Author Archives: Lauren Robinson

Highlights from the City Museum’s Graffiti Collection

When painter Martin Wong moved to New York City from San Francisco in 1978, he marveled at what many others considered a blight – graffiti scrawled on the surfaces of the entire city. Wong was not a graffiti writer but nonetheless recognized graffiti’s artistic value and befriended many writers. He perceived the transience of graffiti and encouraged writers to sell him their sketchbooks and paintings. In 1994 he donated his entire collection of graffiti to the City Museum. Now for the first time visitors to the Museum can see works from the Martin Wong Collection in the City as Canvas exhibition, open through August 24.

The Martin Wong Collection comprises more than 300 paintings and mixed media works, along with over 45 sketchbooks, also called black books. Writers used black books to collect tags from other writers in addition to sketching pieces destined for trains or canvas. Because of their ephemeral nature, few black books survive today. Below are some highlights, a few of which are not part of the City as Canvas exhibition.

Cliff 159 started writing in the Bronx in 1970. He specialized in whole-car pieces and also was one of the first writers to incorporate comic characters like Beetle Bailey into his work.

Clifford (Cliff 159) Brown. Cliff... Page in Chi Chi 133's black book. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.266.30

Cliff 159. Cliff… [Page in Chi Chi 133's black book.] ca. 1975. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.266.30

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Beetle Bailey by Cliff. 1974. Museum of the City of New York. 95.98.5

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Beetle Bailey by Cliff. 1974. Museum of the City of New York. 95.98.5. © Estate of Jack Stewart.

Riff 170 began writing in the Bronx in the early 1970s. Other writers placed a premium on getting their names up and becoming well-known, but Riff favored artistic innovation and wrote under many names such as Worm, Cash, Dove 2, and Conan. Riff’s novel approach inspired creativity in successive generations of writers, many of whom are featured in this blog.

RIFF 170. Cash Page in Wicked Gary's piece book. 1972-1973. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.277.12

RIFF 170. Cash [Page in Wicked Gary's piece book.] 1972-1973. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.277.12

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Cash, by RIFF I. 1974. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.1. © Estate of Jack Stewart.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Cash, by RIFF I. 1974. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.1. © Estate of Jack Stewart.

Like Riff, Billy 167′s career began in the Bronx in the early 1970s. He focused strictly on lettering, for which he would became renowned. The image below comes from a piece book that is believed to have belonged to Peso 131 – also note Jester’s tag.

Billy 167. Billy Page in piece book. ca. 1980. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.278.3

Billy 167. Billy [Page in piece book.] ca. 1980. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.278.3

Ironically, Billy 167 would later work for the MTA as an electrician. He passed away in the 1980s but his imaginative lettering influenced countless other artists like Seen UA.

Photograph by Tracy 168. Billy 167. Used with permission by Tracy 168.

Photograph by Michael (Tracy 168) Tracy. Billy 167. 1982. Used with permission by Michael Tracy.

Daze began writing in the late 1970s. He successfully managed the transition from trains to galleries in the 1980s, and continues to have a prolific career as an artist.

Christopher (DAZE) Ellis (1962-). DAZE with tags. 1982. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.90

Christopher (DAZE) Ellis (1962-). [DAZE with tags.] 1982. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.90

From Daze’s black book is a list of subway lines and the writers assigned to them. In addition to Daze’s tag, you can see his aliases below – Bode, Chill, and Wind 2.

List of subway lines and the graffiti writers assigned to them in Daze's black book. 1983. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.263.58

[List of subway lines and the graffiti writers assigned to them in DAZE's black book.] 1983. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.263.58

Years before @149st compiled a list of writing crews this would have been a good reference for any outsider:

List of the full names of graffiti crews and their corresponding acronyms in DAZE's black book. ca. 1981. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.263.92

[List of the full names of graffiti crews and their corresponding acronyms in DAZE's black book.] ca. 1981. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.263.92

And finally, the end result of Daze’s hard work, under the Wind 2 alias:

Christopher (DAZE) Ellis (1962-). Inside back cover of DAZE's black book. ca. 1981. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.263.220

Christopher (DAZE) Ellis (1962-). [Inside back cover of DAZE's black book.] ca. 1981. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.263.220

Kool 131, Chain 3, and Mr. Jinx 174 formed the writing crew TDS (The Death Squad) in the late 1970s. TDS favored style over fame, although they became famous anyway. When member Bear 167 passed away in 1984, TDS created a beautiful memorial book:

Maurice (Kool Aid 131) Antonio. Kool Aid 131 Death Squad TDS Pres. Page of TDS's black book in memory of Bear 167. ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.271.4

Maurice (Kool 131) Antonio. Kool Aid 131 Death Squad TDS Pres. [Page of TDS's black book in memory of Bear 167.] ca. 1985. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.271.4

While the book mourns Bear 167′s passing, it also celebrates his life as an artist with vibrant colors.

TDS Vice Pres. Part Page of TDS's black book in memory of Bear 167. ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.271.6

Part One. TDS Vice Pres. Part [Page of TDS's black book in memory of Bear 167.] ca. 1985. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.271.6

Melvin (NOC 167) Samuels. Bear 167 In Memory of Him Page of TDS's black book in memory of Bear 167. ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.271.56

Melvin (NOC 167) Samuels. Bear 167 In Memory of Him [Page of TDS's black book in memory of Bear 167.] ca. 1985. Martin Wong Collection, Museum of the City of New York. 94.114.271.56

Even if you are unable to visit the Museum, you can still explore the Martin Wong Collection here.

The Croton and Catskill Systems: Meeting the Demand for Water in New York City

Our earlier blog post illustrated the attempts city and private officials made to supply Manhattan with water, culminating in the successful flow of water from Westchester County to the city via the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 (hereafter called the Old Croton Aqueduct). This remarkable feat of civil engineering was unable to keep pace with New York’s rapid population growth, however, and was strained to capacity only 30 years after its completion.

Today New York City gets its water from the Croton, Catskill, and Delaware Systems, the first two of which are featured in this blog.  The images are part of a photograph album made from 1913-1917 when the donor, William Williams (1862-1947), was Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Water Supply, Gas, and Electricity under Mayor John Purroy Mitchel.

Croton System

What seemed to New Yorkers an abundant flow of water from the Old Croton Aqueduct in 1842 was deemed inadequate just a few years later. The city experienced an unanticipated population boom in the second half of the 19th century, due largely to a rise in immigration: in 1840, the population was 312,710; thirty years later in 1870 the population had more than tripled to 942,292. To satisfy demand, the flow of water was increased in the aqueduct. But another issue had emerged: the quality and quantity of water available was variable and vulnerable to droughts and landslides. The solution to this problem required improvements to the entire system and the project came to be known as the Croton Waterworks Extension.

