This is Lower Manhattan as it looked in 1642

“The Great Highway” is Broadway. The “Common Ditch” was a rather filthy canal that once filled in became Broad Street.

And before landfill reshaped the Lower Manhattan shoreline, the waters of the North River (the Hudson to you and me) lapped at Greenwich Street.

It’s hard to believe that today’s city sprang from this tiny settlement. The map was drawn in 1897, but it purports to show the New Amsterdam of 1642.

At the time, Manhattan was resplendent with brooks and hills and had a colonial population in the hundreds. Things were hardly rosy; the director of the profitable fur-trading colony launched a war against native Americans that almost doomed it.

While Broadway, Greenwich, and Broad Streets still exist, other locations on the map are long gone. The Fort was Fort Amsterdam; the Sheep’s Pasture was filled in. The West India Company’s Garden is the present site of Trinity Church.

The garden sat on a bank overlooking a stream and was something of a lovers’ lane, “the resort of lad and lass for sentimental walk,” according to an 1874 guide, The Old Streets of New York Under the Dutch.

“Here, they viewed together the glories of the bay, illuminated with beams of setting sun . . . and listened to music of the wave, breaking over what was then the pebbly shore.” Romance-minded New Yorkers still head downtown to enjoy gorgeous views.

Finally, look at the names attached to the land grants: Stuyvesant, Van Cortland, Gerritsen, Ten Eyck—all names you can find on a map of the city today.

[Map at top: NYPL Digital Collections. Enhanced map: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.]

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43 Responses to “This is Lower Manhattan as it looked in 1642”

  1. Zoé Says:

    I had a dream once that I was flying over Mannyhatty (pre European settlement & not in a plane) before there were any buildings or streets.

    I don’t think my dream was very accurate though; because there were no trees & it was fairly flat & there were no Indigenous longhouses or villages… or people. It was a really beautiful memorable dream though (obviously). Lol – I ❤ Precolumbian New York

    People will probably want to throw things at me for saying this; but I really wish they hadn't leveled most of the streets. I know it's more tiring to walk; but I really love that area in Midtown on the East Side (?) that's still really hilly. I wonder why it was left that way when other areas were levelled (practically the whole island).

    • trilby1895 Says:

      Au contraire, Zoe, for I, as well, wish they hadn’t leveled hills, filled in say, the Collect Pond and the stream which was used by “maidens” laundering clothing, now called “Lane”. I wish I could experience what you did in that dream – Precolumbian New York – but then, I am a firm advocate of the “otherworldly”, reincarnation and the like.

  2. Ty Says:

    You can look down Broad Street from Wall and “see” the depression on elevation where the swamp was.

    Or you can look north along William Street from Wall and “see” the valley brook where maidens washed clothes.

    You can hear a delivery truck driver yell “Get the hell out of the street asshole.”

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    Lower Manhattan…a morass of filth, slime, and greed — oh, wait, that’s it today. Seriously, that’s a fantastically done and fascinating map.

  4. trilby1895 Says:

    Ephemeral, Many thanks for these wonderful maps – they take my breath away since I’ve never before seen them and what they depict. Will feel my imagination for endless hours.

  5. Ty Says:

    North of 155th Street where I live they deemed to stop levelling hills and map the streets to conform to topography. It is definitely more pleasing to the eye but much more difficult on the citizens. A city itself is an artifice. Why pretend it is nature when it is not?

    Parks while pretending to be nature conform to people not nature as should be in a place of concentrated people.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Agree Ty, though I always enjoy a walk along the highs and lows of Washington Heights and Inwood. The views from Inwood Hill Park are breathtaking!

  7. Ty Says:

    Yes, impracticality is often worth the climb. This can be extended to the Vignelli subway map of the 1970s and why it failed. While very attractive it didn’t convey to New Yorkers and tourists alike how to efficiently get from point A to point B. We live in a big enough city to where function and form can live together.

    • Zoé Says:

      LOVE Vignelli (Vignelli everything… My friend’s parents had the iconic white dishes & cups. I think they were Melamine… Or acrylic?). Heaven must look amazing now! The map was a beautiful graphic.

