Category Archives: Books

New York Illustrated – As It Was 150 Years Ago – Part I

Illustrations Of New York As Seen By Artists Around 1870

Part I – Demolished & Mostly Forgotten

Intersection Fifth Ave and Broadway at 23rd St looking north 1870

Intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue looking north towards the Worth Monument with The Fifth Avenue Hotel on the left (c. 1870)

Demolition of anything old  goes on every day without regard for New York’s history. I believe a day will come when all the pre-20th century buildings not given landmark protection will be gone. Demolished in the name of progress. Real estate values rule, not history values. That’s always been the way of New York.

When a historic structure like The St. Denis Hotel is obliterated instead of renovated it is a shame.

I see more and more ordinary tenement and commercial buildings falling at an astonishing rate. So I look around trying to see vestiges of things my great-grandparents might have known and been familiar with.

What did they see?

Recently I took out my copy of Reverend J.F. Richmond’s New York and Its Institutions 1609-1871 (E.B. Treat; 1871) and started to re-read it. I had forgotten how many excellent illustrations were in the book. Belying the name, New York and Its Institutions is not solely focused only upon hospitals, asylum, charity and worship facilities. The book thoroughly covers other important sites and buildings with their respective histories. Though it was not written as a guide book, it essentially is one.

What my ancestors saw were these historic buildings which are now not even memories to most New Yorkers, most having been taken down over a hundred years ago,

Let’s take a look at what New York City looked like around 1871 and take in what the visitor and native New Yorker would have seen.

Part I – Buildings No Longer In Existence

Very few lamented the loss of the old Post Office at the corner of Nassau and Liberty Street – — until they saw what replaced it in 1875.

The modest Police Department headquarters at 300 Mulberry Street was replaced in 1909 by a grand structure on Broome and Centre Streets.

Wilson's industrial school for girls 1870 new york Wilson’s Mission House or Industrial School For Girls at 27-29 Avenue A corner of St. Mark’s Place across from Tompkins Square Park.

Broadway Grand Central Hotel 1870The Grand Central Hotel stood on the west side of Broadway opposite Bond Street between Amity and Bleecker Street. Illegal alterations caused a major collapse of the Broadway facade  on August 3, 1973. Incredibly only four people were killed. The remaining section of the hotel was soon demolished. Continue reading

Book Review – The Finest Building In America The New York Crystal Palace

The New York Crystal Palace Gave Americans A Building To Be Proud Of

burrows finest building in americaOn the site of the future Bryant Park on 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues stood The New York Crystal Palace. It was only there for a little more than five years. Built of cast iron, timber and glass the building was unlike anything previously built in America.

Edwin G. Burrows book, “The Finest Building in America The New York Crystal Palace 1853-1858” Oxford; (2018), is a short, entertaining account of the impact the building and the wonders displayed inside, had on the city. Continue reading

The 19th Century’s J.K. Rowling – The Obscure William T. Adams

Hugely Popular Author William T. Adam’s Wrote Over 100 Children’s Books All Under Pseudonyms

william t adams portraitWhen William T. Adams of Dorchester, MA died on March 27, 1897, obituaries pointed out, “as Oliver Optic, he was known to every child in this country that reads story books.” The Kansas City Star said, “no public library is thought complete by younger readers unless it has a large number of duplicates of all his works.”

William Taylor Adams (1822-1897) was the pioneer in juvenile fiction. Unlike our modern “look at me” society, he was apparently not interested in fame, at least as William T. Adams. He wrote 126 books and over 1,000 articles and never signed his name to any of them. Continue reading

7 Strange Facts & Stories About The American Civil War

80 Years After The Civil War Ended, Confederate Ammunition Killed Two Soldiers

7 Strange Facts Concerning The Civil War

Burke Davis Civil WarTens of thousands of books have been written about the American Civil War. The book that I recently read was not a penetrating analysis of a battle or biography of a soldier. Rather it was a book containing some unusual stories about the Civil War. Well written and researched, I think a small portion of the book is worth sharing here.

In no particular order here are 7 quick stories from the book The Civil War Strange & Fascinating Facts by Burke Davis, Fairfax Press (1982) (previously published as Our Incredible Civil War, 1960): Continue reading

A List Of 59 “Really Interesting” Books About New York City Compiled In 1936

These 59 Books About New York City Were Recommended To Anyone Who Was Considering Working For The City

In 1936 New York librarian Rebecca Rankin was asked to compile a list of books with good stories which have New York as a background by the Municipal Service Commission. Along with Miriam Mayer of the Municipal Library, the two came up with a list of hundreds of good books that they would recommend to anyone considering working for the city. Continue reading

What You’ll Find In Allentown – From The Beatles to President Nixon

Twice A Year Allentown Hosts A Collectibles Show That Has A Bit Of Everything

browsers at AllentownIt’s about a 95 mile drive from New York City to Allentown, PA. Leave by 7:00 a.m. and drive through the traffic free streets of New York, you can arrive in under two hours at Agricultural Hall. Because of Allentown’s location, visitors arrive in large numbers from the surrounding states. If you get there a few minutes before the doors open — you will then see this sight – lots of people waiting in line to begin an odyssey at the Allentown Paper Show.

