A History Lover's Guide to New York City

A History Lover's Guide to New York City

by Alison Fortier


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New York is a city of superlatives. It has the largest population, greatest wealth, broadest diversity and most elegant museums in the nation. With that comes an amazing history.

This tour of the Big Apple goes beyond the traditional guidebook to offer visitors and residents alike a chance to walk back in time along the streets of Manhattan. George Washington took his first oath of office on the steps of Federal Hall. Visitors can still dine at the famed Fraunces Tavern and worship at historic St. Paul's Chapel. From the Brooklyn Bridge to stunning skyscrapers, the city celebrates its own history and that of the nation. Join author Alison Fortier as she traces the history and heritage of America's largest metropolis.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781467119030
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date: 02/29/2016
Series: History & Guide
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 280,263
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Alison Fortier lived with her family at 15 West 72nd Street next to the famous Dakota Apartments. Alison is the author of A History Lover's Guide to Washington, D.C.: Designed for Democracy published by The History Press in May 2014. She has a BA from the College of William & Mary and an MA in history from the University of Michigan. She is the widow of Donald Robert Fortier and the mother of Graham and Merrill Fortier.

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New Year's Eve in Times Square, Thanksgiving Day parades and Santa Claus, skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty — these are celebrations and symbols of America that bring smiles to our faces. They are a gift to us from New York City. New York redefined itself in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In so doing, it redefined our country.

New York was the most populous city in the United States by 1825. It quickly became the preeminent American city. New York City has owned every superlative: it was the wealthiest, the most innovative and diverse and the most splendid in the country. In the early twentieth century, the longest bridge, the tallest skyscraper, the largest public park and the most extensive subway system in the world were all in New York City. New York was the first city anywhere to be electrified and the first to have telephone service. Its concert halls, theaters and museums became the arbiters of taste and distinction in this country.

With its obvious attractions, nineteenth-century New York became a magnet to many. Those who made vast fortunes elsewhere came to New York City to make their mark. And so John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, James Duke and Joseph Pulitzer left Cleveland, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and St. Louis to reside in New York and make their contributions to the city. The first two millionaires in the United States lived in New York City in 1850. By the end of that century, there were scores of millionaires here — so many that a stretch of 5 Avenue became known as "Millionaires' Row."

New York also attracted the poor, the outcast and the persecuted. They came in large numbers. Between 1824 and 1924, thirty-four million immigrants entered this country. Twenty million arrived at the Port of New York. The majority of those who entered each year by way of New York stayed. Little Italy, Chinatown and Kleindeutchland grew up within the city. The Irish, Germans, Italians, Russian Jews, Polish, Chinese and countless others joined in and enriched the life of New York. Many immigrants quickly established themselves here and did well. Others suffered, finding misery and poverty where they had expected opportunity.

However grand and complex, New York City did not exist as we understand it today until 1898. Through most of the nineteenth century, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island were five separate entities. New York City was Manhattan alone. Brooklyn was a city in its own right. In fact, it was the third-largest city in the United States after New York and Chicago.

Some with vision recognized that combining five different entities into one city would help solve the area's increasingly vexing problems of transportation, water supply and sanitation. They promoted unification. A popular referendum on creating a Greater New York passed in 1894. It took a few more years to realize what this would mean in practical terms. On January 1, 1898, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island became the five boroughs, or administrative units, of one New York City. By a "stroke of a pen," New York's population increased to three million, making it the second-largest city in the world after London.

The Brooklyn Bridge deserves much credit for generating public support for a Greater New York. The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, linking more closely together those two great rivals, Brooklyn and Manhattan. To cross this bridge today is a routine commute between Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, but the bridge itself is far from common. It is an engineering marvel. Although it is no longer the longest span in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge remains one of our most beautiful American bridges. And it offers unrivaled views of New York.

Through much of the nineteenth century, millions relied on ferryboats to shuttle them across the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan. There was, however, always the dream of a bridge to facilitate travel. But the East River was wide and deep; the challenge of building a bridge across the river was daunting. Then, an engineer named John Roebling, an immigrant from Germany, conceived of a suspension bridge that would employ the latest technology, including steel cable wiring and enormous sunken supports, called caissons.

Work began on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1869; it took $16 million and fourteen years to complete. It also took the lives of twenty workers through accidents, including the life of John Roebling himself. Roebling's son, Washington, took over supervision of the construction of the bridge but later suffered from what was called "caisson disease." Today, we call this "the bends." It was actually during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, when workers were submerged deep under water to work on the enormous supports, that this terrible and painful killer affliction became understood. Washington Roebling's wife, Emily, assisted him in finishing the work on the bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge opened on May 24, 1883, widely acclaimed as a modern marvel. With a central span of 1,595 feet, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The entire structure is over one mile long. Its 272-foot-high double-arch Gothic towers rise at each end, and caissons extend 78 feet below the water level. President Chester Arthur (1881 — 85) and members of his cabinet attended the opening ceremonies for the Brooklyn Bridge. Fireworks added to the excitement.

Some, however, were skeptical. A week after the bridge opened, a large crowd of people crossing the bridge grew fearful that it would collapse under their weight. Panic ensued. Twelve people were crushed to death in the pandemonium. To reassure New Yorkers that the Brooklyn Bridge was safe, P.T. Barnum, the great circus showman, walked a herd of his elephants across the bridge. The herd included his most famous elephant, Jumbo. It was good publicity for both bridge and elephant. Jumbo, an Asian Indian word for "very large," soon came into common English-language usage.

New Yorkers quickly realized they could not live without this bridge and indeed needed more. They constructed three additional bridges over the East River: the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 and the Manhattan Bridge in 1912. The George Washington Bridge, the only bridge connecting Manhattan to New Jersey across the Hudson River, was completed in 1931. The Triborough Bridge — really a complex of spans and roadways connecting Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx — opened in 1936. In 2008, the Triborough officially became the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. The last major bridge built in New York City is the 1964 Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which has the longest span of any bridge in the United States.

One hundred years after New York became the most populous city in the United States, it became the most populous in the world. In 1925, it took this title from London and held it for forty years. Today, New York City, with a population of 8.5 million people, ranks nineteenth in the world. With a population greater than all but eleven of the fifty American states, New York remains the most populous city in the United States.

Your Guide to History

Official New York City Information Centers


This website helpfully provides the location of the official New York City Information Centers. The website also has maps, guides, lists of tours and popular attractions. It also has information on citywide tourist passes that offer money-saving opportunities.

Website of the City of New York


This website of the City of New York, the official name of the city, provides up-to-date information on attractions, museums and cultural events. New York City is the most visited tourist destination in the United States.

Subway and Bus Maps and Information


This website provides a full range of information on the New York subway and bus system with maps, fares and schedule updates.

New-York Historical Society Museum and Library

170 Central Park West at 77th Street • Manhattan/Upper West Side 212-873-3400 • www.nyhistory.org • Admission Fee

This is New York City's oldest museum. The society was founded in 1804 and continues to use the hyphenated version of New-York that was common early in the nineteenth century. The museum is in a beautiful 1908 Beaux-Arts building designed by York and Sawyer. The collection is extensive and includes ones of the best repositories of the Hudson River School of Painting. The Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History showcases themes in American history reflected in the New York City experience. The gallery highlights the role of New York City in the young United States. Included in the admission fee is an eighteen-minute film, The New York Story, and guided tours of the museum. The museum makes a serious attempt to encourage children to think about history in the Dimenna Children's History Museum and in history camps for middle school students.

Museum of the City of New York

1220 5th Avenue at East 103rd • Manhattan/Upper East Side 212-534-1672 • www.mcny.org • Admission Fee

The mission of the Museum of the City of New York is to explore the past, the present and the future of New York City. The museum takes advantage of its broad mandate and its extensive collection of 750,000 objects to create exhibits that help visitors understand the city today and to imagine it as it continues to evolve. A permanent exhibit, Gilded New York, displays the portraits, porcelain, dresses and jewels of the very wealthy at the end of the nineteenth century. Not to be missed is the twenty-karat gold, diamond, pearl and turquoise Tiffany dog collar. At the other end of the spectrum are the late nineteenth-century photographs by Jacob A. Riis documenting the lives of the very poor in New York City. Timescapes is a twenty-minute movie on the history of New York. The museum is planning a new permanent exhibit on the history of the City of New York, scheduled to open in 2016.

Like so much of New York City, the museum was the vision of an immigrant. The founder, in 1923, was Henry Collins Brown, a writer born in Scotland who made New York his adopted home. Architect Joseph H. Freedlander designed the splendid 1932 Georgian Revival–style building for the museum.

Brooklyn Historical Society

128 Pierrepont Street at Clinton Street • Brooklyn 718-222-4111 • www.brooklynhistoricalsociety.org • Admission Fee

Founded in 1863, the Brooklyn Historical Society studies and displays artifacts from the four-hundred-year history of Brooklyn. It also has a mission to engage the community in a dialogue of the contemporary issues facing Brooklyn. It offers considerable educational outreach to teachers and students. The Brooklyn Historical Society also has extensive holdings of genealogy reference materials for those seeking to trace their family roots in Brooklyn. Changing exhibits often explore the neighborhoods and citizens of Brooklyn today. One exhibit on display through 2018 is In Pursuit of Freedom, which focuses on Brooklyn's antislavery movement from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The building itself, a National Historic Landmark, is worth a visit. The architect, George Browne Post, greatly admired the engineering behind the Brooklyn Bridge and used iron trusses in the building's roof for support.

The Brooklyn Bridge

In Manhattan, access the pedestrian walkway behind City Hall in Lower Manhattan.

In Brooklyn, access the pedestrian walkway at the intersection of Tillary Street and Boernam Place. www.nyc.gov • Free

More than 120,000 vehicles cross the East River each day on the Brooklyn Bridge, which is a National Historic Landmark. In addition, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists make the daily trip. There is a walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge above the traffic for pedestrians and bicyclists. The views of Lower Manhattan from the bridge are spectacular. They generate the same excitement felt by those crossing the bridge in 1883. Not far from the bridge on the Brooklyn side are the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Brooklyn Bridge Park, both with beautiful views of Lower Manhattan.




Contrast the New York City of 1898 with the New York of one hundred years earlier. In the late eighteenth century, New York occupied only the tip of Manhattan Island. The street map reveals the geography of early New York. Lower Manhattan is a jumble of streets that twist and turn and bear distinctive names like Hanover, Beaver, Water, Houston and Pearl.

Many of these street names provide insights into seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New York. Pearl Street is named for the seashells once found there. Pearl Street ran along the shore of the East River before landfill extended Manhattan to South Street in 1800. There once was a wall along the outer edge of the city to protect the earliest European settlers in New York, the Dutch, from their enemy, the English. This explains the name "Wall" Street. Beaver Street was the center of the very important fur trade that created fashionable hats and large fortunes in the late eighteenth century. Notably, the seal of the City of New York includes the image of a beaver.

Early European exploration of New York was a precursor of the future city's cultural mix. In 1524, Italian Giovanni da Verrazano, sailing for the French, was the first European to lay eyes on Manhattan. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, is named in his honor. Today, if you arrive in New York City by ship, you will most likely go under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing for the Netherlands, became, in 1609, the first European to explore what would be named the Hudson River along the west side of Manhattan. Hudson named Staten Island for the governing body of the Netherlands: the staten, or states general.

The Netherlands, the greatest sea power in the world in the early seventeenth century, grasped the potential of New York for trade. A small group of Dutch colonists landed on Governors Island in 1624. Officials of the Dutch West India Company established a trading outpost at the mouth of the Hudson River and called it New Amsterdam after their country's capital city. They named the broader area New Netherlands. In 1648, the Dutch built the first wharf to handle the shipping trade on the East River. One hundred years later, there would be multiple wharfs with one-third of the world's trade shipped out of New York City.

But the Dutch were not the first to inhabit the land. About fifteenth thousand Lenape Indians lived here, moving from shore to inland in different seasons. To ensure the establishment of successful trade routes, the leader of New Amsterdam, Peter Minuit, sought a peaceful accommodation with the local inhabitants. The story is that Minuit bought Manhattan from the Lenape in 1626 for approximately twentyfour dollars' worth of beads and utensils. It is probable that the Lenape had a different approach to property rights than the Europeans, not intending to relinquish the land completely. Whatever their intentions, the Lenape legacy lives on in the name Manhattan; it derives from a Lenape word meaning "island of many hills."

The Dutch continued their advances in the area, settling Brooklyn, named for Breuklelen, a town in the Netherlands, in 1636. The name for another borough, the Bronx, also has Dutch origins. Jonas Bronck settled the area for the Dutch in 1639. Bronck, however, was born in Sweden. Other Dutch naming rights extended to Haarlem after the city in the Netherlands of the same name. Later, the spelling was changed to Harlem. The Bowery on the Lower West Side of Manhattan takes its name from the Dutch word for farm: bouwerij. And Coney Island derives from the Dutch name for rabbit — conyne — once plentiful in the area.

Though Dutch control of Manhattan was short-lived — about forty years — their contributions to what would become New York and the United States have been long lasting. Unlike English settlers in New England, the Dutch did not attempt to impose a state religion on New Amsterdam. They practiced a tolerance that was a feature of their seventeenth-century homeland. Eager to expand the trading post's economic output, New Amsterdam accepted French Protestants, English Roman Catholics, Quakers and those fleeing the strictures of New England Puritanism. Eighteen languages were spoken in New Amsterdam. Diversity was as much a characteristic of early Manhattan as it is now.

Jews first arrived in Manhattan in 1654, fleeing from Brazil, where Portuguese victories over the Dutch and ensuing intolerance made their existence untenable. The director general of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, initially objected to their presence, but his bosses at the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam overruled him. The Jewish population in Manhattan became an integral part of the town.

Freedom and tolerance did not, however, extend to those of African origin. The slave trade was robust. Slaves worked in the fields and at the port. The Dutch began bringing Africans into New Amsterdam in the 1620s. At first, they seized them from Portuguese ships. Later, the Dutch brought them directly from Africa. At a time when there were fewer than two thousand people living in New Amsterdam, the slave population numbered three hundred.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the balance of power had shifted in Europe with major consequences for the Americas. The English surpassed the Dutch as the dominant sea power. In North America, the British had already defeated the French in the French-Indian War of 1754 to 1763, becoming the continent's powerhouse. The English had colonies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The Dutch New Amsterdam stuck out like a great interruption of the extended English control. The English eyed New Amsterdam and wanted it. England was looking not only at opportunities in trade; it also needed outlets for its booming and underemployed population. Overseas settlement provided a great escape hatch for too many people with too few jobs who otherwise might become disruptive at home.


Excerpted from "A History Lover's Guide to New York City"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Alison Fortier.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Superlative City,
Chapter 2. First Capital of the Country,
Chapter 3. Gotham Gains Ground,
Chapter 4. Millionaires and Mansions,
Chapter 5. The City Is Beautiful,
Chapter 6. Back to nature in the City,
Chapter 7. Land of liberty,
Chapter 8. The Dimensions of Diversity,
Chapter 9. All Politics Are local,
Chapter 10. Making news,
Chapter 11. Leisure time in the Big Apple,
Chapter 12. The City of Genius,
Chapter 13. A City of skyscrapers,
Chapter 14. Global Financial Capital,
Selected Bibliography,
About the Author,

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