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Upper East Side neighborhood that once housed large German and Middle-European populations

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Yorkville
Residential, Gathering Place

Place Matters Profile

Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side—located between Lexington Avenue and the East River, bordered on the south by 79th and the north by 96th Streets—was once one of New York City’s primary ethnic enclaves.

German influence was first established here in the early 19th century when well-to-do German immigrants began building their country estates on the rural farmlands of Harlem. Later in the century, the 2nd & 3rd Avenue el trains brought in droves of German, Central European, and Irish immigrants to what was known as German Town. The wealthy country estates gave way to multi-family brownstones and tenements buildings with ground floor shops.
The early growth and development of the Yorkville neighborhood has much to do with the history of New York City’s German population. In the 1840s the first German immigrants settled in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and continued to do so in such large numbers...

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Ronda Wist, Aileen Gorsuch, Paul Kelterborn

Once distinct from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the neighborhood of Yorkville—located between Lexington Avenue and the East River and bordered on the south by 79th and the north by 96th Streets—today lives largely in name only. Decades of gentrification and the influx of residential development has nearly erased the German and Central European community that began settling here as far back as the late 18th-century. Known as the main thoroughfare of Germantown, 86th Street was considered the heart of this once thriving ethnic enclave.

Today, 86th Street is still a main shopping thoroughfare only now very little is left to tie it to its Germantown past. There are however some small traces that still remain, if you know where to look. A few businesses have managed to hold on through the gradual fade-in to the Upper East Side. Finding these places amidst the Duane Reades and Dunkin’ Donuts presents a rare and welcome glimpse back into the neighborhood’s past.

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