“In pre-Colonial days, the Bowery was a country lane, running between the ‘bouweries’ (farms) of the Dutch burghers,” the caption to this 1888 photo reminds us. It’s part of the fascinating photo collection New York Then and Now, published by Dover in 1976.
The 19th century history of the Bowery is well known: it went from premier entertainment district to a skid row of cheap theaters, flophouses, and eponymous bums.
What’s interesting in the above photo of Bowery at Canal Street is that the tracks of the Third Avenue El, constructed in 1878, are on each side of the street.
“In 1915 the structure and stations were rebuilt, with the addition of an express track, and were moved to the center of the street, providing more light for pedestrians and stores,” the book explains.
Here is the same intersection in 1975. No more elevated; no more horses and wagons. Chinatown has edged in, yet most of the tenements that existed 87 years earlier are still there.
And so is the faded ad for “Carriage Materials” on the east side of the street!
The carriage materials ad has been painted over by 2013, and some of the old tenements and the big wooden water tower on the far right are gone too.
The intersection of Bowery and Canal Streets looks like one more bustling traffic-choked corner.