Increasing storage capacity was one of the most important tasks for the Croton Waterworks Extension. The photograph below shows the first major component, constructed from 1858-1862 in what was later to become Central Park.

Photographer unknown. New Central Park Reservoir and North Gate Houses Croton System. ca. 1880-1900. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.113

Photographer unknown. New Central Park Reservoir and North Gate Houses Croton System. ca. 1880-1895. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.113

A few projects were delayed several years because of the Civil War. Manhattan’s ever-increasing population was moving further north, beyond the areas serviced by the Old Croton Aqueduct. To deliver water to this growing community, known as Carmansville, the High Bridge Reservoir and Tower were built from 1866-1873.

Photographer unknown. High Bridge Reservoir and Tower Croton System. ca. 1880-1895. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.106

Photographer unknown. High Bridge Reservoir and Tower [Croton System.] ca. 1880-1895. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.106

Although the Croton Waterworks Extension had successfully augmented water storage, the Old Croton Aqueduct was nearing its maximum capacity. Construction of the New Croton Aqueduct began in 1885, as shown in the pictures below.

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct - Typical Horseshoe Section in Open Cut Croton System. 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.101

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct – Typical Horseshoe Section in Open Cut [Croton System.] 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.101

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct - Cast-Iron Section Lining Croton System. 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.102

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct – Cast-Iron Section Lining [Croton System.] 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.102

Enough work had been accomplished by July 15, 1890 to allow water to flow to the Central Park reservoir via the New Croton Aqueduct. But the Croton System was far from complete; additional water storage was needed. Below is the Titicus Reservoir in Westchester County, completed in 1895.

Photographer unknown. Titicus Reservoir - Spillway and Waste Channel Croton System. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.86

Photographer unknown. Titicus Reservoir – Spillway and Waste Channel [Croton System.] ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.86

The New Croton Dam near the village of Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County was built from 1892-1906, and was the tallest dam at the time of its construction.

Photographer unknown. New Croton Reservoir - Waste Channel and Bridge Croton System. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.95

Photographer unknown. New Croton Reservoir – Waste Channel and Bridge [Croton System.] ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.95

The Croton System was completed in 1911. Today it supplies about 10 percent of the city’s water.

Catskill System

In 1898 the consolidation of Kings, Queens, Richmond, and parts of Westchester counties into New York City increased the population to 3.5 million, up from 1.5 million in 1890. The disparate waterworks of these regions now fell under the city’s domain, and it was obvious more water was needed to sustain New York. A 1900 report focused on the southern Catskill region for obtaining new sources of water. In 1907 construction of the Catskill Aqueduct commenced, documented in the photographs below.

Photographer unknown. Bucket Used to Lower Men and Materials During Sinking of Tunnel Shafts Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.32

Photographer unknown. Bucket Used to Lower Men and Materials During Sinking of Tunnel Shafts [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.32

Photographer unknown. Typical Pressure Tunnel Construction Shaft Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.54

Photographer unknown. Typical Pressure Tunnel Construction Shaft [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.54

Photographer unknown. Tunnel Drills Working on Bench After Drilling Heading Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.33

Photographer unknown. Tunnel Drills Working on Bench After Drilling Heading [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.33

Photographer unknown. Drilling and Mucking Bench of Lower Half of Tunnel Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.34

Photographer unknown. Drilling and Mucking Bench [of] Lower Half of Tunnel [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.34

Photographer unknown. Rondout Pressure Tunnel Showing Partial and Total Concrete Lining Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.35

Photographer unknown. Rondout Pressure Tunnel Showing Partial and Total Concrete Lining Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.35

The Catskill Aqueduct was completed in 1915, and the remainder of the Catskill System was finished in 1928. The Catskill System supplies over 40 percent of New York City’s Water.

Click here to see the entire photograph album.

John Stephenson Company Streetcars

New York would not be the city it is today without the comprehensive public transportation infrastructure developed during the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the major players of this development was the John Stephenson Company, a streetcar manufacturer that not only outfitted the byways of New York, but supplied cities all over the world with public transportation vehicles.

Background

John Stephenson was born in Ireland on July 4, 1809 and immigrated with his parents to the United States two years later. As a teenager he was an apprentice to the coachbuilder Andrew Wade of 347 Broome Street. During his apprenticeship Stephenson built carriages for Abraham Bower, who had introduced the horse-drawn vehicle known as the omnibus to the streets of New York in 1827. Omnibuses were essentially public stagecoaches running along a specified route with a fixed fee for passengers. Upon completion of the apprenticeship in 1831, Stephenson opened his own carriage shop at 667 Broadway. The shop burned to the ground a year later, but Stephenson was not deterred – he reopened for business at 264 Elizabeth Street. By 1836 his business was successful enough to warrant a move to a bigger place -  Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue) between 132nd and 134th Streets. The print below shows the Harlem factory and features one of Stephenson’s standout designs, known as an x-frame or diamond car for the shapes cut by the latticework on the side of the vehicle. The design served more than just an aesthetic purpose: the truss supported the body of the car between two wheeled chassis.

Photolithograph by J. H. Bufford & Co. John Stephenson, Manufacturer of Rail Road Cars, Omnibusses, Post Coaches and Carriages of Every Description. ca. 1837. Museum of the City of New York. 45.293.1

Photolithograph by J. H. Bufford & Co. John Stephenson, Manufacturer of Rail Road Cars, Omnibusses, Post Coaches and Carriages of Every Description. ca. 1837. Museum of the City of New York. 45.293.1

John Stephenson’s business suffered a setback with the onset of the Panic of 1837 and was forced to close in 1842. But the tenacious Stephenson worked hard to pay off his debts and reopened again in 1843, at 47 East 27th Street, where the company would remain until 1898.

The photographs below were taken for the John Stephenson Company and donated to the Museum in 1944 by Mrs. Harry A. Thompson, great niece of John Stephenson and daughter of John A. Tackaberry, Vice President of the John Stephenson Company. The photographs are divided into the following unbound  photograph albums: Omnibuses, Fare-box Cars, Aisle Cars, Summer Cars, Closed Cars, Double-decker Cars, Special Cars, Electric Cars, Cable Cars, and Factory. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were taken at the John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street.

