Archive for the ‘Maps’ Category

How Five Points became the city’s worst slum

November 17, 2014

Filling in Collect Pond, once at today’s Centre Street behind City Hall, promised to solve two problems in late 18th century New York.

Fivepoints1827

First, it would do away with the foul body of water that in more bucolic times was used for drinking but in the 1700s had been given over to tanneries, slaughterhouses, and other manufacturers who polluted it (below, in a 1776 British map).

Fivepointscollectpond1776Also, housing could be built on the new land, easing congestion in the crowded, growing young city.

By 1813, the pond was covered over, and development began, stated Tyler Anbinder in his book Five Points.

“Landowners generally filled their lots with two-and-a-half story wooden buildings, the half story an attic with low ceilings and dormer windows suitable for small workshops,” wrote Anbinder.

Fivepoints1851mapResidents who moved in were artisans, bakers, carpenters, and masons, along with merchants, shopkeepers, and businessmen.

Through the 1820s, it was more or less a middle- and working-class area. By the 1830s, it was the city’s center for poverty, vice, gangs, and disease. So what happened?

Part of it had to do with the declining wages of artisans, who were increasingly replaced by mass production, wrote Anbinder.

Also, immigration surged, housing prices rose, and landlords began subdividing buildings meant for one family into quarters for several—introducing a new word to the city, the “tenant house,” soon shortened to tenement.

Fivepoints1852

The land under the houses was a problem as well. Collect Pond no longer existed, but the “ground remained damp and unsettled, causing houses to shift and tilt dramatically just a few years after construction,” wrote Anbinder.

Fivepoints1873“Because so many diseases of the period were attributed to dampness and ‘vapours,’ few New Yorkers wanted to live in such a locale.”

Soon prostitution and rum shops arrived, followed by gang-related crime. Anyone who could move out of what was once called the Collect neighborhood did, and those who remained lived in the newly christened Five Points, a wretched slum that persisted through most of the 19th century.

[Top: Five Points in 1827, by George Catlin; third image: Five Points map in 1851; fourth image: Five Points house in 1852; residents of Five Points illustration in 1873]

Sailing up New Amsterdam’s Broad Street Canal

October 18, 2014

It’s hardly surprising that when the Dutch arrived at the tip of Manhattan in the 17th century, they developed New Amsterdam so it looked a lot like, well, old Amsterdam back in Holland.

Newamsterdam1664

They dug dikes. They built windmills. They reportedly even planted tulips. And they created a canal out of a tiny inlet that ran from the East River, naming it Heere Gracht, after a much grander canal in Amsterdam.

Broadstreetcanalsketchnypl“In the twenty-two acre triangle bounded by the wall and the rivers, the Dutch set to work digging their familiar ditches,” wrote Gerard T. Koeppel in Water for Gotham.

“They transformed a deep, natural inlet on the east side of town into a large, timber-lined canal called the Heere Gracht (now Broad Street).

“Crossed by three bridges, the Ditch extended nearly to the wall, allowing unmasted boats to float at high tide ‘almost through ye towne.’”

Broadstreetcanalsketch2nyplIf the idea of a canal sounds lovely, it supposedly didn’t smell that way.

“At high tide small boats could carry goods three blocks into the heart of the city; at low tide, it was a foul-smelling open sewer,” wrote Eric Homberger in his Historic Atlas of New York City.

Still, it apparently was something of a focal point in town. “Lining the Heere Gracht were the homes of burghers and several taverns and breweries,” stated Homberger.

Newamsterdammap1600s

The Heere Gracht didn’t last much longer than New Amsterdam itself. Once the British took over, they filled it in, a good one hundred years before the Revolutionary War.

Thanks to its previous incarnation as a canal, Broad Street today remains one of the widest streets in Lower Manhattan.

A long-gone Chelsea alley called Franklin Terrace

September 8, 2014

West26thstreetsignWhile flipping through a book of New York City street maps from 1996, I noticed a section of West 26th Street off Ninth Avenue marked as “Franklin Terrace.”

