By the time Dutch East India Company Director, Peter Stuyvesant arrived as governor in 1647, the custom of taking tea by the burghers of New Amsterdam proved equal to that of their native Holland. The tea board, tea table, teapots, sugar bowl, silver spoons, and strainer were the pride of the Dutch household in the New World.
The early residents of Manhattan realized their tea was only as good as the water in which it was steeped. The water from dug wells in the lower part of Manhattan served well enough for ordinary domestic purpose but was brackish and disagreeable to taste.
Sometime during the first half of the eighteenth century, a spring of fresh water between Baxter and Mulberry streets began to attract popular attention. The water was so popular for the making of tea that it was known as the Tea Water Pump. It became a regular landmark and is shown on maps and referenced in real estate deeds of the time. Other tea water pumps were located on Chatham Street and at Knapp’s spring near Tenth Avenue and Fourteenth Street.
The first mention of the Tea Water Spring appeared in the diary of Professor Kalm, a learned and observant man who visited the City in 1748. He wrote, “There is no good water to be met within the town itself; but at a little distance there is a large spring of good water, which the inhabitants take for their tea and for the use of the kitchen.”
Shortly before the Revolution, the Tea Water Spring and its vicinity were made into a fashionable resort. A high pump with a prodigiously long handle was erected over the spring, and the grounds around it were laid out in ornamental fashion. The popular retreat became known as Tea Water Pump Garden.
The tea water from this source was so popular that it was barreled and delivered around town in carts. The distributors of this water were called “tea watermen.” They would ply the streets and cry out “Tea water! Tea water! Come out and get your tea water!” These door-to-door sales carts became so numerous that they became an impediment to traffic until, on June 16, 1757, the Common Council passed “A Law for the Regulating of Tea Water Men in the City of New York.”
By 1797, the giant pump projecting over the sidewalk and into the street, along with the continuous queue of horse-drawn carts, caused such congestion that a petition for the abatement of the nuisance was present to the City Council.
Patrons of Tea gardens in early Manhattan emulated these Georgian ladies who frequented similar establishments in London.
Eighteenth-century New York boasted two hundred tea establishments. Gardens named Ranelagh and Vauxhall, after their London counterparts, sprang up around the Lower East Side and the Bowery. The first Vauxhall garden—there were three by this name—was on Greenwich Street between Warren and Chambers streets. It fronted on the North River, affording a beautiful view up the Hudson.
The Ranelagh, which lasted for twenty years, was on Broadway between Duane and Worth streets on the site where, later, the New York Hospital was later erected. In 1765, advertisements boasted great displays of fireworks and twice-weekly band concerts at both locations.
The gardens were “for breakfasting as well as the evening entertainment of ladies and gentlemen.” Tea, coffee, and hot rolls could be had in the pleasure gardens at any hour of the day, and a commodious hall was erected in the Vauxhall garden for dancing. The second Vauxhall opened in 1798 near the intersection of the Mulberry and Grand streets. The third, and final, Vauxhall opened in 1803 on Bowery Road near Astor Place.
Read more about America’s tea history in the upcoming edition of A Social History of Tea, by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson of Benjamin Press.