A 1660 map depicts New York’s humble start

Is this village-like settlement really the humble beginning of the bustling New York City of today?

Hard to believe, but that’s what the map says. It’s officially known as the Castello Plan, and the New York Public Library calls it the “earliest known plan of New Amsterdam and the only one dating from the Dutch period.”


It looks tidy and sweet, but don’t be fooled. New Amsterdam in in the middle of the 17th century was “a thinly populated, uncomfortable and muddy place with few creature comforts and much lawlessness,” writes Eric Homberger in The Historic Atlas of New York City.

Four main roads took travelers northward: Heere Straet (Broadway) is on the left, followed by today’s Broad Street, William Street, and Pearl Street alongside the East River.

CastelloplanredraftThat fortified street crossing the island from east to west? Wall Street, of course, then 12 feet high and the northern boundary of the city.

There’s a very cool tool on Channel Thirteen’s website that includes a georeferenced version of the Castello Plan—letting users know the names of each street and who owned each house, building, and plot of land depicted.

 At left is more colorful redraft of the original map, done in 1916.

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15 Responses to “A 1660 map depicts New York’s humble start”

  1. Archivist Says:

    This is wonderful. We also played around with old maps when we tried to locate the future spot of our building on Norfolk street.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks Archivist! Cool link too.

  3. meech Says:

    Thanks for the link to the Thirteen link, I forgot that this amazing tool was out there.

    I’ve a lot of direct ancestors who lived in New Amsterdam, the most (in)famous being Anthony “The Turk” Van Salee — a Muslim pirate who arrived to New Amsterdam with a huge amount of gold and began buying up property. He and his first wife, the troublemaker, heavy-drinker, and (possibly) prostitute, Grietje, were responsible for an estimated 1/3 of the recorded complaints in the colony and were eventually banished to Gravesend Brooklyn — then unsettled, prone to Indian and pirate raids, and as far as they could send them without hitting ocean. Anthony owned many parcels of land in New Amsterdam but was only allowed back into the colony after his wife died (he then married a respectable Quaker widow).

    The parcel he last lived in was a massive house, keeping in mind that houses were taxed by their frontage, 3-4 lots wide. You can find it on the map right around the corner from what is today 85 Broad, the former HQ of Goldman Sachs. Or as I like to say, from one pirate to another…


  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Very cool, thanks! As a descendent of Van Salee, you are Manhattan royalty.

  5. Edward Says:

    And through it all, Bowling Green is still unmoved, and Whitehall Slip is now Whitehall Terminal! Amazing that, in a city which transforms itself every 25 years, the street layouts and some place names still survive 300 years later.

  6. Randy Majors Says:

    Really good post! I did a follow-up post overlaying the Castello Plan on Google Earth here:


  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the kind words! I love the overlay; I encourage all curious readers to check it out. Fascinating to see what has survived, as Edward points out above…plus how much landfill was added.

  8. Cool Map Thing: When Wall Street Was a Wall: A 1660 Map of Manhattan – insiderater.com Says:

    […] pictured above (zoomable version here), shows a quaint little settlement with a handful of blocks. Ephemeral New York notes that while Manhattan looks rather charming, it was pretty much the opposite: “New […]

  9. Watch Manhattan’s Boundaries Expand Over 250 Years | Gizmodo Australia Says:

    […] a recent look at the earliest known map of New Amsterdam reminds us: you don’t get to eight million inhabitants […]

  10. Sweet old map of New York City. | It's an experiment! Says:

    […] Read more here. […]

  11. Marty Donais Says:

    Does anyone know just where Peter Praa land was or provost?

  12. Jay Says:

    Wow you people are blind. Do you not see the canal running through lower Manhattam, or the STAR FORT!!!!!!!!

  13. 1660 New Amsterdam atop 2013 New York – rmrh.net Says:

    […] excellent historical blog Ephemeral New York has a post today about the 1660 Costello Plan, referred to by the New York Public Library as the […]

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