Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

What it was like commuting by sleigh in snowy 1860s Manhattan

January 23, 2023

The idea of getting around the city by horse-drawn sleigh might sound like a lot of fun to contemporary, snow-starved New Yorkers.

But as this detailed illustration from 1865 shows, sitting in an open-air omnibus as three teams of horses round a tight side street covered in snow was probably rather miserable.

What a rich scene the illustration offers, though. While two drivers direct three teams of horses to pull the streetcar to its destination, groups of boys are having a jolly time on sleds. A dog joins in the excitement, chasing the horses.

Ads for a tailor and a seller of shirts appear on the storefronts in the background. And when was the last time you came across a shop selling only wine and tea?

This omnibus appears to carry commuters to and from the Fulton Ferry, which allowed people to cross the East River in an era before bridges. I’m not quite sure how the omnibus got from the ferry on the East River to Broadway, Greenwich Avenue, Amity Street (the former name for Third Street), and Seventh Avenue.

More sleighing and sled scenes from old New York can be accessed here.

The blazing colors and old-school design of two Manhattan store signs

December 26, 2022

It’s a special thrill to come across a vintage New York City store sign that’s never caught your eye before. The design, the typeface, the colors—it all hits you at once, making you feel like you’ve found a magical spot in Gotham where mom-and-pop shops aren’t the exception and time stands still.

That’s the feeling I had after happening upon these two time machine signs a while back, one on the Lower East Side and the other on the opposite end of Manhattan in East Harlem.

On Essex Street is the signage for fourth generation-run M. Schames & Son Paints. I don’t know how old the sign is, but M. Schames got its start in 1927, according to the company Facebook page. The business appears to have moved to 90 Delancey Street.

The sign for Casa Latina, on East 116th Street, is another portal to the New York of the 1950s or 1960s, when Italian Harlem transformed into Spanish Harlem and salsa music came into its own.

Family owned and operated for over 50 years, the shop sells Latin music, instruments, and collectibles, per their Facebook page. Actually, make that sold. According to, Casa Latina is no longer in business. At least the wonderful sign is still there.

George Washington opens his Cherry Street presidential mansion to New Year’s callers

December 26, 2022

When George Washington became the first president of the United States in 1789, he relocated to a rented four-story mansion at Cherry and Pearl Streets. There, he established his executive office and family living quarters.

New York City was the new nation’s official capital at the time, and Washington was adjusting to the city’s culture and rituals—worshipping at St. Paul’s Chapel, for example, and regularly taking the air along the Battery.

One Gotham tradition he also took part in was inviting New Year’s Day callers to his presidential mansion (below). Established by the colonial Dutch burghers of New Amsterdam more than a century earlier, the annual ritual of “calling” turned the city into one big open house, where residents hosted a succession of neighbors and friends all day with hospitality and good cheer.

It was the biggest holiday of the year. New Yorkers would spend days readying their parlors for guests, donning their finest outfits, and setting up a big table of alcohol-infused punch, cakes, and confectionaries. Callers would stop by, offer good wishes for the coming year, and then move on to the next house to repeat the ritual with full bellies and in lively spirits.

Though he was the commander-in-chief of the United States, Washington was also a New Yorker—for the time being, at least. (He departed to Philadelphia later that year after the city of brotherly love took a turn as America’s capital.)

So on January 1, 1790, he “was determined to add the power of his name as an example of the observance of this time-honored custom,” according to The Old Merchants of New York City, published in 1885.

“It was a mild, moonlit night of the first of January, 1790, when George Washington and ‘Lady’ Washington stood together in their New York house to receive the visitors who made the first New Year’s calls with which a President of the United States was honored,” recounted the Saturday Evening Post in 1899.

Who were the callers, specifically? Washington described them in his own diary as “The Vice-President, the Governor, the Senators, Members of the House of Representatives in town, foreign public characters, and all the respectable citizens.”

