The West Village is one of New York City’s most recognizable and dynamic neighborhoods. Located within Greenwich Village, the West Village typically extends from Christopher Street up to West 14th Street. Known for its decades-old brownstones, narrow but quaint streets, and historic properties that redefined the artist and LGBTQ+ community of New York and abroad. With an odd street grid and its historically bohemian culture, the West Village has plenty of secrets to uncover. Here is part one of the top 20 secrets of the West Village!
1. The West Side Cowboys Patrolled 10th Avenue
Tenth and Eleventh Avenues that extended throughout the West Village were known as Death Avenue in the 19th century for good reason. By the 1840s, the area featured three-story Greek Revival rowhouses, the homes of merchants who would open shops on the ground floor. By mid-century, the Hudson River Rail Road constructed freight train tracks up 10th Avenue at street level with no barriers to protect pedestrians and cars from the trains. It was estimated well over 500 people died and nearly 1,600 were injured on Death Avenue from around 1850 to 1910.
In an attempt to solve this growing problem, a city ordinance created the West Side Cowboys who rode alongside the train tracks waving a red flag or red lantern to warn drivers and pedestrians of oncoming trains. Until 1941, these cowboys would ride down 10th Avenue escorting freight cars. Even though the trains often were as slow as six miles per hour, injuries still continued, making it necessary for the cowboys to continue working to save pedestrians. The last stretch of tracks was removed in 1941 after about a decade of removal efforts.