Posts Tagged ‘New Amsterdam’

A New York street helps coin the term “hooker”

April 10, 2011

Corlears Hook was named in the 17th century for the Van Corlears family, early Dutch settlers who had a farm near this spit of land jutting into into the East River.

In the 18th century, the British renamed it Crown Point (on the 1776 map below), and in the 19th century it reverted back to its New Amsterdam moniker.

But it wasn’t farmland anymore. By the 1830s it became the city’s most notorious red-light district, attracting sailors and the women who serviced them.

The women of Corlears Hook
“. . . where the lowest and most debased of their class. They were flashy, untidy, and covered with tinsel and brass jewelry,” states Seafaring Women, by David Cordingly. “Their dresses are short, arms and necks bare, and their appearance is as disgusting as can be conceived.”

“The latter area is generally credited with giving rise to the term ‘hooker’ and certainly had its fair share of rough characters, male and female,” adds Cordingly.

By the 20th century, Corlears Hook had become a lovely park, which today offers views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges—and no hint of its importance in creating a popular term for ladies of the night.

When New York was officially named New Orange

March 7, 2011

How New York got its name can be summed up like this: In 1624, a Dutch ship arrived at the foot of lower Manhattan, where colonists set up a town they named after Holland’s largest city, New Amsterdam.

By 1664, New Amsterdam fell into the hands of the British (Peter Stuyvesant signed over the colony, now a city, without a fight), who renamed it New York in honor of the Duke of York.

[The city skyline, 1653]

Case closed? Not exactly. In 1673, the Dutch regained control of New York, sailing triumphantly into the harbor with a fleet of 21 ships.

Dutch leader Anthony Colve rechristened the colony New Orange, its official name for about a year—at which point it was permanently ceded to the British under the Treaty of Westminster.

As The New York Times’ Sam Roberts put it in a 2009 podcast, New York “was the Big Orange before it was the Big Apple.”

The wall that divided the earliest New Yorkers

November 19, 2010

Here it is, the namesake wall of Wall Street, depicted on a colorful mosaic at the (where else?) Wall Street subway station.

Built in the 1640s at the northernmost boundary of the young settlement, the half-mile wall was the idea of Dutch colonists, who wanted to keep British settlers and Native Americans out of New Amsterdam.

It didn’t exactly work—the English took over in 1664. The wall came down just before the 18th century.

Who gave Maiden Lane its name?

April 9, 2010

A bit of mystery surrounds the origin of innocent-sounding Maiden Lane, one of the first streets laid out by 17th century Dutch colonists.

It may have started as a lovers’ lane.

“Tradition had it that the girls of early Dutch days were wont to stroll by the little stream along what was known first as Maagde Paatje,” says a 1911 New York Times article.

The name might also stem from the street’s rep as New Amsterdam’s clothes-washing center. “Maiden Lane was the site of a freshwater stream where young maidens did their laundry,” explains Gerard R. Wolfe’s New York: A Guide to the Metropolis.

Whether a lovers path or laundry area, Maiden Lane was for a short time home to Thomas Jefferson.

The street eventually hosted a market and then became the city’s jewelry district in the 19th century.

It’s part of the Financial District now, but the name resonates differently than, say, adjacent Gold Street.

“View of South Street, From Maiden Lane,” by William James Bennett, 1827

“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. 

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.

The final resting place of the Kip family

May 4, 2009

That’s Kip as in the Kips Bay Kips, the New Amsterdam family that acquired a land grant along the East River in the mid-17th century and called it Kips Bay Farm. Now the area is Kips Bay the neighborhood.

The Kip house, a landmark at a time when few homes existed north of lower Manhattan, stood at what is now the Eastern end of 34th Street from 1655 to 1851.


Dozens of Kip family members were interred in this vault from 1842 to 1895. It’s in The New York City Marble Cemetery, on Second Street between First and Second Avenues, along with the vaults of other old New York families.

Double Dutch: a native New Amsterdam game

March 18, 2009

Double Dutch isn’t just a jump rope game played by city kids; as of this spring, it’s the newest official varsity sport in New York City public schools.

doubledutchstreet And it got its start in Manhattan in the 17th century, supposedly brought  by Dutch settlers. The story goes that British kids living here saw Dutch children playing, so they starting calling it Double Dutch.

The game thrived on playgrounds and sidewalks though World War II. Its popularity dipped until the early 1970s, when a city police detective looking for an activity girls could get involved in revived it as a competitive team sport.

Okay, this video for Double Dutch Bus is only nominally about the game, but it’s got some great shots of New York circa 1980.

New Amsterdam’s first paved street

December 30, 2008

That would be Stone Street, a slip of a road winding between South William and Pearl Streets in the Financial District. In the 1640s it was known as Hoogh (High) Straet, one of 17 streets in New Amsterdam that became muddy when it rained. “A bright Englishman decided to pave the street in front of his lot. This was Stone Street, the first paved street in the city,” reported a New York Times article in 1896.

Stone Street suffered in the late 19th century, when the bulk of the shipping industry moved from the East River to the Hudson. This 1920s photo shows a dingy-looking block:




The 20th century wasn’t much kinder to Stone Street, and parts of it were demapped in the 1970s and 1980s to make way for an office building.

But in 1996 it was made into a historic district, and the little mid-1800s structures—put up after the Great Fire of 1835 destroyed almost all of downtown—attracted restaurants and bars. The old-school paving stones (reproductions of the originals) also gave Stone Street a vintage New York vibe. 


Today Stone Street thrives, a teeny restaurant district tucked inside the canyons of Downtown Manhattan.