Factory

Stephenson built his factory on 27th Street between Madison and Fourth Avenues, opposite the New York & Harlem Railroad depot at Fourth Avenue and 26th Street. By the time these pictures were taken, the depot had been demolished for the construction of Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden.

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown  photographer. Factory John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street. ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.453

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory [John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street.] ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.453

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory John Stephenson Company Factory at 47 East 27th Street. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.454

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory [John Stephenson Company Factory at 47 East 27th Street.] 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.454

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory Interior of the John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street, cabinet shop. ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.485

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory [Interior of the John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street, cabinet shop.] ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.485

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory Interior of the John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street, making a streetcar roof. ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.480

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory [Interior of the John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street, making a streetcar roof.] ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.480

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory Interior of the John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street, streetcar near completion. ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.481

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Factory [Interior of the John Stephenson Company factory at 47 East 27th Street, streetcar near completion.] ca. 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.481

Omnibuses

Omnibuses eliminated the need to hire transportation and became so popular that by 1852, over 120,000 passengers utilized them daily in New York.[1]

In 1856, Stephenson manufactured 300 omnibuses for use in New York and other cities around the world [2]. Below is an omnibus destined for Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand.

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Omnibuses Dunedin City & Suburbs streetcar. ca. 1865. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.2

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Omnibuses [Dunedin City & Suburbs streetcar.] ca. 1865. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.2

The Pride of the Nation must have been one of the largest omnibuses ever constructed. Stephenson built the vehicle in 1875 and presented it at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia.

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Omnibuses The Pride of the Nation streetcar. ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.13

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Omnibuses [The Pride of the Nation streetcar.] ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.13

Look at how many horses were needed to pull the Pride of the Nation, shown below in Madison Square. The fate of the vehicle is unknown; the omnibus was last seen in 1918 when it departed for a cross-country tour, pulled behind a gasoline tractor.

Photograph taken by J. H. Beal for the John Stephenson Company. Omnibuses The Pride of the Nation streetcar in Madison Square. ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.14

Photograph taken by J. H. Beal for the John Stephenson Company. Omnibuses [The Pride of the Nation streetcar in Madison Square.] ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.14

In 1832, John Mason improved on the omnibus by laying special tracks in the cobblestone streets of New York, providing a smoother, safer, and more efficient ride. Thus the market for horsecars, also called streetcars, was born. Stephenson supplied this market with different variations of the streetcar seen below.

Fare-box Cars

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Fare-box Cars Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Co. Limited No. 30 Hotham & Melbourne streetcar. 1884-1898. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.28

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Fare-box Cars [Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Co. Limited No. 30 Hotham & Melbourne streetcar.] 1884-1898. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.28

Aisle Cars

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Aisle Cars Irondequoit Park Railroad streetcar, Glen Haven & Irondequoit Bay. 1893-1894. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.94

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Aisle Cars [Irondequoit Park Railroad streetcar, Glen Haven & Irondequoit Bay.] 1893-1894. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.94

Summer Cars

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Summer Cars Bowery Bay Beach streetcar, Steinway via Ravenswood & Astoria. ca. 1883. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.133

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Summer Cars [Bowery Bay Beach streetcar, Steinway via Ravenswood & Astoria.] ca. 1883. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.133

Closed Cars

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Closed Cars Streetcar No. 147, Central Park, North & East Rivers to the Battery. 1860-1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.234

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Closed Cars [Streetcar No. 147, Central Park, North & East Rivers to the Battery.] 1860-1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.234

Double-decker Cars

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Double-decker Cars Empresa de Tramways de Lima No. 4 streetcar with knifeboard seating on upper deck. ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.272

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Double-decker Cars [Empresa de Tramways de Lima No. 4 streetcar with knifeboard seating on upper deck.] ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.272

Special Cars

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Special Cars Streetcar for use in China. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.293

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Special Cars [Streetcar for use in China.] ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.293

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Special Cars Matamoros - Puebla streetcar for first-class passengers with side entrance. ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.300

Photograph taken by Waller for the John Stephenson Company. Special Cars [Matamoros - Puebla streetcar for first-class passengers with side entrance.] ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.300

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Special Cars Matamoros - Puebla streetcar for second-class passengers. ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.301

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Special Cars [Matamoros - Puebla streetcar for second-class passengers.] ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.301

Horsecars created their own problems, however: the need to feed, groom, and provide shelter for teams of animals; the enormous amounts of animal waste deposited on the streets; and the working limits of the animals themselves.

Cable Cars

Cable cars flourished from roughly 1880 to about 1890. They were an improvement over horsecars, but were rendered obsolete when Frank J. Sprague successfully electrified a street railway system in Virginia in 1888.

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Cable Cars Kansas City Railway Co. Nos. 18 and 17 streetcars, Woodland Avenue via 8th & 9th to Union Depot. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.451

Photograph taken for the John Stephenson Company by unknown photographer. Cable Cars [Kansas City Railway Co. Nos. 18 and 17 streetcars, Woodland Avenue via 8th & 9th to Union Depot.] ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.451

Electric Cars

The photograph below shows a streetcar fitted with a Thomson-Houston motor, passing by Union Square.

Photograph taken by the Pach Brothers for the John Stephenson Company. Electric Cars Madison & 4th Avenue to Post Office, Central Park No. 12 streetcar with Thomson-Houston motor. ca. 1890. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.379

Photograph taken by the Pach Brothers for the John Stephenson Company. Electric Cars [Madison & 4th Avenue to Post Office, Central Park No. 12 streetcar with Thomson-Houston motor.] ca. 1890. Museum of the City of New York. 44.295.379

The End of an Era

John Stephenson died in 1893. The same year, another financial panic threatened to put the John Stephenson Company out of business. In 1898, the company moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey and shortly thereafter declared bankruptcy. The John Stephenson Company was taken over by another railroad car manufacturer and continued on until 1919, when the plant was sold and the assets were liquidated.

Around the same time, the last horsecar in New York ran its course on July 17, 1917. The New York Times lamented:

Passing through many changes, the line kept its honored place in the municipal railroad world until yesterday morning, when the last of the dirty old cars, with their faithful horses and husky drivers, were withdrawn, never again to reappear. What glory, therefore, that came to this giant and progressive city for maintaining the last horse-drawn car disappeared forever. We are now no more notable in transportation than Chicago or Philadelphia.