It’s nowhere near Franklin Street in Tribeca. And it doesn’t seem related to nearby London Terrace, developed in 1845 as a residential stretch on Ninth Avenue at 23rd Street and now the name of the famous apartment complex on the same site.

FranklinterracemapFranklin Terrace was new to me. But a little research revealed that old New York did have a tiny courtyard off the south side of West 26th Street with this name.

“Here is a whole community of five or six houses with a little yard and a fence around it, all its own, in one of the most congested sections of the city, and the best part of it all is that a whole house of eight or nine rooms may be had for $30 t o $35 a month!” states a 1915 article in the New York Press.

Franklinterraceheadline

The piece puts Franklin Terrace at number 364 West 26th Street, and describes it as a “blind street.”

Franklinterracenyt1912

“An ordinary gateway with a small iron gate leads to it. There is a paved yard with a row of old-time dwellings one one side and a couple of old-time trees that persist in bloom” (below left).

Franklinterracemcny1900Franklin Terrace dates to the 19th century, as the article makes note of the lack of “modern” conveniences. “Gas and hot and cold water, perhaps, but no electric lights, steam heat, or furnace,” the writer adds.

When did it fade into history? It’s unclear.

A 1925 New York Times short mentions that the houses here were being redeveloped and modernized “with  exteriors of old English type architecture with court and gardens (below right).”

Franklinterracenypl

Within four decades, Franklin Terrace was gone. Since 1962, the 10-building Penn South cooperative, from 23rd to 28th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, with its lawns and playground, has occupied the site.

Why a book of tourist street maps from 1996 lists long-demapped Franklin Terrace is a mystery.

[Third image: New York Press article, 1915; fourth image: New York Times, 1912; fifth image: MCNY Collections Portal; sixth image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

A map of the trendy 1983 East Village art scene

July 21, 2014

“East Village galleries are multiplying like white rats,” wrote Carlo McCormick in the East Village Eye in October 1983.

Artsceneheadlineeastvillageeye

“What was once a small handful of peculiarly out-of-place storefronts that even this rag ignored is now an ever-increasing network of more credible and slicker galleries being written about by the likes of the Voice, the N. Y. Times, Art News, Arts Magazine, and Art in America plus a host of Japanese and European magazines that always seem to know what’s going on here before we do.”

Eastvillageeye1983artmap

While the 1980s East Village art scene went bust before it could live up to the promise laid out in the article, this accompanying map gives a small sense of the neighborhood 31 years ago.

Another East Village Eye guide from 1985 runs down the club scene and bars where you’d be drinking if you lived there in the Reagan era.

Hmm, how many of these addresses are now fro-yo shops or bank branches?

A colonial-era plan to build “Delancey’s Square”

June 5, 2014

DelanceysignBrowsing old maps can turn up some strange discoveries.

Take the map below, for example. Published by James Hinton, it shows the city streets and family estates circa 1776.

There’s a road leading to “Kepp’s Bay,” ship yards along today’s South Street, Crown Point, which is today’s Corlear’s Hook, and a square plot called Delaney’s New Square.

Delaney’s New Square—what was that?

In the growing city, it was supposed to be the (apparently misspelled) center of the new street grid developed on the Delancey estate, about 300 acres east of the Bowery on today’s Lower East Side.

Delaneysnewsquare

The powerful Delancey family, descendents of French Huguenots, “began the layout of streets in the southwestern part of their property in the 1760s,” reports oldstreets.com.

“Their plan included a spacious square, called Delancey Square on the Ratzer map (right, at the bottom left), bounded by the present Eldridge, Essex, Hester and Broome Streets.”

Delaneysquareratzermap

Too bad the Revolutionary War got in the way. The Delanceys were loyalists, and after the war were exiled and had their property taken.

“In subdividing the land for sale, the State’s Commissioners of Forfeiture continued the grid established by the Delanceys but eliminated the grand square,” states oldstreets.com.

Interestingly, a century later, the location of this “spacious” square was one of the most crowded places on earth!

