Heritage Treasures of Historic Lower Manhattan (Pt. 2)
A journey through the creation of New York City
Let us try Google with a specific search query: “What are the GPS Coordinates to New York City?”
As results appear, data discrepancies may bring us pause. But as we filter through variances, we may come upon at least one approximation of NYC’s calculated geographic location on current record, “Latitude: 40.7128 Longitude. -74.0060”
With imaginations piqued, and before looking at the map, we not only try to guess the exact spot in New York City nailing those GPS coordinates, but what factors might have led to its designation as a geolocation marker. We might next be inclined to list off the city’s most iconic sites and attractions as potential candidates, only to discover — upon finally zooming in on the map — that the given coordinates do not home-in to where we might expect. We check the latitude and longitude data again, wondering if there might have been an algorithmic glitch that has us feeling slightly off-target. But this set of data is unrelentingly persistent. Its coordinates purposefully lead us far south, insistently concentrating on blocks around New York Harbor, zeroing in on a specific site: City Hall Park in Historic Lower Manhattan.
A Center of Centers.
In a world where GPS coordinates can sometimes misleadingly direct us astray, NYC’s assigned “Latitude: 40.7128 Longitude. -74.0060” — though seemingly off-mark from the city’s geographic center — is exactingly on point for unlocking a destination that is pivotal and undisputed as the pulse, the heart, the hub of an ever-evolving metropolis. The nurturing ground of roots, from which the city’s historical, political, cultural artistic, financial branches — among countless more — have grown over the last four centuries. An undisputed Center of Centers, diffusing its power and will in ways that continue to expand horizontal and vertical boundaries across the city, nation and world.
On arrival, however, our first impressions of Historic Lower Manhattan may reveal little of this district’s depths of impact, breadths of influence, or heights of aspiration. Its subdued and stoic environs, robed in homage-strewn landmarks, emanate milestone exultancies or gravities in low tones. A hushed counterpoint to the magnetic clamor of northward’s Midtown areas attuned to high volume — defined and dominated by steel towers’ vertical halls of mirrors, thicker crowds’ electric energies, and a day’s rhythmic timetables all clocked to rectilinear walks along intersecting avenues and streets of The Grid.
Away from the Grid’s numbered thoroughfares that accelerate a percussive march to meet tightly-wound schedules, Historic Lower Manhattan’s Colonial-era maze of narrow byways slows the tempo for a meander of introspection and discovery. Here, inhales held through Midtown’s rush-and-excitement are released into deep exhales of calm-and-revelation. Here — in an area covering six historic districts, featuring more than 65 landmarks, and mapping over four centuries of progression — we can experience a journey of historical and cultural jewels that can’t be missed. Here, leisurely walks compactly retrace a
city’s evolution on a concentrated timeline along less traveled paths. Here, the overlooked reveals the priceless.
Emerging from one era to the next, storied street-names replace numbers in its labyrinth of alleyways, quaintly-cobbled hidden paths reappear between towers of commerce, early oyster-mortared brick homes transform into charming bistros and bars, celebrated graves of heroes remain fortressed by revitalizing visions of newcomers. Approaching the waterfront, we come into an expansive view of a harbor that exudes a gravitational pull for us, as much as it has always done for the rest of the world … its ebbs and flows timelessly expressing the universal truths of Cycles and Change. To look across its vast expanse of waters is to come to the realization of distances bridged. As we stand at an entry point for the convergence of multidimensional worlds — flowing in harmony or crashing in violence— on shores that test mettle and resilience, moral fiber and renaissance, with each encounter.
A Code that Unlocks Mysteries.
Anchored at “Latitude: 40.7128 Longitude. -74.0060”, we remain planted on level concrete. We are geological layers atop the undulating terrain and underground streams for which this forest island —“a land of many hills” — was once called by its native name Mannahatta. To the west of us, we would imagine the Lenape on the hunt along Wickquasgeck Trail, their footsteps paving the way north for today’s length and spine of Broadway. To the northwest, passing by the fertile land of Sapokanik — the Land of Tobacco Growth in today’s Greenwich Village — we see families draw from the river’s abundant
yield of oysters, salmon, trout, sturgeon. At this active trading settlement and canoe landing, we see beavers make their appearance, unaware of their future plight. To the east would emerge another path directed toward Kintekoying — the great intertribal gathering place by today’s Astor Place/Cooper Union — where boundaries of the 3 major Lenape territories would meet, a council elm spreading its branches over their counsel, as great oak and sand hills shelter their hearth. Is it any wonder that we would hear the Delaware People refer to the island for its other name, Hay-la-py-ee-chen-quay-hee-lass, “The Place Where the Sun is Born”
Pulled back momentarily from the ancient past into the present, we recalibrate our positions. Still on “Latitude: 40.7128 Longitude. -74.0060”, we now come upon a medallion set into the pavement by City Hall Park’s southern gate. Partitioned into 9 uniformly-sized segments — each featuring a map, descriptive text, and laser-engraved illustration — we discover that the medallion serves as a Historical Marker Database, its segments chronologically arranged in counterclockwise direction to allow a radial walk through significant eras of NYC’s history.
The medallion appears on the ground like a mirage, a vision, a portal into other worlds. Etchings quickly fading into invisibility, its gossamer sheen teases us into the conviction that it veils greater truths that could upend our own. And as we use the its inscribed historical eras as our guide to the city’s past, we feel we have been handed a key that unlocks levels of secret doors, permitted a code that unravels mysteries, transported through a wormhole that has us absorbed upon arrival. All these, while transfixed at “Latitude: 40.7128 Longitude. -74.0060”.
10,000BC – 1500s. Mannahatta. Lenapehoking. Amaruca.
We are on an island of many hills. Along a river that goes both ways. On The Land of the Plumed Serpent. A lush primeval forest. Where Sun, Earth, Wind, Water reign and echoes of Ancient Truths resound: “The Land is our Home. Where the Guide is Our Sky.”
We meet …
Villagers of Sapokanikan, Elder Chiefs at Kintecoying, Hunters of the Wickquasgeck Trail
We discover …
Sapokanikan, Kintecoying, Wickquasgeck Trail
We experience …
• The feel of a primeval forest. The scent of tobacco at a healing ceremony.
• The taste of Three Sisters Dishes. The sounds of water and canoes as oysters and sturgeon are being caught.
• The sacredness of legends and storytelling at evening campfires, with a bright bowl of stars overhead.
1624-1664. Nieuw Nederland. Eylat Manatus by Noort Rivier.
We are caught in the Age of Discovery and Exploration. Across world seas, ships sail in search of new lands, lives, resources, stretching their reach to establish ports and settlements.
We meet …
Henry Hudson, Peter Minuit, Adriaen Block, Lenape and Africans enslaved and freed, Walloons, Sephardic Jews, Quakers of the Flushing Remonstrance, Director-General Peter Stuyvesant
The Fort. Each of the 4 Windmills. Jan Vigne’s Breweries. The Wall. Stadt Huys Warehouses.
Bowery (Bouwerij, ‘farm’)
Brooklyn (Breukelen, Breuckelen ‘marshland’)
Bronx (Jonas Bronck)
Bushwick (Boswijck, ‘little town in the woods’)
Gramercy (Krom Moerasje, ‘small crooked swamp’)
Greenwich (Groenwijck, ‘green district’)
Harlem (Haarlem, a Dutch City)
Maiden Lane (Maagde Paatje)
Red Hook (Roode Hoek, ‘red point, red soil’)
Staten Island (Staaten Eylandt, ‘States Island’)
Stuyvesant Street and Square
We experience …
• A stroll along de BredeStraat. A boat ride on the Noor Rivier taking in views of windmills, gambrel roofs, a fort, a large house for the governor, Stadt Huys, a church, warehouses for trading. Children trundling hoops.
• The sounds of trees cut down for homes ,,, or for a wall, Waal Straat.
• The smell of the Fat Kitchen as lard fries dough. Tables with Poffertjes (smaller, silver-dollar size pancakes), Salt Pork Sausage, Koecken (Deep Fried Dough), Stroopwaffel (Waffles), Koalslas (Cole Slaw), Bier (Beer)
• The sight of ships loaded with goods.
• The musicality of at least 18 different languages spoken. The feel of intricate Dutch Chrysanthemum lace.
• Beavers disappearing from rivers as pelts are exported
• The proposed Coat of Arms for New Amsterdam (1630)
• The blue-white-orange colors of the Dutch Flag over the colony
1664-1784. British Colonial New York.
We are in the Age of Empire. Wrested from the Dutch, it is a renamed city for the Duke of York. A battalion of ships teem a mighty harbor, securing the Empire’s dominance over continents beyond ports. The city has exploded into the trading and military center of British North America. We feel something has changed. The air seems to vibrate percussively, tensely. A growing population. spirals into shadows, a precursor of events to come.
We meet …
John Holt, a Patriot Printer. Some members of the Sons of Liberty. Soldiers in General Washington’s Camp. A Tavern Keeper and her Freed Slaves. A Prisoner released from the HMS Jersey.
British Military Barracks, Fraunces Tavern, Battlefields. Georgian-style Mansions. Brownstone and Brick Churches. American Colonial Homes. Slave Market. African Burial Ground. Military Barracks. Iron Fence at Bowling Green
We experience …
• The sight of Redcoats everywhere. The feel of brewing tension as the Stamp Act is enforced and the Declaration of Independence is read.
• The smell of a city in flames. A chapel’s bucket brigade quelling what they could.
• The sounds of intermittent musket fire, marching boots, and young men in taverns discussing broadsides and gazettes.
• A King’s statue toppled, a wrought-iron fence’s crown finials transformed into musket balls fired at His Majesty’s troops
1780-1840. The Early Republic and Industrial Revolution
We are in the Age of a new Nation’s Foundations. We brim with the nurturing of a city’s expansive potential in mind and matter. The former: that we guarantee hard-fought Freedoms for All. The latter: that we build accordingly.
We meet …
Andrew Haskell Green (“The Father of Greater New York”), DeWitt Clinton (Mayor and Governor), John Randel, Jr. (Surveyor), John B. Jervis (Engineer), Samuel Morse and Cyrus W. Field (Inventors), Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth (Abolitionists), Horace Greeley (Editor), and some members of the first municipal agency: The NYC Police Department.
Erie Canal, Old Croton Aqueduct, South Street Seaport, Seneca Village
We experience …
• The feeling of expansion as the city reaches across distances. An exhilarating boat ride along the Erie Canal.
• The smell of coal. The explosion of dynamite as boulders and hills are being leveled for city streets planned northward.
• The joyful sounds of crowds as fresh water gushes into reservoirs, some homes, and a fountain near City Hall.
• The daily read of Horace Greeley’s powerful New York Tribune editorials.
• A miraculous ride in the first Otis elevator at E.V. Haughwout’s.
• A taste of a fresh brew at the Tontine Coffee House.
• A long queue for the Museum of celebrated showman P.T. Barnum.
• Marvelling at the visionary leadership of Andrew Haswell Green, as Central Park, Upper Manhattan, the New York Public Library, the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo and many more institutions are brought to life under his helm.
• Hearing congregational singing of Hymns at the Plymouth Church, a sense of powerful undercurrents of selflessness as hard-fought freedoms and justices are defended.
1800s – 1900s. Immigration
We are in the Age of Opportunity, as the City opens and welcomes worlds to its shores. Haven. Sanctuary. Hope. Opportunity. Liberty. Dreams and aspirations shared. Mettle and resilience tested. Through trials and adversities. All strengthening and enriching the weave of a city’s life.
We meet …
Jacob Riis, Nellie Bly, the Roeblings, Residents of Five Points and the Bowery, Puschart Vendors, Vaudeville Artists
We discover …
Outdoor Markets, Dime Museums, Musical Shows, The Bowery, Five Points, Elevated Railways, East River, Tenement Housing
We experience …
• A city rises above, descends below ground, and reaches across rivers, as taller buildings, underground tunnels, and bridges find all hands on deck in a crowded working city. The intermingling of actvities defines the days.
• Sounds of construction on the Brooklyn Bridge. Aromas and tastes from kitchens of distant countries, made neighbors.
• Hushed prayers and bowed heads at different places of worship. All hoping — through sighs and tears, stress and turmoil — that work is attained for a living, food is provided for the family table. That safety and health is assured through dark homes and alleys. And that energy is given to the human mind, heart and body for yet another day.
1870s – 1900. The Gilded Age
We are in an Age of Extremes. The dynamic landscape explodes in a multitude of directions. Outer roads of opulent display forge inner labyrinths of social conscience. As formalized cultivations of Conventions mingle with progressive unsettlings of Change.
We meet …
Industrialists and Financiers, Engineers, Architects, Artisans, Culinarians, Tammany Hall, Planners and Civic Leaders, Editors and Journalists of Newspaper Row
The Harbor and Piers. Central Park. Fifth Avenue and its Mansions. Grand Central Terminal, The New York Public Library, and the Museums. Delmonico’s. Ladies’ Mile.
We experience …
• Another very special meeting with Andrew Haswell Green as we witness the completion of his visions for Central Park, the New York Public Library, the Bronx Zoo, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
• The rarefied air of serene neighborhoods with private stables, carriage houses, mansions, and gaslights-turned-electric lights for longer, safer evening strolls.
• The luxury and status of exclusivity. A palette of diverse flavors in special nine-course meals at Delmonico’s. Carriage rides in Central Park.
• The calming and contemplative silence of Gothic Cathedrals. The awe-inspiring vaulted ceilings of the Guastavinos.
• The symphonic musical range in classical concerts. The travels and tours to lands of Ancient Civilizations.
• And the ever raging battle among journalists to dominate public opinion. What’s the real story of Tammany Hall?
A Look Back.
At some point in our explorations, we may playfully muse how “Latitude: 40.7128 Longitude. -74.0060” might fare in a future record of Earth’s civilizations. With visions darkened, and senses limited, we try to project legacies that carry forward the a portrait of our times.
We welcome you to join us for a tour of Historic Lower Manhattan, to explore worlds we’re not quite ready
to leave behind.