Posts Tagged ‘east river’

East 26th Street: New York’s “Misery Lane”

December 12, 2016

It was in a part of Manhattan, at the edge of a poor neighborhood of tenements and groggeries, where no one wanted to end up.

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But thousands of city residents did found themselves on Misery Lane, as the short stretch of East 26th Street between First Avenue and the East River was known in the turn-of-the-century city.

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This block was a dumping ground for the sick, alcoholic, and mentally ill, who sought treatment at Bellevue Hospital, which bordered East 26th Street (above).

Some New Yorkers had a sense of humor about it, as this rhyme from a 1917 medical magazine demonstrates:

miserylane19142T.B., aneurysm, and gin-drinker’s liver;
Tabetics, paretics, plain drunk, and insane;
First Avenue’s one end, the other’s the river;
Twenty-sixth Street between they call Misery Lane!

Criminals showed up on Misery Lane as well.

Men and women convicted of a range of crimes were deposited via police wagon on a dock known as Charities Pier at the end of East 26th Street (below).

From there, they were ferried to the workhouse and penitentiary across the East River to Blackwell’s Island to serve their time.

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The poor also stood in line at Charities Pier. Unable to afford rent, food, coal, and other necessities, their last resort was the Blackwell’s Island almshouse.

Misery Lane was the site of the Municipal Lodging House, built in 1909 to house mostly homeless, often derelict men (top and second photos), but also women and children.

trianglefireoutsidemorgueWith the city morgue on 26th Street as well, Misery Lane was the last place New York’s unknown dead went before being interred in the potter’s field on Hart Island.

And when mass tragedy struck the city, Misery Lane was involved as well.

Bodies found after the General Slocum disaster were brought here to be identified—as were the horribly burned corpses of Triangle Fire victims (above right).

Misery Lane is long gone, of course.

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Today, 26th Street ends not at a charity-run pier but with a lovely view of the deceptively placid river . . . all the way to Blackwell’s, er, Roosevelt Island (above).

[Top and third photos: NYC Municipal Archives; second and fourth images: NYPL; fifth image: LOC/Bain Collection]

How Buttermilk Channel got its lovely name

March 19, 2010

New York City neighborhoods and waterways have some wonderfully descriptive names—such as Hell Gate, Rat Island, and Dead Horse Bay.

But there’s something especially poetic about Buttermilk Channel, the narrow tidal strait that separates Governors Island from Brooklyn (at right, in a 1766 British map).

So how did such a lovely name stick?

One theory has it that the waters were so choppy, liquid being ferried from Brooklyn to Manhattan turned to butter in transit.

In the 19th century, Brooklynite Walt Whitman referenced the channel, stating that it was once so shallow, cows could walk across it at low tide to graze on Governors Island.

But a letter submitted to The New York Times in 1906 may have the most credibility. The writer mentions an 1832 book called Historic Tales of Olden Time and explains:

“As late as 1786, Buttermilk Channel was used for a boat channel, through which boats with milk and buttermilk, going to New York market from Long Island, usually made their passage.” 

[Governors Island, with Buttermilk Channel separating it from Brooklyn, above, in 1918]

An enchanting view of the East River

February 3, 2010

It’s a city of islands, pulsing with color and motion. There’s the Triborough Bridge in the forefront; the 59th Street Bridge skip across Roosevelt Island in the background.

And the East River has never looked so magically blue:

“View at New Amsterdam,” 1665

September 5, 2009

If you were sailing up the East River in the mid-1660s and catching your first glimpse of New Amsterdam, this is what you could expect to see. 

Painter Johannes Vingboon depicts the colony as a tidy little Dutch hamlet, complete with row houses, a windmill, and, eerily enough, a gallows right on the shoreline. 

Newamsterdam1665 
In the 1660s, Peter Stuyvesant was Director-General of New Amsterdam. Life wasn’t easy for the 1,500 souls living here: There were just a handful of muddy main streets and constant skirmishes with the Lenape Indians. But the City Tavern, built in the 1640s, probably made things bearable.

This painting is part of the National Archives of the Netherlands. It’ll be on display—along with other New Amsterdam artwork, maps, and plans—at the South Street Seaport Museum starting September 12.

It’s all part of NY400, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage along the river that now bears his name.

Trampled on the Brooklyn Bridge

May 20, 2008

May 24 marks the 125th anniversary of the world’s most famous bridge. By all accounts, that date in 1883 was pretty grand for the cities of New York and Brooklyn: Schools were closed, a procession of thousands crossed the East River, politicians made speeches, and fireworks lit up the evening sky. 

 

But the bridge’s early days weren’t without tragedy. During the 13 years of construction, 27 workers reportedly lost their lives. That includes its designer, John Augustus Roebling, who succumbed to tetanus acquired on the job. His son, Washington Roebling, succeeded him, but not without developing the bends in 1872. (Yep, these are the Roeblings of Roebling Street in Williamsburg.)

Worst of all was the stampede that occurred on May 30, 1883, the Sunday after opening day. Thousands packed the walkways to stroll across the new bridge. At a staircase on the New York side, masses of walkers somehow began pushing and shoving one another. In the end, 12 people were trampled, as this Brooklyn Daily Eagle headline sums up.