Posts Tagged ‘New York City in the 1860s’

The short life of a lower Broadway footbridge

August 4, 2014

Think Broadway gridlock is bad now? Here’s what it was like in the 1860s—when the city’s busiest thoroughfare had two-way traffic, no marked lanes, and no lights.

“Carriages, wagons, carts, omnibuses, and trucks are packed together in the most helpless confusion,” wrote James D. McCabe in 1872’s Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

Geninbridgecolor“It is always a difficult matter for a pedestrian to cross the lower part of Broadway in the busy season. Ladies, old persons, and children find it impossible to do so without the aid of police, whose duty it is to make a passage for them through the crowd of vehicles.”

To make this stretch of safer for pedestrians—and of course, encourage more foot traffic to his shop—a well-known hatter named John Genin, whose store sat on the southwest corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, pressured the city to build a crossing steps from his door.

He’d dreamed of a footbridge here since the 1850s and drew up designs too, as this illustration above shows.

In 1866, the fanciful Loew Bridge, named after city politico Charles Loew, opened. New Yorkers used the lacy, elegant bridge to get across town as well as take in the view.

Loewbridgecloseup1867

Genin must have been happy. But anotherr hatter on the northeast corner of Broadway and Fulton, Charles Knox, was not. Shadows cast by the bridge put Knox’s shop in darkness, and he was convinced he was losing sales.

He and a group of hatters from his side of Broadway sued the city, forcing city officials to tear it down. Loew Bridge only lasted a year, undone by a fierce business rivalry in an industry that barely exists in the New York of today.

When Upper Fifth Avenue was a shantytown

November 15, 2010

By the turn of the 20th century, rich New Yorkers had flocked to Fifth Avenue between 59th and 96th Street, making it the wealthiest stretch of the city.

But just a few decades before that, upper Fifth Avenue was a poor man’s land, as depicted in this 1868 painting of Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, by Ralph Blakelock.

“While the gentry of nineteenth-century New York built urban villas on mid-Fifth Avenue, wide open stretches of the boulevard north of 60th Street had been settled by African Americans and German and Irish immigrants,” states the description of the painting on the Museum of the City of New York’s web site.

“These residents operated truck farms and kept goats, chickens, and pigs but were powerless to hold onto their tracts in the face of such politically charged real estate developments as Central Park or, subsequently, the enormous price rises of the residential areas created at its borders.

“As late as 1905, when millionaire Andrew Carnegie erected his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street, his nearest neighbors were living in dwellings like the principal structure depicted in this view.”