Photographer unknown. Last horse-car trip, Bleecker Street. 1917. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.9926

Photographer unknown. [Last horse-car trip, Bleecker Street.] 1917. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.9926

1. Randall Bartlett, The Crisis of America’s Cities (Armonk, N.Y. : M.E. Sharpe, 1998), 71.
2. John H. White, Horsecars, Cable Cars, and Omnibuses (New York: Dover Publications, 1974), 15.

Notable City Residences

8,336,697 people lived in New York City as of July 2012 according to the United States Census Bureau, and a lucky few of them live in fascinating places. Here we take a look at some the more interesting residences, images of which are featured in the Museum’s collection. All photographs were taken by Edmund V. Gillon and donated to the Museum by Blair Davis.

Brooklyn Heights

In 1965 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, bounded roughly to the north and the west by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to the south by Atlantic Avenue, and to the east by Court Street, Cadman Plaza West and Old Fulton Street. This act ensured the preservation of the neighborhood’s signature brick and brownstone buildings, most of which were built in the 19th century, and the protection of the neighborhood’s tree-lined character, which has remained relatively unaltered since the Civil War. It is no surprise, then, that Brooklyn Heights has some of the most exceptional housing the city has to offer, including the four examples below.

Edmund V. Gillon. College Place. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.468

Edmund V. Gillon. [College Place.] 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.468

Carriage houses are holdovers from times when horse-drawn vehicles were the primary method of transportation; the buildings stored carriages and horse tack. Although rendered obsolete by modern transportation, some carriage houses still exist in the city. The carriage houses in Brooklyn Heights were built around the mid-19th century and are often located on alleys or quiet side streets.

Edmund V. Gillon. 165 Columbia Heights. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.792

Edmund V. Gillon. [165 Columbia Heights.] 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.792

Despite their humble origins, but perhaps because of their limited supply, carriage houses are now considered fashionable, highly desirable residences, and come with a corresponding hefty price tag. Renting a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom carriage house can set you back $10,000 a month. The carriage house pictured to the left was put on the market in 2008 for $7.2 million, but eventually sold in 2012 for $4.1 million.

Edmund V. Gillon. Riverside apartments, 4-30 Columbia Place. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.92

Edmund V. Gillon. [Riverside apartments, 4-30 Columbia Place.] ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.92

 

The Riverside apartments  were built in 1890 by William Field & Son and financed by philanthropist Alfred Tredway White, whose motto was “philanthropy plus five percent. ” White accepted a limited return on his investment in exchange for building affordable housing for Brooklyn’s poor and working class families. The Riverside buildings occupied only 49 percent of the lot, which allowed space for an internal courtyard. White’s progressive ideas about housing were years ahead of the law, and more generous as well: in 1895 the New York Tenement House Law was changed to require that a new tenement occupy no more than 65 percent of its lot.[1] The Riverside received praise from Jacob Riis, who wrote in his 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives: “Its chief merit is that it gathers three hundred real homes, not simply three hundred families, under one roof.” Although four of the nine buildings in the Riverside complex were demolished to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the LPC nonetheless included the Riverside apartments in the 1965 Brooklyn Heights Historic District designation. At a time when housing for working and middle class New Yorkers is in dwindling supply, and developers declare “There are only two markets, ultraluxury and subsidized housing,” White’s business model is sorely missed.

Edmund V. Gillon. 70 Willow Street. ca. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.938

Edmund V. Gillon. [70 Willow Street.] ca. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.938

The Greek Revival house at 70 Willow Street was built around 1839 by Adrian Van Sinderen and is commonly referred to as the Capote house. From 1955 to 1965 Truman Capote rented a room in the house, where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While he was living there he also noticed a news article about the 1959 murder of a Kansas family that would lead him to write  In Cold Blood. This three-story, 11-bedroom, 9,000-square foot mansion with the impressive pedigree recently sold for $12.5 million.

Roosevelt Island

Edmund V. Gillon. Octagon Tower. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.570

Edmund V. Gillon. Octagon Tower. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.570

Octagon Tower was part of the New York City Lunatic Asylum (later Metropolitan Hospital) on Roosevelt Island. It was built in 1835-1839 by Alexander Jackson Davis. In 1955 the hospital vacated the facility when it left Roosevelt Island for Manhattan. The buildings fell into a state of disrepair, as you can see in the picture to the right. But in 2006 the ruins were converted to luxury housing, with the newly restored Octagon Tower serving as the lobby entrance.

Nolita

Edmund V. Gillon. 190 Bowery. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.788

Edmund V. Gillon. [190 Bowery.] ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.788

 You would never guess that the building pictured to the left at 190 Bowery is now a single-family residence. The former Germania Bank building was built in 1898-1899 by Robert Maynicke for its namesake, which served the middle class German residents who populated the area along and to the east of the Bowery, north of Division Street. The building functioned as a bank until the mid-1960s, when photographer Jay Maisel purchased it for $102,000. Maisel moved into the six-story, 72-room, 35,000-square foot building and continues to live there today with his wife and daughter, leading Wendy Goodman of New York magazine to declare 190 Bowery “maybe the greatest real-estate coup of all time.”

Greenwich Village

In 1969 the LPC designated the Greenwich Village Historic District which included the two structures pictured below.

Edmund V. Gillon. Washington Square Methodist Church, 135-139 West 4th Street. ca. 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.300

Edmund V. Gillon. [Washington Square Methodist Church, 135-139 West 4th Street.] ca. 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.300

The former Washington Square Methodist Church at 135-139 West 4th Street was built 1859-1860 by Gamaliel King and constructed of marble in the Romanesque Revival style. Just over 100 years later it became known as Peace Church for its opposition to the Vietnam War. From 1973 to 1984 Reverend Paul Abels served as the church’s pastor. Abels was the first openly gay minister in a major Christian denomination in the United States. Ahead of his time, Abels performed “covenant ceremonies” for gay couples unable to wed legally. In 2004 the shrinking congregation sold the building to a real estate developer, who retained the facade and converted the interior to luxury apartments.

Edmund V. Gillon. Portico Place, 143 West 13th Street. ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.417

Edmund V. Gillon. [Portico Place, 143 West 13th Street.] ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.417

Another church converted to residences is Portico Place. It was originally the 13th Street Presbyterian Church, built in 1847 in the Greek Revival style and attributed to Samuel Thomson. Over the years the congregation merged with other nearby Presbyterian churches and eventually came to be known as the Village Presbyterian Church. The congregation disbanded in 1975 and the building was placed on the market in 1977. In 1982, the former church became a 15-unit residential building.

1. New York (State). Tenement House Commission, The Tenement House Problem: Including the Report of the New York State Tenement House Commission of 1900, Volume 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 275.

Street clocks – how New Yorkers kept time on the go.

Street clocks once dominated the sidewalks of New York City. First introduced in the 1860s, the clocks quickly became popular with businesses looking for novel ways to advertise and with the general public who appreciated the convenience.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Broadway - Southwest Corner of 32nd Street Looking North. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17118

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Broadway – Southwest Corner of 32nd Street Looking North. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17118

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Theatre, American, 42nd Street Between 7th & 8th Aves. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1180

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Theatre, American, 42nd Street Between 7th & 8th Aves. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1180

Few of these clocks exist today, however. Some became casualties of accidents as automobiles proliferated in the 20th century. Others gave way to the digital timepieces that predominate today.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). The Corn Exchange Bank. West 42nd St. Branch. 303 West 42nd Street. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.15338

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). The Corn Exchange Bank. West 42nd St. Branch. 303 West 42nd Street. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.15338

Sensing this unfortunate trend, in 1981 the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated eight sidewalk clocks still standing as landmarks, including the one below.

Berenice Abbott. Tempo of the City I. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.249

Berenice Abbott. Tempo of the City I. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.249

This double faced cast-iron clock at 522 Fifth Avenue on the southwest corner of 44th Street was manufactured in 1907 by the Seth Thomas Company.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17786

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17786

It originally stood one block south on Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street in front of the American Trust Company, but was moved to its current location in the 1930s when the American Trust Company merged with the Guaranty Trust Company.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 513 5th Avenue and 43rd Street. Postal Life Building, detail of lower stories. ca. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.2106

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 513 5th Avenue and 43rd Street. Postal Life Building, detail of lower stories. ca. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.2106

Now it stands proudly as a reminder of a not too distant past.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17827

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17827

What skating rink is that? Who lived in that house? Solving mysteries in the collection.

From time to time, the Collections Department receives inquiries from the public about the information associated with images we’ve cataloged online.   The data in the catalog records is pulled from inscriptions on photographs, and from photographers’ logs, notes, and shot lists that were acquired along with many of the Museum’s major photographic collections, such the Wurts Brothers  or Byron Company.  When we notice something that seems incorrect, we conduct further research, but generally, we consider these materials primary sources, and with collections numbering in the tens of thousands of images, must trust that the photographers kept accurate records.   Nobody’s perfect of course, and from time to time a researcher, or just someone browsing images on the Collections Portal, comes across an image they feel has been misidentified and reaches out to us, often through the research@mcny.org email (to learn more about our collections research services, check out the research page on the Museum’s newly redesigned website!)

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 5 West 51st Street. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.14118

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Old Carnegie Residence. 5 West 51st Street. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.14118

One such situation occurred when we were contacted by a researcher from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which resides in the former Andrew Carnegie family residence on Fifth Avenue and East 90th Street.  The Cooper-Hewitt had, in turn, been contacted by a preservationist, who was seeking to confirm the address of an even earlier Carnegie residence.  That researcher referenced the photograph to the right from our collection, which at the time was identified on the Collections Portal as “Old Carnegie Residence. 15 West 51st Street.”  That description came directly from one of the Wurts Brothers photography logs, shown below. If you enlarge the image of the log book, you’ll see on the bottom right corner of the right page the description of the photograph: “Aug 19 1932. Fred R. King. [...] Photo Old Carnegie Residence. 15 West 51 St.” Or does it actually say 5 West 51 St.? It’s hard to tell.

Wurts Bros. log book.

Wurts Bros. log book.

Detlef Lienau, Design for George Mosle Residence, 5 West 51st Street, N.Y., 1879. Courtesy of Detlef Lienau architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

Detlef Lienau, Design for George Mosle Residence, 5 West 51st Street, N.Y., 1879. Courtesy of Detlef Lienau architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

The preservationist who contacted the Cooper-Hewitt wasn’t even interested in the Carnegie Mansion, she was interested in 15 West 51st Street, in relation to a preservation project her firm had underway.  The Cooper-Hewitt confirmed that the Carnegies lived at 5 West 51st, not 15 West 51st, but they then looped us into the conversation to determine the actual address of the residence pictured above.  The Cooper-Hewitt had been seeking an image of the house at 5 West 51st Street, to no avail; all they had found was the elevation to the left, created when the house was originally built in 1879 for George Mosle by Detlef Lienau, which they supplied to us.

We  zoomed in on the photograph in question (you can do this too – clicking the photograph will take you directly to our Collections Portal, where you can use the magnifying glass icon to  see the details.) There was no address visible on the building, but there was a sign indicating that the structure had recently been sold. Going back to the log book, the name Fred R. King was associated with the address. Frederic Rhinelander King (1887-1972) was an architect; notably, he designed the Women’s National Republican Club at 3 West 51st Street, built from 1933-1934.  The Wurts Brothers probably took the photograph for King just before construction of the clubhouse.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 7 West 51st Street. Graves House. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.796

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 7 West 51st Street. Graves House. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.796

With over 125,000 images available online, our Collections Portal is often the best source for identifying discrepancies in catalog records. We found the image to the right, then identified as “[Perhaps] West 51st St. #7. Graves House.” It looks much the same as in the first photograph, and to the right of it is the original building in question. At this point we were confident in identifying the original image as 5 West 51st Street, and the image to the right as 7 West 51st Street.  When we looked back at the elevation supplied by the Cooper-Hewitt and compared it to the photograph, certain common architectural details – such as the balustrade under the third story windows – began to emerge, affirming that in fact we’d identified the early Carnegie Residence, 5 West 51st Street.  Good news for the Cooper-Hewitt; not so much help for for the preservation planner.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). St. Nicholas Rink. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10826

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). St. Nicholas Rink. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10826

Pictured to the left is another misidentified image brought to our attention by a researcher. The photograph was originally described by its creator Byron Company as “Rinks, Iceland Skating Rink, B’way 53rd Street & 7th Ave.” The date given was 1898. But as the researcher pointed out, Iceland skating rink did not open until 1916. We weren’t certain if the title, the date, or both were incorrect. We zoomed in on the image. This revealed a group of people sitting on the sidelines to the left. Their attire led us to believe that the given date of the photograph, 1898, was indeed correct. So now we knew that the photograph wasn’t of Iceland skating rink – but what was it? We looked at rinks on the Collections Portal, but nothing matched the image. We wondered if it could possibly be St. Nicholas Rink, before it became a full-time boxing arena.

St. Nicholas Rink opened in 1896 on 66th Street and Columbus Avenue and was one of the first enclosed ice skating rinks to take advantage of refrigeration technology. The facility has an entry in Wikipedia with an accompanying image. The image on the Wikipedia page gave us hope that the Museum’s photograph was of St. Nicholas Rink. In the Streetscapes column published February 6, 2005 in the New York Times, Christopher Gray writes that the building was “a broad, industrial-like structure with a procession of high brick arches in neo-Classical style…” After reading this description and seeing the photograph of the rink’s exterior published with the article, we believed that the Byron image showed St. Nicholas Rink.

We are grateful when someone points out questionable information on the portal, and continue to invite comments. If you have insight into an image on the portal, email us at portal@mcny.org.  In addition, the Museum shares a “Friday Mystery Image,” every week on our Facebook page.  Check in around lunchtime each Friday if you’d like to help us identify unknown images in our collection.

The Contentious History of Supplying Water to Manhattan

“What made New York a prosperous port – its deep saltwater rivers – made its drinking water lousy. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Manhattan’s water was already infamous: there was too little of it and what little there was tasted terrible.”[1]

Jill Lepore excellently sums up the dilemma facing colonial New Yorkers in her book New York Burning. But this was a problem of human error over 100 years in the making, dating back to when Europeans first settled in what was to become Manhattan.

Peter Schenk (1660-1718 or 9). Nieu Amsterdam. ca. 1702. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1689

The Lenape tribe had long inhabited the fertile land they called “Manahatta,” meaning hilly island. The land teemed with forests and wildlife sustained by numerous freshwater ponds and streams. In the lower portion of the island was the Fresh Water Pond, situated between today’s Canal and Chambers Streets east of Broadway. The pond was 60 feet deep and spread over 70 acres, with outlets stretching to the Hudson and East Rivers. The native village of Werpoes sat on the pond’s northwest shore, but the Lenape abandoned it after the arrival of the Dutch. Dutch settlers called the pond “kolch,” meaning small body of water. After the English seized New Amsterdam in 1664, the name became corrupted to “collect,” or the Collect Pond. The map below shows the Collect Pond and its inlet known as the “Little Collect”.

David Grim. Part of New - York in 1742. 1742. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.5.154

David Grim. Part of New – York in 1742. ca. 1813. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.5.154

The Collect Pond was far from the populous area of New Amsterdam, however. The Dutch lived behind a timber wall (now Wall Street) extending across the island, built to fend off native attacks that never transpired. People dug shallow wells and collected rain water from cisterns. The map below shows how settlers literally fenced themselves in, away from abundant sources of fresh water.

John Walcott Adams (1874-1925). The Castello Plan. New Amsterdam in 1660. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.709

John Walcott Adams (1874-1925). The Castello Plan. New Amsterdam in 1660. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.709

In July of 1664, the Dutch received word that an English fleet was departing Boston for New York. When the English arrived a month later, staking claim to New Amsterdam, they found a settlement ill-equipped to defend itself – indeed, the Dutch had neglected to supply their fort with water. After the Dutch surrendered without a fight, the English immediately set out building wells, which would supply the city with water for the next two centuries.

Wells suffered from the town’s inadequate sanitary laws and lack of sewers. Waste was dumped on the streets until the city passed a law requiring people to dispose of it in the rivers. At the same time, the town’s increasing population was pushing settlement northward. The once-faraway Collect Pond was polluted by tanneries and other noxious industries that moved into the vicinity. Clicking on the map below will take you directly to the Collections Portal, where you can zoom in and see just how close the tan yards were to the no-longer Fresh Water Pond.

Harper's Weekly. Peter Andrews (fl. 1765-1782). A plan of the city of New-York & its environs. 1876. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2601

Harper’s Weekly. Peter Andrews (fl. 1765-1782). A plan of the city of New-York & its environs. 1876. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2601

The inability to fight fires was also a constant threat. During the American Revolution, nearly one-third of New York burned to the ground on the night of September 21, 1776, as the British and Patriot armies fought for control over the city. Each side blamed the other for the conflagration, but the fact remained that New York was as woefully unprepared to battle such fires as it was to supply its citizens with fresh water.

Franz Xaver Habermann (1721-1796). Representation a Feu Terrible a Nouvelle Yorck. ca. 1776. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2086

Franz Xaver Habermann (1721-1796). Representation a Feu Terrible a Nouvelle Yorck. ca. 1776. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2086

After the revolution, the city suffered yellow fever outbreaks that killed thousands of people and prompted New Yorkers to clamor for a cleaner water supply. Aaron Burr appeared on the scene and offered a solution. Best known today for fatally shooting Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr was then a successful lawyer and politician. With his brother-in-law Joseph Browne, Burr proposed a private enterprise, the Manhattan Company, to supply the city with clean water.

Drawn and engraved by Francis Scott King (1850-1913). Published by the Society of Iconophiles. Aaron Burr. 1902. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.5.503

Drawn and engraved by Francis Scott King (1850-1913). Published by the Society of Iconophiles. Aaron Burr. 1902. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.5.503

Burr worked diligently to gain both Federalist and Republican support for the plan. He even enlisted his future nemesis Alexander Hamilton to convince the city council to consider the bill. As Hamilton promoted the bill to the council, Burr was setting up a company far different from the one Hamilton advocated. Burr’s true motivations for forming a water company were revealed when “An act for supplying the city of New-York with pure and wholesome water” became law. One of the provisions buried deep within the law allowed the Manhattan Company to do whatever it wished with surplus capital, effectively making it a bank and breaking the monopoly of the Federalist-controlled Bank of New York.

The Manhattan Company set about tearing up streets and laying log pipe to make good on its ostensible purpose of supplying the city with clean water. It had installed 21 miles of pipe by the close of 1802 at a total cost of $45,000.[2] Below is part of the original water supply pipe, excavated in 1961 during water main construction at the intersection of Pearl and Fulton Streets. The copper plate was later added to the pipe to make it commemorative, and the pipe was presented to Dr. Merrill Eisenbud in honor of his service as New York City’s first Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Water Pipe Section. Late 18th century. Museum of the City of New York. 94.62

Water Pipe Section. ca. 1799. Museum of the City of New York. 94.62

The Manhattan Company system proved to be wholly inadequate, however, as the company focused on banking to the detriment of supplying water. While the company failed to meet its water obligations, it prevailed at banking. Known today as JPMorgan Chase & Co., it is the largest bank in the United States, with assets of $2.3 trillion.

