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Sunday, February 23, 2014


Apart from the stone water tower, few major

construction projects were under way but, as

usual, the layout of lower Manhattan was

undergoing constant change. Settlement of the

affairs of the late (29 years ago) property owner

Captain Robert Richard Randall finally drew

to a close when the U. S. Supreme Court cleared

his land title to the area around today’s

Washington Square. The original will, by the

way, had been drawn up by no other than

Alexander Hamilton. The freed funds will be

used to purchase land on Staten Island for

construction of Sailors’ Snug Harbor, a

retirement home for, “aged, decrepit, and 

worn-out sailors”, and to provide for its


As for the Square itself, it had at one time

been a potter’s field, where the city’s poor

were buried in unmarked graves. Which

made it a handy repository for criminals

hanged on a nearby gibbet. But in New York,

real estate rules and over the last four years

the poor were reburied elsewhere and

expensive homes constructed around the

perimeter. New graveyards, especially for the 

poor, will, of necessity have to be located away

from lower Manhattan as the Common Council

this year bans them from all land south of Canal

Street. Meanwhile street construction goes on

between 13th Street and Canal Street. Eleventh

Street is laid out except for the two-block section

between Broadway and the Bowery, construction

there blocked by the apple orchard of council

member Henry Brevoort, a buddy of Washington

Irving’s. The second incarnation of Grace Church

will rise on the site in 1843. Four blocks to the

south, on lower Third Avenue one of the city’s

many public markets will be laid out this year

and named for the previous owner of the land,

the late former governor and U. S. vice-president

Daniel D. Tompkins. More changes to the city’s

infrastructure are in the works this year as

incorporation papers are filed for the Manhattan

Gas Light Company, which will soon be

providing gas street lights for the new


Part of the impetus for the move of old money

further uptown is the deteriorating condition

of the area known as Five Points on the east

side of the city a few short blocks northeast of

City Hall. Here, where Park and Baxter streets

intersect and Anthony Street thrusts its way

into the crossing, buildings erected on formerly

filled-in swamp land, the old Collect Pond,

have begun to collapse in on themselves, driving

out all but the most destitute. And there are over

13,000 of these unfortunates, existing in streets

of flop houses and taverns, precursor of the

tenements of the Lower East Side and the Bowery

of future decades. Letters are beginning to appear

in the New York Sun, complaining that these 

slums are not being demolished.

Across town (in today’s Triangle Below Canal

Street, or Tribeca neighborhood), sits St. John’s

Park, one of the city’s more exclusive

neighborhoods. Now, in 1830, the residents

have erected an iron replacement for the wooden

fence that had surrounded the park they all face.

As in a latter-day Gramercy Park, the gates are

kept locked, the property owners all having their

own keys. After the U. S. Civil War our budding

millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt will knock

down the fence, level the park’s greenery and

convert the area into a stable for new toys, the 

iron steeds of his New York Central & Hudson

River Rail Road.

Broadcast on WXXI-FM / Simon Pontin's Salmagundi - April 2006

© 2006  David Minor / Eagles Byte

Monday, February 17, 2014


So far, as the residents of the New York City area

welcomed in the year 1830, there would have been

few complaints about the winter. James Stuart 

noted that the streets of Manhattan were so dry it

was necessary to sprinkle them to keep the dust 

down. But, downstate or up, New Yorkers are

suspicious of nice winter weather anytime before

mid-April. They were not to be disappointed.

Exactly one month after Christmas the mercury

headed for the cellar. Water transportation was

halted between the city and both Philadelphia

and Albany.

According to Stuart, “. . . all hands were set to

work in order to have the ice-houses filled with

that article which is so indispensable in a warm

climate. The ice-house attached to the boarding-

house where we were living contains thirty tons

of ice; and, as no ice is into an ice-house here

which is not perfectly clean and clear, so that a

lump of it may be put into a glass of water or a

bottle of wine, as much care is necessary in

selecting the ice perfectly pure from the ponds,

as in packing it in the ice-house.” He mentions

that his Hoboken neighbors the Stevenses keep 

large supplies of ice both here in New Jersey 

and at Albany, for use on their steamboats

during the warmer weather. Northeastern forests 

near the big cities are being depleted of wood,

much of it for the bark, which is ground up 

by tanneries to produce a tannin-rich liquid for

soaking animal hides, softening them to create

pliable leather. The spent liquid is then put to use

polluting nearby rivers and streams. Man-made

recycling at its worst; at least until new 

technologies come along.

Unlike most residents of the area Mr. and Mrs.

Stuart have no ties binding them to the colder

climates. He writes, ”On the  29th January, I set

out on a long-projected expedition to Charlestown, 

NewOrleans, the Mississippi and Ohio.” Left 

to our own devices after the snowbirds have

flown, we’ll hang around the mouth of the

Hudson and see what’s going on during the

rest of 1830. The Stuarts will return at the

beginning of summer.

