Thursday, September 17, 2009

A world before New York City...

New Amsterdam, courtesy New Amsterdam History Center. Compare this painting to the maps below.

Check out this cool map of lower Manhattan when it was New Amsterdam (circa 1660). The site's authors have "vectorized and georeferenced" an original map drawn by Jacques Cortelyou. You can find out who owned different plots of land and what type of buildings or businesses sat on them.

There's the brewery of Oloff Stevensen van Cortladt on today's Broad Street (he lived next door); the storehouses of the West India Company on Winckle Street; and even the wall that later became Wall Street.

The New York Public Library, genius institution, has the original map in its archives, a copy of which is online. New Amsterdam is a very small place - only about eight streets - with lots of open orchards and yards.

If you go back further, there's an even more unfamiliar Manhattan waiting. The Mannahatta Project has mapped what our island looked like circa 1609, before Europeans settled here. You can navigate around their map as well.

I looked up 97 Orchard Street. In 1900 our block (Orchard between Delancey and Broome) was perhaps the most densely populated place in the world. In 1609 it seems to have been covered in a forest of maple, greenbrier, and black cherry trees. Chesnuts and chokeberries dotted the underbrush, food for the occasional black bear or wild turkey flock who wandered through. At least the familiar passenger pigeon seems to have made a home on our block even then.

One of the brains behind this cool project, Eric Sanderson, will be at Tenement Talks tonight to discuss New York before it was New York, New York; The Big Apple; Gotham; or anything but a place to hunt, gather, and grow. He's joined by Douglas Hunter, author of Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage That Redrew the Map of The New World, who will discuss the New Amsterdam part of the story. Robert Sullivan, journalist and author of the best book on rats ever, leads the discussion.

Join us, won't you? 6:30 PM, 108 Orchard Street at Delancey.

UPDATE - National Geographic had the project on their September cover. Check out the maps, story, and interactive on their site. Or just buy a magazine!

- Posted by Kate Stober

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