These callers “came between the hours of 12 and 3 o’clock, to pay the compliments of the season to me—and in the afternoon a great number of gentlemen and ladies visited Mrs. Washington on the same occasion.”

“Tea and coffee, and plum and plain cake were served by the mistress of the mansion, while her stately husband, whose fine figure was set off in the costume of the drawing room to even better advantage than in his military garb, greeted his visitors with friendly formality,” continued the Post.

By nine p.m., the Washingtons were ready to retire for the night. According to the Post, he asked his guests “if the custom of New Year visiting in New York had always been kept up there, and he was assured that it had been, from the early days of the Dutch. He paused, and then said pleasantly, but gravely:

“‘The highly favored situation of New York will, in the progress of years, attract numerous immigrants, who will gradually change its customs and manners; but whatever changes take place, never forget the cordial and cheerful observance of the New Year’s Day,'” stated the Post article.

Washington’s words that night were certainly prophetic. Though the tradition of New Year’s calling continued into the 19th century, it gradually began to die out, coming to an end during the Gilded Age. In 1888, the New York Times, lamented “the almost complete death of the ancient custom of call-making” every January 1.

[Top image: “Lady Washington’s Reception Day,” painted by Daniel Huntington, 1861, Wikipedia; second image: Washington’s Cherry Street mansion, Wikipedia; third image: Washington’s 1789 inauguration at Federal Hall on Wall Street; fourth image: plaque put up to mark the former site of Washington’s Cherry Street mansion, LOC; fifth image: Washington in 1790, painted by John Trumbull, Wikipedia]

The 1820s organization formed to improve the character of New York servants

November 28, 2022

Working as a domestic servant in 19th century New York City had plenty of challenges.

Sure, servants received room and board in addition to their wages, and they usually had at least Sunday afternoon off. But living in another family’s home was isolating and lonely—particularly if you didn’t speak English or weren’t accustomed to urban life.

The work could be physically difficult, too. Climbing up and down staircases carrying wood or coal for fireplaces, airing out heavy bed linens every morning, wringing wet laundry, and scrubbing pots and pans…day after day, this was true labor.

So it’s hardly surprising that the families who hired servants often had a hard time keeping them. In the late 19th century, the problem of finding and maintaining hard-working, loyal servants was summed up as “the servant question,” or more appropriately, “the servant girl question,” since most maids, cooks, and other servants were overwhelmingly young and female.

Wealthy Gilded Age wives often discussed the servant girl question among themselves. But employers in the early 19th century turned to another resource: a newly formed organization that tried to guide servants to have better character and morals, and to not change families so often.

Called the Society for the Encouragement of Faithful Domestic Servants, this wonderfully named organization officially formed in New York City in 1826. The Society took its inspiration from a similar group in London, known as “The Society for Improving the Character and Usefulness of Domestic Servants,” according to the group’s first annual report.

The name of the London group better sums up much of what the New York chapter was all about. “No one can be ignorant, at least no house-keeper needs to be told, that we are very dependent upon our Domestic Servants for a large share of our daily comforts,” the report began.

“Indeed, it may be safely asserted, that if all the other arrangements and connexions of a family are as happy as fall generally to the lot of humanity, bad Servants are alone sufficient, if not to destroy, at least to mar, much of the calm happiness of domestic life.”

The report called out the tendency of servants to have a “love of incessant change,” in other words, moving on to another servant job or different type of work. “This restlessness of mind, and love of change, is especially true of the young and unwary female servant,” the report stated.

By changing employment, they “become impatient of control, or of advice, negligent of their duty, and, after wandering from place to place, deteriorating at every change, they not infrequently end their days in the miserable haunts of vice.”

The group advised employers how to manage their servants, and they also acted as an employment agency, matching qualified servants to households that needed them. This appears to be a crucial part of the group’s mission, as the “rapid growth of our city” has made it difficult to find enough people willing to do servant work.

