Archive for the ‘Maps’ Category

The story of how the Bronx got its name

September 23, 2022

Manhattan is a corruption of the Native American word Mannahatta; Staten Island derives from Staaten Eylandt, named by the Dutch. Brooklyn is the anglicization of the Dutch village of Breukelen, and Queens comes from English Queen Catherine of Braganza, who happened to be on the throne in the 1680s, when England was divvying up the former New Netherland.

But the origin of the name for New York City’s northernmost borough, the Bronx? That’s a longer story of an immigrant and his prosperous farm in the wilderness of the New World.

It all starts in 17th century Europe with a man named Jonas Bronck. The consensus seems to be that Bronck was Danish, though some historians believe he was from Sweden. Others contend he was from a Dutch Mennonite family driven to Denmark by religious persecution.

A 1639 map of New Netherlands, the year Jonas Bronck arrived

Whatever his native country was, Bronck made his way to Holland. With his wife and a group of other immigrants, he boarded a ship to New Amsterdam in 1639. “The ship also carried implements and cattle for commencing a plantation on a large scale,” states the 1916 text Scandinavian Immigrants in New York, 1630-1674.

Upon arrival, Bronck purchased 500 acres from local Native Americans (or from Dutch leaders; sources differ) in today’s Morrisania or Mott Haven neighborhood, on the other side of the Harlem River. He cleared the land and built a stone house “covered with tiles,” a barn, several tobacco houses, and barracks for his servants, per Scandinavian Immigrants in New York.

The view from Broncksland a century after Jonas Bronck’s death

“The purchase price was two guns, two kettles, two adzes [a tool similar to an axe], two shirts, a barrel of cider, and six coins,” states a New Yorker piece from 1939. “His house stood where the N.Y. Central 138th St. station is now, just north of Harlem River.”

In sparsely settled New Netherland, Bronck grew tobacco, wheat, and corn. He also raised cattle and hogs, in “numbers unknown running in the woods,” according to a 1903 edition of the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden.

In 1908, John Ward Dunsmore portrayed the signing of the peace treaty at Bronck’s house

His farm must have been a success. The Broncks furnished their house with fine bed linens, table cloths, alabaster plates, silverware, and a library of religious and historical books in both Danish and German. It was inside this finely furnished house in 1642 where a peace treaty was signed between Native Americans and Dutch colonists (which didn’t last very long, needless to say).

Bronck’s time in his namesake borough was short. He died in 1643, and his wife quickly remarried and moved upstate. Despite his demise, the land where he built his farm was already known as Bronck’s Land, and the river north of his property was referred to as the Broncks’ River.

The South Bronx in the 19th century, with the High Bridge in the distance

Eventually, the entire borough—annexed into the city of New York in stages in the 19th century—became the Bronx at the time of consolidation in 1898. What’s with “the” in the borough’s name? “The” is a simply a holdover from when Broncks meant the river.

[Top image: MCNY, F2011.33.687; second image: Library of Congress via Wikipedia; third image: University of Michigan Library Digital Collections; fourth image: Wikipedia; fifth image: NYPL]

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 oldstreets.com. 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 oldstreets.com.

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]

All the different business districts of Manhattan, according to a 1939 magazine

August 29, 2022

The center of finance is still firmly in Lower Manhattan, and the Theater District continues to surround Broadway in the West 40s.

But these two commercial districts are all that remain in 2022 of the many business and industry centers that used to thrive in different sections of Manhattan. The commercial districts and map were outlined in a July 1939 issue of Fortune, published to coincide with the World’s Fair that summer in New York City.

Fresh fish is still an industry in today’s New York. But the wholesale markets are no longer centered at South Street; a new Fulton Fish Market was relocated to Hunts Point in the Bronx in 2005. I’m sure you can still find fresh produce on what was once called the Lower West Side, but today’s Tribeca is no longer the produce market neighborhood it used to be.

Selling fish on South Street, photographed by Rolf Tietgens for Fortune

The Flower District, on Sixth Avenue in the West 20s, still has a few holdout wholesalers. Garments continue to be manufactured in the Garment District, but the output is nothing like it was in the 1930s, when this area from Sixth to Ninth Avenues between 34th and 40th Streets was home to the largest concentration of clothing manufacturers in the world, per the Gotham Center for New York City History.

