Thursday, December 18, 2014

Slavery in New York

Instead of a postcard today, here's an ad James found when doing research for an article he's writing. Searching through a New-York Evening Post from February 1817, on a page mostly dedicated to selling dry goods and real estate, he stumbled upon this short ad:

FOR SALE, a coloured WOMAN, aged 20 years; sober and honest; a good cook, and capable of all kinds of house-work. Enquire at this office.
It is so easy to think that New York has always been a liberal, educated, progressive place--and then an ad like that pops up to remind us that this woman was being treated the same as a team of horses or a vacant lot on Bleecker Street.

As we write about in both Inside the Apple and Footprints in New York, New York's connection to slavery was deep. The Dutch first began importing enslaved Africans in the middle of the seventeenth century and despite the fact that gradual manumission began in 1799, New York was actually the second-to-last northern state to abolish slavery. (For the record, some enslaved people in New Jersey did not get their full freedom until the Civil War.)

The original Dutch Slave Market
In 1817, the same year this advertisement ran, New York's governor, Daniel Tompkins, finally announced that he'd given the state legislature a ten-year timetable for abolition. The legislature, fearing they'd be voted out of office by slave-holding New Yorkers, took the full decade, declaring July 4, 1827, to be emancipation day in the state of New York.

Yet, New York still thrived on the profits of slavery--so much so that when the Civil War started, Mayor Fernando Wood suggested the city secede from the Union so as to not lose its lucrative shipping contracts with southern planters.

A few years ago, the New-York Historical Society hosted a landmark exhibition on the history of slavery in the city and they've kept their very informative website going a resource for students and anyone interested in this sad chapter in the city's history: http://www.slaveryinnewyork.org.


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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, December 11, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Trinity Wall Street


Today's postcard is a nice view of Trinity Church, Wall Street, and its surrounding churchyard, one of the oldest in New York City.

Trinity was built three times on the same spot. As we write in Inside the Apple:
In 1696...Trinity leased the city’s burial ground at the rate of one peppercorn per year. A year later, the church received its royal charter from William III and from that point forward only church members could be buried in the churchyard. Not coincidentally, this was the same time that a separate “Negroes Burial Ground” [today's African Burial Ground National Memorial] was established outside the city. The original church, a simple stone and wood building, was erected in 1698 with both financial and material help from one of its richest congregants, Captain William Kidd, who just three years later would be hanged in London for piracy. Trinity quickly prospered. Six years after its construction, Queen Anne gave the parish an additional 215 acres of the crown’s land, stretching from Wall Street north to the village of Greenwich....
The original Trinity had burned down on September 21, 1776, in the fire that swept through the city as Washington’s army retreated. A second church was consecrated in 1790, but a series of heavy snowstorms in the winter of 1838-39 so badly damaged the roof that the vestry voted to tear down the building and start again. The snows came at an opportune moment. Already, neighborhoods like Greenwich Village had pulled prominent churchgoers northward.... Trinity needed to do something to return itself—in its own eyes, at least—to its rightful place as the city’s premiere religious institution. 
Richard Upjohn’s grand Gothic Revival building quickly restored Trinity to the forefront of the city’s social and architectural scene. In 1844, architect Albert Gilman wrote of the almost-finished church: “[It] surpasses any church erected in England since the revival of the pointed style.” Its spire, at 281 feet tall, made it not only the tallest church in the city, but New York’s tallest building, a title it would retain for nearly 50 years. Part of what made the church so perfect was that Upjohn had copied it, almost exactly, from the design for “An Ideal Church” in the book True Principals by A.W. Pugin, the leading English proponent of the Gothic Revival. And unlike many of Upjohn’s successors and imitators, he had an attention to detail—overseeing everything from the stained glass to the exterior carvings—that gave Trinity an unequalled aesthetic appeal. 
The building was also controversial, however, both inside and out. A devout “high church” Anglo-Catholic, Upjohn introduced architectural elements that were utterly foreign to most Americans, including a chancel at the west end of the church complete with a high altar and rows of choir stalls. (At first, this was deemed too Roman Catholic, and the stalls weren’t used.) Outside, the building was constructed of brownstone, a locally quarried, soft sandstone. The stone was chosen for its outward resemblance to materials used in medieval English architecture, but not only did it lack the strength of schist, it was also commonly considered a cheap building material. Though many people tend today to call all single-family townhouses in New York “brownstones,” in the 19th-century no one would have conflated cheaper brownstone buildings with their more expensive brick cousins. (In her autobiography, Edith Wharton deplored the look of New York, claiming it was bathed in a “universal chocolate-coloured coating of the most hideous stone ever quarried.”) Both at Trinity and at Ascension in Greenwich Village, Upjohn had to convince his employers that the look of brownstone outweighed its déclassé associations.

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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, December 5, 2014

Postcard Friday: The Knickerbocker Hotel


The former (and soon to be once again) Knickerbocker Hotel at Times Square is going to be one of the stops on our War & Peace in NYC walking tour this Sunday. On the day World War I ended, opera star Enrico Caruso came out on his balcony and serenaded the crowd with the national anthems of Italy, France, and the United States.

