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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Gilded Age Walking Tour -- Oct 7 at 11:00am


Sunday, October 7, at 11:00 a.m.

Come Explore Beaux-Arts Grandeur


Authors James and Michelle Nevius have been exploring New York and writing about the city for many years. This week, James had a story in The New York Post about the rivalry between Chicago and New York brought about by the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, also known as the "White City" World's Fair.

This Columbus Day weekend, celebrate the 125th anniversary of the fair and the architectural movement it helped create, by joining James and Michelle for a guided walk in Midtown Manhattan of some of the iconic landmarks from this Beaux-Arts boom.

New York between 1893 and 1913 remade itself as the "Paris of America" and the true world city. From the Broadway theaters that moved to Times Square at the turn of the 20th century to giant public spaces like Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library, this tour will feature some of the best Gilded-Age architecture in the city.
  • $15 per person for blog readers. Please register ASAP as space is limited.


  • Your name
  • The number in your party
  • A cell phone in case we need to reach you the day of the tour
(use the button below or email


F O L L O W on F A C E B O O K
F O L L O W on T W I T T E R
F O L L O W on I N S T A G R A M
Times Square at the turn of the 20th Century

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The Death of General Wolfe

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West.

On September 13, 1759, Major-General James Wolfe died during the Siege of Quebec in the French and Indian War (aka the Seven Years War). Wolfe's heroic victory won the war for Britain, allowing it to seize most of Atlantic Canada, and made Wolfe both a martyr to the cause and an instant celebrity.

The most famous commemoration of Wolfe's death on the Plains of Abraham is Benjamin West's painting (above), now in the National Gallery of Canada. But New York had its own memorial to General Wolfe, an obelisk that was erected in Greenwich Village at the end of what came to be known as "Obelisk Lane" or "Monument Lane."

The General Wolfe monument at Stowe.

Very little is known about the memorial. Some think that it was based on a similar obelisk erected in Stowe in Buckinghamshire, England, by Lord Temple, which still stands today. But this is just speculation. Indeed, if it weren't for a few old memoirs and a couple of maps, we wouldn't know that the monument existed at all.

Montressor Map, ca. 1765-1766.

The obelisk was likely erected soon after Wolfe's death, probably in 1762 by Robert Monckton. Monckton was Wolfe's second in command at Quebec and in 1762 he became royal governor of the Province of New York. He lived in Greenwich Village, in a house owned by Admiral Peter Warren, which stood only a few minutes walk from the monument.

The obelisk appears on the Montressor map of 1765-66, where a "Road to the Obelisk" leads to a spot just east of Oliver De Lancey's farm marked "Obelisk Erected to the Memory of General Wolf [sic] and Others."

The Ratzer Plan, ca. 1766-77
The Ratzer Plan of the city -- issued in 1766 or 1777 -- shows a similar road, calling it "The Monument Lane." If you are familiar with this part of Greenwich VIllage, that lane is now Greenwich Avenue, which runs northwest from Sixth Avenue just south of Christopher Street. However, many other small streets in the Village were once considered part of the lane. As the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society wrote in their annual report of 1914:
Monument Lane began at the present Fourth Avenue and Astor Place and ran westward along the present Astor Place; thence to Washington Square North about 100 feet west of Fifth Avenue, where it crossed a brook called at various times Minetta Brook, Bestevaer's Kill, etc.; thence to the present Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Lane; thence along the present Greenwich Lane to Eighth Avenue between Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets, where it intersected the now obsolete Southampton Road; thence northward about 150 or 200 feet farther, where it terminated at the Monument.
Tracing those roads today, it seems likely that the road probably incorporated what today is Washington Mews and MacDougal Alley, just north of Washington Square, roads that have long been thought to be Native American trails. Indeed, it would not be at all surprising to discover that all of Monument Lane existed long before Europeans settled the area that would come to be known as Greenwich Village.

No one is entirely sure when the monument to General Wolfe was taken down and by whom, but by the time the next map of Manhattan was drawn, ca. 1773, the monument is gone and references to Monument Lane disappear soon thereafter. Some speculate that Oliver De Lancey, a loyalist, destroyed the monument when his lands were confiscated by the Americans after the war, but it seems more likely that the obelisk was already long gone by that time.