Meanwhile, the city’s search for decent water

is ongoing. In April work is completed on a 

27-foot high stone tower on 13th Street, built

to contain Philadelphia engineer Thomas 

Howe’s iron tank, designed to hold 230,000

gallons of water. A system of twelve-inch iron

pipes will be laid to carry the water under

Broadway and the Bowery to supply three and

half miles of streets with water, capable of

being pumped sixty feet above street level.

Two types of power are at work in this project-

water and political. The Manhattan Company,

a brainchild of Aaron Burr in the late 1790s,

had been formed to bring Bronx River water

downtown. But Burr had a more important

goal in mind, slipping language into the

enabling legislation to turn the entity into a 

private bank. Now, in the fall of 1830, State 

attorney general Greene C. Bronson will sue

to have the Manhattan Company's charter

dissolved, arguing that the company not

only has no right to be in the banking

business, but also has not fulfilled its main

obligation to deliver drinking water. Company 

lawyers will keep this one tied up in the courts

for the next two years. Proponents of alcoholic 

abstinence will leap into the fray, citing the 

lack of good drinking water as the excuse for

intemperance. The waters will remain muddied

(you should pardon the expression...or not) for

some time to come.

Broadcast on WXXI-FM / Simon Pontin's Salmagundi - April 22, 2006

© 2006  David Minor / Eagles Byte

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Our apologies for the late change, there was an accidental double-booking at our meeting location. Please join us this Wednesday.
Save Our Seaport Meeting
Wednesday, February 19th
St. Margaret’s
49 Fulton St.
We will meet Wednesday, February 19th, at St. Margaret’s House, Meeting Room 2, 49 Fulton Street, 6:30pm.
We hope to see you there!

Friday, February 14, 2014


St. Mark's Bookshop, one of the last great independent bookshops ANYWHERE, needs your support NOW, not later today, not tomorrow. The shop is gathering its forces for a big move to a nearby location: drop by in person at 31 Third Avenue (Astor Place) or at ...and: join us! send an email to and we'll keep you informed of our plans to help St Mark’s Bookshop.   Peace with justice,
Joyce Ravitz

Cooper Square Committee
61 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003

tel (212) 228-8210
fax (646) 602-2260



Bronx County was carved out of New York County in 1914, one hundred years ago. For seventy years the division seemed clear, but then in 1984 an otherwise unremarkable murder case generated a startling legal decision that threw the long-standing boundary between the two counties into question at the sleepy little neighborhood of Marble Hill. The ruling threatened to wreak havoc with New York’s criminal justice and electoral systems. Using historic images and videotaped interviews with the principal players in the story, Michael Miscione, the Manhattan Borough Historian, will examine this little-known ruling and its aftermath. This presentation is part of the "Lost in Inwood" lecture series presented by Donald Rice every month at the Indian Road Cafe.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 
Indian Road Cafe 
600 West 218th Street (corner of Indian Road
(212) 942-7451 
Admission is free, but the venue is an fully operating restaurant-bar, so come prepared to eat and/or drink. 


Come to the recently reopened Queens Museum to participate in the world’s greatest geo-historical trivia game night at the Panorama of the City of New York, a sprawling three-dimensional scale model of the five boroughs built for the 1964 World’s Fair! Early next month Levys’ Unique New York, the Queens Museum, and the City Reliquary will present the 7th Annual Panorama Challenge. 

This is a team sport, but contestants who come alone or in small groups need not fret; they will be folded together with others to form a 10-person team. The Challenge’s quizmaster will pose clever questions about the city’s various landmarks, bridges, neighborhoods, parks, and more, and the team that identifies the most locations will have its name etched on a trophy at the Queens Museum! 

Two of this year's categories will include “I heard it on the 1010 WINS traffic report,” and “It happened 15 / 20 / 25 Years Ago.” There will be twice as many music clues as last year! Also this year, while the judges tally the final scores, there will be an electrifying performance by Batala NYC -- New York's only all-woman Brazilian drum corps! 

Our panel of all-star judges will include the Manhattan Borough Historian, Michael Miscione; the Dean of NYC Tour Guides, Lee Gelber; NYC Know-It-All, Andy Sydor; and Webmaster and author of “Forgotten New York,” Kevin Walsh. 

The Challenge’s format and questions will be designed by Levys' Unique New York, aka “New York’s First Family of Tour Guides.” All proceeds will go to support the City Reliquary Museum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, dedicated to collecting and displaying NYC's historic, cultural, and artistic ephemera. Beer will be supplied by the Brooklyn Brewery. 

Friday, March 7, 2014 
7:00p to 10:00p; doors open at 6:00p 
Queens Museum at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park 
(A free shuttle will be traveling between the museum and the Mets-Willets Point 7 Train stop, both before and after the event.) 

$15 suggested donation 
$10 for City Reliquary members & NY Trivia League teams. Reliquary membership available on site. 
Admission includes a free beer; snacks and more refreshments available for an additional donation.