To read more about the tour and sign up, go to: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2014/11/postcard-thursday-pearl-harbor-day-tour.html

To find out more about the Knickerbocker Hotel: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2012/01/knickerbocker-hotel.html

And to hear a less salubrious story about Caruso, visit: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2010/11/enrico-caruso-and-monkey-house-incident.html




Thursday, November 27, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Civil War New York


Happy Thanksgiving!

In case you missed it, James had a piece on Curbed NY a couple of days ago commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Confederate plot to burn New York during the Civil War. The article looks at a dozen or so sites that were important during the war and are still standing.

You can read the article here:
http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/11/25/mapping_13_surviving_civil_war_sites_across_new_york_city.php.

And don't forget that reservations are open for our December 7 walking tour:
http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2014/11/postcard-thursday-pearl-harbor-day-tour.html.

Hope you are having a great holiday weekend!

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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, November 20, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Pearl Harbor Day Tour of Midtown


This perfectly innocuous linen card shows Grand Central Terminal and the elevated bridge that takes car traffic around the station. Thousands of these cards were produced and you can often find them lining the dollar bin at postcard stores.

The reverse, however, is more interesting and ties directly to our next public walking tour, which will be held Sunday, December 7, at 10:00 a.m.



The card reads:
Hello there! Stopped here for a few days. Just couldn't pass it up. It's still New York & it'll never change even with war conditions. Jack
The postmark at the top ("Buy Defense Savings Bonds and Stamps") reveals that the postcard was mailed August 30, 1942, nine months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had brought the United States into World War II.  Jack was probably well aware when he was sending this postcard was that just two months earlier, Nazi saboteurs had landed on Long Island with express orders from Hitler to bomb important civilian targets around the United States and that Grand Central was likely high on the list.

Join us on December 7 as we walk through midtown talking about the city's role not just in World War II, but also World War I, the Cold War, and more. The walk costs $15 per person (if you don't want a signed copy of Footprints in New York) or $25 per person if you'd like a book.

This is a great opportunity to pick up a signed copy of the book as a holiday gift!

RSVP REQUIREDTo sign up for the walk please email the following to footprintsinnewyork@gmail.com
  1. Name
  2. Number in your party
  3. Cell number in case we need to reach you on the day of the tour
  4. How many people are tour only ($15 each) or tour + a copy of our new book Footprints in New York ($25 each)
​MEETING PLACE WILL BE EMAILED TO YOU WHEN YOU RESERVE

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The History of Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn



For those of you who don't follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you may not have seen that James had an article published last week on Curbed about the history of Brooklyn's Bedford Avenue. At nearly eleven miles, Bedford vies for the title of Brooklyn's longest street, so this piece concentrates on the area in Williamsburg, today one of the trendiest thoroughfares in the borough.

You can read the entire story, "Tracing Three Centuries of Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue" at http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/11/06/tracing_three_centuries_of_williamsburgs_bedford_avenue.php

Despite the fact that the photo caption says "Brooklyn Bridge," this is the Williamsburg Bridge.
A number of illustrations that James had collected for the story couldn't fit in the final published piece, including this great shot from the Library of Congress of Jewish residents of the Lower East Side and/or Williamsburg praying on the Williamsburg Bridge (above) and a photo of the "Pride of the Nation" (below), the famous carriage that was housed on Bedford Avenue.


* * * *

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, November 6, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Van Cortlandt House


This undated postcard from the early twentieth century (ca. 1915, if we had to guess) shows the Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx, one of the stops we make in the chapter of Footprints in New York that details the history the Delancey family.

As we write in the book:
Considering how easy the house is to reach—it sits less than a ten-minute walk from the northern terminus of the IRT No. 1 train, the city’s oldest subway line—it’s surprisingly empty. In fact, when I visit, the only other person there is a Dutch woman, who is very concerned with carefully examining every souvenir in the tiny gift shop. It is a recurring theme that the city’s more off-the-beaten-path historic sites are either empty or, if they do have visitors, they are schoolchildren or foreigners. Where are the American tourists? Safely ensconced on Manhattan, I presume. 
Soon, I discover that the Dutch woman and I won’t have the place to ourselves. A costumed interpreter—I’ll call his garb late-Colonial/early- Revolution—is leading a group of two-dozen fourth graders down the house’s main staircase. 
“Everybody likes to play!” he admonishes to no one in particular. “There’s a time for play. But there’s a time to be serious!” I will hear this advice reverberate through the house a few more times during my visit, though I will never see him or the children again.
As the children’s footfalls fade, I am left staring into the house’s formal parlor at a portrait of Frederick’s son Augustus van Cortlandt. In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Augustus—a Patriot—was New York City Clerk; in 1775, he spirited the city’s records out of Lower Manhattan to this farm, hiding them from the British in his father’s burial chamber on nearby Vault Hill. 
Tremendous care has gone into furnishing this home, from the seventeenth-century Dutch room on the second floor to the “best” bed- chamber used by George Washington on his visits to the house. That room features a beautiful mahogany dressing table and an English chest of drawers from 1725, both of which descend from family members. They've draped a blue coat and a tri-cornered hat on one chair, as if General Washington has just stepped out for a moment.
If you haven't had a chance to visit the Van Cortlandt House, it's a worthwhile excursion. The resources page of our website has information about visiting the house and other spots mentioned in Footprints.

* * * *

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 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.


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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.



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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 http://youtu.be/QQWyPf5kGKM.)



* * * *

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.


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