Tag Archives: 1890s

New York’s Chinatown Described In 1898

Joss Houses, Chinese Restaurants and Opium Smoking

Chinatown 1896 looking at 22 Mott Street

Bing Chung Importers (near left) in the heart of Chinatown at 22 Mott Street in 1896

The great thing about reading old guidebooks to New York City is that you can see the world through contemporary eyes. This usually means all foreigners were viewed as curiosities with their exotic customs and provincial ways.

In 1897 the Chinese population in New York City was only 7,000 – almost all living in Chinatown centered around Mott Street. In 2015, New York City’s Chinese population is now over 500,000 people spread throughout the five boroughs.

The guidebook we quote from is Rand, McNally Handy Guide to New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and other suburbs included in the Greater New York edited by Ernest Ingersoll (1898). This portion is called “A Ramble At Night”, and the visitor to New York is directed to tour the areas of New York that are off the beaten path after 9 p.m. such as Little Italy and The Bowery. The purpose of the night ramble is to “give some hints as how the dark, crowded, hard-working, and sometimes criminal portions of the city look at night.” Reproduced below is the section on the Chinatown.  Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #50

Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street circa 1897

5th Ave 42nd Street c 1897By the shadows we can see it is morning on a somewhat chilly day in the heart of Manhattan in about 1897. We are looking north up Fifth Avenue from the corner of 42nd Street. Pedestrians stroll on the flagstone sidewalks while horse drawn vehicles make their way up and down the avenue.

Croton Distributing Reservoir photo: NYPL

Croton Distributing Reservoir photo: NYPL

On the extreme left the small wall with the iron fence marks the perimeter of the Croton Distributing Reservoir also known as the Murray Hill Reservoir, on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Beyond the fence, stood massive walls 25 feet thick and over 50 feet high which when filled to capacity held 21 million gallons of water. The old reservoir served New York’s thirsty population from 1842 until it was taken out of service in 1897. The structure was demolished in 1900 and the main branch of the New York Public Library now stands on the site.

On the same corner we see an old fashioned fire hydrant and new electric lamppost standing next to what appears to be a gas lamp.

Just to the right of the wall a policeman chats another man perhaps a plain clothes detective as they look east across 42nd Street.  The building just behind them is the eight story Hotel Bristol. In 1903 the hotel would be converted to the Bristol Building.

500 Fifth Avenue Building

500 Fifth Avenue Building

After the Bristol was demolished the art deco 59 story skyscraper, 500 Fifth Avenue Building, would go up on the site between 1929-1931. 500 Fifth Avenue was built  by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon the same architects of the Empire State Building, also completed in 1931.

Next to the Hotel Bristol we see a glimpse of the seven story Hotel Renaissance built in the obligatory French Renaissance style and completed in 1891. Though the hotel was designed with the intention of attracting a “high class family and bachelor clientele” there were a certain class of people that were not welcome.

In 1907 Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #49

Broadway & 80th Street 1898 and 1928

What A Difference 30 Years Makes

Broadway 80th 81st Street 1898 photo H. N. Tiemann

Broadway looking north and west between 80th & 81st Streets. 1898 photo: H.N. Tiemann

Up until the late 1800’s Broadway above 59th Street still retained much of its sleepy Dutch ways and was still called the Boulevard which followed the course of the Old Bloomingdale Road. The upper west side neighborhoods had their own unique character which were based upon the villages of Harsenville, Striker’s Bay, Bloomingdale and Manhattanville.

In the photo above from 1898 we see the Boulevard looking north and west from 80th Street with horses lined up along the curb. Building is sparse with low profile two and three story buildings. Commercial structures might contain blacksmith’s, grocery shops and tailors. Open land and farms were still nearby. In thirty years the change would be striking.

Land speculation and the coming of the subway would end the ruralness of the area.

Broadway 80th 81st Street 1928 photo H. N. Tiemann

Broadway looking north and west between 80th & 81st Streets. 1928 photo: H.N. Tiemann

This photograph taken in 1928 from the median of Broadway and 80th Street and looking in the same direction as the previous photo shows that almost everything from 1898 has vanished.

We see automobiles, but no horses. The trees that lined the street are gone and there is quite a bit of pedestrian activity along the street. Commercial stores line Broadway and 80th Street to the west and the north. The white building in the foreground is still standing today and now contains Zabar’s.

Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #44

Western Union Telegraph Building 1880

Broadway looking south Western Union Building 1880This view looking south on Broadway was taken from the Old Post Office in 1880 and shows a deserted stretch of the usually traffic clogged thoroughfare.

