In August 1776 George Washington decided to station one half of his Continental Army on Manhattan, with many troops in the Yorkville area in defensive positions along the East River to protect the other half of his army if they were to retreat from Brooklyn, and to inflict damage on invading land and sea forces. Following the August 27 Battle of Long Island defeat, the Continentals implemented an orderly pivoting retreat in the Yorkville area, leading the enemy to entice the Continentals to fight by piping "Fly Away", about a fox running away from hounds. The Continentals' disciplined northerly retreat created the successful Battle of Harlem Heights in September of 1776.
17th and 18th centuries
The Upper East Side of Manhattan was a farmland and market garden district in 1815. The Boston Post Road traversed the Upper East Side, locally called the Eastern Post Road; milepost 6 was near the northeast corner of Third Avenue and 81st Street. From 1833 to 1837 the New York and Harlem Railroad, one of the earliest railway systems in America, was extended through the Upper East Side along Fourth Avenue. A hamlet grew near the 86th Street station, becoming the Yorkville neighborhood as gradual yet steady commercial development occurred. The current street grid was laid-out between 1839 and 1844 as part of the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, so the Eastern Post Road was abandoned. The community was referred to as Yorkville before 1867.
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Yorkville was a middle- to working-class neighborhood, inhabited by many people of Czech, Slovak, Irish, Polish, German, Hungarian and Lebanese descent. The neighborhood became more affluent.
Many of Yorkville's original German residents moved to Yorkville and other neighborhoods from "Kleindeutschland" (Little Germany) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after the General Slocum disaster on June 15, 1904. The ship caught fire in the East River just off the shores of Yorkville. Most of the passengers on the ship were German.
Yorkville became the melting pot of populations arriving from various regions of the Prussian dominated German Empire and its colonies, where many cultures spoke German. In the 1930s, the neighborhood was the home base of Fritz Kuhn'sGerman American Bund, the most notorious pro-Nazi group in 1930s America. Yorkville was a haven for refugees from fascist Germany in the 1940s, and from refugees from communist regimes in the 1950s and 1960s. The neighborhood is the site of the annual Steuben Parade, a large German-American celebration.
^Strausbaugh, John (September 14, 2007). "Paths of Resistance in the East Village". The New York Times. Retrieved December 29, 2007. "On June 15, 1904, about 1,200 people from St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (323 Sixth Street, between First and Second Avenues, the site of the Community Synagogue since 1940) died when the steamship the General Slocum, taking them on a day trip up the East River, burned. It was the deadliest disaster in the city before Sept. 11, 2001. It traumatized the community and hastened residents’ flight to uptown areas like Yorkville."
^Pollak, Michael. "F. Y. I.", The New York Times, August 7, 2005. Accessed October 16, 2007. "In 1928, Sutton Place from 59th to 60th Street, and Avenue A north of 60th, were renamed York Avenue in honor of Sgt. Alvin C. York (1887-1964), a World War I hero from Tennessee and a recipient of the Medal of Honor."