A nursery in the Flower District, by Rolf Tietgens for Fortune magazine

Automobile showrooms have long left West 57th Street near Columbus Circle. The arrow that says “meat” pointing to Midtown East (where the United Nations headquarters is today) referred to the former Abattoir Center—one of two slaughterhouse districts designated by the city in 1898, according to Tudor City Confidential. (The other slaughterhouse district was on West 14th Street.)

The East Side Abattoir Center, by Alexander Alland for Fortune magazine

A leather district on the Lower East Side? That’s news to me. “Art” and “style” just below Central Park seem to refer to the luxury department stores and fashion boutiques, as well as the art galleries and art-related showrooms, on 57th-59th Streets.

[Images: Fortune, July 1939]

The Wild West street names once proposed for the Upper West Side

July 25, 2022

Edward Clark, a lawyer by trade, made a fortune in the mid-19th century as one of the founders of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. With that fortune, Clark launched a second career as a New York City real estate investor and developer.

Matthew Dripps/Valentine’s Manual 1865

In 1880, he and architect Henry Hardenbergh (later of Plaza Hotel fame), were ready to start construction on a Victorian Gothic apartment building. The luxury residence was set to rise on land Clark purchased at 72nd Street and Eighth Avenue. Today, Eighth Avenue is famously known as Central Park West, but in the Gilded Age it was still a mostly undeveloped thoroughfare bordering the west side of Central Park.

When Clark’s building was completed in 1884, it would be called the Dakota and celebrated for its beauty and grandeur. But before that, it was dubbed “Clark’s folly,” because the idea of putting up a spectacular residence in the slow-to-urbanize Upper West Side was considered ridiculous.

The Dakota, aka Clark’s Folly, on Eighth Avenue post-construction

Still, Clark was nothing if not a risk taker. He had a vision for what the “West End” should become and what its new avenues should be called. And he had no qualms about bringing his vision to the West End Association, the group tasked with ensuring that the area developed into a high-class district of fine homes and suitable businesses.

“In 1880, The Real Estate Record & Guide reported on a meeting of the West End Association, as it examined the future of what was thought to be the area’s most impressive boulevard, then known as Eighth Avenue but now called Central Park West,” recounted Christopher Gray in a 2007 New York Times article.

“Most of the people at the meeting favored renaming it West Central Park, but Edward Clark, then at least six months away from starting work on the Dakota, was opposed. He said he thought the avenues should be named ‘after such of the states as have well-sounding names,'” wrote Gray.

Edward Cabot Clark in 1850

What avenue names did Clark propose? He suggested the very frontier-focused “Montana Place for Eighth Avenue, Wyoming Place for Ninth Avenue, Arizona Place for Tenth Avenue, and Idaho Place for Eleventh Avenue,” stated author Deirdre Mask in 2020’s The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power.

The West End Association ignored Clark’s suggestions. In 1893, Eighth Avenue officially became Central Park West. In 1890, Ninth Avenue was changed to Columbus Avenue, and Tenth Avenue turned into Amsterdam Avenue. (Riverside Drive and West End Avenue already had been named, and Broadway would replace the Boulevard by the end of the century.)

Why did the planners in charge of urbanizing the Upper West Side nix the numbered avenues in favor of more descriptive street names?

“Part of the rationale was that new names would distinguish the haut-bourgeois West Side from the lower part of the city through which the numbered avenues ran, particularly the undistinguished factories, flats and tenements of the West 30s, 40s and 50s,” wrote Gray.

More than a century has passed since all of the naming and renaming, and it seems that the Upper West Side’s six major avenues are set in stone.

[Top image: raremaps.com; second image: Office for Metropolitan History via The New Republic; third image: Wikipedia]

The Lower East Side’s Mechanics Alley is one of the last true alleys in Manhattan

July 18, 2022

In the Hollywood-inspired imaginations of people who don’t live here, New York City is a place with shadowy alleys around every corner where danger lurks.

Though the city past and present certainly has its dark pockets and little-traveled lanes, Gotham never really had many alleys, even in its earliest days. The creators of the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan, which laid out the street grid, wisely knew that real estate would be too valuable to intentionally leave undeveloped.

