Posts Tagged ‘New York City in 1900’

Trying to cross bustling Herald Square in 1902

October 19, 2015

Pedestrians, streetcars, horse-drawn wagons, elevated trains . . . getting from one side of Sixth Avenue to the other appears to be tricky at Herald Square just after the turn of the century.


I’m not sure if it’s exactly 1902. That’s the year Macy’s, in the upper left obscured by the Saks building in the center, moved from 14th Street to Herald Square.

And it’s probably not yet 1910, when automobiles began appearing more frequently, and mustaches like the one the man in the gray suit sports were on their way out of style.

Why is City Hall decked out in flags and bunting?

September 15, 2014

Is it the Fourth of July? Memorial Day? Commemoration of a recently deceased mayor?

Nope. City Hall is draped in flags and bunting, with hundreds of officials dressed in black at the front entrance, to celebrate the official ground-breaking of the New York City subway on March 24, 1900.


In a next-day article, The New York Times noted the pomp, the excited crowds, and the police holding everyone back.

NYTheadlinemarch251900“Tunnel day was a greater day to the people, for it marked a beginning of a system of tunnels in future years and for future generations which will have wide extensions not only in Manhattan but eventually will go under the waters of the East and North Rivers, and whose ramifications will find lodgment in Brooklyn and Jersey City, and possibly even Staten Island before this town is a great many years older.

“Tunnel transit, moreover, means that Harlem, 125th Street, will be reached in 13 minutes, says chief engineer Parsons, who has worked it out to mathematical certainty, and points beyond with proportional celerity.

“Therefore the people rejoiced, for they have been promised great things.”

[Top photo: MCNY Collections Portal]

Lower Fifth Avenue before the Flatiron Building

June 27, 2011

Prior to the iconic 1902 building’s opening, the land it was constructed on went by some interesting names.

In the 1850s, the triangle-shaped plot at 23rd Street, Broadway, and Fifth Avenue was known as the “cowcatcher,” possibly because cows from nearby farms often wandered into it to avoid traffic, according to The Flatiron by Alice Sparberg Alexiou.

Cows on 23rd Street? That name had to be a holdover from an even older New York.

“Cowcatcher” could also have come from the fact that the land resembled the three-sided metal device that back then was attached to the front of locomotives to prevent derailment in case livestock crossed the tracks.

In the 1880s a real rich estate developer, Amos Eno, put up a seven-story apartment house on this slice of the ultra-fashionable Madison Square neighborhood.

The cowcatcher moniker fell out of favor and the triangle was called Eno’s Flatiron—or just the Flatiron, because it looked like, well, a flat iron.

The 1902 Flatiron Building was actually officially named the Fuller Building when it opened.

But most city residents still called it the Flatiron—or more derisively “Burnham’s Folly,” after the architect whose design was not nearly as beloved 109 years ago as it is today.

[Top photo: New-York Historical Society; right: New York Public Library digital collection]

A day at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument

July 13, 2010

Looks like a peaceful and pleasant Sunday on Riverside Drive in this turn-of-the-century penny postcard. 

I can’t quite make out what game the girls in the center are playing. Leap frog?

Easter Sunday on Fifth Avenue in 1900

April 2, 2010

Churchgoers pour out of what might be a church in the lower left corner of this photo.

Fifth Avenue looks so genteel here. It had yet to be turned into a shopping strip with massive office buildings; at the turn of the last century, it was a ritzy stretch of single-family mansions. 

Check out the horse and carriage traffic. In just a few years, cars will be king.