Archive for the ‘Maps’ Category

The insane 1934 plan to fill in the Hudson River

November 30, 2015

Tired of New York’s terrible traffic and lack of housing options?

It might be time to revisit one of the nuttier ideas for reshaping and redeveloping Manhattan ever proposed: draining the Hudson River and then paving it over.


This idea doesn’t seem to be a hoax. It was covered in the March 1934 edition of Modern Mechanix in a wild article entitled “Filling in the Hudson.”

FillinginhudsonmagcoverThe terrifying illustration on the opening page shows the Hudson River dammed up and filled in from Lower Manhattan to the tip of Harlem.

The plan, proposed by “noted publicist and engineering scholar” Norman Sper, would “reclaim” from the Hudson River 10 square miles, which would “not only provide for thousands of additional buildings, but also for avenues and cross streets,” to ease congestion.

“Today there are ten avenues laid out along the length of Manhattan,” proclaims the article. “These are crossed by 125 streets. It is the lack of up-and-down arteries which has given rise to the existing traffic crisis. Sper would double the number of avenues.”

The water from the Hudson River would be diverted into the Harlem River and the East River. The entire project was supposed to cost the city a cool $1 billion.


It’s unclear how far this idea went; it doesn’t appear to have been covered in any of the major dailies. And since there is no 15th Avenue running through the middle of the Hudson, obviously no one ever took it seriously.

Check out more crazy plans and proposals for New York City that thankfully never made it past the blueprint stage.

The last remnant of a colonial Brooklyn road

October 19, 2015

Redhooklanestreetsign2Red Hook Lane is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stretch of road off bustling Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn.

This one-block lane is the last remnant of colonial-era Red Hook Lane, a Canarsie Indian trail that became the route from the heights of Brooklyn town through Dutch farmland to the swampy Red Hook waterfront.

Enlarge this 1760s map and you can just make out “Red Hook Lane” beneath Flatbush Avenue, where it says “Brookland Parish.”


It has Revolutionary War significance too. Red Hook Lane, an important Continental Army artery, is where George Washington watched the British outflank the Patriots at Gowanus Pass during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.

Redhooklanesouth“Old Red Hook Lane was originally 25 feet wide, and ran from Boerum Place diagonally across Atlantic Avenue, between Court Street and Boerum Place, running near the old engine house on Pacific Street,” according to an 1894 New York Times piece.

“Then, turning, it cut the southeast corner of Pacific Street and Court Street. From there it passed along from Tompkins Place, and then to Henry Street.”

Incompatible with the urbanization of Brooklyn and an orderly street grid, Red Hook Lane (looking south, above) was slowly swallowed up by the growing city. (Red Hook in 1875, below).


A few curious reminders of its past glory remain. The odd angles of the buildings at 228 Atlantic Avenue and 234 State Street apparently reflect the path Red Hook Lane once took.

And signs for the Red Hook Lane Heritage Trail in Red Hook mark approximately where the old road used to be.


Rocky remains of Central Park’s 1842 reservoir

July 6, 2015

Central Park’s great lawn is a lovely, sprawling place for sunbathing, picnics, and playing ball.

But it was never part of the original plan for the park because the land, located between 79th and 86th Streets between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, was already in use.

In 1842, it was the site of New York’s new, 31-acre Receiving Reservoir, the body of water built to store fresh drinking water piped in from upstate via the just-completed Croton Aqueduct.

Built on high ground on rocky, unpopulated terrain, the reservoir held water that could easily flow down to the southern end of Manhattan, where the city existed at the time.


Unlike the grand Distributing Reservoir [on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue], designed in the popular Egyptian Revival style, the Receiving Reservoir was simple and practical,” states

“Sloped embankment walls formed its rectangular perimeter. Both the outer and inner walls were covered with stone masonry. The walls were planted on top with grass surrounded by a double fence to create a mile long promenade.”

ReceivingreservoirnyplWhen Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux began developing the park in the late 1850s, they weren’t too happy with the rectangular reservoir, which didn’t mesh with their pastoral, naturalistic design.

But since they couldn’t get rid of it, they hid it behind a grove of trees. A second receiving reservoir built in a more natural, oval shape in the 1860s just north of the original reservoir (above) fit their plan better.

With New York’s population in the late 19th century multiplying year by year and water usage increasing, the Receiving Reservoir’s days were numbered.


After the completion of a new water tunnel in 1917, it was finally drained in 1929. Plans to turn the land into a World War I memorial and then a promenade linking the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the Museum of Natural History didn’t pan out.

By 1936, the former reservoir was filled in with land excavated from the development of the Eighth Avenue Subway and Rockefeller Center—and the Great Lawn was born. (The second reservoir, renamed for Jackie Kennedy Onassis, still exists.)

ReceivingreservoirwallIncredibly, remnants of the Receiving Reservoir can be found here and there.

The bedrock that forms the edge of Turtle Pond is the same that formed the southwest corner of the reservoir,” states

“Remains of the reservoir’s western wall can be found in a stand of trees north of the Delacorte Theater (above). The most impressive ruin is located along the 86th Street transverse wall where, tucked up against the east end of the Central Park Police Precinct is the northeast corner of the original Receiving Reservoir (pictured). Its sloped stone embankment wall is unmistakable.”

The ghostly, granite remains of the 42nd Street Distributing Reservoir can be seen on a lower wall of the New York Public Library.

[Images: top,; second, NYPL digital gallery; third, David Rumsey Map Collection; fifth,]

What remains of the East River’s long-gone slips

March 16, 2015

 Slipold2015Old maps of Lower Manhattan (like the one below, from 1842) list them: the many slips created along the East River to facilitate ship transportation in a city dependent on maritime trade.

 From Gouverneur Street to Whitehall Street, 12 slips offered “access to the shoreline by small craft such as ferries and farmers’ market boats,” states “There were markets at most of the slips at one time or another.”


Today, some exist in name only. Eleven were gone by the middle of the 19th century, early victims of the city’s valuable real estate. The last one disappeared by 1900.

Slipmarket2015“It was the need for additional land that caused the passing of New York’s historic slips,” states a 1924 New York Times article.

“Those alleyways of water were two blocks long and as many wide, flanked about by rocking wharves at which tied up the small boats belonging to mother vessels further out, or the mother vessels themselves if not too large.”

“And with the passing of these slips passed also the romance of the clippers, our country’s first sailing vessels.”

What wonderful names they had! Some were derived from prominent Dutch-born landowners, like Coenradt and Antjie Ten Eyck (Coentje—later Coenties—Slip).


Others were named for the businesses nearby, like Coffee House Slip, once at the end of Wall Street where several coffee houses had popped up in the late 18th century (above, in a New York Times sketch).


There was also Fly Market Slip, a corruption of the Dutch vly, meaning valley, according to

The rest were Gouverneur, Rutgers, Pike, Market, Catherine, James, Peck, Burling, and finally, Old Slip.

New York’s 1849 skyline seen from Union Square

February 2, 2015

The square itself looks different—it’s oval, first of all, and that’s some water spray from the new Croton fountain.


But amazingly, the streets are instantly recognizable in this 1849 bird’s eye lithograph by Swiss immigrant printmaker John Bachmann.

There’s Broadway, with that slight bend at Grace Church (built just one year earlier), and Fourth Avenue, which still curves east at about 12th Street.

Steeples and ship masts dominate Lower Manhattan. The George Washington statue has yet to arrive in at the southeast corner of Union Square (that comes in 1856), and the theaters and music halls that made 14th Street the city’s entertainment district are a decade or so away.

The level of detail is amazing and inspiring. And look at how built up New York is compared to this same view in 1828.

How Five Points became the city’s worst slum

November 17, 2014

Filling in Collect Pond, once at today’s Centre Street behind City Hall, promised to solve two problems in late 18th century New York.


First, it would do away with the foul body of water that in more bucolic times was used for drinking but in the 1700s had been given over to tanneries, slaughterhouses, and other manufacturers who polluted it (below, in a 1776 British map).

Fivepointscollectpond1776Also, housing could be built on the new land, easing congestion in the crowded, growing young city.

By 1813, the pond was covered over, and development began, stated Tyler Anbinder in his book Five Points.

“Landowners generally filled their lots with two-and-a-half story wooden buildings, the half story an attic with low ceilings and dormer windows suitable for small workshops,” wrote Anbinder.

Fivepoints1851mapResidents who moved in were artisans, bakers, carpenters, and masons, along with merchants, shopkeepers, and businessmen.

Through the 1820s, it was more or less a middle- and working-class area. By the 1830s, it was the city’s center for poverty, vice, gangs, and disease. So what happened?

Part of it had to do with the declining wages of artisans, who were increasingly replaced by mass production, wrote Anbinder.

Also, immigration surged, housing prices rose, and landlords began subdividing buildings meant for one family into quarters for several—introducing a new word to the city, the “tenant house,” soon shortened to tenement.


The land under the houses was a problem as well. Collect Pond no longer existed, but the “ground remained damp and unsettled, causing houses to shift and tilt dramatically just a few years after construction,” wrote Anbinder.

Fivepoints1873“Because so many diseases of the period were attributed to dampness and ‘vapours,’ few New Yorkers wanted to live in such a locale.”

Soon prostitution and rum shops arrived, followed by gang-related crime. Anyone who could move out of what was once called the Collect neighborhood did, and those who remained lived in the newly christened Five Points, a wretched slum that persisted through most of the 19th century.

[Top: Five Points in 1827, by George Catlin; third image: Five Points map in 1851; fourth image: Five Points house in 1852; residents of Five Points illustration in 1873]

Sailing up New Amsterdam’s Broad Street Canal

October 18, 2014

It’s hardly surprising that when the Dutch arrived at the tip of Manhattan in the 17th century, they developed New Amsterdam so it looked a lot like, well, old Amsterdam back in Holland.


They dug dikes. They built windmills. They reportedly even planted tulips. And they created a canal out of a tiny inlet that ran from the East River, naming it Heere Gracht, after a much grander canal in Amsterdam.

Broadstreetcanalsketchnypl“In the twenty-two acre triangle bounded by the wall and the rivers, the Dutch set to work digging their familiar ditches,” wrote Gerard T. Koeppel in Water for Gotham.

“They transformed a deep, natural inlet on the east side of town into a large, timber-lined canal called the Heere Gracht (now Broad Street).

“Crossed by three bridges, the Ditch extended nearly to the wall, allowing unmasted boats to float at high tide ‘almost through ye towne.'”

Broadstreetcanalsketch2nyplIf the idea of a canal sounds lovely, it supposedly didn’t smell that way.

“At high tide small boats could carry goods three blocks into the heart of the city; at low tide, it was a foul-smelling open sewer,” wrote Eric Homberger in his Historic Atlas of New York City.

Still, it apparently was something of a focal point in town. “Lining the Heere Gracht were the homes of burghers and several taverns and breweries,” stated Homberger.


The Heere Gracht didn’t last much longer than New Amsterdam itself. Once the British took over, they filled it in, a good one hundred years before the Revolutionary War.

Thanks to its previous incarnation as a canal, Broad Street today remains one of the widest streets in Lower Manhattan.

A long-gone Chelsea alley called Franklin Terrace

September 8, 2014

West26thstreetsignWhile flipping through a book of New York City street maps from 1996, I noticed a section of West 26th Street off Ninth Avenue marked as “Franklin Terrace.”

It’s nowhere near Franklin Street in Tribeca. And it doesn’t seem related to nearby London Terrace, developed in 1845 as a residential stretch on Ninth Avenue at 23rd Street and now the name of the famous apartment complex on the same site.

FranklinterracemapFranklin Terrace was new to me. But a little research revealed that old New York did have a tiny courtyard off the south side of West 26th Street with this name.

“Here is a whole community of five or six houses with a little yard and a fence around it, all its own, in one of the most congested sections of the city, and the best part of it all is that a whole house of eight or nine rooms may be had for $30 t o $35 a month!” states a 1915 article in the New York Press.


The piece puts Franklin Terrace at number 364 West 26th Street, and describes it as a “blind street.”


“An ordinary gateway with a small iron gate leads to it. There is a paved yard with a row of old-time dwellings one one side and a couple of old-time trees that persist in bloom” (below left).

Franklinterracemcny1900Franklin Terrace dates to the 19th century, as the article makes note of the lack of “modern” conveniences. “Gas and hot and cold water, perhaps, but no electric lights, steam heat, or furnace,” the writer adds.

When did it fade into history? It’s unclear.

A 1925 New York Times short mentions that the houses here were being redeveloped and modernized “with  exteriors of old English type architecture with court and gardens (below right).”


Within four decades, Franklin Terrace was gone. Since 1962, the 10-building Penn South cooperative, from 23rd to 28th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, with its lawns and playground, has occupied the site.

Why a book of tourist street maps from 1996 lists long-demapped Franklin Terrace is a mystery.

[Third image: New York Press article, 1915; fourth image: New York Times, 1912; fifth image: MCNY Collections Portal; sixth image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

A map of the trendy 1983 East Village art scene

July 21, 2014

“East Village galleries are multiplying like white rats,” wrote Carlo McCormick in the East Village Eye in October 1983.


“What was once a small handful of peculiarly out-of-place storefronts that even this rag ignored is now an ever-increasing network of more credible and slicker galleries being written about by the likes of the Voice, the N. Y. Times, Art News, Arts Magazine, and Art in America plus a host of Japanese and European magazines that always seem to know what’s going on here before we do.”


While the 1980s East Village art scene went bust before it could live up to the promise laid out in the article, this accompanying map gives a small sense of the neighborhood 31 years ago.

Another East Village Eye guide from 1985 runs down the club scene and bars where you’d be drinking if you lived there in the Reagan era.

Hmm, how many of these addresses are now fro-yo shops or bank branches?

A colonial-era plan to build “Delancey’s Square”

June 5, 2014

DelanceysignBrowsing old maps can turn up some strange discoveries.

Take the map below, for example. Published by James Hinton, it shows the city streets and family estates circa 1776.

There’s a road leading to “Kepp’s Bay,” ship yards along today’s South Street, Crown Point, which is today’s Corlear’s Hook, and a square plot called Delaney’s New Square.

Delaney’s New Square—what was that?

In the growing city, it was supposed to be the (apparently misspelled) center of the new street grid developed on the Delancey estate, about 300 acres east of the Bowery on today’s Lower East Side.


The powerful Delancey family, descendents of French Huguenots, “began the layout of streets in the southwestern part of their property in the 1760s,” reports

“Their plan included a spacious square, called Delancey Square on the Ratzer map (right, at the bottom left), bounded by the present Eldridge, Essex, Hester and Broome Streets.”


Too bad the Revolutionary War got in the way. The Delanceys were loyalists, and after the war were exiled and had their property taken.

“In subdividing the land for sale, the State’s Commissioners of Forfeiture continued the grid established by the Delanceys but eliminated the grand square,” states

Interestingly, a century later, the location of this “spacious” square was one of the most crowded places on earth!


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