What remains of two downtown colonial streets

The financial firms of Lower Manhattan help fuel the global economy of the 21st century.

But in the middle of their cathedrals of commerce, the remains of some humble streets that were instrumental in powering the economy of the 17th century still linger.

Take Marketfield Street, for example. You can just make it out on the circa-1797 map below; “market” is on the far left and “field” picks up on the right.

This narrow stretch between today’s Beaver and Broad Streets is anglicized from its original colonial Dutch name, Markveldt (which loosely translates into “market field”).

Almost 400 years ago, here stood New Amsterdam’s cattle market, opened in the 1650s—and there’s still a cowpath-like bend in the middle of today’s Marketfield Street, harkening back to its livestock days.

Marketfield Street once extended farther west, as this colorful 1642 map below also shows. It’s unclear how long the cattle market survived the city takeover by the British in 1664.

By 1695 the street went by a racier name: Petticoat Lane: “for it was here that, at the western end of the street near the fort which guarded the harbor, New York City’s prostitutes gathered,” states a Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 1983.

Every country town has a Mill Lane, and Manhattan does too. This slender alley hides between South William and Stone Streets. (On the map at the top, it’s just a faint curvy footpath with what could be a mill illustrated beside it.)

“It was in existence by 1657; the present name dates from after 1664,” states the LPC report. “Mill Lane ran from a mill built in 1628 to grind bark used by tanners.”

Mill Lane today, thought to be one of the city’s shortest streets, is unfortunately covered by scaffolding. Lets hope it survives this latest wave of development in the oldest part of New York City.

[Second map: Keren Wang’s Personal Website; third map: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.]

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “What remains of two downtown colonial streets”

  1. Mark Says:

    Are you sure the old name was Markveldt? The Dutch word for market is “markt”. Just wondering.

    Best regards,

    • Zoé Says:

      I was thinking the very same thing; but I figured subsequent generations – who spoke only English – dropped the ‘t’.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        I’d seen it spelled both Markveldt and Marktveldt in different sources and on different maps…I think as Zoe says somewhere along the line the t was dropped accidentally.

  2. Zoé Says:


    How funny of them to stay w/ the ‘Petticoat’ name. (Funny to the men in charge. Not so much for the girls & women w/ no other way to feed themselves & their children/families).

    The New England town I’m in near NYC has a Mill Hill road. Dating to the Colonial era as well. Although many roads here were originally Indigenous (AKA “trails” – but perhaps we should acknowledge by now that those were a manner of roads as well). I wonder now if any Manhattan roads/streets have Indigenous origins. I think I read that Broadway does.

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    These streets I knew about.I always like how “New Street” is one of the oldest in Manhattan.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    That’s a great observation David! It didn’t occur to me while I was pouring over these old maps.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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: