Chelsea: From Estate to Developed Town
When one watches Downton Abbey, we are witnessing a thriving villa supporting an estate. The operations grew so large, and for various reasons it became practical to sell off land in order to allow for production. That’s not unlike the development of the area we know today as Chelsea.
Its namesake comes from the Georgian-Style house of the retired British Major Thomas Clarke. He obtained the property as part of Jacob Somerindyck’s farm. Clark named his home after the birthplace of Sir Thomas More, and he passed the manor onto his daughter. She married Benjamin Moore and had a son who lived at the estate.
On the estate was an apple orchard, among other things, but this particular orchard occupied a large area of land that was the perfect size for a theological seminary. A large brownstone building constructed in the Gothic style was erected just south of the manor proper. This formed the basis for the neighborhood.
The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, however, put this development at risk. The plan would go on to form the basis for New York’s grid-like structure, but part of that grid was 9th Avenue. That street was slated to go right through the middle of Moore’s estate. Although he fought bitterly, the document was accepted and New York’s street system has become one of the finest representations of the “grid” principle of civic development.
Soon, plans were in motion to develop stables and commercial buildings that would line the streets of the neighborhood. Until industrialization, the area consisted primarily of single-family homes and rowhouses.