Chelsea is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City to keep its original name. Back in 1750, an entrepreneurial Englishman named Thomas Clarke bought a “ten-square-block span” of land near the water in New York, and named the estate ‘Chelsea’ “after a soldier’s home near London” (Williams). The original Chelsea stretched between 8th and 10th Avenues, and 19th and 24th Streets (Williams). Although Clarke bought the initial chunk of land and entitled it Chelsea, he is not said to have been the official founder; his grandson, Clement Clarke Moore – the writer of The Night Before Christmas – who divided the original estate in the 1830s is considered to be instead. After this division, Chelsea really began to develop and grow.
In 1884, the famous Hotel Chelsea – “a place built beautifully, designed to bridge class divisions and to value the arts” – opened on 23rd Street in the area, which was then New York City’s theatre district (Kellogg). This is when Chelsea’s artistic nature began, which continues to this day. The modern neighborhood is known for its numerous galleries, museums, and the High Line – a former railroad transformed into an elevated, mile-long, public park featuring many works of art. Chelsea has expanded to five or six times its original size over approximately a 200-year span and has been up-scaled by waves of gentrification.
Today, Chelsea is characterized as one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in New York City, but it has not always been that way. An example is how it started as an estate of 10 blocks, and now the total area of the neighborhood is approximated as 0.774 square miles – depending on which borders one uses. Like most New York City neighborhoods, Chelsea has transformed throughout the years depending on those residing in its townhouses and apartment buildings. When Clement Clarke Moore was the property owner of much of Chelsea, the laying of the Hudson River Railroad tracks in 1847 that ran along Tenth Avenue greatly impacted the neighborhood. The neighborhood became filled with warehouses, lumberyards, and industry. Then, in 1869 the world’s first elevated train was erected, running from Battery Park, up 9th Avenue (recently been transformed into the High Line). For much of the next hundred years – from 1869 to 1969 – Chelsea would be home to industrialization and affordable housing. After the Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn raid of 1969, Chelsea would greatly change. Gay riots began throughout New York City, and “after finding few places affordable in Greenwich Village, gays and lesbians, were more than welcomed in Chelsea” (Salkaln). This was one of the events that began the neighborhood’s gentrification.
Chelsea, in its 200-year history, has gone through many changes. Industrialization and gentrification have morphed Chelsea into the up-scale, artsy neighborhood New Yorkers know it to be today.