The building partially seen on the right side is the Astor House Hotel. Adjacent to the Astor with the columns is St. Paul’s Chapel. The tall structure further down Broadway is Trinity Church with its spire rising 281 feet. This was the highest point in New York until the World Building was built in 1890.

The main building dominating the photo at the corner of Broadway and Dey Street is the Western Union Telegraph Building designed by architect George B. Post. At 230 feet, it was one of the tallest commercial buildings in the city when it was built from 1872-1875. To put this tremendous height in perspective, this was four times the height of the average New York building. On top of the building’s flagstaff a time ball was perched which would drop precisely at noon, so everyone in the surrounding financial area could set their watch to the correct time.

The telegraph was still the predominant way to get a message to someone quickly. To send a telegram with the body message being ten words or less from New York to Baltimore or Boston cost 25¢; to Chicago 40¢ and to San Francisco $1.00.

Western Union Building Fire - New York Evening World

Western Union Building Fire – New York Evening World

A Fire Destroys The Building

As the night shift of telegraph operators and workers was letting out at 6:55 a.m. on Friday, July 18, 1890 the Western Union Building caught fire.

The fire broke out on the 6th floor and quickly spread to the upper floors. Firefighters arrived within six minutes of the first alarm being turned in.

The fire was far above the roof lines of the adjacent buildings and the water pressure from street level could not possibly come close to the fire. The firemen strung several hoses together and carried them up  into nearby buildings on to the roofs to fight the flames.

20,000 people watched from the surrounding streets as the firemen placed ladders from the adjacent building at 8 Dey Street to rescue people trapped in the Western Union Building and pour water on to the upper floors. Continue reading

115 Years After New York’s Deadliest Hotel Fire, A Memorial Goes Up For The Unidentified Dead

The Windsor Hotel Fire On St. Patrick’s Day In 1899 Killed 86

Windsor Hotel Fire Memorial  by artist Al Lonrenz photo: Ricky Flores for The Journal News

Windsor Hotel Fire Memorial by artist Al Lonrenz photo: Ricky Flores for The Journal News

It only took 115 years, but finally 31 unidentified dead, who were killed in New York City’s deadliest hotel fire, will be receiving a stone which commemorates their final resting place.

On Thursday, October 9 at 4:00 p.m., a memorial service was held at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y. to officially unveil and dedicate a monument to those who were interred without a marker.

The Windsor Hotel built between 1872 and 1873, stood at 575 Fifth Avenue, between 46th and 47tth Streets and was considered one of New York’s finest hotels.

At a few minutes after 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 17, 1899 with thousands of spectators along Fifth Avenue watching the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a fire broke out at The Windsor Hotel and spread like lightning throughout the entire structure.

Windsor Hotel 5th ave 46th 47th street magic lantern slide B.P collection

The Windsor Hotel

On the 46th Street side of the hotel, John Foy, a waiter at the hotel was passing the parlor located on the second floor. Foy watched a guest light a cigar Continue reading

Chart of The World’s Religions In 1890 – Over 100 Million Barbarians

In 1890, Almost 10% Of The World Contained “Nondescript Heathens”

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

This plucky statistic is from a chart entitled “Estimated Number of all Creeds” in S.T.W. Sandford and Sons Book Of Information published in 1890.

The 32 page booklet was given away by the company to promote their patent medicines. Dr. Samuel T.W. Sandford was made wealthy during the mid to late 19th century by selling his cure-all Dr. Sandford’s Liver Invigorator. The information is presented in almanac-like fashion, yet interspersed with advertising for Dr. Sandford’s products on practically every page. Most of the information presented is basic “did you know” material. But the chart caught my eye. 

The world’s estimated 1.3 billion people are broken down as follows:

Number of all people Proportion to total Number percent
Buddhists 405,000,000 31.2
Christians 399,200,000 30.7
Mahomedans 204,200,000 15.8
Brahamanists 174,200,000 13.4
Nondescript Heathens 111,000,000 8.3
Jews      5,000,000 0.6

A 19th century Anglo-American viewpoint that over 100 million people could be described as “Nondescript Heathens” would not be considered anything out of the ordinary.

All New York City Streets Are Not Created Equal

The Distances Between Streets & Avenues – Things You Probably Didn’t Know

If you are traveling at the same pace, regardless of the avenue, it is faster to walk between 6th and 7th Streets than walking from 13th to 14th Streets. Why? Because the block between 6th and 7th is only 181 feet, 9 inches while the block between 13th and 14th is 206 feet, 6 inches.

