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.
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.
“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.'”
“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.
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.
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