Interesting relics of New York’s early days
Hundreds of historic spots which almost everyone forgets in the busy life of the city today – Dozens of autumn day pilgrimages still possible for New Yorker who wishes to become acquainted with city
Somebody connected with the New York Commercial Tercentenary Commission seems to have thought that the very best way in which the average New Yorker could conduct an unofficial celebration of the anniversary was by becoming acquainted with some of the many interesting relics of the past, the historical spots and the traces of earlier times which almost everyone overlooks or forgets in the busy life of the city today.
A historical guide to NYC
With this idea in view, there has been published a tercentenary edition of the very interesting and valuable “Historical Guide to the City of New York,” compiled by Frank Bergen Kelley from original observations and contributions made by members and friends of the City History Club of New York.
It is astonishing the number of sights the New Yorker proud of his city’s past and present can go in search of. The guide itself is a compactly arranged volume of more than 400 pages filled with lists of things worth seeing. To do justice to its contents would require days and days of exploration. There are more than sixty routes laid out for the convenience of the systematic sightseer. There are maps and illustrations of New York, old and new, in order to make his task easier. There is material for dozens of pleasant excursions in these autumn days, each one a patriotic pilgrimage full of interest.
Even the most up to date of New Yorkers can acquire information which will be of value to him, sentimentally or practically, by following the lead given in these pages. For instance, he would discover by visiting the old Dutch houses of Long Island and some of the younger buildings still standing on Manhattan that good architecture is by no means a newly-discovered art. He would learn, perhaps to his surprise, the wealth of historical material associated with New York.
It may be mentioned here that anyone interested in such things as are covered by the guide would do well to make haste if he wants to see them. The first edition was published in 1909. In so short a space as the four years which elapsed between that date and publication of the second edition, many historic buildings were destroyed. And the house wreckers have been busy since then.
The raison d’être
The purpose of the compilers of the guide are thus stated in a preface written by Mrs Robert Abbe:
“The ‘Historical Guide of New York’ is the result of prolonged efforts on the part of the City History Club of New York to discover and to direct attention to the yet visible traces of earlier times which lie hidden within and are fast disappearing from the city of today.
“When the society was founded in 1896, to promote good citizenship through the study of history and civics and by the establishment of self-governing clubs, the need was felt for a systematic survey of and guide to the history of New York city in a simple and convenient form. In order to meet this necessity, the club first published, under the direction of a number of well-known writers, ‘The Half Moon Papers,’ a series of monographs which were afterward incorporated in two volumes entitled ‘Historic New York.’
“During the past thirteen years, twelve ‘Excursion Leaflets’ have been prepared, designed to provide, at the lowest possible price, a brief but carefully verified historical description of every part of the city compiled as far as possible from original sources. These pamphlets have been extensively utilized by members of the junior clubs, some of whom have by their use become competent as trained and in a few cases professional guides; by the children of the public and private schools of the five boroughs, and by many other persons who believe, as does the writer, that familiarity with the history of one’s own city leading to a knowledge and love of the city itself is the foundation of true civic patriotism. The information thus gathered is now presented in complete form, thoroughly revised and illustrated by maps and photographs.”
Route by route
As has been said, the general plan of the book is to arrange the sights, landmarks, etc., according to routes. Thus one route includes the neighborhood of Bowling Green, and it will surprise you to learn how many places of interest there are to visit there. Other routes cover Manhattan, Harlem, The Bronx, Brooklyn, with the ancient towns of Flatbush, Flatlands, etc.; the Borough of Queens and Staten Island. Besides, there is much historic matter bearing on the work of sightseeing.
That there is a very good reason for the tercentenary edition of the guide is pointed out in an introduction contributed by Edward Hagaman Hall. This introduction is reprinted from the 1914 annual report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society and relates to the importance which the commercial development of New York bears to the growth of the nation.
“In glancing at the historical events upon which the celebration is based,” says Mr Hall, “it is interesting to note that the commerce of New Netherland began and was fully established before New Netherland was permanently settled. The first permanent settlement in what is now the State of New York was made by the Dutch at Fort Orange (Albany) in 1624, and the first permanent settlement on Manhattan Island was made at New Amsterdam in 1626.
“The permanence and success of those settlements from the very beginning were due, next to the natural industry of the Dutch pioneers, mainly to the fact that there had been ten years of peaceful and successful trading with the Indians, by means of which the Dutch had contracted friendly relations with the natives before they attempted to settle permanently.