George P. Hall and Son. Manhattan Company Reservoir. 1825. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1579

G. P. Hall & Son. Manhattan Company Reservoir. 1825. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1579

In the meantime, the city continued to languish for want of good water. In 1829, the council decided to build a reservoir at what was then the northernmost edge of the city, near the intersection of Bowery and 13th Street. This waterworks was not intended to provide potable water, but rather to fight fires, which became more of a threat as the city grew. The 13th Street Reservoir officially opened in April of 1831 and was drawn on successfully to put out a fire less than a month later.

Charles Burton (19th cent.) Hatch & Smillie. Public Reservoir, Bowery, New York. 1831. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1536

Drawn by Charles Burton (19th cent.) Engraved by Hatch & Smillie. Public Reservoir, Bowery, New York. 1831. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1536

The 13th Street Reservoir was an improvement over the Manhattan Company, but city dwellers still had no clean water to drink. Spirits were often added to water to make drinking it tolerable, giving rise to the temperance movement. In 1834, following the devastating cholera outbreak of 1832, New Yorkers voted for a public water supply.

But New York had waited too long. On December 15, 1835, two fires depleted the water supply of the 13th Street Reservoir.[3] A day later, another fire would consume the Merchants’ Exchange as well as most of the other buildings on Wall Street. The Great Fire of 1835 could be seen from Brooklyn. Two people died, a relatively small number given the size of the conflagration, but the loss of property was estimated at $20 million, or around $438 million in today’s dollars.

Nicolino Calyo (1799-1884). Burning of the Merchants' Exchange, New York, December 16th &17th, 1835. 1835. Museum of the City of New York. 52.100.7

Nicolino Calyo (1799-1884). Burning of the Merchants’ Exchange, New York, December 16th &17th, 1835. 1835. Museum of the City of New York. 52.100.7

Lewis Taffien. Fire, 1835 (New York from Brooklyn). 1835. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2497

Lewis Taffien. Fire, 1835 (New York from Brooklyn). 1835. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2497

Construction of the Croton Aqueduct began in 1837, five long years after New York City voted for a public water supply. The ambitious engineering project required damming water from the Croton River in Westchester County. Below is a map showing the route of the Croton Aqueduct.

N. Currier (Firm). Hydrographic Map of the Counties of New York, Westchester, and Putnam, and also showing the line of the Croton Aquaduct. ca. 1845. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.5.131

N. Currier (Firm). Hydrographic Map of the Counties of New York, Westchester, and Putnam, and also showing the line of the Croton Aquaduct. ca. 1845. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.5.131

Fayette Bartholomew Tower joined the engineering staff as an assistant and faithfully documented the Croton Aqueduct’s progress in letters and illustrations during his five-year tenure.

F. B. (Fayette Bartholomew) Tower. Croton Aqueduct at Sing Sing Kill. ca. 1842. Museum of the City Of New York. 02.35.10

F. B. (Fayette Bartholomew) Tower. Croton Aqueduct at Sing Sing Kill. ca. 1842. Museum of the City Of New York. 2002.35.10

In a letter to his mother, he marveled at the wilderness of Westchester County: “I have often thought since I have been here that I might have left my home clandestinely and come to this place and I should never be discovered by any of my friends, for I truly believe I could not find a place so aside from the world – yet so near to the great emporium of the United States.”

Letter from F. B. Tower to his mother, September 15, 1837, in the Letters Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 2002.33.1

Letter from F. B. Tower to his mother, September 15, 1837, in the Letters Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 2002.33.1.81

Click here to see the full letter. The Fayette Bartholomew Tower papers at the Museum consist of approximately 160 manuscript letters and 20 discrete objects including books, ephemera and framed documents. Nearly all of the letters are addressed to family members and the bulk of the collection spans the years 1831-1842.  Click here to see the finding aid.

F. B. (Fayette Bartholomew) Tower. Aqueduct Bridge at Clendinning Valley. ca. 1842. Museum of the City of New York. 02.35.3

F. B. (Fayette Bartholomew) Tower. Aqueduct Bridge at Clendinning Valley. ca. 1842. Museum of the City of New York. 2002.35.3

Finally, in 1842, water from the aqueduct began flowing from Westchester County to Manhattan. A daylong celebration was held on October 14 in City Hall Park, with Croton water pumping out of a fountain.

Joseph Fairfield Atwill (1811-1891). Croton Water Celebration 1842. 1842. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2036

Joseph Fairfield Atwill (1811-1891). Croton Water Celebration 1842. 1842. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2036

Completion of the Croton Aqueduct Celebrated. 1842. Museum of the City of New York. 38.117

Completion of the Croton Aqueduct Celebrated. 1842. Museum of the City of New York. 38.117

The Croton Aqueduct’s distributing reservoir resembled an Egyptian pyramid and was located where Bryant Park and the main branch of the New York Public Library are today.

Augustus Fay. Croton Reservoir. ca. 1850. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1525

Augustus Fay. Croton Reservoir. ca. 1850. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1525

The Croton Aqueduct was a resounding success, but could not keep up with population growth. Just forty years after it was built, the aqueduct was becoming obsolete and the city looked further upstate for new sources to meet water demand.

In December 1887, firemen battling a fire at a factory on 25 Centre Street encountered a strange obstacle, a massive iron cylinder about 25 feet tall and and 130 feet in circumference.

Jacob A. (Jacob August) Riis (1849-1914). Aaron Burr's old tank in building on Centre Street and Duane Street. ca. 1890. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.25

Jacob A. (Jacob August) Riis (1849-1914). Aaron Burr’s old tank in building on Centre Street and Duane Street. ca. 1890. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.25

What they had found was an 88-year old water tank owned by the Manhattan Company, a forgotten remnant of one ill-conceived attempt to supply the city with water.

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Aaron Burr's Tank inside old building, Centre and Duane Streets. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.209

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Aaron Burr’s Tank inside old building, Centre and Duane Streets. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.209

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about the city’s quest to meet 20th century demands for water.

1. Jill Lepore, New York Burning (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 135.
2. Gerard T. Koeppel. Water for Gotham (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 99.
3. Gerard T. Koeppel. Water for Gotham (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 175.

Aftermath of a Fire in the Lower East Side

Chartered in 1875, the Manhattan Railway Company operated elevated train lines in Manhattan and the Bronx. In 1879, it leased elevated lines running along Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Avenues from the New York Elevated Railway Company and the Metropolitan Elevated Railway; and in 1891, also leased lines from the Suburban Rapid Transit Company.  Eventually, all three companies were absorbed by the  Manhattan Railway.  During the course of its operations the Manhattan Railway Company photographed the construction of the 74th Street Power Station and numerous substations, capital improvements, and activities and events that affected train service.

