Day 10

Featherbed Lane

January 9th, 2012



John McNamara, the great historian of the Bronx (who also walked every street in the Bronx!), wrote a book called History in Asphalt that explains the origin of every street name in the borough. I stopped by a library on my walk today to see what he had to say about Featherbed Lane:

There are three well-known versions of the origin of this name. During the Revolution, residents padded the road with their feather beds to muffle the passage of the patriots. Another story is that the spongy mud gave riders the effect of a feather bed. Still another tale is that the farmers found the road so rough, they would use feather beds on their wagon-seats to cushion themselves.

There is a fourth supposition advanced by a native of Highbridgeville that Featherbed Lane was a sly allusion to ladies of easy virtue who lived there. In short, it was the local Red Light district during the 1840's when work on the nearby Croton Aqueduct was going on. Unsuspecting real estate developers of a later time liked its quaint name and retained it.
Amusingly, there is a small park just off of Featherbed Lane — nothing more than a collection of a dozen or so benches arranged in a triangle — named "Featherbenches".


9 Comments

  1. deanna valenti meyer says:

    Hmmm…that’s very interesting stuff!! There is always something to learn when reading this blog!

  2. Dorinda from Mentor, Oh. says:

    Very interesting stuff indeed.

  3. Karen Too says:

    Many of us have said this before, but I’ll say it again:

    Matt could write his own books on this walk, and the previous one. I get that it’s not something he is currently interested in doing, but if he ever changes his mind, I’ll be first in line to buy the books. :-)

    In the meantime, we are lucky to have his blogs.

    Thanks, Matt. :-D

  4. Barry F. Bealick says:

    Supporting MATT’s fourth supposition about the West Bronx’s FEATHERBED LANE’s namesake is the large, mostly Irish-Catholic workforce that constructed the nearby HIGH BRIDGE — completed in 1848, during the Irish potato famine of the 1840’s that attracted many Irish immigrants to the neighborhood — also part of the Croton Aqueduct and spanning the Harlem River. The many stonecutters, foundation workers, masons, and other laborers worked in an exclusively-male environment, so the possibility (probability ?) of a “Red-Light” district on what was named FEATHERBED LANE is plausible.

  5. I lived at 93 Featherbed Lane until I was 4.. This goes back in time to 1950. I was told years later that Featherbed Lane derived from padding the road with featherbeds to protect the patriots during the Revolution as is written in the first version. We moved to Marble Hill in the Bronx circa 1952.. Surely that whole area had historical significance.

    • I heard the same from the woman who founded the House of Calvary on Featherbed Lane (she was 103 years old at the time) . Her version was that the locals paved the road with their beds out of pity for the retreating patriots from NJ That winter was bitter cold and the soldiers’ feet sore.

  6. Barry F. Bealick says:

    Featherbed Lane was very-much a part of my University Heights childhood. I lived at 140 West 174th Street at the crest of the hill where hilly Featherbed Lane intersects University Avenue at West 174th Street. Neighborhood residents did a lot of their shopping on Featherbed Lane. My Boy Scout Troop 205 was headquartered at the Featherbed Lane Presbyterian Church atop the hill.

  7. janet marin says:

    My aunt owns a small lot on Featherbed Lane. She won it at an auction in 1986. It has been made into a park.

  8. My family lived in that area from 1926 till 1970. I’m 65. The story they always told me was the one about feather-beds being used to muffle the sound of soldiers’ horses. The tale about the area being a red-light district is new to me….but rather intriguing! Of course, the area remained largely rural/suburban until the arrival of the IRT Jerome Avenue Elevated line in 1917, after which it very rapidly urbanized.

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