A peek into a New York boyhood in the 1850s

May 19, 2014

Letterstophilcover1982“It seems hard to believe that Twenty-third Street—which is the first street in the city of which I remember anything, could have changed in so short a time,” wrote Edward Eugene “Gene” Schermerhorn in an 1886 letter to his young nephew, Phil.

“The rural scenes, the open spaces, have vanished; and the small and quiet residences, many of them built entirely of wood, have given place to huge piles of brick and stone, and to iron and plate-glass fronts of the stores which now line the street.”

It was the first of 10 letters Gene would address to his nephew, recently collected in a thin, enchanting volume, Letters to Phil, published by New York Bound in 1982.

Each chronicles his memories between 1848 and 1856 of a small-scale New York that had yet to experience the enormous growth that made it an international capital by the 1880s.

NYC1842mapGene’s city had a population of about 500,000 and a northern boundary barely exceeding 14th Street. A descendent of a prosperous family that came to Manhattan in the 17th century, he shows what it was like to be a curious, privileged boy before the Civil War.

“Twenty-third Street and in fact all the streets in the neighborhood were unpaved,” he wrote. “There was plenty of room, plenty of dirt (clean dirt), and plenty of boys; what more could be desired!”

Gene writes of the games he and his friends played: marbles, “base ball,” and kite-flying. The also chased the pigs that ran around Sixth Avenue.

His Manhattan was a rural paradise. “Up town at this time was almost inaccessible. Of course there was no Central Park. Third Avenue was open to Harlem passing through Yorkville which was quite a large village  about 86th Street. . . .”

Harlemlane

Chelsea was located to the west of Gene’s home; Murray Hill, to the east. “Eighth Avenue was open to Harlem, and in connection with the Harlem Lane (now St. Nicholas Ave.) was the great road for fast driving.”

Madisoncottage2The business district, at City Hall, contained “none of those magnificent buildings now so common in the lower part of the city. A building of any kind six stories high was very rare.”

Downtown had all the theaters, as well as Barnum’s Museum. “It was a delight to go there on Saturday afternoons.”

The rough side of town was at Broadway and Houston Street, the site of St. Thomas’ church. “[Sic] Opposite to it was a row of small two-storied wooden houses; many of them low grog shops—a very bad neighborhood.”

Gene and his brother skated on ponds at 32nd and Broadway and Sixth Avenue and 57th. They headed over to Park Avenue south of 42nd Street on Saturdays and “played among the rocks and watch[ed] the trains.”

“Sometimes we would walk in the region which is now the Central Park. It was a very rough and rocky place, with plenty of woods and scattered trees and very few houses except ‘Squatters’ shanties.”

New York’s industry centered around transportation. The East River housed “Dry Docks” and shipyards. “On the Bowery at 6th Street was the ‘Hay Scale’ where the loads of hay brought in on that side of the city were weighed.

Gothaminn1870

“Facing this was the ‘Gotham Inn,’ quite a noted sporting tavern. On the corner of 3rd Avenue and 13th Street stood an old pear tree, which was planted on Gov. Stuyvesant’s farm in 1647.”

Gene gives a wonderful account of a free-range boyhood in a slower-paced city. But what he did with his life isn’t clear. He apparently never married; he may have lived a life of leisure. He died in 1922.

His nephew Phil is also a mystery. His 1952 obituary in The New York Times, however, says he lived on East 78th Street, was survived by a wife, and became a painter.

[Map of NYC in 1842; images from the NYPL Digital Gallery]

An incredible map of 1930s Greenwich Village

May 12, 2014

Greenwich Village Stories is a lovely new book from the folks at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

It’s filled with reminiscences from dozens of former and current residents—from artists to activists to politicians—who give their take on the beauty and spirit of the neighborhood.

Tonysargmap1934

It’s an evocative read that also captures how much the Village has changed over the years. Driving that point home is a wonderful map of Greenwich Village circa 1934 by puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg that has been reproduced in the book.

