Pearl Street—called Paerlstraet by the Dutch—was one of the earliest roads laid out in the fledgling colony of New Amsterdam. And how it really got its name just might be an enduring mystery.
One story has it that the street was named after its abundance of oysters, “for the pearly shells left there by tides,” according to Edward Robb Ellis’ The Epic of New York City.
In The Big Oyster, however, author Mark Kurlansky says that Indians left piles of oyster shells at the water’s edge, which Pearl Street used to run alongside—before landfill extended the shoreline of Manhattan Island.
The theory that New Yorkers seem to repeat most, however, is that Pearl Street earned its moniker because it was paved with oyster shells, which glistened like pearls in the sun.
Perhaps there’s some truth to each story—and just how much may be lost to the ages.
[Pearl Street illustration: from the NYPL digital collection]