Broadway and it’s History

To write the history of Broadway would require a volume, for it would be the history of New York itself. The street was laid out in the days of the Dutch, and then, as now, began at the Bowling Green. By them it was called the “Heere Straas,” or High street. They built it up as far as Wall street, but in those days only the lower end was of importance. The site of the Bowling Green was occupied by the Dutch fort and the church, and on the west side of it was the parade and the market place. Ere long several well-to-do merchants erected substantial dwellings on the same side, one of these belonging to no less a personage than the Schout-Fiscal Van Dyck. The east side of Broadway, during the rule of the Dutch, was thickly built up with dwellings of but one room, little better than hovels. Eventually, however, some of the better class mechanics came there to reside, and erected better houses. Their gardens extended down to the marsh on Broad street, and they cultivated their cabbages and onions with great success, where now the bulls and bears of the stock and gold markets rage and roar.

Under the English rule Broadway improved rapidly. Substantial dwellings clustered around the Bowling Green. The first, and by far the most elegant of these, was the edifice still known as “No. 1, Broadway,” at present used as a hotel. It was built by Archibald Kennedy, then Collector of the Port of New York, and afterwards Earl of Cassilis, in the Scotch Peerage. In the colonial times it was frequented by the highest fashion of the city, and during the Revolution was the headquarters of the British General, Sir Henry Clinton. Other noted personages afterwards resided in it. This portion of Broadway escaped the destruction caused by the great fire of 1776, and until about forty years ago preserved its ante-colonial appearance.

This fire destroyed all that part of the street that had been built above Morris street. After the Revolution it was rebuilt more substantially, and many of the most elegant residences in the city were to be found here, between Wall street and the Bowling Green. General Washington resided on the west side of Broadway, just below Trinity Church, during a portion of his Presidential term.

In 1653, the Dutch built a wall across the island at the present Wall street. One of the main gates of this wall was on Broadway, just in front of the present Trinity Church. From this gate a public road, called the “Highway,” continued up the present line of the street to the “Commons,” now the City Hall Park, where it diverged into what is now Chatham street. In 1696 Trinity Church was erected. The churchyard north of the edifice had for some time previous been used as a burying ground.

Along the east side of Broadway, from Maiden lane to a point about 117 feet north of Fulton street, was a pasture known as the “Shoemaker’s Pasture.” It covered an area of sixteen acres, and was used in common by the shoemakers of the city for the manufacture of leather, their tannery being located in a swampy section, near the junction of Maiden lane and William street. About 1720 the pasture was sold in lots, and Fulton and John streets were extended through it. That part of the tract bounded by the present Broadway, Nassau, Fulton and Ann streets, was for many years occupied by a pleasure resort, known as “Spring Garden.” The tavern occupied the site of the present Herald office. It was here, during the excitement preceding the Revolution, that the “Sons of Liberty” had their head-quarters. They purchased the building, and named it “Hampden Hall.” It was the scene of many a riot and public disturbance during those stirring times. It was occupied as a dwelling house from the close of the Revolution until 1830, when it was converted into a Museum by John Scudder. In 1840 Phineas T. Barnum became the owner of the building and Museum. After the destruction of the Museum by fire in 1864, Mr. James Gordon Bennett purchased the site, and erected upon it the magnificent office of The Herald.

Trinity Church Farm lay along the west side of Broadway, north of Fulton street. It was divided into lots in 1760, and between that time and 1765, the present St. Paul’s Church was erected on the lower end of it. The street forming the northern boundary of the churchyard was named Vesey, in honor of a former pastor of Trinity.

In 1738 a public market, 156 feet long, and 20 feet 3½ inches wide, was erected in the middle of Broadway, opposite the present Liberty, then Crown street. It remained there until 1771, when it was removed as a public nuisance.

By the opening of the present century, Broadway had extended above the present City Hall Park, which had been enclosed as a pleasure ground in 1785. It was taken up along its upper portion mainly with cottages, and buildings of a decidedly rustic character. In 1805 the street was paved in front of the Park, and in 1803 the present City Hall was begun on the site of the old Poor House. It was completed in 1812. The principal hotels, and many of the most elegant residences, were to be found at this time on both sides of Broadway between Chambers street and Wall street. In 1810-12 Washington Hall was erected on the southeast corner of Reade street. It was the head-quarters of the old Federal Party, and was subsequently used as a hotel. It was afterwards purchased by Mr. A. T. Stewart, who erected on its site his palatial wholesale store, which extends along Broadway to Chambers street. About the year 1820, the dry goods merchants began to locate themselves on the west side of Broadway near Reade street.

