Located in Morrisania on Clay Avenue between 165th and 166th Streets, this tiny historic district has been selected by New York City’s Historic District Council’s ‘Six to Celebrate‘ which, unbeknownst to many, sits on the former Fleetwood Trotting Track, a horse racing course.
Entering it’s fourth year, the program highlights six areas as the agency provides year long support not just in shining a spotlight but also helping with issues the district or organization may be facing.
Clay Avenue Historic District is definitely one in need of some TLC. Historic District Council writes, “In recent decades, economic disinvestment has plagued the block, but local residents are working, under the name Clay Avenue Historic District, to improve public safety, encourage building restoration, and cultivate support for neighborhood beautification.”
Designated as an historic district in April of 1994, the block contains 32 residential buildings of which 28 are beautiful two family semi-detached row houses built between 1901. The remaining buildings were constructed between 1909 and 1910 and a single family home built in 1906 by a local hardware manufacturer by the name of Francis Keil.
“The early residents of the houses and apartment buildings in die historic district represent a cross-section of the population that came to settle in the Bronx in the early twentieth century. The original owners of the two-family houses tended to be middle-class professionals, while the renters appear to have been somewhat less prosperous. The apartment buildings, erected a few years after the two-family homes, were built for working-class households.
While the greater Morrisania area was later built up almost entirely with large multiple dwellings, the section of Clay Avenue forming the historic district retains its well-preserved architectural character as a distinctive enclave dating from the early period of urban development in the Bronx.”
With reference to the area and the Fleetwood Track:
“Until the turn of the century no development took place on what is now Clay Avenue or in its immediate vicinity since this was the site of Fleetwood Park, a trotting track maintained by the Driving Club of New York.4 Historians have traced horse racing in Morrisania back to about 1750 when the relatively level land was used by General Staats Long Morris as a race course. It is not known if any horse racing occurred in the vicinity of the historic district in the late eighteenth century or first seventy years of the nineteenth century, but in 1870 William Morris leased property on his estate to [Mr.] Dater Brothers who opened a race track on June 8, 1871. Brothers’s venture failed, and the property reverted to William Morris in 1880. During the following year, the race track was leased to the Driving Club of New York which ran a track on land that today is roughly bounded by East 165th Street on the south, East 167th Street on the north (the angle of the street generally marks the route of the race course), Sherman Avenue on the west, and Webster Avenue on the east. The track was open only to the select membership of the Driving Club, including such socially prominent horsemen as William K. Vanderbilt, William Rockefeller, William C. Whitney, and Leonard Jerome. Fleetwood Park consisted of the track itself, stables and other facilities for the horses, an impressive covered grandstand that curved in alignment with the track, and a French Second Empire style clubhouse that also overlooked the track. Scenes at Fleetwood appear in several lithographs by Currier and Ives and in some early drawings by Frederic Remington published in Harper’s Bazaar.”
Previous Bronx ‘Six to Celebrate’ areas are (in no particular order):
- Woodlawn Heights
- Historic Bronx Parks
- Van Cortlandt Village
- Port Morris/Mott Haven and the 134th Street Ferry Bridges (aka The Gantries)
Check out some additional photographs of Clay Avenue Historic District: