GET UPDATES IN YOUR INBOX! Subscribe to our SPAM-free updates here:

GET UPDATES IN YOUR INBOX! Subscribe to our SPAM-free email here:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Bob Dylan's Birthday

Image result for bob dylan 1960

Happy 77th Birthday to Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, who was born May 24, 1941, in Duluth Minnesota. His birth name was Robert Zimmerman, and, as we write in Footprints in New York:
he grew up in the tight-knit Jewish community in Hibbing, his mother’s hometown. After graduating high school in 1959, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota but only lasted one year. While he was there, he tapped into the burgeoning folk scene and began consistently using the stage name Bob Dylan. Having been a rock and roller, Dylan’s musical trajectory changed around this time when he was introduced to the music of Woody Guthrie, which, in Dylan’s words, “made my head spin.” 
In January 1961, he arrived in New York City determined to do two things: perform in Greenwich Village, the center of America’s folk music revival, and meet Woody Guthrie. By the end of his first week, he’d done both. Dylan probably got to the city January 23, the day the front page of the New York Times proclaimed it the “coldest winter in seventeen years,” a line Dylan would borrow for one of his earliest compositions, “Talkin’ New York.” In No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s documentary on Dylan’s early career, the singer remembers that first day: “I took the subway down to the Village. I went to the Cafe Wha?, I looked out at the crowd, and I most likely asked from the stage ‘Does anybody know where a couple of people could stay tonight?’” 
Singer-songwriter Fred Neil presided over the bar’s eclectic all-day lineup. Dylan showed his chops by backing up Neil and singer Karen Dalton on the harmonica and was hired to “blow my lungs out for a dollar a day.” 
Immersing himself in the music scene, Dylan soaked up everything he heard, from live acts in the bars and coffee houses south of Washington Square to the records he’d spin at Izzy Young’s Folklore Center down the street from Cafe Wha?. In the meantime he continued to embellish his back story. In No Direction Home, Izzy Young recalls Dylan telling him, “I was born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941, moved to Gallup, New Mexico; then until now lived in Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, North Dakota (for a little bit). Started playing in carnivals when I was fourteen, with guitar and piano. . . .” 
Later, newspapers picked up the fake biography, writing about the cowboy singer from Gallup. Stretching all the way back to the city’s Dutch pioneers, people have come to New York to reinvent themselves, to cast off their old identities and strike out in new directions. Dylan’s fanciful back story may have been an extreme case, but it was effective.
Today, Dylan's career shows no sign of slowing down. In 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first musician to be given the honor. In 2017, he released Triplicate, a triple album of standards, many of which had been recorded by Frank Sinatra. And he continues to tour regularly, with a swing through Asia, Australia, and New Zealand coming up this summer.

This summer we'll conduct a tour of Bob Dylan's New York -- watch this blog for details.

In other news, our blog recently had its millionth visitor. Thank you all so much for your support!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The Buttonwood Agreement

On May 17, 1792 (226 years ago today), the New York Stock Exchange was founded by a group of twenty four individuals and firms under a buttonwood tree near 68 Wall Street (just west of Pearl Street).

The short document read:
We the Subscribers, Brokers for the Purchase and Sale of the Public Stock, do hereby solemnly promise and pledge ourselves to each other, that we will not buy or sell from this day for any person whatsoever, any kind of Public Stock, at a less rate than one quarter percent Commission on the Specie value and that we will give preference to each other in our Negotiations. In Testimony whereof we have set our hands this 17th day of May at New York, 1792.
Among those who were members of that original exchange were Leonard Bleecker, whose brother Anthony was namesake of Bleecker Street, Isaac M. Gomez, whose father's home in Marlboro, New York, built ca. 1714, is the oldest Jewish home in America, Benjamin Seixas, a president of Congregation Shearith Israel and former privateer, and Samuel Beebe, in whose offices in 1817, the stock exchange would be reorganized and receive the name "New York Stock and Exchange Board."

Image result for tontine's wall

The exchange may have actually met under the tree in good weather, but in the early years they mostly convened inside the Tontine Coffee House (above, with the balcony) on Wall Street near the corner of Water Street. Later, they rented an office on the second floor of the Bank of New York for $200 a year (which included heat) before moving into the Merchant's Exchange at 55 Wall Street and, finally, two successive buildings on the current spot on Broad Street. Today, a scraggly buttonwood stands in front of the exchange to mark this event.


Read more about NYC history in


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The Astor Place Riots

On May 10, 1849, New York was the scene of a deadly riot that centered acting dispute.

While there were many conflicts in 19th-century New York between rich and poor, immigrant and native-born, this riot stands out. After all, how often do troops fire on citizens who are fighting over rival Shakespearean actors?

As we write in Inside the Apple:
In 1849, [the Astor Place Opera House] invited acclaimed British tragedian William Macready to perform Macbeth during his tour of the United States. This annoyed the patrons of the Bowery Theater, who were champions of American actor Edwin Forrest. Forrest had recently returned from a disappointing European tour (where he’d been hissed and booed in London by Macready’s fans), so to tweak Macready, Forrest had embarked on a tour of the same cities Macready was playing doing his rival version of Macbeth. Thus, when Macready was scheduled to appear at the Astor Place Opera House, the Bowery Theater downtown would mount Forrest’s production of Macbeth. 
Had this been nothing more than two rival Shakespeareans treading the boards, things might have remained calm. However, the audience at the Bowery Theater, led the rowdy Bowery B’hoys (a quasi-gang), turned it into a violent clash over class and values. Was Macready, an imported British actor, better than Forrest, his American rival? They set out to prove he was not.... 

On May 7, 1849, Macready took the stage at the Astor Place Opera House and was greeted with rotten eggs, old shoes, and other objects smuggled into the theater by Five Pointers who’d infiltrated the audience. Macready refused to go on the next two nights, but on May 10, he agreed to continue. All the day before, Bowery B’hoys and Isaiah Rynders—a political heavyweight in the Five Points and personal fan of Edward Forrest—had posted flyers around town encouraging people to come to Astor Place. As the flyer announced in all capital letters: Shall Americans or English rule in this city
By the time the performance began, a crowd of between 10,000 and 20,000 people surrounded the theater, pelting it with bricks and paving stones. New York’s elite militia, the Seventh Regiment, was called in to quell the riot—the first time a military unit had been asked to do so in peacetime. When the crowd did not disburse, the soldiers were given the order to fire and by the end of the evening scores had been injured and eighteen people had been killed; four more people would die from their injuries over the next few days.
It's interesting to note that while today New York is filled with theaters, in 1836 (a decade before the riot) the city still only had a total of five theaters. More astonishingly, the New York Mirror complained this was too many. “The resident population would not more than adequately support one” and visitors “might possibly eke out a respectable audience for two more—but for five! that’s too great a supply for the demand.”

The Astor Place Opera House is now gone, replaced by the Mercantile Library (aka Clinton Hall)--the building with Starbucks in it.

[Adapted from a post on May 10, 2011]

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Postcard Thursday: William Jenkins Worth

The dedication of the Worth Monument, November 25, 1857; courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

This week, Tex-Mex restaurants and bars around the country will celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which many people wrongly think is Mexico's independence day. (That anniversary falls on September 16th). Cinco de Mayo also has nothing to do with the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, another common misconception. (What Cinco de Mayo celebrates is the 1862 victory of the Mexicans over the French at the Battle of Puebla.)

New York does, however, have a strange and significant connection to that earlier conflict, and just two days after Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the death of General William Jenkins Worth, hero of the Battle of Chapultepec in the Mexican-American War and namesake of Fort Worth, Texas. While Worth died of cholera in Texas in 1849, his remains ended up in New York, a city in which he never lived while he was alive.

A protégé of Winfield (“Old Fuss and Feathers”) Scott, Worth fought in the War of 1812, the Seminole War in Florida, and the Mexican-American War. At the Battle of Chapultepec, Worth’s division took Mexico City’s San Cosme Gate, thus gaining access to the city in what would prove to be a decisive battle in the war. When Mexico City fell to the Americans, it was Worth himself who raised the American flag from the top of the National Palace.

(Though the Mexican-American War is often overlooked these days, it was a major turning point in American history, netting the United States the territories of Arizona, New Mexico, and California. And the Battle of Chapultepec—also known as the “Halls of Montezuma”—is still commemorated in the opening line of the Marine Corps hymn.)

When Worth died in 1849, he was a famous man—but why he didn’t end up buried in Texas or in Hudson, New York (his childhood home) remains a bit of a mystery. Certainly, New York embraced him as a man deserving of all the pomp and circumstance it could muster. He was brought to the city and buried in a temporary tomb in Green-Wood cemetery while a proper monument could be erected at Madison Square. Once the monument was finished, Worth was reburied on November 25, 1857, in an elaborate ceremony after lying in state at City Hall. (November 25 was in those days an important holiday—Evacuation Day—which marked the end of the American Revolution.)

Like an Egyptian pharaoh, Worth had numerous objects entombed with him, and they provide a fascinating insight into the customs of the time. Worth was a Mason and so many Masonic items were included, ranging from The Masonic Manual to a list of the lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge in New York. Other items were particularly New York-centric and provide a time capsule of 1857; they include Valentine’s Manual, the constitution and by-laws of the Metropolitan Social Club, a catalogue of the New York Ophthalmic Hospital, and many documents pertaining to the building of Worth’s tomb. Added for good measure were newspaper stories covering George Washington’s funeral in 1799 and two pennies—perhaps on the general’s eyes—dating from 1787 and 1812.

The Worth Monument, which stands at the junction of Fifth Avenue and Broadway near the Flatiron Building, is one of only two stand-alone military gravesites of its kind in the city. (The other, grander structure is Grant’s Tomb in Riverside Park.)

But the tomb isn’t Worth’s only commemoration in New York. Running through Chinatown and Tribeca is Worth Street, which was named for him in the early 1850s. For many years that thoroughfare had been called Anthony Street and it was known as one of the worst streets in New York. Low-cost brothels clustered in the blocks of Anthony near the intersection of Orange and Cross Street. In 1829, the five-cornered intersection where Anthony, Orange, and Cross met had been dubbed “the Five Points,” and soon that name came to refer to the entire slum that radiated out from that hub.

By the 1850s, with a surge of poor Irish and German immigrants moving into Five Points, the city decided to improve the neighborhood’s fortunes through a little creative street renaming. If Anthony Street was terrible, they would literally wipe it off the map. In its place was Worth Street, named for the great hero of the war, and therefore free of any taint. (Around the same time, Orange Street was renamed Baxter in honor of Colonel Charles Baxter who had commanded the New York Regiment at Chapultepec and was killed. When Cross Street later became Park Street—now called Mosco Street—all three original street names that made up the infamous Five Points intersection were gone.)

[This blog post is adapted from an earlier version that ran on May 7, 2009.]


Read more about NYC history in


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Postcard Thursday: New York City Maps at the NYPL

If you haven't yet had the chance, check out the exhibition at the main branch of the New York Public Library, "Picturing the City: Illustrated Maps of NYC." The small show is being held in the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division on the first floor and draws from the library's impeccable collection of New York maps and illustrations.

Some, such as the famed Castello Plan, will be familiar to lovers of New York City history, but other maps -- including this fun illustration from 1946 -- are less well known.

The exhibition runs through July 16, 2018, and is open during regular library hours.

* * * *


Join us for a walk around the Financial District in search of moments from the city's rich history that have faded from view. We'll search out forgotten marble markers, obscure statues of famous people (and famous statues of obscure people), explore the remnants of the Dutch village of New Amsterdam, and discover why New Yorkers a century ago were OBSESSED with the American Revolution. Whether you've traversed this neighborhood your whole life or are new to the area, this tour will likely show you places you've never seen before.

$25 per person

TO RESERVE: Send your name, the number of people in your group, and a contact number (in case we have to contact you on the day of the tour) to We will send you a confirmation with details of where to meet within 24 hours.


Read more about NYC history in


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The Merchant's House Museum

The Merchant's House Museum as it looked in the 1930s (with its original neighbors on either side); photo courtesy of HABS (Historic American Buildings project) at the Library of Congress.

Readers of Footprints in New York and lovers of New York City history may recognize the townhouse above as 29 East 4th Street, the home of Gertrude Tredwell and family, which is now operated as The Merchant's House Museum.

As we write in our chapter about Gertrude in Footprints:
Today known as the Merchant’s House Museum, [29 East 4th Street] is the best preserved early-nineteenth-century townhouse in the city, and its preservation owes much to the fact that from 1835 until 1933, it was occupied by just one family: that of hardware merchant Seabury Tredwell. 
Seabury Tredwell’s youngest daughter, Gertrude, was born in the house in 1840, and died there in 1933. In those ninety-three years, amazingly, very little had changed. She’d kept the furnishings her father had brought with them when they first moved in. Even the chandeliers were still gas. As the city grew and changed around Gertrude, she was holding onto the past. Without intending to, she had maintained much more than a house; she’d preserved an entire way of life.
Today, that way of life is under siege. In 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the construction of an eight-story hotel in the vacant lot next door to the home. The developer of that hotel is now looking for the city to grant them various zoning variances, including allowing them to construct a building that is 100 feet tall, which would tower over the block.

The Merchant's House Museum -- one of only six residences in the entire city that is both an interior and exterior landmark -- is genuinely worried that hotel construction will seriously impact the museum or even cause it to become structurally unstable.

If you'd like to help, go to for more information. You can make donations to the museum directly from that page or use the handy form to contact the City Planning Commission. There's also a Community Board meeting on Wednesday, April 11, for those who'd like to attend.

The Tredwell house is always our recommendation for those interested in 19th-century domestic history. If you haven't been -- or haven't been recently -- you can also stop by for a guided or self-guided tour. It's well worth your time.

* * * *

Another opportunity to explore Old New York comes on Saturday, April 21, with our "Hidden History" walk of Lower Manhattan from Noon-2pm.

Join us for a walk around the Financial District in search of moments from the city's rich history that have faded from view. We'll search out forgotten marble markers, obscure statues of famous people (and famous statues of obscure people), explore the remnants of the Dutch village of New Amsterdam, and discover why New Yorkers a century ago were OBSESSED with the American Revolution. Whether you've traversed this neighborhood your whole life or are new to the area, this tour will likely show you places you've never seen before.

EARLY BIRD SPECIAL: Reserve on or before Friday, April 13, you can reserve spots for just $20 per person, after which time the price will jump to $25 per person.

TO RESERVE: Send your name, the number of people in your group, and a contact number (in case we have to contact you on the day of the tour) to We will send you a confirmation with details of where to meet within 24 hours.


Read more about NYC history in


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Examining History with an Old Guidebook

James has a story that ran in Curbed NY yesterday detailing a walk around Lower Manhattan using a guidebook written in 1909.

Initially, his plan was simply to see how accurate that guidebook could be today, but along the way, he encountered a number of plaques and markers commemorating the Revolutionary War, and this set him on a different tack. You can read all about it in the article:

A number of the spots talked about in the story will also feature in our walking tour on Saturday, April 21, "Hidden History" of Lower Manhattan. There are only a few spots left for this unique walk, so please read all the details at and sign up today!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Hidden History: Lower Manhattan Walking Tour

Hidden History: Lower Manhattan Walking Tour

Saturday, April 21, from Noon-2pm

Join James Nevius, author of Inside the Apple and Footprints in New York, for a walk around the Financial District in search of moments from the city's rich history that have faded from view. We'll search out forgotten marble markers, obscure statues of famous people (and famous statues of obscure people), explore the remnants of the Dutch village of New Amsterdam, and discover why New Yorkers a century ago were OBSESSED with the American Revolution. Whether you've traversed this neighborhood your whole life or are new to the area, this tour will likely show you places you've never seen before.

EARLY BIRD SPECIAL: Reserve on or before Friday, April 13, you can reserve spots for just $20 per person, after which time the price will jump to $25 per person.

TO RESERVE: Send your name, the number of people in your group, and a contact number (in case we have to contact you on the day of the tour) to We will send you a confirmation with details of where to meet within 24 hours.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Happy Birthday, Saint Nick

Saint Nicholas (the patron saint of -- among other things -- sailors, repentant thieves, brewers, and pawnbrokers) was purportedly born on March 15 in the year 270 CE. Of course, what Saint Nicholas is most famous for these days is as the basis for our modern-day Santa Claus, a Dutch tradition that was popularized in New York City by its Dutch-American inhabitants, including poet Clement Clarke Moore.

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.

Those immortal words, first published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel in 1823, have become a central part of the American Christmas story. They were penned by Moore, a prominent New Yorker; together with Thomas Nast's depictions of Santa later in the century (such as the 1881 version pictured here), Moore's poem helped shaped our modern ideas of Santa Claus.

Moore was a major landowner and important to the growth of both Greenwich Village and Chelsea. As we write in Footprints in New York:
To his contemporaries, Moore was best known as a Greek language scholar at the Episcopal Church’s General Seminary, and for his vast farm, Chelsea, which gave rise to the neighborhood of the same name. Today, people recognize him as the author of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (aka “Twas the Night Before Christmas”), the well-known poem that imbued the American Santa Claus with a healthy dose of his mother’s family’s Dutch traditions. 
In Inside the Apple, we note that
Moore was descended from distinguished New York families: his large family estate, Chelsea, which gave rise to the modern-day neighborhood, had originally been owned by his grandfather, Major Thomas Clarke, a veteran of the French and Indian War. Moore’s father, Bishop Benjamin Moore, was the head of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and twice president of Columbia College. 
In 1817, soon after Bishop Moore’s death, the Episcopal Church convened in New York to establish the General Theological Seminary. Jacob Sherred, a member of the Trinity Church vestry, donated $70,000 and Clement Clarke Moore agreed to donate 66 lots from his Chelsea estate to house the school. (The seminary met elsewhere until construction could begin in the 1820s.) Moore, already the author of a well-regarded Hebrew lexicon, was also hired to serve on its faculty, teaching Biblical languages until 1850.
Thomas Nast, meanwhile, is probably best remembered today for his role in bringing down William "Boss" Tweed through his political cartoons in The New York Times and Harper's Weekly. Nast's poison pen was so famous, in fact, that there's a folk etymology that the word "nasty" comes from his name. That's not true, but it gives a sense of how damning his pictures could be.

Nast is also the person who gave us the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party and the donkey for the Democrats. In an 1870 issue of Harper's WeeklyNast launched the donkey as a symbol of the Democratic party. In the cartoon, Nast was lambasting the Copperhead faction of the party -- which had opposed the Civil War -- and those Democratic papers that continued to criticize Lincoln's recently deceased Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Nast's critique is not terribly subtle: Stanton is "lionized" by the cartoonist and the Democrats are branded jackasses.

Despite Nast's pointed political statements, he had a soft spot for the holidays. Beginning in 1863, he would draw pictures of Santa Claus or families celebrating together for Harper's, culminating in 1881 with the image at the top of this post, which is still seen by many as the iconic depiction of St. Nick.


Read more about NYC history in


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Lillian Wald and International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day today, here's an update of a post we ran two years ago about Lillian Wald, the remarkable woman who founded the Henry Street Settlement. This Saturday would have been her 151st birthday.

On March 10, 1867, the pioneering nurse Lillian Wald was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the subject of one our chapters in Footprints in New YorkAs we write, Wald
came to New York City in 1889 to study nursing; three years later, having worked for a time in the overcrowded conditions at New York’s Juvenile Asylum on Tenth Avenue, Wald decided to improve her training, enrolling in medical school. 
While studying, Wald also volunteered at a school on Henry Street; it was there that an encounter with a young girl—in the midst of a lesson on how to make a bed—changed her life. As Wald recalled in her memoir:

The child led me over broken roadways—there was no asphalt, although its use was well established in other parts of the city—over dirty mattresses and heaps of refuse . . . through a tenement hallway, across a court where open and unscreened [water] closets were promiscuously used by men and women . . . and finally into the sickroom. . . . That morning’s experience was a baptism of fire. Deserted were the laboratory and the academic work of the college. 
It wasn’t long before Wald hit upon the notion of a “settlement” house— unaware that other progressive health professionals were having the same idea. The idea was simple: Too often, charity work consisted of throwing money at the poor, or convening panels or government agencies to study a problem.... Wald wanted something different—a place where professionals would actually help the poor on an ongoing basis. In order to do that, they would need to live, or “settle” in the neighborhood. Wald and her friend, a fellow nurse named Mary Brewster, moved to a tenement on Jefferson Street, originally dubbed Nurses’ Settlement.


There were few doctors on the Lower East Side, and most tenement dwellers would not have been able to afford them anyway. Wald’s team of nurses made the rounds to the tenements (today’s Visiting Nurse Service of New York is the direct descendant of Wald’s settlement house), helping expectant mothers, acting as midwives, and focusing on preventative care. Wald coined the term “public health nurse” to describe her work, and over the course of her lifetime, thousands of families benefited from her care. In 1895, financier Jacob Schiff bought Wald an old townhouse at 265 Henry Street as the settlement’s new headquarters. Over a century later, the organization is still there.

* * * *



we will be leading a walking tour of

Lower Manhattan's Lost History

details to come


Read more about NYC history in


Search This Blog

Blog Archive