On the west side of Broadway, above Duane street, was the celebrated Rutgers’ estate, consisting of a fine mansion and large and elaborately laid out grounds. The house was built by Anthony Rutgers in 1730, and occupied by him until his death in 1750. After his death the property was converted into a pleasure garden, known as “The Ranelagh.” It was kept by a Mr. John Jones until a few years before the Revolution. It was a famous resort for the better classes. A complete band was in attendance every Monday and Thursday evening during the summer, and dancing was carried on in a large hall which had been erected in the garden. In 1770, the estate was sold. Five acres, embracing the orchard, were purchased by an association, and in 1773, the New York Hospital was begun on this site. In 1869 the hospital was removed higher up town, the land was sold, and Pearl street was extended through the hospital grounds.

Between 1774 and 1776 a reservoir for supplying the city with water was erected on the east side of Broadway, near the southeast corner of White street. The water was pumped into the reservoir from wells, and was distributed through the city in wooden pipes. At this time the streets were not opened in this vicinity, and the reservoir is described as standing on an “elevated hill.” In 1810 the reservoir property was sold in lots, the highest price paid per lot being $3000.

By 1818 Broadway was built up to above Duane street, and in 1826 the Free Masons erected a handsome Gothic Hall, on the east side, between Duane and Pearl streets. The street continued to grow, and about 1830 extended above Canal street. In 1836-39, the Society Library erected a handsome building on the west side, between Howard and Grand streets. In 1853, they sold the building, which fronts sixty feet on Broadway, to D. Appleton & Co., Publishers. By the year 1825, when gas was introduced into the city south of Canal street, the west side of Broadway above Chambers street was the fashionable shopping mart. The cross streets were used mainly for residences, and these daily poured a throng of pedestrians into Broadway, making it the fashionable promenade. At this time long rows of poplar trees lined the sidewalks. The principal hotels and theatres, restaurants, and pleasure resorts were to be found along the street, and Broadway became what it has since been, a miniature of the great city of which it is the chief artery.

After passing Canal street, along which, in the early part of the present century, a considerable stream, spanned at Broadway by a stone bridge, flowed across the island to the Hudson, Broadway grew rapidly. In 1820 the site of the St. Nicholas Hotel was occupied by a store, four dwelling houses, and a coach factory, the last of which was sunk below the level of the street. Back of the present hotel was a hill on which were the remains of an earthwork, thrown up during the Revolution. The hotel was erected in 1852. In 1823 the site of the Metropolitan Hotel was vacant. The block between Prince and Houston streets, on the west side, was occupied by two large houses, a garden, and several shanties.

On the east side of Broadway, above Bleecker street, was a fine pleasure resort, called “Vauxhall Garden.” It was opened by a Frenchman named Delacroix, about the beginning of this century. The location was then beyond the city limits. The Bible House and Cooper Institute mark its eastern boundary. Lafayette Place was cut through it in 1837. Astor Place was its northern boundary, and the site of the Astor Library was within its limits. The entrance to the grounds was on Broadway.

From Astor Place, originally known as Art street, the progress of Broadway was rapid. By the year 1832, it was almost entirely built up to Union Square. In 1846, Grace Church was erected, the original edifice, built about 1800, having stood at the corner of Broadway and Rector streets, just below Trinity Church. In 1850, the Union Place Hotel, corner of Broadway and Fourteenth street, and in 1852, the St. Denis Hotel, corner of Broadway and Eleventh street, were built. Union Square was laid off originally in 1815, and in its present shape in 1832.

Above Union Square, Broadway was originally known as the Bloomingdale road, and was lined with farms and country seats. Madison Square was laid off about 1841. The Fifth Avenue Hotel was built about fifteen years later, and the remainder of the street is of very recent growth, possessing but little local interest.

Broadway has grown with the extension of the city northward. The upper blocks of buildings have always been dwelling houses or shanties, and these have given way steadily to the pressure of business below them. In a few years the entire street, from the Central Park to the Bowling Green, will be taken up with substantial and elegant structures suited to the growing needs of the great city. From the imperfect sketch of its history here presented, the reader will see that the growth of the street is divided into distinct periods. Under the Dutch it was built as far as Wall street. The next 100 years carried it to the Park, from which it extended to Duane street, reaching that point about the close of the Revolution. By the opening of the present century it had reached Canal street. Its next advance was to Astor Place. Thence it passed on to a point above Union Square, and thence by a rapid growth to the neighborhood of the Central Park.

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2 thoughts on “Broadway and it’s History

    • Thank you Allison for you kind words and the reblogging of this post. We love to see people excited about the history of their favorite cities! It’s such an important and knowledgeable treasure to learn about the cities we love to visit and live in. Stay tuned, we have much more NYC historical information to come.

      Liked by 1 person

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