New York may not be as hilly as Los Angeles or San Francisco, but it does have hills. And with those hills are several dozen public stairways, scattered throughout the city, to navigate them. In New York they are oftentimes referred to as ‘step streets’. Last week I had the opportunity to explore some of the step streets and stairways at the north end of Manhattan. If you’ve already been to the “must see” sights of New York and want to get away from the crowds of midtown Manhattan, you might get a kick out of exploring some new neighborhoods to the north.
Both the ‘C’ and the ‘1’ subway lines will take you north from Midtown.
My first goal was to head up to the 155th Street area, on the border of Harlem and Washington Heights, to check out the historically significant John T. Brush Stairway. It is the only remaining structure from the old Polo Grounds, the long-time home of the New York Giants (now San Francisco Giants) baseball team. In addition to housing the Giants, the Polo Grounds, at one time or another, was the home of the New York Yankees, New York Mets, both the New York Giants and New York Jets football teams, and the site of many notable boxing matches.
Here’s a view of the Brush Stairway from the top.
The stairway was built by the Giants in 1913 to entice residents living on top of Coogan’s Bluff to come down to the ballpark at the base of the bluff. It was named after the team’s former owner who had died the year before. You can find the top of the stairway between 157th and 158th streets on the east side of Edgecombe Avenue.
When I first visited the stairway in 2011, it was falling apart and had a barrier to discourage people from climbing the stairs. (I briefly described the condition of the stairs in the book The Gentle Art of Wandering.) Since that visit, the five teams who once called the Polo Grounds home chipped in enough money to help pay for the City to refurbish the stairs.
Here’s how the stairway looked in 2011.
And here’s how they look from a similar view in 2017.
If you happen to visit the Brush Stairway you’ll find many other places to check out in the immediate area:
The 155th Street ‘C Line’ subway stop, shown in the picture at the beginning of this post, is only steps away from Edgecombe Avenue. This small sliver of a park, at the corner of 155th and Edgecombe, is called the ‘Sugar Hill Luminaries Lawn’. In the 1920’s many prominent African-Americans including, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and many others lived near here and called the area Sugar Hill.
If you head north on Edgecombe from 155th you’ll soon pass this ‘step street’ that connects Edgecombe to 157th Street. The stairway is called the Bushman Steps and has 30 steps. The John T. Brush Stairway is across the street and a bit to the north.
If you choose to head east on 155th Street, it will continue as a viaduct that will take you to Yankee Stadium on the other side of the Harlem River.
You also have the choice of taking 110 steps from 155th to the base of Coogan’s Bluff.
You’ll also be below the 155th Street viaduct. The Polo Grounds would have been a block north to the left.
After checking out the John T. Brush Stairway area, my next goal was to head north to visit some more step streets. To do that, I first headed west on 155th Street.
I was headed for the ‘1 Line’ subway station at 157th and Broadway. This part of Manhattan is very narrow and by the time I reached Broadway I could see the Hudson River.
Across the street, there was a complex of great buildings that was at one time the home of the Museum of the American Indian and the American Geographic Society. The buildings are now a small college.
When you walk around New York you might want to look up as you’re likely to see one of New York’s ubiquitous rooftop water towers. I believe that a big part of urban walking is keeping an eye for something you’re not likely to see elsewhere.
After catching the ‘1 Line’ subway, I got off at the 181st Street Station.
There I ran into a very diverse and active street.
I soon ran into sight of the George Washington Bridge.
And into this 47-step stairway at 181st and Pinehurst.
A little bit north on Pinehurst, this small park (Bennett Park) has the highest natural point in Manhattan.
I wish I had swept off this marker, but it notes the high point as being 265 above sea level.
This little stairway takes you from Bennett Park to Fort Washington Ave.
A short distance up on Fort Washington will take you to this 130-step stairway at 187th Street.
Here’s a look at the 187th step street from the bottom. From here it is a short walk to Broadway.
In a very short time you’ll reach Gorman Park.
It has a 67-step stairway up to the next street.
If you continue up Broadway, you’ll pass people enjoying their parks.
And also pass many interesting buildings
If you stick with your walk long enough, you’ll reach a recently rebuilt step street at 215th Street.
There’s even some inspiration to start you on your walk.
And at each landing there is a cumulative step count to tell you how many you’ve climbed.
When you make it to the top, you will have climbed 110 steps.
And here’s the view from the top.
And when you get back to the bottom, you can find another inspiration for climbing the steps.
You are now at the northern tip of Manhattan. I think there has been enough along the way to make for a perfect walk. If you’ve had enough walking, there’s subway stop only a few feet away to take you back to your starting point.