(This post was adapted and updated from an earlier blog entry.)

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Want to hear more about NYC history?

Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book!

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Greetings from Saint Augustine!

The oldest Roman Catholic parish in America is the one headquartered at the basilica cathedral in Saint Augustine, Florida. The parish was founded in 1565; its current church dates back to the 1790s, but it has burned many times. After the fire of 1887, the diocese hired James Renwick, Jr. -- of St. Patrick's Cathedral fame -- to oversee the restorations. This bell tower was added following Renwick's designs.

James wrote a story for The New York Post about Renwick's New York domestic work -- you can read it at:

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Want to hear more about NYC history?

Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book!

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Trinity's Real Estate Empire

Image result for postcard trinity church wall street
looking up Wall Street at Trinity Church

Yesterday, James had a feature in Curbed NY about the history of Trinity Church's real estate holdings in Lower Manhattan. By the end of the nineteenth century, Trinity had become the second-largest land owners in New York City, but much of what they owned in the area now know as Tribeca was actually in terrible shape. Trinity was called out by the local press as one of the city's biggest slumlords and it became a huge scandal.

(This area has been in the news recently because Disney is going to be building a new headquarters on some of Trinity's land in what was once the center of this slum.)

The whole story is fascinating:

an artist's rendition of what the original Trinity looked like ca. 1698

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Want to hear more about NYC history?

Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book!

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Postcard Thursday: An Assassination Attempt Caught on Camera

On August 9, 1910, the mayor of New York, William Jay Gaynor, posed for photos on the deck on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. He was about to embark on a vacation to Europe, and as he stood on deck he was approached by J.J. Gallagher, a former municipal dock worker who had been fired about a month earlier. Gallagher shot the mayor at close range--just as New York World photographer William Warnecke snapped the picture above. Gallagher was immediately subdued. When asked why he'd done it, Gallagher said simply: "He took away my bread and meat. I had to do it."

Mayor Gaynor, a native of the village of Oriskany in Oneida County, was best known as a jurist, having been appointed to State's Supreme Court in 1893 and the Appellate Division in 1905. Tammany Hall Democrats, disappointed by their two-term standard bearer, George B. "Max" McClellan, picked Gaynor to run in 1909. Gaynor handily defeated the Republic/Fusion candidate, Otto T. Bannard, in part because Republican votes were siphoned off by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst who ran as an independent.

Instead of appointing Tammany Hall cronies to fill vacancies at City Hall, however, Gaynor instituted broad-reaching civil service reforms and was a champion of extending the new IRT subway. 

Though the bullet lodged in Mayor Gaynor's throat, he made a relatively speedy recovery. (Gallagher, meanwhile, was tried, found insane, and sent to an asylum in Trenton, New Jersey.)

In 1913, Gaynor received the backing of a reform coalition to run for a second term as mayor. (Tammany Hall wanted nothing more to do with him.) On September 3, he left for Europe on the SS Baltic and six days later, he died in a deck chair of a heart attack; it is unclear whether or not Gallagher's assassination attempt had weakened the mayor and contributed to his death. Gallagher was never tried with murder--he had died at the Trenton asylum a few months earlier.

Very few New York City mayors are honored in our parks, but if you happen to be in Brooklyn Heights, head to Cadman Plaza where you'll find the handsome Gaynor Memorial by Adolph Weinman. (Weinman is best known in New York for his statue Civic Fame which stands atop the Municipal Building on Centre Street.)

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Want to hear more about NYC history?

Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book!

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Poe's Lost Home

There's a story in the newly revamped Gothamist/WNYC today about the efforts to have Walt Whitman's sole remaining New York City home landmarked.

(You can read it at

This brings to mind the similar efforts to save Edgar Allan Poe's only Manhattan home, a townhouse at 85 Amity Street (today's West 3rd Street) in Greenwich Village. Today that same block houses the Poe Study Center, but that building isn't Poe's original home.

