A Dutch Tradition in Gramercy

Even though New York City started its story as New Amsterdam, there is very little of the old Dutch town left to see. Through the years, the Dutch-looking houses perished or simply were replaced by newer structures.

However, a small remnant of the old Dutch tradition can still be found in front of the house at 4 Gramercy Park West—in the form of two lanterns. When a mayor of a 17th-century Dutch city would return home after a long day, he would be accompanied by guards carrying lit-up lanterns. These lanterns were then left in front of the house to indicate that the mayor was in fact home. According to some sources, this was done to make sure rowdy citizens would not disturb the mayor’s sleep so that he could come back to governing feeling fully refreshed. Another plausible reason was that the mayor could easily be found day and night: his house had lamps in front of it and if they were lit, he was home!

The two lamps in front of 4 Gramercy Park West are a nod to this very tradition. Even though the lamps had ceased being necessary to find a mayor by the mid-19th century, they still served as an indication that the house belonged to one. The custom was to install the lamps in front of mayor’s private residence and keep them lit—not only during the mayoral term but for life . . . and all at the municipal expense! In 1848 the house was bought by James Harper, a mayor of New York from 1844 to 1845. Not only did he serve as a mayor of the city, but he (along with his brothers) founded the publishing firm Harper & Brothers, which later became HarperCollins—one of the largest English-language publishing companies in the world.

Designed in 1845 by the eminent architect Alexander Jackson Davis in the unassuming Greek Revival style, they are adorned with elaborate ironwork—a detail that makes them stand out even in New York’s highly eclectic architectural landscape.

Though both houses at 3 and 4 Gramercy Park West are beautiful, only #4 has the “Mayor’s Lamps.” Channeling the American South with their sunny verandas and breezy outdoor porches, 3 and 4 Gramercy Park West transport you to another place, while the Mayor’s Lamps gently remind you of another time.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s