Some 18th and early 19th century alleys became true streets, others got wiped off the map. A few continue to exist. I’m a fan of Theater Alley, beside Park Row near City Hall, was once home to Manhattan’s theater district. Three-block Cortlandt Alley makes for an evocative cut-through from Franklin Street to Canal Street.

Mechanics Alley in 1850

Then there’s Mechanics Alley. In the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge approach and flanked by exhausted tenements and squat commercial spaces, this mostly abandoned strip of rough asphalt used to run from Cherry Street to Monroe Street, according to the 1850 street map above.

Today, it reaches three full blocks to Henry Street between Market and Pike Streets. Though it tripled its size by subsuming another now-forgotten lane a few blocks up, Mechanics Alley is about as marginalized as a street can get. It’s possible to walk up and down it several times in the middle of the day and not spot another human.

The lack of foot traffic makes sense in this patch of Lower East Side. Stuck between two bridges and steps from the East River, it’s no longer a densely populated part of Manhattan. But how did Mechanics Alley come to be in the busy post-colonial city, when this neighborhood was teeming with people? How did it get its name, which suggests cars and garages?

It all has to do with the waterfront. In the late 18th century, shipbuilding yards “covered the waterfront all the way to Corlears Hook, attracting carpenters, smiths, shipwrights, coopers, chandlers, joiners, sail makers and rope makers,” stated reporter Daniel Schneider in a 2000 New York Times column.  

According to Schneider, Mechanics Alley began appearing on maps in the early 19th century. At the time, these and other artisans and craftsmen were called mechanics, he wrote. “New York was one of many American cities to have a Mechanics Row, Alley, or Place near the waterfront, usually where ships were built and repaired,” he explained.

Sure enough, Manhattan had another Mechanics Alley—actually Mechanics Place—which spanned second and third streets on the east side of Avenue A, per Valentine’s Manual of Old New York in 1922.

Avenue A wasn’t exactly on the waterfront. But this main street in today’s East Village was close enough to what used to be called the Dry Dock District, a 19th century center of shipbuilding along the East River where thousands of dockworkers, shipbuilders, and mechanics once lived and worked.

A second Mechanics Place existed off Rivington Street between the now-demapped Lewis and Goerck Streets, states oldstreets.com.

Another author advanced a different idea of how this alley got its name. “Though no documentation exists for the name of this short alley, it may be associated with the early history of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen,” wrote Sanna Feirstein in Naming New York: Manhattan Places and How They Got Their Names.

“Formerly founded in 1785 and still in existence today, the Society’s original mission was to advance and protect the political and economic interests of American craftsmen,” explained Feirstein. “Though their first meeting hall was at Broadway and Park Place, they owned land in the Chatham Square area, giving rise to the speculation that their organization may be the basis for this alley’s name.”

An 1882 sketch of a bell tower on the East River, which tolled at the beginning and end of a mechanic’s workday

The mechanics may be gone, along with the riverfront industries that relied on their skills. Their organizations have moved away as well; the General Society occupies a beautiful building on 44th Street.

But ghostly Mechanics Alley, marked up with graffiti and mostly hidden beside a bridge approach, is a monument to the tradesmen and craftsmen who helped build the modern city.

[Second image: NYPL Digital Collections; sixth image: LOC]

How an East Village alley was renamed for a Ukrainian poet hero

April 4, 2022

From the city’s earliest days, streets were named after local bigwigs, typically a landowner. So in 1830, when it came time to name the one-block alley between today’s East Sixth and Seventh Streets (part of an early 18th century enclave called Bowery Village), the tradition continued.

The little slip between Third and Second Avenues became Hall Street, after Harlem landowner Charles Henry Hall, who sold the property to the city in 1828, according to a New York Times piece by Michael Goldman from 1999.

Hall Street didn’t always make it onto 19th century street maps, and it was changed in 1855 to Hall Place for unknown reasons. For 148 years, as Bowery Village morphed into the Lower East Side and then broke off to become the East Village, the Hall name stuck.

Hall Street, between Seventh Street and Tompkins Market on an 1840 map

Then in 1978, Charles Henry Hall was replaced by Taras Shevchenko, and the street officially bore the name Taras Shevchenko Place. Who is Taras Shevchenko, and what prompted the name change?

Hall Place made it on the map in 1903

“Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) was a Ukrainian writer, painter and political activist whose novels and poems, written in Ukrainian, gave forceful expression to his countrymen’s nationalist sentiment at a time when aspects of the culture, including the language, were being suppressed by the Russian czar,” Goldman wrote.

Taras Shevchenko in 1859

Considered a hero to many Ukrainians, the name change was pushed by the Ukrainian immigrants who settled around East Seventh Street after World War II and built a community dubbed “Little Ukraine” that topped 60,000 people in the years following the war, according to Village Preservation.

The site of Tomkins Market in its Hall Street days, Taras Shevchenko Place ends at McSorley’s to the north and borders St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on one side.

It also borders a newish Cooper Union building. Back in 2001 as plans for the new building unfolded, Cooper Union wanted to “demap” Taras Shevchenko Place and create a pedestrian walkway. Thanks to community pushback, that never happened.

[Second image: NYPL; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Wikipedia]

A lost East Village alley on a 1963 downtown map

February 28, 2022

Old maps tell us a lot about the subtle changes to New York’s streetscape. Take this illustrated map of the Village that’s almost 60 years old, for example.

Published in August 1963 by the Village Voice, the map covers not just Greenwich Village but a portion of the Meatpacking District (see “Little West 12th Street” in very small print), a slice of Chelsea, and a bit Gramercy Park, with that sliver of Irving Place at the top right.

The map extends all the way east to First Avenue. Makes sense; the newly christened East Village was at the time becoming a hipster alternative to pricey Greenwich Village, with its own clubs, bars, theaters, and head shops. The new, young residents here would likely be Village Voice readers.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” by Armin Landeck, 1940

Much of the Village Voice map aligns with the streetscape today. But there’s something missing in the contemporary East Village—it’s a place name on the map between Third and Second Avenues and East 11th and 12th Streets.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” the map says, marking a slender lane in the middle of the block. Okay, but there’s no Stuyvesant Alley anymore. So what happened to it?

Stuyvesant Alley, not named on this 1868 map

First, let’s see what the backstory is. The “Stuyvesant” name is obvious; the alley was created on land once part of the farm Peter Stuyvesant established for himself and his descendants in the 17th century. Parcels of his “bouwerie” were sold off for development in later centuries, but the Stuyvesant name stuck.

Stuyvesant Alley appears in several 19th century neighborhood maps, like the one above, from 1868. The alley isn’t named, but it runs through East 11th to East 12th Street. It also seems to have some small buildings lining it—perhaps stables?

By 1879, the alley’s name made it on the map (above), along with other places in the heavily developed neighborhood, like the Astor Place Hotel and Tivoli Theatre.

In the 1920s, Stuyvesant Alley showed up in an article in the New York Herald. An art exhibit was to be held at One Stuyvesant Alley in November 1922, the paper reported, hosted by a group of painters who called themselves the Co-Arts Club.

“The Co-Arts Club has established themselves in Stuyvesant Alley, the last frontier of Bohemianism on the East Side,” the Herald stated wistfully. “The ruthless march of tenements and factories has left only the alley untouched and the light bathes the studios there with an undimmed purposefulness.”

The painting of the alley as a narrow driveway surrounded by red brick and stone buildings (second image above) is the work of Armin Landeck in 1940. Whether Landeck’s depiction was true to life is hard to know; it’s also unclear which end of the alley he’s looking down.

His view is different from that of this 1934 photo of Third Avenue and East 11th Street (above), which shows the buildings on either side of the entrance to Stuyvesant Alley.

The alley made it into the 1960s, since it’s on the Village Voice map. But the trail goes cold after that.

To explain its undocumented disappearance, I’m going with what the Village Preservation’s Off the Grid blog concluded in 2014, when they took a closer look at Stuyvesant Alley: “The alley appears to have been wiped from the map in the 1980s when NYU built their large dorm on the corner of Third Avenue and East 11th Street.”

Thanks to Mick Dementiuk for sending the link to the map my way.

[Top image: Village Voice map via The Copa Room; second image: Brooklyn Museum; third image: fourth, fifth, and sixth images: NYPL]

5 Remnants of the 19th century West Side village of Manhattanville

January 17, 2022

Think of Manhattan in the early 1800s as an urban center at the tip of the island surrounded by a collection of small countryside villages.

