It looks more like a Southern plantation mansion than a house in Manhattan.
But historians believe this daguerreotype shows a private home and country-like white sloping fence on Bloomingdale Road, once a main thoroughfare extending from Broadway on today’s Upper West Side.
The daguerreotype is thought to date to October 1848 or earlier (that’s just a few generations before the Dakota came along!), making it the oldest known photographic image of New York City.
Found in New England, the image was traced to Manhattan with the help of a curiously written note tucked behind the daguerreotype plate, wrote Jennifer 8. Lee in a 2009 New York Times article:
“This view, was taken at too great a distance, & from ground 60 or 70 feet lower than the building; rendering the lower Story of the House, & the front Portico entirely invisible. (the handsomest part of the House.) The main road, passes between the two Post & rail fences. (called, a continuation of Broadway 60 feet wide.) It requires a maganifying glass, to clearly distinguish the Evergreens, within the circular enclosure, taken the last of October, when nearly half of the leaves were off the trees.
—May 1849. L. B.”
It was sold by Sotheby’s for $62,500 in 2009—a fascinating glimpse of a pre-urbanized Upper West Side.