerk

During the Revolutionary War, Augustus Van Cortlandt, city clerk, hid the most valuable of the city’s records in the family burial vault northeast of the house, where they remained for the duration. The Cortlandt family were prominent members of society and resided in the Bronx. Augustus father, Frederick, built the Van Cortlandt mansion which housed George Washington in October of 1776 as he pulled his forces back from the lost city of Manhattan. Washington spent a few nights at Van Cortlandt House on his way to fight the hopeless Battle of White Plains. Lafayette and Rochambeau also stayed in the house during the Revolutionary War. Seven years later, in November 1783, Washington again slept there on the eve of his triumphal return to New York as victor. The records remained hidden from the British and were restored to the city after independence was won.

Augustus’ descendants lived in the house until the 1880s when the house, along with some Bison, were willed to the city of New York. The home is now a museum and an important part of Revolutionary War and Bronx history. It is also the oldest standing house in The Bronx.

 

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Historic, but not famous

David Sharps, Hudson Waterfront Museum

David Sharps, after working as a street performer and serving long stints on cruise ships, found himself studying theatrical movement in Paris. While there, he lived on a houseboat on the Seine. When he returned to New York, David wanted to continue living on a boat, so a tugboat captain introduced him to the Lehigh Valley No. 79 Barge, which he bought for $1.

 

The barge had 300 tons of mud in it, and it took 7 years to restore it a seaworthy condition. In 1992, a conference led by the legendary Pete Seeger was the cornerstone of Sharps finding Red Hook Brooklyn, the next home for the barge.

 

The Waterfront Museum arrived in Red Hook back in 1994 and looks back to the days of the working waterfront industry on the shores of Brooklyn. The barge is located at Pier 44 and the museum’s open hours are Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., though groups can visit on other days by appointment. There are also special showboat performances, including theater, dance, puppetry, and even circus acts, performed by Sharps and his friends.

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Historic, but not famous

Jacob Schiff, philanthropist

Jacob Henry Schiff (born Jakob Heinrich Schiff; 1847 – 1920) was a Jewish-American banker, businessman, and philanthropist. Among many other things, he helped finance the expansion of American railroads. He was born in Germany and migrated to the United States after the American Civil War and joined the firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co on Wall street. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in September 1870

Mr. Schiff was the most well known and influential Jewish leader from 1880 to 1920 in what later became known as the “Schiff era”, grappling with all major Jewish issues and problems of the day, including the plight of Russian Jews under the Tsar, American and international anti-semitism, care of needy Jewish immigrants, and the rise of Zionism. He led many corporations, including the National City Bank of New York, Equitable Life Assurance Society, Wells Fargo & Company, and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Schiff supported many Jewish charities including relief efforts for the victims of pogroms in Russia, and helped establish and develop Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Division in the New York Public Library, and the American Jewish Committee. In New York examples include the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, of which he was president, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association building and the Jewish Theological Seminary on Broadway and 116th Street. He was also involved with many secular American causes: in addition to serving on the Board of Managers of the New York Zoological Society, the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Fine Arts Society, American Geographical Society, and Barnard College; and a number of other organizations for civil rights and the disadvantaged, such as the American Red Cross, the Nurses’ Settlement (New York) and Tuskegee Institute. In 1895, he purchased a building for use by the Henry Street Settlement in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Henry Street Settlement is a not-for-profit social service agency that provides social services, arts programs and health care services to all New Yorkers of need.

On his 70th birthday, he distributed $700,000 among various charitable organizations and public institutions.  Schiff was actively concerned with the improvement of civic conditions in New York. He was a vice president of the New York Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Committee of 70 which resulted in the overthrow of the Tweed Ring.

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Historic, but not famous

Dave Herman, City Reliquary

The beginnings of the City Reliquary date to 2002, when founder Dave Herman (born 1976) began displaying objects in the windows of his ground-floor Williamsburg apartment. People walking by were drawn to the odd array of local artifacts, and Herman received object donations and loans from people who wanted to share their own odd items with others in the community. As the collection grew, Herman moved the repository to a location on Metropolitan Avenue. The new museum opened on April 1, 2006.

 

Dave Herman grew up in Orlando, Fla., home to Disney World and had little interest in the “false history” of Epcot Center. This upbringing may led him to his adoration of all things New York. “I grew up in this culture where there was no appreciation of history,” he said to the NY Times. “It was all fiberglass coating on the surface. New York has real history. In New York, it’s not faked. If it looks old, it is old.” Mr. Herman is so devoted to New York history that his back is covered from neck to waist with a tattooed image of the Brooklyn Bridge and a rendering of the General Slocum, the steamboat that caught fire on the East River in 1904, killing more than 1,000.

The Reliquary is fun, inexpensive ($7) and a great way to spend an hour in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is located at 370 Metropolitan Ave Brooklyn, NY 11211 near the corner of Havenmeyer. Hours are Thurs. – Sun., Noon – 6 PM.

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