[Fourth floor maids’ room at the Merchant House Museum]

They also awarded bonus money to faithful servants—from $3 to $10, depending on how long the servant stayed with their employer. (After one year of faithful service, servants were awarded a bible.)

For such a mission-oriented group, the Society didn’t last very long. By 1830, the organization dissolved, according to Leslie Harris’ In the Shadow of Slavery—noting that the group’s founding in 1826 coincided with the end of slavery in New York in 1827 as well as the first great wave of Irish immigrants, who typically took positions in domestic service.

What took the place of the Society when it came to guide servants and their employers? No one specific organization, it seems. No wonder servant issues escalated throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

[Top image: MCNY, 1847: 56.300.1320; second image: Google; third image: MCNY, 1890: 45.335.21]

The ghost photographer who became a sensation in Gilded Age New York City

November 7, 2022

In the early 1860s, William Mumler was a Boston-based silver engraver who peddled homemade medicine and dabbled in photography. He might have remained out of the public eye if something seemingly otherworldly hadn’t appeared in one of his photos.

“While taking self-portraits for practice, one of Mumler’s prints came back with an unexplainable aberration,” explained Dave Roos at Although he was the only person in the room when the shot was taken, a figure could be seen at his side, “a girl who was ‘made of light,'” stated Roos.

This self-portrait launched Mumler’s short but infamous career as a “spirit photographer,” taking photos of living people and capturing the ghosts of dead loved ones in the images—typically behind the living person or in some kind of embrace.

Anyone who claims to be a ghost photographer today would be met with raised eyebrows. But in the middle of the 19th century, a movement called Spiritualism swept across the nation. Self-proclaimed mediums promised people that they could communicate with deceased family members, offering to perform seances and convey messages from the other side (for a fee, that is).

The possibility of seeing the likeness of dead loved ones in a photo, as Mumler offered, was hard for many grieving people to resist. That was especially true during the Civil War, which claimed thousands of lives and left so many Americans in mourning.

With photography a relatively new and mysterious practice, people were even more willing to believe Mumler’s claims. “These ghostly renderings became so popular that spiritualists hailed these photographs as scientific evidence of their beliefs,” stated the Getty Museum, which owns several Mumler spirit photos. “Even Mary Todd Lincoln had her photograph taken by Mumler.” (Fourth image)

But fellow photographers became suspicious. “Manipulating images was a known part of the photographic artform and other photographers were openly experimenting with double exposures and superimposed negatives, all of which could create the effect of Mumler’s spirit photography,” wrote Roos.

Mumler’s answer to his skeptics in Boston was to relocate to New York City. In 1869 he opened a studio at 630 Broadway, between Bleecker and Houston Streets, continuing his spirit photography business.

Unlike in Boston, however, New York officials were onto Mumler. Mayor Abraham Oakey Hall ordered an investigation and asked a city marshal to sit for a photo under a fake name.

“After the taking of the picture the negative was shown to [the city marshal], with a dim, indistinct outline of a ghostly face staring out of one corner; and he was told that the picture represented the spirit of his father-in-law,” stated an 1869 article in The Illustrated Photographer.

The marshal, however, “failed to recognize the worthy old gentleman, and emphatically declared that the picture neither represented his father-in-law, nor any of his relations, nor yet any person whom he had ever seen,” stated the publication.

Mumler went on trial for fraud later that year, with several photographers, as well as P. T. Barnum, testifying against him. In the end, he was acquitted, since the prosecution could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the images were fakes.

Back in Boston, Mumler continued to work as a photographer; he passed away in 1884 at age 51. Though he is still associated with spirit photography, he eventually lent his name to a process he invented that made it possible to print photos on newspaper, stated Roos, which changed the face of journalism.