The city itself, with a population under 100,000, was concentrated below Canal Street. But a few miles up the Hudson River was sparsely populated Greenwich Village. Parts of today’s Upper West Side once formed the farming village of Bloomingdale. Harlem started off as a rural area in the 17th century as well.

Then there’s Manhattanville (below, at the top of the map). Founded in 1806 in a valley known as Harlem Cove, this former outpost 10 miles from the city was centered on today’s 125th Street and Broadway.

It’s not an accident that Manhattanville was founded here. In the early 19th century, this was the crossroads of Bloomingdale Road and Manhattan Street—two crucial arteries that connected residents to Harlem and the lower city. (Manhattan Street likely gave the village its name.)

“Building lots were being advertised for sale ‘principally to tradesmen’ in this enclave that already boasted a ‘handsome wharf,’ ‘convenient academy,’ and an ‘excellent school,'” according to a Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) report.

The village’s early population included mostly poor residents of British and Dutch descent, plus a small number of African Americans, per the HLC report. Decades later, Manhattanville would be better known as an industrial center and also an early transit hub.

“By the mid-1800s, this picturesque locale was the convergence of river, rail, and stage lines,” wrote Eric K. Washington in his book, Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem. The first northbound passenger stop on the Hudson River Railroad was at Manhattanville, Washington wrote. (Below, the little white Manhattanville train depot, in front of an early building for Manhattan College.)

Manhattanville remains on the map and as a neighborhood name. But like other villages, it became part of the larger city in the early 20th century.

Still, bits and pieces of the old village exist. For starters, the streets are a little askew; they don’t always align with the official street grid laid out in 1811. Before crossing Amsterdam Avenue, 125th and 126th Streets (the former Lawrence Street) make hard turns and slant northwest toward the Hudson.

This charming nonconformity makes it possible to stand at the corner of 126th and 127th Streets or find yourself at the intersection of 125th and 129th Streets. It’s a little puzzling, but it reminds you of the life and activity in New York that predates the Commissioners Plan.

What else still exists of the former village? Probably the loveliest remnant is the yellow clapboard parish house for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. An outgrowth of St. Michael’s church in Bloomingdale, St. Mary’s was founded in 1823 for Manhattanville residents. (St. Mary’s was the first church in the city to do away with pew rentals, which was a common practice at the time.)

The original church was a simple white wood structure consecrated in 1826, replaced in 1908 by the current English Gothic-style church building. The yellow parish house, however, was built in 1851 and feels more country village than urban city.

St. Mary’s Church is the site of a more eerie piece of Old Manhattanville: a burial vault under the church porch containing the remains of one of the village’s founders, a man named Jacob Schieffelin (along with the remains of his wife and brother). Schieffelin donated the land on which St. Mary’s was built.

Schieffelin, a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, amassed his post-independence fortune as a wholesale druggist and mercantile owner. He was one of a handful of prominent New Yorkers who made up the founding families of Manhattanville.

Among them were the widow and sons of Alexander Hamilton, as well as Daniel F. Tiemann—who served as mayor of the city from 1858 to 1860 and owned D.F. Tiemann & Company Paint & Color Works, which moved to the village in 1832. The arrival of the paint factory helped turn Manhattanville into an industrial center powered by an influx of German and Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century.

On the same block of 126th Street is another hint of old Manhattanville: the Sheltering Arms Playground and Pool. The name comes from the Sheltering Arms, which took in children who were “rejected due to incurable illnesses, some were abandoned, and others were so-called ‘half-orphans,’ whose parents required temporary assistance while striving to overcome abject poverty or other adversities,” according to NYC Parks.

Finally, there’s the mysterious street known as Old Broadway, a slender unassuming strip that spans 125th to 129th Streets and then picks up again from 131st to 133rd Streets east of regular Broadway. It’s the last piece of Bloomingdale Road.

In the late 19th century, as urbanization arrived in Manhattanville, Bloomingdale Road was straightened and made part of regular Broadway, which became the main north-south thoroughfare. This leftover strip of Bloomingdale Road no longer served a purpose. Rather than de-mapping it entirely, it was renamed Old Broadway—a remnant of a village that’s now often referred to as West Harlem.

[Top image: NYPL; second image: Wikipedia; third image: MCNY, MNY29573; fourth image: NYPL; eighth image: Wikipedia]

What happened to New York City’s 14th Avenue?

