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Chuckatuck native publishes first book

A Chuckatuck native released his first book about the history of his current neighborhood in New York.

Matthew Spady published his first book, “The Neighborhood Manhattan Forgot: Audubon Park and the Families Who Shaped It,” at age 70.

Spady grew up in Chuckatuck, where he went to Chuckatuck Elementary School and later graduated from John Yeates High School. Growing up, his architect father and librarian mother would load Spady and his four siblings in the car and visit the many historical sites around Virginia. As his parents built his love for history, Spady feels like he was almost destined to write a history book.

“They both had a way of bringing history to life by placing family events and anecdotes within the context of larger historical events and trends,” said Spady. “That’s something I worked to do in my book, put seemingly personal decisions in the context of what was happening outside the boundaries of Audubon Park.”

Spady moved to New York to pursue his career as an opera singer in 1987. He eventually took a job as a project manager in market research production. In the 1990s, Spady moved into a new apartment at The Grinnell with his partner, and both were curious how it got the odd name.

“You know the old dictum, write about what you know?” said Spady. “That’s what I did. I wrote about the neighborhood that has been my home for more than 30 years, the streets I have walked, and the buildings that have formed the background to my daily life. What began as a curiosity evolved into a fascination and eventually into a compulsion that became this book.”

With all the research he acquired, Spady decided to make a website about the history of Audubon Park in 2003, when the Internet was starting to become a staple. Through the website, people whose ancestors had lived there reached out to Spady with family stories. Spady then saw photographs, records, and memories to be a primary source in what would evolve into a book. He also started to lead Audubon Park walking tours. This was when he realized there was enough of an interest in this subject to support a book.

“After more than 20 years of research and three years of intense writing, I’m glad to have the book in print so that I can share the biography of my adopted neighborhood,” said Spady. “It’s fun to see it come available to people and to be able to talk about it with them.”

The book published Sept. 1, 2020, by Fordham University Press and is available to purchase from the publisher, local bookstores or online. The 320-page book is filled with stories, photographs, engravings, prints and maps to help the neighborhood’s history come alive.

“First and foremost, I hope readers will enjoy the story,” said Spady. “Beyond that, though, I hope the book inspires people to take another look at their own surroundings and think about the layers of history they’re walking through every day. What was there before? Who lived here, and who made the choices that led to this particular place looking just as it does now?”