The oldest photo ever taken of New York City

It looks more like a Southern plantation mansion than a house in Manhattan.

But historians believe this daguerreotype shows a private home and country-like white sloping fence on Bloomingdale Road, once a main thoroughfare extending from Broadway on today’s Upper West Side.

The daguerreotype is thought to date to October 1848 or earlier (that’s just a few generations before the Dakota came along!), making it the oldest known photographic image of New York City.

Found in New England, the image was traced to Manhattan with the help of a curiously written note tucked behind the daguerreotype plate, wrote Jennifer 8. Lee in a 2009 New York Times article:

“This view, was taken at too great a distance, & from ground 60 or 70 feet lower than the building; rendering the lower Story of the House, & the front Portico entirely invisible. (the handsomest part of the House.) The main road, passes between the two Post & rail fences. (called, a continuation of Broadway 60 feet wide.) It requires a maganifying glass, to clearly distinguish the Evergreens, within the circular enclosure, taken the last of October, when nearly half of the leaves were off the trees.
—May 1849. L. B.”

It was sold by Sotheby’s for $62,500 in 2009—a fascinating glimpse of a pre-urbanized Upper West Side.

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12 Responses to “The oldest photo ever taken of New York City”

  1. Upstate Ellen Says:

    Fascinating! I’d love to see more daguerreotypes of NYC from this period.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I’m putting together a future post on the daguerreotype craze of the 19th century. New York was full of studios!

  3. Shybiker Says:

    Great photo (and post). It fascinates us partly because when we think NYC, we think urban and this is the opposite of that. History is wonderful.

  4. JJ Says:

    Fantastic !!!

  5. viviane moos Says:

    I love it – grass and trees and meadows where today mostly cement is growing. I am wondering about the connection between Bloomingdale dept store name and location and this address? any suggestions?

  6. chas Says:

    I’d love to go back here even further unfortunately there would be no photos, only artist renderings…still love to see what’s out there going back to Amsterdam days…

  7. Elsewhere | Visualingual Says:

    […] The Oldest Photo Ever Taken of New York City: a daguerreotype of the Upper West Side from 1848. […]

  8. Is this 1840 portrait New York’s oldest photo? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] This 1848 photo of an Upper West Side estate is currently considered New York’s oldest daguerreotype. Dorothy Draper’s image, however, appears to predate it. […]

  9. El Manhattan más antiguo fotografiado | Facevintage Says:

    […] captada con la técnica del daguerrotipo, fue sometida a numerosas investigaciones. Los expertos la dataron en 1848 y, lo más sorprendente, es que captaba una parte de Nueva York que hoy en día sería […]

  10. The oldest street scene photos of New York City | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] because the street at the time was rural farmland, the third daguerreotype is an 1839 image of a lovely house and white fence on Bloomingdale Road, once a part of today’s Upper West […]

  11. Elsewhere | Department of Everyday Visualingual Says:

    […] The Oldest Photo Ever Taken of New York City: a daguerreotype of the Upper West Side from 1848. […]

  12. A travel writer under the spell of 1820s New York | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] freestone,” streets were well paved, everyone had plenty of ice to cool their food, and the villas in Bloomingdale, the West Side village far from the actual city, were […]

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