      If you (or only others) thought that map was difficult to understand; apparently in the first half of the 20th c. the different company lines each produced maps which showed *only* their own line. Lol – what fun! Even *after* they consolidated. So perhaps one of the greatest industrial & graphic designers is owed an apology for confusing people w/ his brilliant map.


  8. Zoé Says:

    And Happy New Year Trilby & Ty & David! (If you missed my earlier New Year wishes to Ephemeral & everyone – yourself included).

    • trilby1895 Says:

      Thank you, Zoe, wishing you, Ty, David, and Eph a Happy, healthy New Year, as well; Looking forward to many more fascinating bits of NYC history here!

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you Trilby, you too!

  10. suefair48 Says:

    A friend just shared this post with me today. My 9X GGrandfather – Tunis Nysens – is on this map! How exciting!! Thank you!

    • David H Lippman Says:

      Incredible! Your family kept track of its heritage! That’s fabulous! Most Americans get stuck after their immediate grandparents!

      Hmm…if the family still has a claim on the property, you could make a few bucks. That’s prime real estate…:)

      • suefair48 Says:

        Ha! The Dutch were very good at keeping great track of things. I’m in the DAR and I’m OBSESSED with history and lineage.

  11. Ty Says:

    I’ve traced my family back to Plymouth Plantation in 1638. It’s so fascinating. Especially the crooks and n’er do wells who clustered in my line for some reason.

    There is a book “Island at the Center of the World” based on thousands of papers from the Dutch era found in a file cabinet in Albany. They were written in an old form of Dutch that even the Dutch couldn’t read.

    The book is based on what this archivist who happens to read old Dutch has found.

    • Zoé Says:

      Very interesting Ty. (Sorted. Now we just have to trace the history of your autocorrect 🙂 )

      I may read this book. Thanks. Lol for not being able to read the old Dutch writing. I have trouble reading the old German font (used by Germany for commercial type until quite recently) in my grandfather’s books & my grandmother’s recipe book (published commercial book). And an early 20th c. dictionary I have that was not theirs.

    • David H Lippman Says:

      Fascinating stuff indeed. I guess it must have been tough to cope with finding all those evildoers in the past…well, my father said a family is a club we have to join whether we want to or not.

      Maybe an archivist or linguist can help with the old Dutch. There have to be experts in the subject at some university.

      • Ty Says:

        Yes. Take a read of this book. The foundation of this Dutch colony on the edge of the world resonates today in us as New Yorkers.

        In the case of my old Yankee ancestors I’ve done much to help reverse the ten generations old stoicsim and miserable loneliness but, on the whole, so much more to do.

        Love a Yankee? Doesn’t seem to have that ring.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Yeah…outside of the New York area, everyone seems to hate the Yankees. Well, that’s what happens when you win 27 World Series, I guess…

      • Zoé Says:

        I may be wrong* but I think Ty was referring to those of us who had high school friends that worked on lobster boats… & bought things from farmers who never said a word to us unless they dropped something & it broke… & still heard the words ‘reckon’ & ‘wicked’ said (meaning ‘a lot’ of something or ‘evil’ or ‘very good’) & also faggot/fags for cigarettes (after the tiny twigs used to start fires)… & people who almost came to blows over which New Haven pizza place was first/had better pizza. Etc.

        I don’t think he meant the baseball team. Ty is ‘one of us’ (cue scary music). If the 1963 film The Haunting based on the Shirley Jackson novel & her short story The Lottery makes you feel nostalgic for your childhood home – you’re a New Englander.

        *Polite self deprecation.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        I sometimes use “wicked,” as does my wife, and we use “fags” for cigarettes from our days in New Zealand. Ah, “The Lottery.” Inflicted on me in middle school, along with a short film that brought it menacingly to life. It was better than most of the rubbish they hurled at us in “Scholastic Scope,” which consisted mostly of adaptations of TV screenplays of teenagers bravely facing incurable illnesses and dying heroically.

        I was not impressed, as we HAD a kid in our class with an incurable illness, and instead of dying heroically, he was a nasty little cuss who organized acolytes into bullying and beating the hell out of weaker kids, which included me.