While the street grid is the same, the landmarks Sarg depicts with such affection don’t always exist anymore. Jefferson Market prison, the Washington Square Bookshop, the Village Barn, Luchow’s, and Wanamaker’s department store are all long gone.

Various hotels marked on the map are now apartment houses: the Albert, the Brevoort, the Lafayette. New York University, interestingly, barely gets a mention—the main campus in the 1930s was in the Bronx.

The East Village is a crowded necropolis

March 10, 2014

I don’t know how many New Yorkers are officially buried inside the borders of the East Village.

Newyorkmarblecemeterysign2

But considering that the neighborhood has three burial grounds dating back to the late 18th century—and had at least one more on 11th Street, now the site of apartments—it appears to be a part of the city that officially hosts more than its share of dead.

NewyorkcitymarblecemeteryThe New York Marble Cemetery, founded in 1831 as the final resting place for members of the city’s oldest and most distinguished families.

The narrow entrance is on Second Avenue between Second and Third Streets, and along the walls are vaults containing Varicks, Motts, Pecks, and Deys.

The last of the 2,080 internments took place in 1937, though most vaults date from 1830 to 1870.

Around the corner on Second Street is the similarly named New York City Marble Cemetery, home to 258 vaults housing Roosevelts, Willets, Blackwells (at right), Kips, and the wonderfully named merchant Preserved Fish.

This graveyard, also once set amid undeveloped land, filled up fast; by 1835, it reached its limits.

At the northern end of the neighborhood is the cemetery ground at St. Mark’s Church, at Second Avenue and 11th Street.

Stmarkschurchyardvaults

The remains of Peter Stuyvesant, who died in 1672, are contained here. Walk along the brick paths, and you’ll see that the churchyard features dozens of marble markers noting the vaults of ex-mayor Philip Hone and ex-governor Daniel Tompkins, among others.

11thstreetcemeterySt. Mark’s Church also had another graveyard across Second Avenue on 11th Street dating to 1803, according to the New York Cemetery Project website (seen here on an old city map).

“An unknown number of individuals were buried at St. Mark’s Cemetery until burials there were prohibited in 1851,”  the website states.

“The remains from this graveyard were removed to Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn in 1864 and residences were built on the site.”

Whoever was once interred here now resides in the necropolis that is Brooklyn.

Whatever happened to lovely Livingston Street?

December 16, 2013

LivingstonplacemapBrooklyn Heights still has its Livingston Street, named after the old New York family that counts 19th century state governor Hamilton Fish as a descendent.

But what about Manhattan’s Livingston Place—a pretty little London-esque lane (seen here on a midcentury map) which served as a bookend for the east side of Stuyvesant Square since 1836?

Livingstonplace1939nyplLovely Livingston Place lost its original moniker in the 1950s, when the city decided to rename the road, which stretched two narrow blocks from 15th to 17th Streets alongside Beth Israel Hospital.

The new name: Perlman Place. Nathan D. Perlman was a judge as well as vice-president of Beth Israel who died in 1952.

Plans to honor Perlman by putting his name on this picturesque lane (here in the 1930s) was not universally well received.

“In a city as rich with history as New York street names should not be changed without overwhelmingly good reason, long consideration, and ample public debate,” The New York Times weighed in in 1954. “Such changes are confusing to the public, they make maps obsolete, they break the traditions of the past.”

Livingstonplace2013

The City Council approved the name change anyway—and Manhattan lost a slender connection to its colonial beginnings.

[Middle photo: NYPL Digital Collection]

Is this the oldest historic sign in Chelsea?

September 16, 2013

The Landmarks Preservation Commission does a nice job of posting red, black, and white street signs in historic neighborhoods, detailing the backstory of the area and providing a map of street boundaries.

But I’ve never seen one like this, in blue and yellow with super 1970s typeface.

Chelseahistoricdistrictsign

It’s on West 20th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, and a small line at the bottom says “copyright 1970″—the same year Chelsea earned historic district status.

Could an old-school version of today’s historic district sign really survive for 43 years on a Chelsea street…marred only by a few stickers and some light graffiti?


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