Tag Archives: 1870s

New York City Used To Kill Its Stray Dogs By Drowning Them

How A Merciless City Dealt With Its Unwanted Dogs

In 19th Century New York, You Had 24 Hours To Retrieve Your Lost Dog

Unclaimed Dogs Were Drowned In The East River

The dog catcher in New York City & the dogs fate- drowned in cages in the East River – illustration Harper’s Weekly

The Dog Dilemma

What happens today when animal shelters are filled to capacity? Sometimes cats and dogs are humanely euthanized, if there is such a thing as being humanely euthanized.

Canine population control in 19th century New York was much harsher. Beginning in 1855 a new and brutal method of putting down dogs was instituted – drowning.

Some editors and citizens actually attached the word “humane” to this new way of disposal.

Before that time, wandering dogs were considered pests and usually killed on the spot, in the street. The fear of rabies and mad dogs was used as a justification for the wanton killing.

The New York Times wrote, “One thing, however, is certain: dogs are useless animals in cities, and are a nuisance, independent of their habit of occasionally running mad; and the best dog law would be one that imposed so high a tax on the owners of curs that few people would care to keep them, and those who did would see to it that the animals did not run at large, muzzled or unmuzzled.” Continue reading

The Startling Changes in New York From 1873 – 1923

Robert Underwood Johnson Tells Of New York In 1873 and How It Changed Over 50 Years

Everything today seems to be moving at the speed of light. Changes of all sorts have greatly altered our everyday living in ways that might have been unimaginable 20 or even 10 years ago.

Some might argue there was more change at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century than there is today. All the people who lived through and witnessed that change are long dead. Maybe if you heard it from someone first hand, it might make a greater impression upon you.

Fortunately we have people like Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1937) who put down his memories in his book, Remembered Yesterdays (Little, Brown & Co., 1923) which serves as a living time capsule of that period.

Johnson was a long time editor at The Century Magazine, a leading monthly periodical which covered news art and literature. Johnson also wrote regularly for Scribner’s Magazine.  Along with John Muir, Johnson was one of the main forces behind the creation of Yosemite National Park.  Johnson personally knew every major personage imaginable during his lifetime and his memoir reflects that.

What I found particularly interesting was a brief chapter entitled “New York in the 70’s” (meaning the 1870s). In that chapter, Johnson compares the New York City he arrived in, in 1873 with the present (1923).

This is what had occurred over 50 years. Below is an excerpt from the book:

A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

LOOKING back it is difficult to identify the New York of that time, just beginning to feel its strength, with the brilliant metropolis of to-day. Think of the points of contrast! In 1873 there were no electric lights, no skyscrapers, no trolleys, no blazing, twirling or winking signs and thus, of course, no Great White Way, Broadway being preéminently the street of business and there being little or no shopping on the cross streets above Fourteenth. Continue reading

Alexander Hamilton, The Grange & A Dubious Story Of 13 Trees

Alexander Hamilton’s Final New York Home, The Grange & The Mythical Legend Of Its 13 Trees

With A Description Of Hamilton’s Grange In 1872

Alexander Hamilton’s home, The Grange as it appeared in 1872. print: Appleton’s Journal

In New York City where “preservation” can be a dirty word, an impediment standing in the way of “progress,” it is miraculous that Alexander Hamilton’s home, The Grange, still exists.

Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton and the subsequent smash musical Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda, spurred an awareness and appreciation to a long dead founding father. Alexander Hamilton has been firmly reestablished in the pantheon of great Americans.

1867 New York City Atlas showing original location of Alexander Hamilton’s home The Grange

Alexander Hamilton’s original property of about 30 acres once stretched from about Tenth (Amsterdam) Avenue to St. Nicholas Avenue and from 138th to 145th Street. Hamilton’s Grange built between 1801 and 1802, had been threatened with demolition many times over its 200 plus year existence. The Grange was moved from its original location, not once, but twice.

As described in an 1872 Appleton’s article (reprinted at the end of our story), the author takes note that the house had survived late into the 19th century and should continue well into the 20th century.

“(The Grange) is constructed in the most substantial manner, and is good for a century yet, if the exigencies of city improvement do not demand its destruction.”

Those exigencies did arise a few years later. Hamilton’s home was first moved a couple of blocks south and a half block east in 1889. Real estate development had the Grange in the path of the street grid, laid out in 1811,  which had slowly but steadily worked its way north to upper Manhattan.

Thirteen “Union” Trees Planted By Hamilton print: Appleton’s Journal

After the move the Grange remained safe for the time being, but there was the matter of its famous group of trees, supposedly planted by Alexander Hamilton. The story was recounted by the Appleton’s article:

“A grove of thirteen stately gum-trees on the lawn in front of the mansion, which were planted by General Hamilton in token of the union and perpetuity of the thirteen original States of the republic. The beautiful star-like leaf of this tree rendered it peculiarly appropriate for the purpose.”

By March 1892 the Amos Cotting estate which now owned the parcel of land where the trees stood at Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue between 142nd and 143rd Streets was set to be auctioned off. Destruction of the trees seemed imminent.

Wealthy businessman Orlando B. Potter bought the tracts of land where the trees stood for $140,500 and vowed to preserve the grove.