Anyone walking around Manhattan is sure to notice that street distances between blocks and avenues vary widely. But few know that the block lengths can vary by several feet.

When the grid plan for Manhattan’s streets were laid out, you’d think that the streets would be equidistant. They are not.

Maybe this is the sort of thing that almost no one would care about, but living up to this web site’s name, I found this chart very interesting. It is from the New York Bureau of Buildings in the 1892 edition of The World Almanac.

1892 World Almanac (click to enlarge)

As you see, the chart lists the distances between the avenues, the width of the avenues and streets and the length of blocks north of Houston Street.

There are a few interesting things to note. One is how far Avenues A, B, C and D extended northward in 1892. Avenue A was later renamed Sutton Place north from 53rd Street and York Avenue north from 59th Street. Avenue B was renamed East End Avenue from 79th to 90th Street. Many portions of Avenue A, B, C and D were never completed (the landfill required to extend them was never done), or wiped out with map changes and construction in the 20th century (e.g. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive). Regardless, the almanac still lists the proposed dimensions for the phantom avenues via the Bureau of Buildings.

The other thing to note is that the main cross streets of 14th, 23rd, 34th etc. are all the same: 100 feet wide as compared to the other streets which are all 60 feet wide.

I have used the modern names of avenues in parentheses. Below are some highlights of the chart.

Avenues in Manhattan are 100 feet wide with some notable exceptions:

Lexington Avenue – 75 feet

Boulevard (Broadway) above 59th Street – 150 feet

Madison Avenue South of 42nd Street – 75 feet

Madison Avenue North of 42nd Street – 80 feet

Madison Avenue From 120th to 124th Streets – 100 feet Continue reading

Crime, Murder, Prisons, Hangings and Lynchings in 1891

Some Interesting Facts The 1892 World Almanac

The 1892 World Almanac contains fascinating crime statistics.

Putting the crime numbers in perspective to the population, in 1890 the United States total population was 62,830,361.  The “colored” population  was 7,488,676. So, African-Americans made up about 12% of the population.

There were 45,233 people in penitentiaries, 14,687 were black. That means African-Americans comprised nearly one third of the inmates in the U.S. penitentiary system.

The number of murders and homicides reported by newspapers for 1891 was 5,906.

The murders and homicides are broken down as follows:

  1. Quarrels 2,820
  2. Liquor 877
  3. Unknown 859
  4. Jealousy 449
  5. By Highwaymen 241
  6. Infanticide 208
  7. Resisting Arrest 182
  8. Insanity 102
  9. Highway Men Killed 74
  10. Self Defense 74
  11. Strikes 10
  12. Outrages (?) 2

The number of legal executions reported in the U.S. was 123. The two leading states were Georgia and Texas with 19 and 12 executions respectively. The electric chair as a means of execution was first put into use in New York in 1890.  Almost all the executions in 1891, were by hanging.

The number of lynchings reported was 195. The leading two states were Alabama with 26 and Mississippi with 23. Six of the people lynched were women.

Below is the full chart on all these statistics. (double-click to enlarge to full size)

 

Death By Root Beer

A Soda Tax Would Not Have Prevented Henry Koerner’s Death

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn’t like soda and would like to tax people to discourage them from drinking it. But it wasn’t obesity or the root beer itself that caused Henry Koerner’s demise, it was a bizarre accident.

In the August 20, 1892 New York Times, a brief story appears about Henry Koerner, who worked for Lighte Brothers (a mineral water manufacturer) at 509 East 17th Street and how he was killed when the root beer he was loading on to a wagon exploded.

When Koerner slipped on a fruit peeling on the sidewalk, the ten pound pressurized tank of root beer he was carrying dropped on the stone pavement and exploded like a charge of dynamite.  The tank shattered in all directions with one piece going right through Koerner’s head, killing him instantly. The explosion was so powerful, the top of the tank went 150 feet into the air and fell to the ground with a deafening crash.  The poor man left behind a wife and three children.

I’m sure there was little if any compensation for his loss of life, as accidents like this were dismissed as being part of the hazards of working.  Below is the original newspaper story.

Old New York in Photos #11

Broadway Street Scene Looking North From Fulton or Ann Street,  1898

A scene of New York life, just before the turn of the century. Two things to note:

1) Everyone wears a hat.

2) This being the main business district of New York, there is only one woman clearly visible among all these people.

Something we take for granted today, but in 1898, almost all the secretarial help and the business office assistants were male.

The building in the middle of the background is the main branch of the New York Post Office. It was completed in 1875 and had been built on what was once part of City Hall Park. The Post Office was demolished in 1938.