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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The Erie Canal

I've got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We've hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way we know
From Albany to Buffalo

-- From "Low Bridge Everybody Down" aka "Erie Canal"

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

On October 26, 1825, one of the most important engineering feats of the 19th century was completed with the opening of the Erie Canal. A cannon was fired in Buffalo to mark the moment. Then, a series of cannons along the canal and the Hudson River had been set up for the occasion and as each gunner heard the shot, he fired his own; in 90 minutes the news passed, cannon to cannon, along the waterway to New York City.

Ten days later, New York's governor, DeWitt Clinton, stood on the deck of a packet boat anchored off Sandy Hook and poured a barrel of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean. This "wedding of the waters," as it came to be known, was the symbolic completion of the Erie Canal, the most important waterway of its day and the engineering project that once and for all sealed New York's fate as the most important commercial city in America.

An entire chapter of Footprints in New York is dedicated to Governor (and NYC mayor) Clinton, the unsung hero of 19th-century New York politics. As we write in the book, Clinton
was the most important politician of his generation—perhaps the most important politician New York has ever had—which, considering the company, is quite an achievement. 
Clinton was New York’s junior senator; then, he served ten one-year terms as the city’s mayor between 1803 and 1815. Later, as governor, he oversaw the building of the Erie Canal, the biggest engineering project of its day, which radically transformed New York’s economy. Had Clinton carried the state of Pennsylvania in the election of 1812—which he nearly did—he would have been president of the United States, and might have brought a quick resolution to the war with Great Britain. 
Clinton’s influence is incalculable. From expanding trade through the Erie Canal to overseeing the real estate revolution embodied in the city’s rigid grid plan, the effects of Clinton’s years in politics are still felt today by every New Yorker. 
On November 4, 1825, in a ceremony for dignitaries and the press, Governor Clinton poured a small cask of water into the Atlantic Ocean. An artist captured the moment: Clinton stands on the edge of a barge, the miniature cask grasped in his hands, as the water—collected ten days earlier in Lake Erie—gracefully cascades into the sea.

Image result for clinton wedding of the waters 

Prior to the canal's opening, it was cheaper to bring goods from Liverpool to New York than to haul them overland from Illinois. Once the canal was finished, not only did New York have access to plentiful raw materials from the Midwest, finished products could now also speed to the heartland, opening up new markets for the city's burgeoning manufacturing base. By the time of the Civil War, New York's control over shipping was so complete that nearly all the cotton being shipped from the south to Europe was being sent out of New York harbor rather than directly from southern ports.

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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, October 18, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Melville's Whale

site for processing whale oil, Antarctica
On October 18, 1851, a novel called The Whale by Herman Melville was published in England. It would come out in America about a month later under the title Moby Dick and would become a landmark of 19th-century American literature. (Though not immediately -- the first edition was a failure.)

Melville was born in Lower Manhattan and -- when he wasn't working on square-rigged sailing ships -- spent most of his life in the city.
"There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward…. Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries."
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

For years, there was a bust of Melville inset into the wall behind 17 State Street, a 1988 office tower built by Emory Roth & Sons in the Financial District. The bust marked the spot (sort of) where Melville was born at 6 Pearl Street.

However, a recent renovation of the plaza has erased the Melville memorial. Do any readers know what happened to the bust? We've reached out to the leasing agent for the building, but so far have not heard back.

Image result for whaling ships

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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, October 11, 2018

Postcard Thursday: The DAR

Image result for postcard daughters american revolution

On October 11, 1890, the Daughters of the American Revolution was founded. The organization was created as part of a wave of patriotic sentiment that gripped America after the Civil War. It was also, quite frankly, a way for white, native-born women to remind immigrants that America had literally been created by the ancestors of the DAR.

James walked around Lower Manhattan this year looking for plaques and markers that the DAR (and other, similar organizations) had placed around the Financial District to remind people of the area's Revolutionary history. You can read that story in Curbed 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, October 4, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Reminder -- Sun Oct 7, Gilded Age Walking Tour


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

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