Catherine McGown, Central Park, Civil War, Colonial Assembly, Elizabeth Fais, Harlem, John Dyckman, McGowan's Pass, McGown's Pass, McGown's Pass Tavern, Mount St. Vincent, Mount St. Vincent Hotel, New York City, Patrick McCann, Sisters of Charity, St. Vincent de Paul, William H. Vanderbilt
“Lost History” Blog Series
I did quite a bit of research in an around New York City’s Central Park for my young adult (YA) novel. I was amazed by the history there, some of which is all but lost. The stories I uncovered were so fascinating, I’ve decided to do a blog series on them. The Lost History blog series isn’t connected to my YA novel, except for the Central Park location. These are stories rich in character that deserved to be told and remembered. [image: morguefile.com]
Central Park’s First Tavern
There are very few taverns that have been turned into convents. And fewer still that, once they became convents, later returned to their tavern status–also known as hotels in later years. New York City can boast of such a rare site, located in the Northern region of Central Park, no less. In an area that became known as McGown’s Pass (also known as McGowan’s Pass). [Postcard of McGowan’s Pass Tavern, early 1900’s]
Yes, this is the same McGown’s Pass that was taken over by the British Army during the American Revolutionary War. If you missed my recent post on that bit of lost history, you can read about it here.
McGown’s Pass Tavern
Long before Central Park was built, people traveling to and from New York City (which was considerably smaller back then), stopped to rest and partake of refreshment at taverns in the rural vicinity of Harlem. The earliest tavern in the area was built in 1684 around present-day 106th Street. This property was later purchased by John Dyckman, and the Colonial Assembly met there in 1752. In 1759, Dyckman sold the tavern, along with 10 surrounding acres, to Catherine McGown, the window of a Scottish Sea Captain. [image: McGown’s Pass Tavern, circa 1899]
For whatever reason, the nearby pass soon became known as McGown’s Pass, and the name has remained ever since. Catherine and her son operated the tavern until the 1840’s, when it was purchased by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
The Tavern that Became “Mount St. Vincent”
The Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul developed the site into a thriving religious community that they called “Mount St. Vincent.” By the mid 1850’s there were more than 70 sisters living in the convent, operating a boarding academy for young ladies and running a free school for children in the surrounding area.
The New York State Legislature approved the acquisition of the land for Central Park in 1858. Two years later (approximately the date of the photograph above) the sisters were forced to leave The Mount. The buildings were used as offices for park commissioners until the Civil War (1861-1865), when they were used as a military hospital. The sisters returned to help nurse the wounded, but after the war the building were returned to their original use as a tavern (hotel).
The Mount St. Vincent Hotel
The Mount St. Vincent Hotel ran in the old McGown house and convent property (1866-1881), and became the gathering place for politicians and wealthy sportsmen, such as William H. Vanderbilt.
After a fire in 1881 destroyed the wooden Mount St. Vincent buildings, a new and much grander hotel was erected over the same foundation. The new “refreshment house” was rebuilt in the Carpenter Gothic style used throughout Central Park, and continued to operate until 1915. Sometime after 1890, the Mount St. Vincent Hotel was renamed the McGown Pass Tavern, coming full circle back to its original roots. The following photograph is of the rebuilt tavern, circa 1883.
The tavern continued to be a popular destination spot through the turn of the century–open every day of the year, and known for music and dancing that continued into the wee hours of the morning. In 1915 the city took back the property from the lessee, Patrick McCann, and sold all the goods for payments due. In 1917 the tavern was torn down, and a rich piece of Central Park history vanished. [Images courtesy the New York Public Library unless otherwise noted.]
All that remains today of the tavern is the remnant of an old stone foundation that is visible at the Central Park’s composting site (where the tavern once stood). In honor of the Sisters of Charity, a plaque marks the location where their religious community flourished.