December 27, 2021

You know 12th Avenue in Manhattan, the Far West Side avenue that becomes the West Side Highway. And you may have heard of 13th Avenue, a short-lived thoroughfare built on landfill in the 1830s from 11th Street to about 25th Street that had a dreary, creepy vibe—based on photos and newspaper accounts.

But 14th Avenue in Manhattan? I’d never heard of it until I saw the 1860 Johnson’s Map of New York (above). In the uppermost part of Manhattan, at Tubby Hook and the railroad tracks that hug the Hudson River, there’s a small stretch marked “Fourteenth Avenue.”

Even stranger, 13th Avenue makes an appearance as well, running from about 168th Street to Spuyten Duyvil.

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the map that laid out Manhattan’s street grid, says nothing about 14th Avenue. The last street on that map is 155th Street, and to the north are scattered place names (like Fort George and Kings Bridge) as well as the names of landowners.

There are a few mentions of 14th Avenue in newspaper archives, specifically when it comes to real estate transactions. In 1875, the New York Times noted that a plot from 214th to 215th Streets along 14th Avenue exchanged hands for $80,000.

Some other 19th century maps mark 14th Avenue, like the one above from 1879.

So why did 14th Avenue (and this slice of 13th Avenue) get de-mapped? Did the city decide it was too small to be an avenue, too insignificant at only 10 or so blocks long? Meanwhile, Tubby Hook is still on the map; even Google notes this spit of land jutting into the Hudson (below).

It likely has to do with Inwood Hill Park. Where 14th Avenue is marked on the 1860 map happens to be where Inwood Hill Park Calisthenics Park is today, right alongside the water. I don’t know when the Calisthenics Park opened, but Inwood Hill itself became an official city park in 1926.

A short avenue had no place inside Inwood Hill Park. As a result, 14th Avenue forever bit the dust.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: Google Maps]

An 1873 map shows rural Brooklyn on the cusp of big changes

November 29, 2021

I can’t help but get lost in the Beers Map of Gravesend. Drawn in 1873 by cartographer Frederick Beers, it’s an impressive survey of one of the original six towns of Brooklyn—founded in 1643 by English-born Lady Deborah Moody and her group of Anabaptist followers, according to heartofconeyisland.com.

What amazes me most is how rural this pocket of southern Brooklyn was in the 1870s—and how much change was right on the horizon. (If you can’t magnify the map above, try visiting this link.)

First, look at that craggy shoreline of Coney Island. At some point, as Coney transitioned into the beach resort dubbed the People’s Playground in the next few decades, all those inlets and little islands were filled in and straightened out—including Coney Island Creek, making Coney no longer an island.

And what about these villages with names like South Greenfield, Unionville, and Guntherville? Unionville was actually in New Utrecht, according to a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article. Guntherville, perhaps named after a landowner on the map named M. Gunther, must have been a similar farming hamlet.

South Greenfield “was a very quiet and peaceful farming community, and remained that way for half a century,” states the Kings Courier in 1960. Then the Vitograph film studio opened there in the early 1900s, ushering out the farms and bringing some short-lived movie-making glamour to the area.

Names of landowners appear in very small print, familiar ones to Brooklynites today like Emmons, Cropsey, Stillwell, Van Sicklen. Geographical names have a rural feel. There’s a Hog Point (or Pit?) just north of Sheepshead Bay. Indian Pond is on the New Utrecht border.

Big resort hotels on the ocean like the Oriental haven’t arrived quite yet, though the railroads are there—soon to bring upper middle class Manhattanites to Coney Island and not-yet-named Manhattan and Brighton Beaches.

But already by this time, Gravesend is a recreational area. Boat houses are on Gravesend Bay; small hotels dot the countryside. Coney Island Road (not yet Avenue) has Newton’s Grand Central Hotel. The Prospect Park Fair Grounds is a horserace track flanked by Floyds Hotel and Bretells Hotel.

The hotel action on the seashore was active as well: the Point Comfort House, Union Hotel, Beach House, Washington Hotel, and Ocean Hotel. I don’t think any made it into the 20th century, but they helped put Gravesend on the map as a place of relaxation, leisure, and the latest amusements for pleasure seekers.

[Map: Wikipedia; fourth image: NYPL]