East-West Thoroughfares: Walking 125th Street
March 26, 2013

Walking 125th Street

Finding a great walk in New York City can be as easy as following one street or avenue from one end to the other. These arteries serve to circulate people through the beating heart of the city, and following them on foot gives you a chance to discover a landscape composed of people in motion, landmarks, and all the random, unpredictable things that happen when over eight million people live together. 

We covered another East-West urban hike in our post on Walking on 42nd Street. This week we take you eighty-three blocks north to enjoy the sights and sounds of Harlem . Though its neighborhood starts further down and extends much further north, 125th Street is to Harlem what Broadway is to Manhattan in general.

West Harlem Piers on the Hudson is a good place to begin your walk. (The park is worth exploring, as we discuss in the North Manhattan Waterfront Greenway trip in Outdoors with Kids New York City. If you have a few extra hours, check out the Little Red Light House before you set out.) The walk begins with the surprisingly enchanting view of the steel span supporting the underside of the West Side Highway. We say “surprising” because, let’s face it, how often is an underpass aesthetically appealing? What you get in this case, however, is steel-span majesty that vaguely recalls the interior of a cathedral.

Heading east on 125th Street, you pass a massive construction site that is Columbia University’s Manhattanville Campus work-in-progress, just feature of many that catches the ever-changing nature of this neighborhood. Back in the day—meaning, long before any of us were born—Manhattanville was basically a port town situated high above Manhattan proper. As the city continued to expand north, and highways and railways became a more common method of getting goods into the city, the neighborhood fell into decline and was home to a bus depot, storage buildings, and mechanic shops. Fortunately the area is now undergoing a major revival and we very much recommend—over the course of return visits—watching it happen. Take lots of pictures; by the time your kids are adults, Manhattanville will look completely different!

A few blocks east, at Morningside Avenue, 125th Street becomes Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. A few blocks further along, you will hit an ad-hoc street museum that covers the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Our kids were very impressed and full of questions; no doubt yours will be as well. Beyond that you will pass, on the north side of the street, the Adam Clayton Powell Building which in our view, looks an awful lot like the granite monument to Kwame Nkruhma, the first president of an independent African nation, in Accra, Ghana.

The sidewalks become emptier, as do the storefronts, as you continue further east. This section of Harlem has not yet been reached by the revival underway further west, but all signs indicate it will. A few blocks after you walk under the overpass taking Metro-North trains through the Bronx and beyond, you will pass The Demolition Depot, a consignment shop that recycles amazing pieces of the past.

The walk ends at the Triborough Bridge, from where you can continue on by sidewalk to Randall’s Island Park in the East River.


Getting There and Away

West Harlem Piers is easiest to reach on the 1 train.  The 4, 5, 6 line stops near the Metro North terminal on the eastern edge of this walk. 



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