[Photos 1, 2, and 5: Getty Museum; Photo 3: Wikipedia; photo 4: Massachusetts Historical Society]

Scenes of misery and charity on Gilded Age New York’s most famous breadline

October 17, 2022

The Gilded Age ushered in opulent mansions, ostentatious balls, and very conspicuous consumption. But this era synonymous with wealth also brought us the breadline—where impoverished New Yorkers stood in the shadows night after night, waiting their turn to obtain a free meal.

“Fleischmann’s Bread Line,” by Everett Shinn, about 1900

Breadlines (many of which distributed more than bread) proliferated by the turn of the century at Gotham’s missions and benevolent societies created to serve the poor. But the first breadline, where the term originates, started at a fashionable bakery on Broadway and 10th Street in 1876.

Louis Fleischmann, a prosperous Austrian immigrant, owned the Vienna Model Bakery next door to Grace Church on the edge of the Ladies Mile shopping district. One December night, Fleischmann saw a group of men huddled in front of a steam grate beside the store. He brought the men—or “hungry tramps,” as one newspaper described them—some unsold bread left in the bakery. They accepted it eagerly.

Fleischmann’s Vienna Model Bakery during the daytime, 1898

More men showed up the next night, forming a quiet line at the back door. Touched by their plight, Fleischmann decided that anyone who queued up by midnight would be given half a loaf of leftover bread, no questions asked. For the next four decades, Fleischmann distributed bread (as well as hot coffee) to sometimes hundreds of men per night on his “breadline,” as it became known.

City newspapers covered Fleischmann’s breadline heavily, some with sympathy and others with a hint of disdain. “Here are men whose lives are not running well—400 small worlds gone to shipwreck,” reported the New York Press in 1902. The New-York Tribune wrote in 1904, “The picturesque and pitiful line of men in the early hours of every morning has become one of the features of the city’s life.”

At the head of Fleischmann’s breadline, 1904, photographer unknown

While New Yorkers debated whether the breadline helped the hungry or instead contributed to “pauperism” and encouraged men to accept handouts, painters, illustrators, and photographers were drawn to Fleischmann’s, where they captured scenes of charity and misery.

Whether painted by social realists such as Everett Shinn and George Luks or shot by news photographers like George Bain, these images depict anonymous men in black hats and coats awaiting their half a loaf and cup of coffee. The humanity of the often faceless men is the focus; the argument as to whether such handouts were helpful or hurtful doesn’t factor in.

George Bain’s view of a snowy night on the breadline in 1908

The one curious breadline painting comes from George Luks. Like Everett Shinn, Luks was a member of the Ashcan School, and his work typically reflected a gritty early 20th century city.

In 1900, Luks painted children on a bakery breadline, even though there’s no documentation that young people ever came to Fleischmann’s or any other nighttime breadline. The kids in Luks’ painting have baskets to fill with stale bread, which they may be bringing home to hungry family members.

“Breadline,” by George Luks, 1900

Or perhaps putting kids on his breadline was Luks’ way of drawing attention to the thousands of homeless children who lived on the streets or in lodging houses, working in legitimate jobs or joining criminal gangs. Access to a breadline could have kept these “street arabs,” as they were dubbed, from going to bed hungry.

[Top image: Wikipedia; second image: MCNY; third image: National Gallery of Art; fourth image: Alamy; fifth image: George Bain Collection/LOC]

The hidden beauty of these blocked-off fanlight windows in Chinatown

September 12, 2022

New York’s intact 19th century residences—especially the Federal-style, early 1800s row houses that still survive in Lower Manhattan, but also early tenement buildings—often have a fanlight window above the front door.

The name comes from the shape of the glass panes, which resemble a hand-held fan. It’s a design feature that allows light to flood a front room, which might be why it’s also referred to sometimes as a sunburst window.

This 1820s house at 105 Mercer Street offers an example of a fanlight window, in all its early 19th century beauty (not pictured in the post; click the link to see).

Whatever you want to call them, it’s disheartening to spot these windows over the entrances of some of Manhattan’s oldest tenements on densely packed residential streets…and see that the glass has been painted over or replaced by wood or another solid material, allowing no light to get through.

