St. Marks Place—the three blocks of East Eighth Street that run from Astor Place to Tompkins Square Park—has become a symbol of the East Village. Head shops serve as a reminder of the street’s hippie heyday, while stalwart Federal mansions remain a link to the area’s more distant—and upscale—past. If something has happened in the East Village in the last two centuries, there’s a good chance St. Marks Place has played a role. Yet the street has never been a perfect microcosm of the East Village; those mansions were an anomaly, and the hippies were, too. St. Marks is the most famous street in the East Village, but is it a part of the “real” neighborhood at all?
The farmland that today comprises St. Marks Place was originally owned by Dutch Director General Peter Stuyvesant, who bought thebouwerij (or “Bowery” as it came to be known) in 1651. Few traces of Stuyvesant’s era remain beyond his own grave, which lies in a vault at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, the Episcopal parish constructed in 1799 on the site of what had once been Stuyvesant’s private chapel. The church sits just off Stuyvesant Street, which ran from the Bowery Lane into the heart of the property; it and the Bowery are the only colonial farm roads in the area that survived the implementation of the Commissioners’ Plan for the city in 1811.
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