The little-known history of tiny Catherine Lane

Catherine Street is in Chinatown; Catherine Slip is near the South Street Seaport. But Catherine Lane? It’s easy to miss.

That’s partly because Catherine Lane only spans one block, running from Broadway to Lafayette Street above Worth Street. This slender street doesn’t seem to have any commercial buildings or residences as far as I can tell.

The other thing keeping it a secret is the construction scaffolding that obscures it from view, shrouded it in darkness for years.

Since Catherine Lane hasn’t seen the light of day in a long time and it’s unclear whether it has a future, I decided to look into this little alley’s past. There’s not too much about it, but I dug out a few tidbits.

This alley was named for Catherine Rutgers. She was a daughter in a prominent Dutch colonial family, and in 1732 she married into a similarly prominent and wealthy family (the Rutgers of Rutgers Street and Rutgers University).

It was originally known as Catherine Place, according to Valentine’s Manual of Old New York. But Catherine Lane is the name it goes by in 19th century newspaper stories, the oldest of which describes a runaway cow in 1810 at the corner of Elm Street (today’s Lafayette Street).

In 1845, the New York Daily Herald reported a sale of a two-story frame house at that same corner. Price: $3000.

Catherine Lane was going downhill by the 1850s. It was listed as “filthy” in an 1857 report on “deplorable” streets, along with many neighboring roads.

By the 1890s, it was the scene of a murder at a boarding house. “There are a few old houses on [Catherine] Lane, which runs back from Elm Street, toward Broadway, between Worth and Leonard Streets. Mrs. Thompson had kept a boarding house there since 1856,” the New-York Tribune wrote.

Also in the 1890s, Catherine Lane landed in the news because of a building that went up on the corner.

The New York Life Insurance Company built their new headquarters here. The McKim, Mead, & White clock tower building is still on the corner or Catherine and Broadway today.

[Third image: Catherine Lane at Broadway, undated; MCNY. Fourth image: Evening Post, 1810]

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2 Responses to “The little-known history of tiny Catherine Lane”

  1. ksbeth Says:


  2. David H Lippman Says:

    Great story. Scene of a murder, huh? Well, at least it’s right next to the criminal court building.

    So why IS it permanently covered in scaffolding?

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