        This group’s favorite pastime was to go around Greenwich Village and beat up gay men, back in the 1970s. At that time, a good number of gay men in the Village were straight out of the stereotype of the mincing hairdresser, and could not defend themselves.

        However, my buddy (let’s call him Carl Pavano after my least favorite Yankee) made the mistake of leading his buddies after a number of successful beatings against two gay men emerging from a gym. These two chaps were into weightlifting, muscle-building, and karate. On being ambushed by Carl’s small army, they simply plowed their way through the kids half their age, sending the whole lot to the hospital with “lacerations and abrasions.”

        On seeing his army being defeated, Carl Pavano exercised brilliant leadership by running like hell back to his home in Westbeth and abandoning his troops on the field.

        That was the end of Carl Pavano as a great leader of men and his little band. He spent the rest of his teenage years sitting gloomily in his darkened bedroom, smoking marijuana, and listening to something called “Quadrophenia.”

        Meanwhile, my brother got hit with Crohn’s Disease. The insurance company told him he’d be dead at age 45. He told them to go to hell, and instead went on to a great career in computers in finance. I compared the two.

        I also got to do a major series at my newspaper in 1988 on AIDS in Hudson County and marveled at the courage with which the gay community of the county faced imminent death — as did so many other victims. I compared that with Carl Pavano and his cowardly bullying, and wished Carl could meet the gays he so hated, and see their courage.

        And yup, Carl is still alive. Caters restaurants, and probably makes more money than me. Turns out Hodgkin’s can be controlled with meds nowadays.

      • Zoé Says:

        Lol. ‘The Lottery’ short. Apparently every school in the NYC area screened it David. (After calling the *one* boy who knew how to fix the projector into the room. Now some IT industry millionaire). Only I think they showed it to us in elementary school. (Grades 1-6). I’m not sure. Perhaps it was ‘Junior High’. (As middle school was called in the Dark Ages). A bit young to introduce *that* into vulnerable minds.

        Honestly I think we were read a lot of stories & were shown a lot of films by younger teachers that furthered their anti-Vietnam position. (Like the one about the young man w/ locked in syndrome. Where he can hear & think etc. but everyone thinks he can’t. And wants to die but can’t kill himself. Title? ‘Johnny Got His Gun’? Or was that another?).

        What a brilliant underrated writer. I LOVE Shirley Jackson.

        The Wickerman film (Wicker Man?) – the original 70s one – was another on that theme. (Moderns acting out human sacrifice which – according to the Romans & Arabs – was done by the ‘Barbarians’ to their North).

        Lol – this is turning into a film thread yet again! Anyway I think you can see ‘The Lottery’ short online now. There is also a great Shirley Jackson website which will send you to a lot of fascinating places.

  12. Ty Says:

    Thank you Zoé, Mine were rock farmers, a grade below lobstermen. Before I was born it is told that when my grandmother eventually died from the long slow death of leukemia her husband blubbered out “She was a good woman” and then retired to his bedroom to read the good book.

    • Zoé Says:

      You’re quite welcome Ty. I *reckon* you’d have straightened that out between the two of you without my help though.

      Our “rock farmer(s)” built our beautiful stone walls. The *wicked* old ones – lol. (The walls not the farmers). Someday perhaps people will be trying to figure them out like they do now with Stonehenge. I once read what the estimated length would be end to end & it was pretty astonishing.

      To bring this back to Ephemeral’s post & what became NYC. (Sorry Phem). Are there any stone walls (the low kind built by farmers without mortar) left anywhere in Mannyhatty or any of the boroughs? It must have been just as rocky as New England when they farmed.

    • Zoé Says:

      PS: Re. your grandparents & their resilience & love. Those generations had a taciturn elegance to their speech (lack of speech); that is really difficult to emulate. (I have tried).

      I think it was because they were raised as children to speak only when spoken to. (As my German born grandmother was. Born 1890s. I think it was the same here). Not that I think that is healthy for children. (For one it leads to girls not advocating for/defending themselves – when taught to be quiet & obedient). But when someone from that generation spoke you really listened. They only spoke when they had something important to say – or a story to tell/memory to share.