As we write in Footprints in New York:
The Poes lived nine places in the city, seven of them in just a two-year period.... Having published “The Raven” in the New York Evening Mirror in January 1845, Poe set to work at 85 Amity Street revising the poem for The Raven and Other Poems, published that November. He also began his series “Literati of New York City” while residing at 85 Amity, and may have written the bulk of “The Cask of Amontillado” at the boardinghouse too.
By the dawn of the twenty-first century this was the only Poe home in Manhattan still standing. With that in mind, it’s logical to assume it would have merited at least some consideration by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. But in 2000, the commission declined to even hold a hearing. On one hand, this seemed ironic—back in 1969, when creating the Greenwich Village Historic District, the commissioners cited Poe as one of the literary figures whose residence made the neighborhood historically important. Yet, at that time, they had not extended the landmark district’s boundaries the one block necessary to include the Poe house. Three decades later, the commission was not going to raise NYU’s considerably powerful ire by revisiting that decision. Not everyone agreed that the house was worth saving. Kenneth Silverman, a Poe scholar employed by NYU, pointed out that the building had been so significantly altered since 1845 that Poe wouldn’t even recognize it as his own home. He had a point: The stoop had been removed, and the lower floors turned into commercial space. Arched window frames replaced the Greek Revival originals; an incongruous tiled awning jutted out between the second and third stories. 
85 Amity Street (left) and the Poe Study Center (right); courtesy of the New York Preservation Archive Project

What’s more maddening than the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision—or, more accurately, their abdication from making a decision—is what NYU did next. In an eleventh-hour move to placate the community, they agreed to rebuild the facade of Poe’s house as part of the new building, install the home’s staircase inside, and provide a room for Poe readings and events. No one was ecstatic about this, but it was better than nothing. 
Instead, what people got was worse than nothing. The scaffolding came October 2003 to reveal an ersatz Poe home. Nothing had been preserved; nothing had been rebuilt. It wasn’t even in the right spot. 
“Unfortunately, there was not enough of the original bricks to use on the full facade,” an NYU associate dean told the New York Times. “What we did instead was save a portion of them, and put a panel inside the room of the original bricks.”
If what happened to Poe house happens to Walt Whitman's Brooklyn home, we may find in the future that the original structure has been torn down and some simulacrum put in its place to note the historic importance of the spot. Is this sort of commemoration useful or necessary? That's a deeper question that preservationists and historians have been grappling with for centuries.

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Want to hear more about NYC history?

Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book!

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The Great Fire of 1845

New Street is one of the most forlorn thoroughfares in the Financial District. Set between Broadway and Broad Street, it essentially acts as an alley today, cordoned off to most vehicles because of its proximity to the New York Stock Exchange.

However, in the 19th century it was still a bustling commercial street, and around 2:30 a.m. on the night of July 19, 1845, a fire started at the offices of JL Van Doren who was an oil merchant and candle manufacturer.

The fire spread quickly, and about two hours later reached the warehouse of Crocker and Warren, "in which was stored a very large quantity of saltpetre" (potassium nitrate), which is a component of gunpowder. Rumors swirled at the time that actual gunpowder was also stored on the premises, but those were never proven, in part because of the total destruction of the building.

Unlike the Great Fire of 1835, which burned over 700 buildings in the same neighborhood, the fire of 1845 was contained relatively quickly. This was, in part, because New York City had completed the Croton Aqueduct, which brought reliable running water to the city for first time.

As we write in Inside the Apple
The system was built following ancient Roman principles, with water descending by gravity from the Croton River dam, 40 miles north of the city in Westchester County, in elevated iron pipe. The city had two large reservoirs: the Receiving Reservoir, where Central Park’s Great Lawn now stands and a Distribution Reservoir on 42nd Street, future home to the New York Public Library. The system came to a grand, ceremonial terminus in City Hall Park at the Croton Fountain, the first fountain the city had ever been able to build that sprayed jets of water throughout the day.... Despite the city’s grave need for water for basic human consumption, what actually convinced the public that an aqueduct system was needed was the Great Fire of 1835, which had destroyed most of the old city. Thus [on opening day], New Yorkers weren’t just celebrating their ability to drink a clean cup of water—they were glad that the next time fire struck, the volunteer firemen would be able to vanquish it quickly.
However, while the number of buildings destroyed was minimized, this fire did kill 30 people, making it the deadliest of New York's "great" fires.

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Want to hear more about NYC history?

Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book!

