Behold the sparse, lonely junction of Broadway and the Bowery at 14th Street, as well as the patch of green in the foreground that marks the southern end of today’s Union Square.
This is how the square appeared to New Yorkers who ventured up this far from the center of the city in 1828—no big box stores, no M14 bus, no NYU students milling around.
Amazing, right? Artist Albertis Del Orient Browere painted it from memory in 1885, according to Painting the Town, a book produced by the Museum of the City of New York.
In 1828, Union Square was called Union Place. “The building boom that would bring fine residences, elegant hotels, exclusive boarding schools, and subsequently, theaters and commercial enterprises to the square lay twenty years in the future,” the book says.
“Union Place, first called the Forks to describe the junction of the Bowery, Broadway, and University Place at 14th Street, originated as a burial ground for indigent people. As the city continued to grow, the cemetery was transformed into a park, making Union Square a desirable location for those wealthy New Yorkers who constituted the vanguard of the northward migration.”