Above and below, a painted-over fanlight at 115 Eldridge Street:

These blocked-off fanlight windows were found on a Chinatown block. I wouldn’t expect landlords to spend time and money scraping away paint from windows or replacing the glass when a building might have bigger issues to contend with. But what a shame these windows meant to let sunlight through are instead cutting it off.

The visiting British royal who dazzled 19th century New York City

September 12, 2022

During Queen Elizabeth II’s astounding 70-year reign over the United Kingdom, she made official visits to New York City only three times: a day-long trip involving a ticker-tape parade in 1957, a longer stay for the Bicentennial in 1976, and then a five-hour drop-in to the United Nations and Ground Zero in 2010, per a New York Times article published last week.

Excited New Yorkers waiting for the Prince’s procession to make it Broadway

Elizabeth’s visits to Gotham were certainly eventful. But they were nothing like the sojourn to New York City made by one member of the British royal family in 1860. On the cusp of the election of President Lincoln and the start of the Civil War, this 19-year-old prince was welcomed to Manhattan with a spectacular procession up Broadway, escorted to leading Manhattan landmarks, and feted at a ball so raucous, the floor of the venue actually broke.

The royal was the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, the first son of Queen Victoria and the future King of England (above, in the 1860s). His trip across the Atlantic in the summer of 1860 was at first to be limited to Canada. “Queen Victoria’s original intention was to dispatch her son simply to visit England’s western possessions in Canada and inaugurate the opening of the Victoria Bridge in Montreal,” states an article by Claire A. Faulkner on

But President Buchanan then invited the Prince to Washington, and other American cities were added to his itinerary, such as Richmond, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.

The Prince’s journey abroad wasn’t unlike the dispatches young royals take today. “As a young man…the Prince of Wales could have been likened to most other teenagers—independent, rebellious, and strong willed,” wrote Faulkner. “It was hoped that the trip to North America would mark the beginning of his formal indoctrination into the responsibilities and duties of a member of the British royal family.”

In Canada and then America, “Bertie” was treated with respect, if not celebrity. But few cities rolled out the red carpet like New York—the nation’s undisputed capital of commerce and culture, with eager daily newspapers ginning up excitement. “The most splendid and glamorous of the American events in his honor, however, took place in New York, where the crowds were also the most admiring and enthusiastic,” wrote Faulkner.

The Prince of Wales and his entourage, photographed by Mathew Brady

After the Prince landed at the Battery with his entourage on October 11, fresh from Philadelphia, he entered his carriage and became the center of a grand procession going up Broadway. An estimated 200,000 New Yorkers lined the thoroughfare to watch the slow procession, which didn’t make it past City Hall and to Canal Street until sundown, according to a New York Times piece published the next day.

Bands played “God Save the Queen” and other British songs; Mayor Fernando Wood accompanied the Prince, who “raised his hat and rose repeatedly in acknowledgement of this warm reception,” observed the Times. American and British flags were on display all along the route.

The procession continued past Grace Church, Union Square, and then to the new luxurious Fifth Avenue Hotel, where the Prince would be staying—with an army of policemen stationed in and outside the hotel for security. Of course, not everyone was thrilled by the royal visit, particularly the city’s Irish residents. People of Irish descent amounted to about a quarter of the total population and viewed the government the Prince represented as the oppressor of their home country, stated Ian Walter Radforth in his book, Royal Spectacle.

Fifth Avenue Hotel, 23rd Street in 1860

The Prince had a jam-packed schedule for the next few days, breathlessly covered by the press. He and his entourage toured noteworthy landmarks like New York University, the Astor Library, and Cooper Union; he visited Central Park and planted an English oak. On the last day of his visit, thousands of firemen from Manhattan and Brooklyn marched past the Fifth Avenue Hotel in a magnificent torch-lit parade, stated House Divided, from Dickinson College

Perhaps the pinnacle of the Prince’s trip was the ball held in his honor. What was originally supposed to be a simple dinner quickly evolved into a breathtaking event at the Academy of Music on 14th Street. Four hundred elite New Yorkers paid $100 each to host and attend the ball; up to 2,000 guests showed.

