Welcome to Bennett Park!

Bennett Park is home to the higest natural point in Manhattan, pictured above

It will come as no surprise that the WaHI area wasn’t always the urban neighborhood it is today. It’s hard to believe that Peter Minuit paid the Lenape Indians $24 to purchase the island of Manhattan in 1626 just a few blocks north in present day Inwood. Here we will take a look at WaHI’s history before the 19th century. (17)

Plaque at Bennett Park commemorating where Fort Washington once stood

After this purchase, the Native American people who called WaHI home were pushed out of their settlements. WaHI was then converted into farmland by early colonists. Manhattan was renamed
New Amsterdam by the Dutch West India Company and remained so until 1664 when the British sent their navy and demanded that the Dutch surrender. This surrender, to the Duke of York, led to the settlement being renamed “New York City”. Because of its hilly terrain, WaHI became the destination for summer homes and estates. Essentially, WaHI was one of the wealthiest parts of the city of New York.
Fast forward now to the Revolutionary War. Suddenly WaHI went from a residential area to a strategic military outpost. As the highest point in the city, forts built here would be the hardest to overtake and gave the occupying force an offensive tactical advantage. Fort Washington was built in 1776 and served as a base of operations for American forces until the battle of Fort Washington. Unfortunately, British forces overtook the fort and renamed it Fort Knyphausen. Fort Washington was located in what is now Bennett Park, where granite outlines its former contours. (17, 16)

Northern Manhattan again became the destination for wealthy New Yorker's and summer getaways. Some notable home owners include James Gordon Bennett, for which this park is named. He was the founder and publisher of the New York Herald newspaper. Also calling Washington Heights his home was John James Audubon, the famous ornithologist and illustrator. Audubon avenue is named in his honor. (17, 15)

In the early 1900's the 168th street subway stop was one of the first to open, becoming operational in March of 1906. With this new form of transportation serving to easily connect this part of Manhattan to the rest of New York City, the area began to transform. Residential apartment buildings rose up where there was once only forest. The subway line then extended all the way to Dyckman street and Inwood started its transformation from the summer destination of wealthy New Yorkers to the urban community we see today.(17)

WaHI is a crossroad to many entrance and exit points on the island of Manhattan. To the north is the Bronx and Yonkers, to the west is New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge, to the east is the south Bronx and Queens and to the south is the rest of

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the island of Manhattan. This could be a partial explanation as to why so many successive waves of immigrant populations have chosen to settle here. In the early 1900's this neighborhood consisted of mostly Irish and Eastern European immigrants. In the 1960's African Americans and Puerto Ricans settled here in WaHI and in the 1980's there was an influx of Jewish refugees from Russia. Dominicans began immigrating to this area as early as the 1600's (learn more here) although true immigration waves didn't start until the 1960's. By the 1990's WaHI became the largest Dominican community outside the Caribbean nation. It continues to be so today, however, there are new populations that are beginning to call WaHI home. To be certain, the WaHI community is one that is diverse and ever-changing which we will learn more about at our next stop.

On the right, you can look around Bennett Park!

Next Stop: WaHI Demographics