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Depicting the Hamilton-Burr Duel

On July 12, 1804, Alexander Hamilton died at his friend William Bayard's home on Jane Street, having been shot the day before by Aaron Burr in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Over the years, numerous illustrations have shown the dramatic moment of the duel when Burr shot Hamilton:

What all of these illustrations have in common is that all of them are wrong. While there were other people present at the duel, there were no witnesses. As we write in Footprints in New York, Hamilton and Burr
arrived in Weehawken about a half an hour apart. Burr and his party got there first and began clearing the dueling grounds. Hamilton, Nathaniel Pendleton, and David Hosack, a physician, arrived around seven in the morning. By prearrangement, the seconds were to keep their backs turned away from Hamilton and Burr. Since dueling was illegal, this would give them the chance, if questioned, to say they hadn’t seen anything. 
Hamilton, as the challenged, had brought the pistols, and he was given the choice of his weapon. Hamilton took his time getting into position. He cleaned his glasses. He repeatedly tested his aim. Was this a show of nerves—or was he trying to provoke Burr? The pistols belonged to Hamilton’s brother-in-law, and he may have had the opportunity to practice with them. Did that give him an unfair advantage? Even if it did, it turned out not to matter.
Hamilton fired first. His bullet flew above Burr’s head, lodging in a cedar tree. 
Then Burr fired. His aim was true, and his shot lodged in Hamilton’s spine, having first lacerated his liver.
Notice that in every picture of the duel, the seconds are looking on helplessly. If the custom of the day was followed, their backs would have been turned.

* * *

Want to hear more about NYC history?

Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book!

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The End of Slavery in New York

It is easy in modern New York to forget that New York's economic strength from the seventeenth-nineteenth century was tied to the slavery. In the mid-1800s, forty percent of white families in the city owned at least one enslaved person, and the city's Meal Market on Wall Street did a brisk trade in the selling of humans as chattel.

As we write in Inside the Apple*:
Slavery had been a contentious issue through America’s brief history as a nation, in no place more than New York. By the turn of the 19th century, it had become the largest slave-holding city in the north—and the nation’s second-largest slave-holding city, after Charleston, South Carolina. New York’s Manumission Society, whose founders included John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, was instrumental in banning the sale of enslaved Africans in the state and instituting a gradual manumission beginning in 1799. However, by 1817, slavery was still abundant and Governor Daniel Tompkins prompted the state legislature to set a date for total emancipation. The date selected—a decade away—was July 4, 1827, when all slaves in the state were freed.
Because African-American leaders felt that the celebrations of emancipation would get lost amidst the general hubbub of Independence Day, they decided to mark manumission with a parade on July 5, 1827. A group of nearly 4,000 marchers ("accompanied by several bands of music") headed down Broadway and ended at the AME Zion Church, which then stood at the corner of Church and Leonard streets. Other celebrations included a night at the Mount Pitt Circus on Grand Street, where a "Grand Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery" was held, including a performance of the melodrama The Secret Mine, which evidently combines elements of horsemanship, Hinduism, and a Chinese slave. Whether this was the most appropriate conclusion for the day's events is unclear.

Some New Yorkers were not emancipated at July 5; unscrupulous owners failed to inform some of those who'd been enslaved of their freedom.
The most famous New York State slave not to gain his freedom was Caesar, who died in 1852 as a “house servant” at Bethlehem House, the estate of the Nicoll family, descendants of New York’s first English Governor, Richard Nicolls (somewhere along the line, the final “s” was dropped from their surname). Caesar had been born in the house in 1737 and served his entire 115-year-life in service to three generations of the Nicoll family, totally unaware that after 1827 he was a free man. Caesar’s fate is only known because a later Nicoll descendant wrote up the story of his life. How many other Africans continued in enslavement or indentured servitude because their owners hid the truth from them?

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* Did you know that Inside the Apple has recently been released for the first time as an audio book?

Visit Amazon or Audible to download today!

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The Elevated Railway

Earlier this week, James had a story appear in Curbed about the history of New York's elevated railways. Next week marks the 150th anniversary of the first successful run of what would become the Ninth Avenue El.

You can read the full story at

One small detail the story mentions is the "View of St. Paul’s Church and the Broadway stages, N.Y.," by Hugh Reinagle, a painting that illustrated all the different stage coaches that plied Broadway in the 1830s. Since the print itself wasn't able to be included in the story, we've posted it here.

Enjoy the story!

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