Guests dressed in “black coats, shimmering silks, and elegant velvets” began arriving around 7:30 p.m., but the Prince and his entourage, plus members of city government like Mayor Wood, didn’t arrive until after 10, according to a Leslie‘s Weekly article in 1901. Distinguished invitees included Hamilton Fish and George Templeton Strong, the lawyer and diarist who characteristically poked fun at the whole spectacle, according to Radforth.

The rush of excitement and thunderous applause broke the floor. “A few people fell through, but no one was seriously injured,” stated the Leslie’s article. The Prince was ushered into the supper room—under the command of the chefs and managers from Delmonico’s—for his own safety. Newspapers gleefully published all the details the next morning: the beautiful flowers, the Union Jack flags, and the ladies the Prince danced with.

Admit one to the Prince’s Ball

On Monday, October 14, the Prince bid farewell to New York City, heading up to West Point before a visit to Albany and then Boston, and then the trip back home across the Atlantic. Newspaper writers expounded on the royal visit; Bertie resumed life in England and took the throne upon the death of his mother in 1901.

What did the Prince of Wales think of his trip to New York? I haven’t found anything relaying his thoughts. But based on the recollections in newspapers and other first-hand accounts, a starry-eyed Gotham pulled out all the stops to impress this future king.

[First, second, and third images: LOC; fourth image: Getty Museum; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: LOC; seventh image: MCNY, X2014.12.158]

This Gothic building near Avenue C was an “industrial school” for poor and homeless kids

September 5, 2022

In the 1880s and 1890s, the East Village of today became a magnet for lodging houses and training schools designed to help impoverished children from becoming casualties of the harsh life of New York’s streets.

The Sixth Street industrial School, 630 East Sixth Street

It was an era of great support for private social services. The Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys and Industrial School on Eighth Street and Avenue B opened in 1887. The Elizabeth Home for Girls, on 12th Street between First and Second Avenues, took in its first residents in 1892.

In 1890, the Sixth Street Industrial School (above) opened its doors just west of Avenue C, in what was then called the Dry Dock District. Like the other buildings, it’s a stunning Gothic beauty with a stepped roof, dormer windows, and resplendent red brick. Also like the others, Calvert Vaux—the co-designer of Central Park—is the architect (with a partner, George K. Radford).

CAS: Children’s Aid Society

Each facility—which taught some academic classes along with lessons in specific trades and the life skills a young person would need to eventually live independently—was overseen by the Children’s Aid Society. The CAS got its start in 1853, when a young minister named Charles Loring Brace sought to help the estimated 10,000 street children, or “street rats” as police called them, living on their own and often working dangerous jobs or forced into criminal activity to survive.

At least a dozen lodging houses and industrial schools were built by the CAS and designed by Vaux and Radford all over Manhattan, including the 14th Ward Industrial School on Mott Street and the Sullivan Street Industrial School in today’s Soho. (Both buildings still grace the cityscape.)

The Sixth Street Industrial School in 1939-1941

“Vaux sought to develop buildings that stood out from the city’s tenements, which defined poor and immigrant life in the area with generally grim living conditions,” stated an Off the Grid post from Village Preservation. “His buildings, often free-standing, displaying varied rooflines, and characterized by ornamental features that recalled Dutch architecture, attempted to evoke the feeling and image of a ‘snug country inn.’”

The CAS was a popular charitable organization in the benevolent Gilded Age city, garnering financial support from society families like the Astors. Funding for the Sixth Street Industrial School came from Mrs. William Douglas Sloane—aka Emily Vanderbilt, daughter of William Henry Vanderbilt and granddaughter of Commodore Vanderbilt.

