Garbled Junk History, 1907

Farther up, the old Post Road passed Legget’s Black Horse Tavern on its west side, this was the advance post of the British, September 15, 1776, the day before the battle of Harlem. It stood at the seventh milestone (Ninety-sixth Street). Still farther, and slightly to the northwest on the east side of the road, was McGown’s Tavern, built on the height which overlooked the pass to which it gave its name. The Academy of Mount St. Vincent was built around its walls: it was long used as a Central Park restuarant, and was finally burned down.

A fantastical bit of junk history, from an article called The Physical Evolution of New York City, by one John Austin Stevens, published in the American Historical Magazine, 1907 (discovered via Google).

Joseph Jefferson in his smash role as "Rip van Winkle"

The easy use of the name “Legget’s Black Horse Tavern” should put us on guard right away, since it had been mentioned in Edward Hagaman Hall’s McGown’s Pass and its Vicinity just a year or two earlier, when Hall identified Legget’s as the old Black Horse Tavern that the McGowns owned, and which was nearly across the road from their house.

Our scribe claims that the tavern was at the line of 96th St, rather than slightly south of the McGown house, as it clearly appears in the Christopher Colles map of 1789. The author says there was also a “McGown’s Tavern” doing business, less than a half-mile up the road; and this tavern was later taken over by an academy and restaurant, which then burned down.

To clarify: Legget’s public house was at about the line of of 102nd Street, not 96th. This property was owned by the McGown or McGowan family; and there is no record of them maintaining a rival “McGown’s Tavern” in their farmhouse across the road!

Somehow it seems astonishing than anyone who lived so much closer to this history would get it all wrong. But of course that’s the way of it; look at the rubbish written about World War Two. This is the sort of inaccurate pop-history-by-the-yard that was common in early 20th century writings of Central Park, and regurgitated a century later on such sites as the Central Park Conservancy’s.

As a general rule, anything that refers to the Pass or the property as “McGown’s” may be regarded automatically as suspect; inasmuch as court cases, maps, newspapers and Trow’s City Directory almost invariably use the “McGowan” spelling throughout the 19th Century; and the British and American maps of the 1700s always said McGowan’s, M’Gowan’s, or McGowen’s. Hall and others said “McGown” merely out of courtesy to members of the Judge Henry P. McGown family, who preferred that spelling.

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