Line before show opens at Allentown PAFor the over 100 dealers at the show, it is not just paper they are selling. Because whatever you collect, there is a good chance that at least one dealer, if not several will have what you are looking for.

Collectors know this and that is why they line up early to get in. Continue reading

Walt Whitman & James Bond At The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair

The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair 2019Customers at Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair 2019

While rare books abound at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, you can spend as little as $10 for something very readable and collectable.

Or you can plunk down as much as $85,000 and walk away happy with your purchase. The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, going six years strong, is currently at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint, 72 Noble Street.

Greenpoint – Franklin Avenue

Greenpoint, if you haven’t been there recently, is worth the trip alone. It is hip and revitalized with many unique shops and trendy restaurants filled with customers. The pubs in the area lure you with sweet aromas of barley and hops with their Brooklyn craft beers. Flea markets are nearby and you have great views from the waterfront.

Getting back to the fair, I didn’t spend $85,000 which was the asking price of a magnificent first edition copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Continue reading

A 21st Century Woman In The 19th Century – Maverick In Mauve

Book Review: Maverick In Mauve The Diary Of a Romantic Age

Maverick In Mauve book coverLifelong New Yorker, Florence Adele Sloane kept a diary from 1893 – 1896. That in itself is not unusual. What is out of the ordinary is that the diary covers Florence’s life from the age of 19 through 23 and her observations on life and her surroundings are written with astute wisdom beyond her years. Continue reading

Idiot or Autistic? New York’s 19th Century “Idiot Asylum”

New York’s Idiot Asylum Was A School / Prison For Children Who Were Often Not “Idiots”

The New York Asylum for Idiots Report 1867 coverWithout discussing the question how far down in the scale of idiocy the work of education can practicably go, this much may be said: that some idiots are teachable to an extent which will fully compensate for the amount of labor involved in their instruction. These certainly should be cared for by the State.

It will be seen by the report of the Superintendent, that according to the last census, there were in the State, 303 idiots under 15 years of age. No one can examine these returns without being convinced that the actual number is at least double the number so returned. Were only a third of these fit subjects for management and training in a public institution, even then it is obvious that the present provision made by the State falls short of their needs.

– from the 1867 Sixteenth Annual report of the New York Asylum for Idiots: transmitted to the Legislature, January 17, 1867

Today it would be politically incorrect to label anyone with mental disabilities or deficiencies as an idiot. The word mentally retarded has also fallen out of common usage.

Idiot.

Imbecile.

Moron.

In the early 20th century these words took on new psychiatric meaning, which has since been expunged from the nomenclature of psychiatry. In the 19th century those words were pretty much interchangeable for anyone considered mentally deficient or inherently stupid.

What Do We Do With “Idiots”?

The study and understanding of psychology and medical conditions related to learning and developmental disorders was virtually nonexistent before the 20th century. In a large state like New York, a facility was developed at public expense to deal with so-called idiots. Hence came the “Idiot Asylum.”

The Idiot Asylum Syracuse NY circa 1860Often parents couldn’t understand why a child wasn’t speaking. paying attention, responding to social cues, or learning like other children. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #19 – Chinese Restaurants, A Brief History

Postcard Views 1910 – 1949 & A Short History Of Chinese Restaurants In New York City

The Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant in New York’s Chinatown 1910

Along with Chinese immigration to the United States in the 1850s, came Chinese food. It wasn’t long before Americans took a liking to the transoceanic cuisine. The Chinese population in New York City was only 747 in 1880. By 1900 it had grown to 6,321.

Tai Sy Chinese restaurant

There “are eight thriving Chinese restaurants that can prepare a Chinese dinner in New York, almost with the same skill as at the famous Dan Quay Cha Yuen (Delmonico’s) of Shanghai or Canton,” according to Wong Chin Foo in the October 1888 Current Literature Magazine.  With only one day off, Chinese patrons, usually working as laundrymen, would crowd the Chinese restaurants on Sunday’s.

Port Arthur Restaurant

Port Arthur Restaurant 7 & 9 Mott Street, considered among the finest Chinese restaurants in New York City est. 1899

Continue reading