Below are images of one such event documented by the company 110 years ago.

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155D

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155D

In the early morning hours of January 12, 1903, a fire broke out at Houston and Allen Streets, in the basement of a building owned by the leather manufacturer Fayerweather & Ladew.

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155A

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155A

Firefighters remained on the scene for 13 hours and 45 minutes. In addition to the Fayerweather & Ladew buildings on 159-165 East Houston Street and 207-211 Allen Street, adjacent buildings on Houston, Allen, and Eldridge Streets also sustained damage. These pictures capture the loss and recovery effort in eery detail.

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154A

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154A

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154D

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154D

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157A

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157A

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157D

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157D

These images are among 1,856 photographs in the  Museum of the City of New York’s Manhattan Railway Company collection, all of which are on the Museum’s Collections Portal. For more winter firefighting images, be sure to check out Susannah Broyles’s excellent post about the Equitable Building fire.

Ghosts of the 6 Train

New York City’s vast transit system is in a constant state of flux, expanding to fill the needs of underserved areas and simultaneously contracting due to budget cuts or obsolescence. Abandoned subway stations across the city remind us of how transit has changed over the years.

On March 24, 1900, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) broke ground in a ceremony at the front steps of City Hall for the construction of a subway system. This was not the first attempt at subterranean transit in the city, but it was the most comprehensive.

Photographer unknown. Engineers in tunnel during construction of present IRT at City Hall Station. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 46.245.2

Photographer unknown. Engineers in tunnel during construction of present IRT at City Hall Station. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 46.245.2

Only four years later on October 27, 1904 at 7 PM, subway stations spanning about 9 miles from City Hall to Grand Central, and Times Square to 145th Street and Broadway opened to the general public, with an estimated 150,000 people paying 5¢ to ride underground.

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Subway Opening, Oct. 27, 1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.380

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Subway Opening, Oct. 27, 1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.380

The line’s southern terminal, City Hall, was intended to be the system’s showpiece and differed vastly from the other subway stations with its vaulted ceilings covered in Guastavino tiles, leaded skylights, and brass chandeliers.

Rotograph Co. (New York, N.Y.). City Hall Subway Station, N.Y. City. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2879

Rotograph Co. (New York, N.Y.). City Hall Subway Station, N.Y. City. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2879

For all its elegance, however, the station was never as important as officials hoped it would be. Its proximity to the much-busier Brooklyn Bridge station made it somewhat redundant. In addition, the tight curve of the platforms was deemed too difficult to lengthen when the Board of Transportation embarked on a $13 million project in 1944 to expand subway platforms to accommodate increasing ridership.

Souvenir Post Card Co. City Hall Loop, Rapid Transit Tunnel. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.1092

Souvenir Post Card Co. City Hall Loop, Rapid Transit Tunnel. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.1092

Although it closed as a subway station on December 31, 1945, the City Hall station continues to serve as a loop for downtown 6 trains returning to the local uptown track. You can see the station for yourself if you stay on the 6 train after the Brooklyn Bridge stop.

Illustrated Postal Card Co. City Hall and Subway, New York. 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3661

Illustrated Postal Card Co. City Hall and Subway, New York. 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3661

Just two stops uptown was the Worth Street station, situated at the intersection of Lafayette Street and the northwest corner of Foley Square and Thomas Paine Park. It provided easy access to the numerous government facilities in the area.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 125 Worth Street. City of New York, Health Building. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6879

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 125 Worth Street. City of New York, Health Building. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6879

The station’s platforms were lengthened twice, in 1910 and again in 1948. But improvements made to the Brooklyn Bridge station in 1956 extended egress to the north at Foley Square and Pearl Street, making the Worth Street station redundant. It closed in 1962.

Six stops uptown from Worth Street, the 18th Street station became a casualty of the platform expansion project begun in 1944. Its closure on November 8, 1948 coincided with the opening of the 22nd Street entrance to the 23rd Street station.

H.C. Leighton Co. Subway at 18th Street, New York. ca. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2880

H.C. Leighton Co. Subway at 18th Street, New York. ca. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2880

Try looking up from your book the next time you commute, and you may see glimpses of the past flashing by outside the window.

The Apartment That Wasn’t

John Williams Campbell was born in Brooklyn in 1880 into a well-to-do family. His father was treasurer of the Credit Clearing House, a credit bureau for merchandise wholesalers. At the age of 18, Campbell joined his father at the firm and moved up the ranks, becoming a senior executive seven years later. By the 1920s Campbell was making millions as president of the Credit Clearing House and served on the board of the New York Central Railroad. In 1923 he focused his attention on building a private office, one that would showcase his position and wealth. To that end, he hired architect Augustus N. Allen to design the space. Campbell’s choice of location – a 60-foot long, 30-foot wide single room on the ground floor of Grand Central Terminal – was a departure from the typical skyscraper suite.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24894

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24894

The office boasted a butler, a pipe organ, and a piano, as well as Campbell’s private art collection.  A mahogany musician’s gallery with carved quatrefoils was installed. After hours, Campbell’s office doubled as a private recital hall, where guests could relax on 19th century Italian seating furniture (masquerading as 13th century) and listen to famous musicians play.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.21631

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.21631

Hand-painted wooden beams adorned the 25-foot ceiling. The large stone fireplace behind Campbell’s desk housed a steel safe. Perhaps the most notable feature of all was the hand-woven Persian rug that covered almost the entire floor. It was rumored to have cost $300,000, nearly $4 million in today’s dollars.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24893

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24893

Perhaps because of all its amenities, the office was dubbed “Campbell’s Apartment,” but there is no evidence that he or anybody else lived there. After Campbell’s death in 1957, the space became a signalman’s office. It was later used by the Metro-North Railroad police, as gun storage and then as a jail. During these years, it seemed to follow the fate of its mother building Grand Central in neglect and decline: the leaded glass windows were covered with plywood board, the timbered ceiling was concealed unceremoniously with a dropped ceiling, and the beautiful furnishings gradually disappeared (current whereabouts are unknown). Luckily, the restoration of Grand Central that began in 1993 saved Campbell’s office from a fluorescent-lighted fate. Two costly renovations in 1999 and again in 2007 ($1.5 million and $350,000, respectively) restored the office to its former glory and transformed it into a luxury cocktail bar and lounge with the purposely adopted misnomer, Campbell Apartment.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24895

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24895