A rural feel and atmosphere
Because Leake and Watts' founders deliberately sought a 'suburban' setting for the orphanage, the grounds of the institution remained largely open and park-like for the duration of its presence on Morningside Heights. Since the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum also maintained this type of environment, the neighborhood as a whole retained a semi-rural (albeit institutional) character long after much of the surrounding areas were being urbanized. This also allowed the future occupant of the property (the cathedral) to keep a large amount of its grounds open. Only more recently has this dramatically changed, with the sale of land along its periphery to real estate developers in order to raise funds for the operation and maintenance of the cathedral.
While the grounds of the cathedral may not seem as rural or suburban as they did when Leake and Watts occupied the site, they nonetheless help the southeastern edge of Morningside Heights maintain a park-like atmosphere. They capture more than any other spot in the neighborhood what the area looked like in the later 19th century.
(above right) 1870 photograph taken from 110th St. looking north toward the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum.
(right) Main building of the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum, front view, after construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
This 1887 article from the New-York Tribune announced the impending sale of the Leake and Watts Orphan House to the Episcopal Church for the construction of a cathedral on the site. The article emphasizes the picturesque setting of the asylum and the great vistas toward the surrounding geography that it afforded.