      The Bible was probably the only comfort to him then. My Palestinian friend’s grandfather spent every moment sitting in a chair by his wife as she died of cancer. They were married since they were both children. Both age fourteen. When people married younger & grew up together they had a bond that is very different than people have today. Not that I am advocating child marriage. (I’m really against it). But this was an observation we made.

  13. Ty Says:

    Upon reading this I am just more convinced of the magic that New York City holds upon those of us who love it. And ephemeral it is.

    It has nothing to do with our family at present nor our past but, at base, it reflects who we choose to be.

    We share wildly diverse origins yet the place that is part of us is one small island two miles wide at best and 15 miles long.

    We, though no effort on our own, are the symbol of not American exceptionalism, but at core American inclusiveness.

    • David H Lippman Says:

      Very, very, very true…I’m a fourth-generation native New Yorker, and it will always be the center of my roots and past, even if Christchurch, New Zealand is now my adopted “home town.”

      I remember when I came back to New York in 1994 after being away for three years in the Navy in Japan…everything was where I’d left it.

      • Zoé Says:

        I hesitate to say this (because I don’t want to cry) – I think *some* things may not be as you left them.

        The Lower East Side is beginning to look like The Jetsons…

        …egg creams…

        …wayward youth can no longer sneak into the doors at Grand Central that accessed the surrounding hidden scaffolding…

        …pneumatic mail shoots…


      • Ty Says:

        There is a rite of passage for every New Yorker when their conversations begin to start with “That used to be a ….”

      • Zoé Says:

        As in “That used to be a…” livable city. …affordable city.

      • Zoé Says:

        *I meant to write ‘pneumatic mail CHUTES’ not “shoots”… Brings new meaning to ‘going postal’…

      • Ty Says:

        I’ve struggled with affordability in real time moving from place to place as they become “hot.” the Village, then Chelsea then Greenpoint then the East Village. Now I am in a far off refugee camp called Kingsbridge, the next hot spot I hear.

      • Zoé Says:

        Lol. See you in Bridgeport (CT) soon Ty! Or Stamford. (For those w/ a bit more $ – but not enough any longer for NY).

        Bridgeport is becoming a refuge for more & more artists & musicians. (Inc. a recording studio which recorded NYC band Interpol c. 2004/5). Artists lofts & galleries etc.

        The murder rate is still really high there. Hence the lower cost of housing.

  14. Ben Says:

    This is very surreal to me. And eerie. I’m just trying to imagine standing near the Hudson before the water was so repulsive, and looking at the tree-lined landscape, instead of the metal and stone monstrosities of today

    • Ty Says:

      The water is no longer repulsive. Partly because manufacturing has left and partly due the efforts of the City, State and Federal Departments of Environmental Protection the Hudson is the cleanest it has been in a hundred years.

      I do regular bicycle rides around the perimeter of Manhattan (I call it my Magellan tour, circling the world, get it? We think we are the world.) Fishermen regularly pull in bass, bluefish and carp. We saw a seal cruising up the Hudson a couple of months ago. “The Loch Ness Monster” one person said.

      • Ty Says:

        Someone close to me moved to Bridgeport for a bit. She is artistic and loved the vibe and the beach. But, alas, she moved back to her tiny home town in Pennsylvania. They have internet too.

        I was born and bred (sort of) here in NYC. I have no other place.

        As far as homicide. 1980s NYC taught me that if you mind your own damn business you live longer. It’s a little known health tip. I’m still here you MFs.

  15. Lovely houses and lush front yards on 18th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was the pivotal and final director-general of New Amsterdam. After the British took over in 1664, he moved out of the city and resided on his 120-acre […]

  16. Lovely houses and lush front yards on 18th Street | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

    […] was the pivotal and final director-general of New Amsterdam. After the British took over in 1664, he moved out of the city and resided on his 120-acre […]

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    […] was the pivotal and final director-general of New Amsterdam. After the British took over in 1664, he moved out of the city and resided on his 120-acre […]

  18. Says:

    I am still trying to figure out this location??
    Jan Van Cleef (Cleves) was in New Amsterdam as early as
    1653, when he was twenty-five years of age. In company with
    Titus Gyre he bought a horsemill belonging to Jacob van Couwen-
    hoven. He later became the sole owner of it, but soon sold it,
    what brought on considerable litigation in the court.


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