There was only one problem which seems to have escaped most historians notice, even up to this day – the trees were probably not planted by Alexander Hamilton. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #82 – Central Park Mall c. 1870

The Mall In Central Park & The American Elms

Central Park was once young and so were its trees. We are looking south from 72nd Street in this rare circa 1870 stereoview photograph. You can see the American elm trees along both sides of the Mall that had been planted only a decade before. If you’ve been along this famous stretch of the park, you know that the trees are a constant – always the same year after year for over 100 years. To see the trees at this height is a startling sight. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #81 – The Best View in New York City c. 1870

A View Of New York From The Steeple of Trinity Church

In mid-19th century New York City if you wanted to be above it all and get a sweeping view of the city there was one place to go: the steeple of Trinity Church on Wall Street.

The steeple of Trinity rose 281 feet into the air and gave New Yorkers and visitors alike an unobstructed view of the city as far as the eye could see.

Trinity Church was originally constructed in 1696 and was burned down by the British in 1776 during the Revolutionary War.

If you’ve ever seen the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure, you can be assured that there is no treasure buried under Trinity Church as the British troops sacked the original building before burning it. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #75

This Craggy Road With Shanties Is…

Before we tell you where this is in Manhattan, we’ll give you a minute to study the photo. One clue, it is an area below Central Park.

Give up? It is an undated, unidentified portion of 58th Street.  The photo comes via the New York Public Library stereoview collection. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #74 – Battery Place 1875

Battery Place Looking West from Broadway 1875

What could be a provincial European river city in the 19th century is in fact the southern portion of New York City in 1875.

This stereoview photograph of Battery Place, a street that ran for only three blocks along Battery Park, was taken from Broadway looking west towards the Hudson River and New Jersey.

Battery Place & vicinity 1852 Atlas of New York

The building to the extreme right is 1 Broadway, the Washington Hotel. The original building  which stood on the northwest corner of Broadway was a house occupied by General Israel Putnam and used by General George Washington as his headquarters during the early days of the American Revolution. After the war’s completion it became the Washington Hotel. Continue reading

Can You Identify This 19th Century New York City Building?

A 19th Century Mystery Building In New York City That Eludes Identification

Many times I’ll come across stereoviews of 19th century New York City that I have never seen before. Usually they are of buildings or scenes I am acquainted with either by name or written anecdote. But here is a a stereoview that leaves me stumped.

As you see, it is clearly labeled New York City & Vicinity. Beyond those words under the right panel of the view, there is no other information. I do not recognize the large building which is the stereoview’s centerpiece, the surrounding structures, or an approximate year it was taken.

Maybe the view was labeled incorrectly by the stereoview manufacturer (which I highly doubt) or it is a scene in the “vicinity” of New York. It is a mystery building and I have been unable to determine anything. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #53

Broadway 1875

Broadway looking South Astor House 1875 publisher ThorneThis great view of Broadway looking south from Park Place was taken in 1875 by Thorne & Co. publishers of New York City views. With evidence from the shadows and with virtually no street traffic and few pedestrians, this photo apparently was taken early on a Sunday morning.

On the right hand side of the photo we see a couple of five story commercial buildings populated with local businesses offering sales including a clothing store, a jeweler and a toy distributor. One sign on the side of the stairs offers soda for a nickel.

The next building taking up the entire west side of Broadway from Barclay to Vesey Streets is the Astor House Hotel. Beyond the Astor House is St. Paul’s Chapel, followed by the recently completed Western Union Building. Further in the distance you can see the spire of Trinity Church. Continue reading

Things You Should Know If Visiting New York City In 1873

Thousands of children are imported from Italy each year to turn them into organ-grinders and street beggars.

12 Helpful Hints And Notes From 1873

Standing on Broadway by New York City Hall circa 1870

A tourist standing on Broadway by New York City Hall circa 1870

From the wordily titled – Wood’s Illustrated Handbook To New York and Environs: A Guide For The Traveller or Resident With Minute Instructions For Seeing The Metropolis In One or More Days Together With Numerous Valuable Hints To Visitors On Nearly Every Topic That Arises Upon The Subject of Sight-Seeing, G.W. Carleton Publishers, 1873, we learn surprising things about New York City.

If you lost something of value in public there was an excellent chance that it would be returned to you.

Saturday was the fashionable day for ladies to attend public entertainments – alone!

Wood’s Handbook’s aim was to point out interesting things about New York City without preaching to the reader.

As the guidebook says;

We think the sight-seer may now be safely left with the “Handbook ” to the guidance of the Index and Map and to his own inclinations and judgment.

He will speedily discover that our object in the preparation of this volume has been not to confuse and weary him by stale remarks and hackneyed observations about this or that, but to put him in a position to see, and admire, and criticize from his own stand-point of taste and opinion. We think the sight-seer requires ready hints, not stupid essays; and if we conduct him to a remarkable locality or a well-known structure, he will not care to have us stand perpetually at his elbow telling him what to admire, and what he ought not to be pleased with.

Since the book contains no “hackneyed observations,” the section called “helpful hints” are what we thought were worth highlighting rather than the sights to be seen.

From among the many listed, we have culled, a dozen of the helpful hints for visiting New York:

1- A GLASS OF BRANDY, in an emergency, can be obtained at any apothecary. No wines, ales, or liquors are permitted to be sold in New York at any bar on Sunday. The guests of a hotel can be served with them, however, at table or in their rooms.

2- ORGAN-GRINDERS and STREET-BEGGARS — Thousands of children are annually exported from Italy to the United States for the purpose of making them organ-grinders and street-beggars, of whom a multiplicity are to be seen in New York. A bill has been brought before the Italian Parliament, designed to put a stop to this disgraceful traffic in children. It punishes with five years’ imprisonment all persons exporting children under twelve years of age to foreign countries, under any pretext. Continue reading