In 1750, Captain Thomas Clarke purchased land for an estate, which he named Chelsea, after the English village of the same name, now a part of London. In 1813, the property was deeded to Clarke's grandson, the prominent poet, clergyman and scholar Clement Clarke Moore, best known for his poem “The Night before Christmas.” Moore initially opposed the Commissioner's Plan of 1807-11, which called for the imposition of a street grid that would cut through his estate. But he became a developer when his efforts were unsuccessful. Through the use of restrictive covenants, Moore controlled development where he could by including green spaces in front of houses, and restricting the construction of factories and stables.
The district includes all of the land from Moore's former estate, including his interpretation of a residential square, which features the General Theological Seminary at its center. The seminary was built between 1825-1902; today it occupies the full city block bounded by Ninth and Tenth Avenues and West 20th and 21st Streets. Many of the residential houses erected in Moore's time and surrounding the square are well preserved; Cushman Row at 406-418 West 20th Street is one of the best examples of Greek Revival townhouses in New York.
The area has other literary connections of note; author Jack Kerouac apparently wrote On the Road in 1951 at 454 West 20th Street , while LeRoi Jones wrote Cuba Libre at the Donac, an apartment building at 402 West 20th Street with an uncommon curved facade. ©2014