Saturday, December 16, 2023

Schedler’s High Bridge Hotel

New York City, 

Schedler’s High Bridge Hotel was located in Washington Heights, the highest and northernmost part of Manhattan. The hotel was so named due its proximity to the bridge that spanned the Harlem River as part of the Croton Aqueduct.1 After the walkway atop High Bridge was completed in 1864, the 
sparsely-populated area became an enjoyable place to take a stroll on a pleasant afternoon or evening. Two menus from Schedler’s in 1881 provide a rare glimpse of the social activity in this upper-class enclave dotted with luxurious mansions and single-family homes. 

Material evidence of the hotel is scarce. The name of its proprietor, Charles Schedler, appears on this business card from Borden & Cain, a printer that specialized in menus. Schedler purchased menus on a weekly basis, either for the hotel or an “eating house” he maintained at 24 Broad Street in lower Manhattan.  

Borden & Cain also printed menus for special occasions, as shown by the two examples that follow. The first one comes from a dinner on Washington’s Birthday, recalling that it was from these heights, 268 feet above the sea, that George Washington defended the city during the Revolutionary War. The gilt-edged card features the distinctive typefaces and quirky ornaments of the so-called “artistic style” then in vogue.

The menu below comes from a dinner on Independence Day in 1881 held by the Washington Heights Century Club, once referred to as the “epicurean Century Club” by the New York Times. Judging from the bill of fare, the members exhibited both a discerning and adventurous palate. In addition to poached sheepshead with béarnaise sauce and fillet of beef à la Baden-Baden, perhaps a specialty of the German-born proprietor, the bill of fare contains an unusual and unappetizing dish—Long Island owl. At the time, there was an interest on the part of some naturalists and gourmets to try species not normally consumed.2 The Ichthyophagous Club in New York was then active, dining once a year on unwanted types of seafood. 

By 1881, Charles Schedler had died and the hotel was being operated by his wife, Bertha.3 The hotel 
presumably changed hands in about 1885 and was renamed Schwartz’s High Bridge Hotel. In the early twentieth century, the first subway line was extended to Washington Heights, transforming the neighborhood into a middle-class community populated by a succession of diverse immigrant groups. The walkway on High Bridge reopened in 2015 after a 40-year hiatus and is now used by pedestrians and bicyclists from Manhattan and the Bronx, much like the High Line on the West Side.

1. Schedler’s High Bridge Hotel was located at 173rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue (10th Avenue), near the 200-foot water tower that still stands on a bluff above the High Bridge and Harlem River.
2. While at Cambridge, Charles Darwin presided over the Glutton Club that sought out “strange flesh” for the purpose of consuming “the birds and beasts which were before unknown to human palate.” The epicurean society was reportedly a success until a nasty brown owl was served for supper.
3. Born in Germany in 1837, Charles Schedler emigrated in 1854 to the United States where he became a well-known caterer and hotel keeper. — Obituary, New York Clipper, 17 August 1878.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating! Love hearing about those clubs too!

Anonymous said...

Another great piece based on gastronomic ephemera and well done. Long Island owl? Ugh!

Jan Whitaker said...

No owl, no sheeps head for me!

Tak for mad said...

Sheepshead is a kind of fish; its teeth, especially the upper ones, are very similar to our own. I assume it was served as an "adventurous" choice, like the owl. Creepy.