Comparing and contrasting
“The importance of this fact becomes apparent when one compares the course of events on the Hudson with what happened on the James River in Virginia.
“When the States General of the United Netherlands in 1614 granted the first charter for trading to New Netherland, there were only two permanent settlements upon the Atlantic coast of the present United States, namely the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, Fla., and the English settlement at Jamestown, Va.
“St Augustine, founded in 1565, did not develop commerce. It was established primarily as a military post to secure possession of Florida in order to prevent other nation settling there and interfering with the treasure ships of Spain passing between Mexico and the old country, but it was also a center of missionary work among the Indians.
“Jamestown was settled in 1607. Plymouth was not settled until 1620. It was between these two dates that the commerce of the Hudson Valley was begun. While too much cannot be said of the wonderful enterprise and courage which led to the first permanent planting of Anglo-Saxon civilization upon this continent at Jamestown, it is nevertheless to be observed that the early years of that colony were characterized by a desperate struggle for mere existence; the development of a commerce, much as it was desired, was out of the question.
“The Colonists did not at first raise enough produce to sustain their own lives and were kept alive partly by food brought from the mother country by what were called the first supply, the second supply, the third supply, etc., and corn exacted from the Indians much against the latter’s will. It is true, they sent back to England some rough timber, a consignment of sassafras, a cage of flying squirrels for the King, a load of yellow dirt which was thought to contain gold, etc., but nothing in those early years of sufficient value to compensate the factors for their investments; while the Colonists perished with starvation and Indian massacres until their precarious hold on the continent was almost broken.
“It was not until 1614 or 1615 — just about the time of chartering of the New Netherland commerce — that their attention was turned seriously to the cultivation of tobacco, which eventually became a staple crop; but for several years after that, even, while developing the culture of tobacco, they were so improvident that they did not raise edible crops enough to feed themselves and had to be assisted with the necessities of existence sent from England.
“Meanwhile, the Dutch, who for many years had had a profitable commerce with Russia in furs and who were keen rivals of the English Muscovy Company in the Russian trade, quick to realize the value of the resources of these commodities in the Hudson Valley, began trading in this unappropriated region. That the commerce was profitable from the very beginning is evident from the eagerness with which the Amsterdam merchants applied for a monopolistic charter after the preliminary voyages hither, and the jealousy with which they regarded any attempts at competition, surreptitious or otherwise, after they secured that charter. It is the beginning of that commerce, which has radiated from New York and expanded to such great proportions, that the tercentenary primarily commemorates.
“This celebration in 1914 is emphasized by a contemporaneous commercial event of extraordinary importance to the nation, namely, the practical opening of the Panama Canal. This achievement connects backward with the events of which we have been speaking, and even earlier history. When Columbus sailed in 1492 he believed that he could reach the Orient by sailing westward. After he had discovered the West India Islands and the Cabots had discovered continental America, and it was found that a double continent impeded the sea road to Cathay, subsequent explorers tried to find a passage through the land to the sea beyond.
“Cartier, La Salle, and Champlain tried to reach China by way of the St Lawrence River and failed. Captain John Smith tried to reach the East Indies by way of the James River, but was stopped by the Falls of Richmond. Henry Hudson, choosing between a route unsuccessfully attempted by John Davis and another untried route which he thought more promising, tried to reach China by way of the Hudson River, with no better success so far as his original object was concerned.
“Now, after the lapse of centuries, the passage which they failed to find we have made at Panama. We thus have a period of 300 years of American history sharply defined by two conspicuous events – at one end the beginning of the chartered commerce of New Netherland which was the forerunner of the greater commerce of the nation; at the other end, the opening of the Panama Canal, which is the consummation of the hitherto unattained hopes of centuries and which is destined vastly to increase the commerce of the port of New York and the nation as time goes on.”
- Site of the bank of the Manhattan Company building from Broad & Wall Street (1846)
- Castle Garden from the Battery, by William Wade (c1849)
- Tammany Hall in 1830, Lithograph by George Hayward for the Manual of the Corporation of the city of New York (1865)
- St Pauls and the Astor House, by J B Forrest (1850)
- Park and City Hall, New York, by William Henry Bartlett (1830s)
- The Tombs/Halls of Justice (1850)
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Publication: The Sun (New York, NY)
Publication date: November 15, 1914