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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14 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!

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