A Very Early View of Lower Manhattan Looking East Towards The East River & Brooklyn circa 1892
This magic lantern slide overlooking lower Manhattan along with the East River and Brooklyn is pre-twentieth century. Where exactly; when it was taken; and where from, was a mystery. But some things to take notice of:
1- there are no buildings exceeding five stories.2- almost every dock on the East River is occupied with four masted schooners.
3- across the river in Brooklyn the tallest structures visible are the churches and their steeples.
4- telegraph and electric poles are visible
Checking the usual sources: the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the New York Historical Society and the Museum of the City of New York – no copies of this photo were in their repositories.
By the high vantage point the photograph was taken from, the photographer may have been positioned on the Manhattan tower of the Brooklyn Bridge while still under construction.
That might explain why the bridge itself is not in the photograph.
But looking closer by zooming in, you can spot an elevated train riding along the tracks with a distinctive S curve.
There is a empty tract of land on the right, just before the East River.
Therefore this has to be Coenties Slip and Jeanette Park. The shed-like structure directly behind Jeanette Park is the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company transfer depot. Its sign is barely visible.
The clincher on the location, is a legible sign on one building in the middle of the block in the center of the photo for the Manhattan Oil Company. Checking Phillips’ 1882 New York Business Directory, the Manhattan Oil Co. was located at the corner of State and Front Street. The building sign is not on the corner, so it cannot be that location and it has to be post-1882.
By 1891 the company had moved to 51 Front Street which would correlate with the location of the sign in the photo.
Telegraph and all poles carrying wires overhead were ordered removed by the city to below ground in 1884. It took over ten years to achieve their removal. Jay Gould and others who had financial interests in telegraph and electric companies fought bitterly to have the poles remain in place.
As to where the picture was taken from, there is one likely candidate: the Morris Building which stood on the corner of Beaver and Broad Streets. The ten story building was built in 1891 and aligns well with this photograph.