“The Sixth Street School, under the generous support of Mrs. William D. Sloane, continues its good work among the poor of the East Side,” stated the CAS annual report from 1892. “The primary and industrial classes are most successful, and the children receive a training which is of value to them all through their life.”

Industrial schools and lodging houses for poor or homeless kids disappeared during the 20th century. The CAS still exists though, rebranded recently as Children’s Aid. And while the breathtaking building at 630 East Sixth Street is no longer a school, it continues to serve as a nonprofit called Pencer House, “an apartment building for limited-income and formerly homeless New Yorkers,” according to the organization’s website.

[Fourth image: NYC Department of Records & Information Services]

The Lower East Side’s Division Street: What exactly did it divide?

September 5, 2022

The Dutch burghers who settled in New Amsterdam and the British colonists who ruled after them had one thing in common: they gave straightforward names to Gotham’s earliest streets.

Wall Street was named for the defensive wall put up by the worried residents of New Amsterdam, who feared their settlement would be attacked by the English. Piles of glistening oyster shells found beside the 17th century waterfront gave way to Pearl Street. A drainage ditch dug in the early 1800s became Canal Street once it was filled.

And then there’s Division Street—an east-west road in that traffic-choked Lower East Side near the Manhattan Bridge approach. Division runs from the Bowery to Canal Street, where it makes a sharp upward turn and becomes Ludlow Street, which runs north-south.

The Delancey estate in 1776, with Division Street marking the boundary of the Rutgers farm.

Clearly Division Street served as a dividing line of sorts in the colonial city. But for what, exactly?

The answer lies in the bucolic New York of the 18th century, when much of British-controlled Manhattan was carved up into farms and estates. To the north of Division Street was the Delancey estate, and to the south stood the Rutgers farm.

The Rutgers mansion on the Rutgers farm

“The space occupied by the street was a kind of no-man’s-land used for a rope walk, i.e., a place where hemp was twisted into rope,” explains Henry Mosco’s The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins.

An 18th century map of the Delancey estate street grid, with the Rutgers farm below.

Delancey was James De Lancey, whose 339-acre estate encompassed land east of the Bowery and north to Houston Street, according to He’s also the namesake of today’s Delancey Street, not far to the north. His family, French Huguenots whose presence in the city began in the late 17th century, were rich merchants.

Delancey was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War. After the defeat of the British he fled the city, leaving behind his estate, which he had already been laid out into streets. The streets mostly stayed, but the former estate was sold in lots, per

Henry Rutgers, early 19th century

Rutgers was Henry Rutgers, a descendant of prominent Dutch families who came to New Amsterdam in the 17th century and made their money as brewers. The farm he inherited spanned southeastern Manhattan from about Chatham Square to the East River. He’s the Rutgers of Rutgers University and also Rutgers Street, on his former estate.

Rutgers also divided his farm into separate lots as early as 1755, according to an article by David J. Fowler in a Rutgers University publication, “Benevolent Patriot: Henry Rutgers, 1745-1830.” For decades, the land “maintained a rural character of hills, fields, gardens, woods, and marshes,” the article states.

The Rutgers farm, already laid out and divided into streets in 1784.

Unlike his neighbor, Rutgers supported American independence and served as an army captain and colonel. A bachelor, he remained in New York City for the rest of his life, giving away some of his land for charitable causes. By the end of the 19th century, the once beautiful Rutgers farm had almost fully transformed into blocks of tenements, according to a New York Times article from 1913.

With the farms gone, Division Street isn’t the boundary line for anything. But like Rutgers Street, Delancey Street, and numerous other thoroughfares named for the estates and estate holders of the colonial era, it’s a street name reminder of a New York that’s slipped into history.

[Second image: Norman B. Levanthal Map Center Collection/Boston Public Library; third, fourth, and sixth images: NYPL Digital Collections; fifth image: Oil painting by Henry Inman/Wikipedia]