The Seaman-Drake Arch on Broadway and 215th Street may be regarded as one of the most unusual structures in northern Manhattan today. It continues to amaze passers-by and non residents who are not aware of its significance, history and age.
The Seaman Family dates back to the colonial times when Captain John Seaman settled Long Island in what is now Hempstead. In 1653 Captain Seaman acquired 12,000 acres in the area.
Among the Captains descendants was Dr. Valentine Seaman, who with several colleagues, introduced the Smallpox vaccine to the United States in the early 1800ís. The vaccine was developed in England by physician Edward Jenner in 1796. Since then its introduction to the rest of the world had started the control and eventual eradication of the disease.
In 1851 the sons of Dr. Seaman, John and Valentine the younger, bought 25 acres of land which was between 214th and 218th Streets, and the Kingsbridge Road (now Broadway) north and west to the Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Their immediate neighbors to the south were the Dyckmans and the Ishams.
Valentine Seaman the younger built a house on top of a hill between what is now Park Terrace East and Park Terrace West. The house was used as a country residence for seasonal use. The original design of the house had a domed tower but was eventually changed to a square format.
In 1855 the arch was constructed as a gateway to the hilltop estate. Its measurements were 35 feet high, 20 feet deep and 40 feet wide. Iron Pivots for a large gate still exist in the passageway. On the rear of the arch are windows suggesting that there may have been quarters for a gatekeeper.
Sources indicate that the Seaman house and arch were constructed of local marble from a quarry on Broadway in what is known as Marble Hill. This vein of marble extends up to Tuckahoe, New York and was also used for the construction of Saint Patrick's Cathedral.
James F. Seaman eventually became the principal occupant of the estate and married Ann Drake. In her will dated in 1883 Mrs. Seaman bequeathed here part of the estate to her nephew Lawrence Drake. The extent of the occupancy of the Drake family could not be determined as to who was at the estate at what period of time.
During this period the Drake's designed a garden with shrubs, trees, charming walks and statues. The Suburban Riding and Driving Club had occupied the estate in 1897. Lawrence Drake, an avid auto enthusiast, was a member of the club.
In 1905 the estate was sold to Thomas Dwyer. Dwyer was a contractor who was involved with such projects as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Riverside Drive and 90th Street and part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street.
Over the next few years the appearance of the property started to change. in 1912 the first of a series of low brick buildings began to surround the archway forming a kind of compound built by Dwyer. These became auto dealerships. In 1938 Dwyer sold the main house to developers. The only thing that remained of the old estate was the arch.
Seaman Avenue was opened in 1908 and was named for Henry B. Seaman a relative of the family. The Avenue runs north from Dyckman Street to 218th Street and runs parallel with the eastern border of Inwood Hill Park through Isham Park to the northern border of the old estate.
In the 1960ís the area immediately surrounding the
arch was occupied by the Jack Gallo Auto Repair shop which has since changed
ownership. In 1970 a fire in the arch left the stairs and plaster
walls exposed and can be seen from the tops of the surrounding buildings
and was never repaired. The marble facade is slowly decaying from
age exposing the brick work due to pollution and acid rain.
Until it collapses or is razed the Seaman-Drake Arch will act as a gateway
to another era of the history of Inwood