The very humble beginnings of Union Square

Behold the sparse, lonely junction of Broadway and the Bowery at 14th Street, as well as the patch of green in the foreground that marks the southern end of today’s Union Square.

This is how the square appeared to New Yorkers who ventured up this far from the center of the city in 1828—no big box stores, no M14 bus, no NYU students milling around.


Amazing, right? Artist Albertis Del Orient Browere painted it from memory in 1885, according to Painting the Town, a book produced by the Museum of the City of New York.

In 1828, Union Square was called Union Place. “The building boom that would bring fine residences, elegant hotels, exclusive boarding schools, and subsequently, theaters and commercial enterprises to the square lay twenty years in the future,” the book says.

“Union Place, first called the Forks to describe the junction of the Bowery, Broadway, and University Place at 14th Street, originated as a burial ground for indigent people. As the city continued to grow, the cemetery was transformed into a park, making Union Square a desirable location for those wealthy New Yorkers who constituted the vanguard of the northward migration.”

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

18 Responses to “The very humble beginnings of Union Square”

  1. Jack Intrator Says:

    The skyline of Manhattan at that time was also very humble, consisting solely of church steeples. Enlarge the image by clicking on it and you will see the skyscrapers of the 1820s.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I love how you put that, the skyscrapers of the 1820s.

  3. Andra Watkins Says:

    It’s always fascinating to read about the beginnings of a place. I’ve stumbled through there numerous times and always wondered what it was before it was.

  4. quotidianhudsonriver Says:

    Reblogged this on The Quotidian Hudson and commented:
    I ahve shown a lot of views of Union Square. Here is an excellent post about its begining.

  5. 200 Years Ago, NYC’s Union Square Was A Burial Ground For Indigents | TechKudos Says:

    […] The painting below depicts Union Square in 1828, according to the book Painting the Town by The Museum of the City of New York (via Ephemeral New York). […]

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    thanks QHR!

  7. Socrates & Associates | NYC’s Union Square in 1828 Says:

    […] Well, according to the the book Painting the Town by The Museum of the City of New York (via Ephemeral New York), this scene painted from memory by Albertis Del Orient Browere in 1885 depicts what Union Square […]

  8. NYC’s Union Square in 1828 | Timeless Visions Says:

    […] Well, according to the the book Painting the Town by The Museum of the City of New York (via Ephemeral New York), this scene painted from memory by Albertis Del Orient Browere in 1885 depicts what Union Square […]

  9. BabyDave Says:

    Jack Intrator — thanks for the tip!

  10. Laura4NYC Says:

    This might come out of the blue, Ephemeral New York, but do you know where to get some great vintage post cards of the Big Apple in New York?

  11. How little Union Square has changed since 1910 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Union Square changed a lot in its first century of existence, as this post reveals. […]

  12. A little girl’s diary sheds light on the 1849 city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] And she loves playtime. “I roll my hoop and jump the rope in the afternoon, sometimes in the Parade Ground on Washington Square, and sometimes in Union Square.” […]

  13. A bird’s eye view from Union Square in 1849 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] The level of detail is amazing and inspiring. And look at how built up New York is compared to this same view in 1828. […]

  14. trilby1895 Says:

    While I am probably alone in preferring the Union Square Park area of today with it’s array of distinctive Gilded Age buildin
    gs to the rural scene that could be somewhere in the anonymous Midwest, look at the north end of the Park, specifically, 33 East 17th Street. Childe Hassam, in his painting “Rainy Late Afternoon, Union Square” – visible in the background is what is currently a Barnes & Noble bookstore with the same green painted wooded trim as in the painting. Back when Hassam painted this scene, the building, constructed in 1881 and named “The Century” was home to the literary journal, “Century Magazine”. Sometimes I stand approximately where the woman in the painting is standing and imagine, instead of blaring traffic, I am listening to the clop of horses hooves as they pull carriages, am back in the day. I wish…
    I confess to partially plagerizing myself in this piece (something I’d written a few years ago relating specifically to the Hassam painting). I am including a link to further information germane to this piece:

  15. The last daughter to live in a 14th Street estate | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] end of the 18th century, this really was farmland. The city street grid had yet to be established. Union Square, at the “union” of Broadway and the Bowery, wouldn’t officially be established until […]

  16. A Gilded Age oddball and his mansion menagerie | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was all beyond the city limits at the time, and neither Union Square nor Grand Central Terminal even existed. But as the 18th century went on, this land would make the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: