Thursday, October 30, 2014

Postcard Thursday: The Lenox Library

Today's postcard, sent August 30, 1906, shows the Lenox Library, which stood at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 70th Street. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the library opened in 1875 and housed the rare book collection of philanthropist James Lenox. However, due to the library's curtailed hours (Tuesdays and Thursdays only, with advance permission from the librarian), the building was more of an architectural monument than anything else. Life magazine spoofed the library in 1884 (below), showing cannons on the rooftop and New Yorkers who'd dared attempt access strung up like criminals.

The bust of Richard Morris Hunt, Fifth Avenue.
In 1895, a monument to Hunt, the library's architect, was constructed across Fifth Avenue, with the idea that Hunt's bust would stare in perpetuity at one of his finest creations. Alas, that was not to be. First, the Lenox Library merged with Astor Library downtown and the Tilden Trust to form the nucleus of the New York Public Library. Then, in 1913, Henry Clay Frick, looking for a spot to build a mansion, tore down the vacant Lenox Library structure and built the Frick Collection in its place. (If you haven't already, James had a detailed article about the origins of the Frick published a few months ago on Curbed, which you can read here.)

The postcard reads: "Aug 30, 1906. Your postal is the only one I have received from Chicago and I am much pleased to have it. I hope the vacation was all you anticipated." It was sent to Edward Walling at 42 Seventh Street, who turns out to have been an NYPD captain in the fifth precinct. Two-and-a-half years later, his wife, Lydia, made the pages of The New York Times when she saved their elderly neighbor, Honora Casey, from a fire in their building.

* * * *

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Morgan's Bank and the New York Stock Exchange

We just acquired this postcard recently, showing Morgan's Bank and the New York Stock Exchange. The exchange (on the right) was new in 1904 when this card was sent, having opened on April 22, 1903. It is unclear when the image was actually produced, but notice that pediment of the NYSE is blank. While's there's a chance that this is because the image predates sculptor JQA Ward finishing his monumental work that adorns the pediment, "Integrity Protecting the Works of Man" (below), it is more likely that the pediment was erased when making the postcard to make the image easier to read.

On the left side of the postcard (behind the street vendor) is the "House of Morgan." As we write in Footprints in New York, this was among the first office buildings in New York to be electrified:
On September 4, 1882, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the dynamos at 255–257 Pearl Street rumbled to life, under the watchful eyes of engineers from Thomas Edison’s Illuminating Company. A half a mile away, at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets...Thomas Edison flipped the switch. In a moment, electric lights in the headquarters of Drexel, Morgan & Co. (the precursor to J. P. Morgan & Company) blazed on. Despite the round of applause, it was actually a bit of an anti-climax. Compared to the natural light streaming in the building, Edison’s incandescent bulbs weren’t that bright. 
But Pierpont Morgan knew they were on the cusp of a revolution. A year earlier, Edison had installed electric lights in Morgan’s mansion, run from a steam-powered generator built in a basement below Morgan’s stables. It was an awkward system—the generator was too loud, the current sometimes spotty—but Morgan was the first man in America to have electric lights at home. He knew it would only be a matter of time before Edison’s technology hit the mainstream. 
A year later, that moment had arrived. As the sun began to dip, the Drexel Morgan offices grew brighter and brighter. Uptown on Nassau Street, lightbulbs burned in the New York Times editorial offices, so “brilliant that it would be unpleasant to look at.” By 1889, Morgan had shepherded together all of Edison’s various small companies under the banner of Edison General Electric; in 1892, Morgan merged that company with Thomson-Houston Electric Company, dropping the name Edison and forming the General Electric that still thrives today.

Though Edison's Pearl Street power plant is long gone, one of the original dynamos still exists, at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.

* * * *

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Footprints in New York at the GVSHP

Instead of a postcard today (our usual series will resume next week), we thought we'd simply post the video of our talk to a sold-out crowd at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation last Monday evening. If you didn't get a chance to attend, or if you simply want an overview of what Footprints in New York is like, take a look!

(Can't see the video embedded above? Go to

* * * *

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Postcard Thursday: The Stadt Huis

Today's postcard may be familiar to you, especially if you read James's article on Curbed a few months ago about places to seek out Dutch heritage in New York City.

The building pictured here is the old Dutch city hall, or stadt huis, which was originally opened in 1642 as the municipal tavern. As we write in Inside the Apple:
On February 2, 1653, New Amsterdam officially became the first legally chartered city in America. [Peter Stuyvesant] would be advised by a council of five schepens (aldermen), two burgomasters (chief magistrates), and a schout-fiscal (sheriff and district attorney)—all appointed by him. This body served as a civil court, ruling on everything from petty grievances to capital crimes. Lacking a proper place to meet, Stuyvesant granted them the use of the city-run tavern on Pearl Street, which was renamed the stadt huis (city hall). In 1656, a special bell was added, which rang to signal the beginning of the court’s sessions.
Notice, however, that in the postcard above it doesn't say that it is the Dutch city hall, but instead is labelled "New York City Hall When Occupied by the English" (even though that is clearly Peter Stuyvesant and his peg-leg in the foreground). While the caption might seem strange at first, it's not wrong. When the English first took over New Amsterdam, they used old city hall as their own. In October 1664—350 years ago this month—every Dutch citizen was forced to take an oath of allegiance to Charles II, including Stuyvesant, who had no intention of repatriating to the Netherlands. Maybe this is postcard of Stuyvesant moments after he'd become and English citizen.

Interested in knowing more about the 350th Anniversary of the takeover?? We have a few slots left for our walking tour on Sunday at 4pm.

The tour is $15 per person -- or $25 if you'd like a copy of Footprints in New York.

For complete details on how to reserve, visit

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Fraunces Tavern and British Colonial New York

One of the most storied buildings in Lower Manhattan is Fraunces Tavern at the corner of Pearl Street and Broad Street. (And storied is the right word, since much of the building's history seems to be made up.) Known as the place where George Washington bade farewell to his officers, it had originally been the home of Stephen Delancey, a prosperous merchant in the English Colonial period.

In 1700, Stephen married Anne Van Cortlandt, the daughter of the city's former mayor, who had purchased the lot some years earlier and gave it to Stephen and Anne as a wedding present. In 1720, or thereabouts, the Delanceys built the house. While sources differ, it seems likely that the family lived in the home until about 1730; after that time it served as a dance academy and a business until it was sold in 1762 to "Black" Sam Fraunces, a tavern keeper.

However, as we write in Footprints in New York, what stands today on the spot of Stephen Delancey's house
is a historically convoluted re-creation. Having served after the war as everything from a Treasury Department building to a boardinghouse, the building by the turn of the twentieth century bore little resemblance to the house that Stephen and Anne DeLancey built. 
In 1904, to save the structure from demolition, it was purchased by the Sons of the Revolution, who hired William Mersereau to restore the building back to what it would have been like when Washington had his farewell dinner. Despite Mersereau’s best intentions, the restoration could at best only be conjectural. He had no pictures to work from and too much of the original building had been altered over time. 
In The New York Times, Ada Louise Huxtable noted:
This “landmark” was built in 1907 virtually from scratch. It gives school-children a fair idea of what a Georgian building looked like and it gives local businessmen a fair lunch. But it is not old, it is not authentic, and under no circumstances is this kind of thing preservation.
If you want to find out the full story of Fraunces Tavern, Stephen Delancey, and the British colonial era, join us on Sunday, October 12, at 4pm for our walking tour in honor of the 350th anniversary of New Amsterdam becoming New York.

The tour is $15 per person -- or $25 if you'd like a copy of Footprints in New York.

For complete details on how to reserve, visit

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Hudson-Fulton Celebration

Collection of the authors.

On September 25, 1909, New York launched one of the largest and most ambitious festivals in its history, the enormous Hudson-Fulton Celebration, which commemorated 300 years since Henry Hudson had sailed into New York Harbor, and a century (give or take a couple of years) since Robert Fulton's North River Steamboat had been launched.

This rare, embossed postcard emphasizes the improvements in navigation over three centuries.
Collection of the authors.

Among the many events that took place during the celebration (some of which can be seen in the small type at the bottom of the top postcard) was a naval parade that included everything from replicas of Hudson's ship Half Moon and Fulton's sidewheeler steamer to the RMS Lusitania. As a nod to the direction in which transportation was headed, Wilbur Wright took to the air as well, circling the Statue of Liberty on one day, and flying up the Hudson to Grant's Tomb and back to Governor's Island on another. In 1909, it's safe to say most New Yorkers had never seen an airplane flight before.

Of the many parades connected to the festival, the Historical Parade in New York City on September 28 was probably the most important. The entire celebration was an attempt to boost New York (the state, but mostly the city) in the public's mind as key player in American history. As the commission noted in their wrap-up after the festival:
A glance at the book-shelves of any great public library will show how industrious the historians of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Virginia have been in recording the annals of which they are justly proud and how comparatively indifferent our own writers have been in this field. And this disparity has resulted in a very general ignorance of the full part played by our Colony and State in our national history.
courtesy of Hudson River Valley Heritage.

The Historical Parade featured floats from every period of New York's history, from the Native American era to 1909, with a special emphasis on the city's Dutch roots and its role in the American Revolution (as shown in the float above). You can see many more postcards of floats from the parade -- along with souvenir programs from 1909 and other ephemera -- at the Hudson River Valley Heritage website dedicated to the celebration.

A century later, in 2009, the city once again celebrated the arrival of Henry Hudson (albeit in a somewhat more subdued fashion). One permanent souvenir from that celebration is the Dutch pavilion in Peter Minuit Plaza in the financial district, which we write about in the first chapter of Footprints in New York.

* * * *

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Columbus Weekend: Sunday walking tour / Monday book talk + signing

If you are going to be in New York City over the Columbus Day weekend, we have two Footprints in New York events that might interest you:

Sunday, October 12, 2014, at 4:00PM
New York City's 350th Birthday Walk
$15 - tour only
$25 - tour and copy of Footprints in New York

In September 1664, Peter Stuyvesant handed over the Dutch colony of New Netherland to the English, who renamed it New York. A month later, the English authorities required all Dutch citizens to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles II, kicking off a century of uneasy relations between the crown and New York's multicultural residents.

Join us for a walk through the streets of Lower Manhattan as we time travel back to the late-17th and early-18th centuries to walk in the footprints of these early New Yorkers, including the powerful Delanceys, Van Cortlandts, Stuyvesants, Morrises, and more.

To sign up for the walk please email the following to

  • Name
  • Number in your party
  • Cell number in case we need to reach you on the day of the tour
  • How many people are tour only ($15 each) or tour + a copy of our new book Footprints in New York ($25 each)

Monday, October 13, 2014 at 6:30PM
"Footprints in Greenwich Village"
An illustrated talk sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society
for Historic Preservation
Washington Square Institute (41 East 11th Street between Broadway and University Place)

In a talk illustrated with vintage photos and old maps, we will focus on the stories in Footprints in New York that are connected to Greenwich Village, from Peter Stuyvesant’s bowery to Bob Dylan’s MacDougal Street.

One part history, one part urban exploration, Footprints in New York follows in the steps of such dynamic Village residents as Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Tredwell (of the Merchant’s House Museum), Henry James, John Reed, and many more.

We will take audience questions, and books will be available for purchase and signing following the talk.

The talk is free, but reservations are required. To register, please call the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation at (212) 475-9585 ext. 35 or email.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Archibald Kennedy

A print of the Kennedy Mansion from
In honor of the referendum today on Scottish independence, here's an edit of a blog post we wrote back in 2009 about Archibald Kennedy, who lived in a grand house at One Broadway and would later become the 11th Earl of Cassilis (and is James's distant relative).

Today, the building at One Broadway is the former headquarters of International Mercantile Marine, JP Morgan's shipping and passenger ship company. But back in the 18th century, the base of Broadway was home to Archibald Kennedy, New York's receiver-general (i.e., the customs collector).

Kennedy built his mansion ca. 1760; because Broadway was then much closer to the Hudson, Kennedy would have had a fine view out over the harbor and in the summer of 1776, he would have seen the massive British fleet assembling beyond Staten Island. Between June 29 and August 12, nearly 200 ships arrived, the largest naval fleet since antiquity. One observer, a soldier named Daniel McCurtin, wrote in his journal:
"[I] spied as I peeped out the Bay something resembling a wood of pine trees trimmed.... I declare I thought all of London was afloat."
During the war, Kennedy left the city and the house became George Washington's headquarters during the planning of the Battle of Brooklyn, which took place in late August 1776. When the British captured New York, the home -- which escaped the Great Fire of 1776 -- was used by the British army. After the Revolution, the house was rented by Isaac "King" Sears. A prominent member of the Sons of Liberty, Sears was was involved in the Stamp Act Protests in 1765 and the Battle of Golden Hill in 1770, a skirmish just north of Wall Street that some call the first bloodshed of the Revolution. Sears paid £500 a year, probably the highest rent in the city.

In 1792, Kennedy's distant cousin, the 10th Earl of Cassilis, died without an heir and the title passed to Archibald. It is unclear is Kennedy had moved back to New York after the British lost the Revolution; we do know that upon the death of the 10th Earl, Kennedy moved to Scotland. However, he died just two years later. His son (another Archibald) became the 12th Earl and, later, the First Marquess of Alisa.

Back in New York, Kennedy's house had come to be owned by John Watts (Kennedy's second wife's brother), a successful merchant and founder of the Leake and Watts Orphan House in Morningside Heights.

By 1882, the home had become a boardinghouse and was demolished to make way for the Washington Building (which was later remodeled as the current International Mercantile Marine building). When the Washington Building was erected, it had more office space than any building in New York.

* * * *

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Belvedere Castle

We have a lot of wonderful Central Park shots in our collection, but this may be the best: Belvedere Castle as it looked ca. 1905.

Originally conceived as mere decoration, the castle stands on Vista Rock and was part of Frederick Law Olmsted's picturesque vision for the park. As we write in Footprints in New York, the castle is
an architectural folly built by Vaux and Mould in 1867. It was designed to do nothing more than provide the optical illusion for viewers at Bethesda Terrace that somewhere deep in the park was a giant castle. It was the pinnacle—excuse the pun—of Olmsted’s picturesque vision for the park. 
When the Central Park commissioners first saw the map of the Greensward Plan, I’m sure many of them didn’t realize how far-reaching Vaux and Olmsted’s design would be. The designers understood that in contrast to the monotony of the city...the park would embrace the natural topography. This would immediately mean that no two places in the park would be the same. On top of that, the tens of thousands of trees they would plant would provide “the broadest effects of light and shade . . . [producing] the impression of great space and freedom.” What an “exhilarating contrast” this would be, the designers wrote, from “the walled-in floor or pavements to which they are ordinarily confined by their business.” 
The greatest amounts of the park were to balance the principles of the picturesque—thick woods, painterly contrasts of light and shadow, and the occasional castle—with the pastoral: sweeping vistas, sloping greensward, open meadows, and an actual pasture.... To contrast with these open green spaces, Vaux and Olmsted and their chief gardener, Ignaz Pilat, planted wooded areas such as the Ramble and the North Woods, forty acres in the northwestern corner of the park that were landscaped to mimic an Adirondack forest, complete with ravines, rustic wooden bridges, and a “loch,” all straight out of an Asher Durand painting. 
Lastly, Olmsted and Vaux realized the importance of also including a formal centerpiece to the park. The Mall, one of the first areas of the park to open to the public, is not just a straight path, it runs exactly north- south and is lined with four rows of American elms. Pedestrians, led due north along the promenade, come to Bethesda Terrace, the artistic jewel of the park. 
The shock of this overt formality reminds viewers just how informal the rest of the park seems. Similarly, the picturesque touches—a wooden gazebo here, a fake castle there—create views that are almost too much like postcards. And so the mind says: Ah, well if these views are fake, everything else must be real.
Today, Belvedere Castle houses equipment for the national weather service. You can read more about an array of Calvert Vaux's architecture around the city in James's piece on Vaux that was published in Curbed a few weeks ago.

(And if you haven't had the chance, check out his history of St. Mark's Place from last Thursday, which takes readers on a 200-year journey down the East Village's most famous street.)

* * * *

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

No Postcard Thursday: St. Mark's Place

No postcard today -- we're on the road traveling. Instead, check out the piece that James had published today on Curbed tracing the history of St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. From its first appearance on the 1811 street grid to the swinging sixties to today, the article highlights some St. Mark’s Place’s famous and not-so-famous residents as well as looking at how the concept of an “East Village” first came about.

Check it out at

* * * *

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Search This Blog


Blog Archive