In 1939, composer Billy Strayhorn created an instrumental piece for the Duke Ellington band that would become emblematic of New York City’s music history. “Take the A-Train,” is considered one of the most notable Duke Ellington hits, and there is much to be said for the subway line which inspired the song.
Opened in 1932, the A-train is the longest route in the New York City Subway System. At a whopping 31 miles, the A-train stretches all the way from Inwood in northern Manhattan to the Rockaways and Richmond Hill in southeastern Queens. Unlike other lines in the system, the A-train has four separate termini, with each acting as the gateway to four distinct neighborhoods.
Inwood – 207th Street, Manhattan
At its northernmost terminus, the A-train begins the 31-mile journey at the very tip of Manhattan in the neighborhood of Inwood. Bordered by the Harlem River to the north, the Bronx to the east, the Hudson River to the west, and Fort George to the south, Inwood is a neighborhood that sits high above all of Manhattan, not far from the island’s highest terrestrial point in Bennett Park.
The area itself is home to the urban forest that is Inwood Hill Park, perched high above the Hudson River shoreline. Less than a five-minute walk from the 207th Street Station, the park contains the last natural forest on Manhattan Island, serving as a portal to a time when the borough was still home to the Lenape people (whose caves you can still see in the park). If you stroll the paths of the park up toward the Inwood Hill lookout, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of both the George Washington Bridge and Fort Lee to the south. Look across the Hudson River toward New Jersey for a stunning view of the vast swath of heavily forested cliffside land known as the Palisades.
As you hike back down toward Broadway, you will see the Shorakkopoch Rock, where Peter Minuit of the Dutch East India Company supposedly bought the island of Manhattan for $24. Arriving back on Broadway, the main thoroughfare of the neighborhood you come across a variety of small businesses and empanada stands where merchants squeeze fresh juice.
Like nearby Washington Heights, Inwood is one of the many epicenters for Latin American culture in New York City. From the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, a variety of nationalities are represented here, their flags flying high outside apartment windows. Many Latin American cuisines can be found here: Cachapas y Mas, a Venezuelan restaurant devoted to serving street food favorites, is just one of the many cultural establishments in this small nook in Northern Manhattan. Others include the newly opened Mexican eatery Serrano Salsa and Dyckman Express, a hotspot for Dominican street food.
At the intersection of 204th Street and Broadway sits the Dyckman Farmhouse, the oldest remaining house on Manhattan island. Once belonging to the Dyckman farming clan, the home was originally located around 210th Street. With the onset of the Revolutionary War, the family fled Manhattan for Upstate New York, and the home and orchards were burned down in the ensuing conflict. It was only after the war that they returned to construct the current dwelling at 204th Street, recultivating the surrounding land to farm crops as well as apple and cherry trees. Today, the house, much like King Manor in Jamaica, Queens serves as both a museum and part-time art gallery. You can learn more about the Dyckman family, including how they freed their servants, on one of their many tours.
Just north of the Dyckman estate on Broadway is a smaller, more hidden landmark of another notable Inwood family. The Seaman-Drake Arch is the only remaining portion of what was once the sprawling grounds of the Seaman-Drake Estate once located on the side of Inwood Hill. The central mansion, constructed in 1855, was given the nickname “Mount Olympus” by its owners John and Ann Seaman, but after a series of financial misdeeds, the Seaman family left the mansion.
The majority of the estate was demolished in 1938 and replaced with a five-story apartment building known as Park Terrace Gardens. The arch continued to stand undisturbed along Broadway until 1970 when a fire destroyed the interior components along with the roof. As of 2021, the arch is a graffiti-covered reminder of the once palatial complex.
Looking north, Broadway continues across the Harlem River into the Bronx, eventually merging with Route 9. To get to the opposite end of the A-train, however, you have to turn south and sit on the A-train for nearly two-and-a-half hours to get to the sandy white beaches of the Rockaway Peninsula.