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.

New Yprk City St Lukes Home For Indigent Christian Females 1870 St. Luke’s Home For Indigent Christian Females on fashionable Hudson Street.

The Isaac T. Hopper Home located at 191 Tenth Avenue (previously numbered 213 as stated above) purpose was the improvement of women’s prison conditions and the enabling of honest work for women after prison release.

Astor House New York 1870The Astor House, located on Broadway between Barclay and Vesey Streets, was the choice New York hotel in the mid 1800s. It had prolonged death, coming down in two stages; the southern half of the building  in 1913 and the northern half in 1926.

Booth's Theater 23rd & 6th Ave New YorkActor Edwin Booth had quite a career besides the notoriety of being the brother to Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Edwin Booth was popular enough to open his own theater in 1869 on the southeast corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Ave. Booth consistently lost money being a theatrical proprietor, declaring bankruptcy in 1874. It was announced in 1877 that “the most perfect theater in the world” would soon be demolished. Instead other agents tried to make the theater profitable. They failed and the building was purchased on May 26, 1891 by James McCreery & Co.. When McCreery acquired the surrounding parcels in 1895,  Booth’s Theater was demolished and McCreery’s gigantic department store took its place.

Grammar school no 56 for femalesA typical public school for girls was Grammar School number 56 at 351 W. 18th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenue.

New York Society Library 1870The New York Society Library is shown here at 67 University Place. In 1895 the street was renumbered and the address changed to 109 University Place.  Founded in 1754 when New York was still a British colony The New York Society Library is the oldest library still operating in New York City. The library trustees sold the University Place building in 1936 and moved to their current location, the former John Rogers mansion at 53-55 East 79th Street in 1937.

Mercantile Library 1870 New York CityWithin Clinton Hall was The Mercantile Library located at Astor Place and 8th Street. Built in 1847 as the home to the Astor Place Opera House, the building was remodeled in 1854. The Mercantile Library demolished this building in 1890 to build a new library on this site.


The Bible House produced three bibles a minute twenty four hours a day seven days a week for over 80 years. Located on Astor Place the building was demolished in the 1950s and replaced by Cooper Union’s Engineering Building.

Working Womens HomeThe Working Women’s Home was at 45 Elizabeth Street in a series of converted tenements.

Old Ladie's Home 42nd St 8th ave 1870 New York CityThis charming building was The Old Ladies Home of the Methodist Episcopal Church located on an uncrowded 42nd St. near Eighth Ave.

Manhattan Market 34th Street 11th Ave 1870 New York CityThe imposing Manhattan Market was built by a group of investors to battle the Washington Market for supremacy as the one stop wholesale food supplier for the city. The building took up the entire block between 34th to 35th Street between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenue. It cost a staggering $2 million to open in 1872. It languished for eight years in debt due to a bevy of lawsuits brought on by a ring of crooked competitors, successfully crippling the enterprise. At midnight on September 9, 1880 the buidling was “mysteriously” completely destroyed by fire.

Academy of Design New York CityAmong the first buildings devoted to displaying art, The Academy of Design building was considered one of the handsomest in the country. It stood on  23rd Street and Fourth Avenue until 1901.

Rutgers Female College NYC 1870 Rutgers Female College was across the street from the Croton Distributing Reservoir on Fifth avenue and 41st St.

Fifth Avenue Hotel 1870 New York CityThe Fifth Avenue Hotel by Madison Square Park on 23rd Street was the luxury hotel of the city when it opened in 1859. It was demolished in 1908, and replaced by the Fifth Avenue Building.

New York Institution for the Blind 1870At Ninth Avenue and 34th Street was the New York Institution for the Blind. In 1924 the school relocated to Pelham Parkway in the Bronx where it is still in operation as The New York Institute for Special Education.

Deaf and Dumb Asylum New York 1870The Deaf and Dumb Asylum was situated up on Washington Heights 162nd Street and Twelfth Ave. These spacious grounds suited the Institute until 1938 when they moved to White Plains.

Colored Orphan Asylum 1870 New york cityThe Colored Orphan Asylum was located at 143rd Street and Amsterdam Ave. The facility operated there until 1907 when it moved to Riverdale in the Bronx.

Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum New York circa 1870The Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Street. The Boys’ Buildings seen here stood from 1851 until 1902.

New York Orphan Asylum 1870Completing our trio of orphanages is The New York Orphan Asylum located west of Broadway between 73rd and 74th Street. In 1893 the Asylum sold their northern portion of property to a syndicate who built private dwellings. In 1901 The New York Orphan Asylum sold their remaining holdings and main building to Charles M. Schwab who built a luxurious mansion fronting Riverside Drive. The Schwab Mansion was demolished after World War II and the apartment building Schwab House occupies the site.

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