Manhattan, New York: from Marsh to Metropolis

by NYJ Team

The New York history books are filled with exciting events, changes and developments but it is Manhattan who’s history is the most interesting. It’s hard to imagine looking at Manhattan’s sea of skyscrapers, monuments and famous New York City hotels that the island was once largely marsh, forest and farmland. The island has been the site of a Dutch trading port, a British outpost during the Revolutionary War, and the first capital city of the United States. Today, the twelve-mile long island, bounded by the East, Hudson, and Harlem Rivers, is home to over 1.5 million residents, making it the most densely populated county in the United States. Manhattan is home to the United States’ financial markets, the largest theater district in the world, the United Nations Headquarters, many of the world’s most recognized cultural institutions and some of the most fantastic hotels available.

New York City – The Early Days

Manhattan was first “discovered” in 1607 by explorer Henry Hudson, who was working for the Dutch East India Company to find a northwest passage to India and Asia. According to the New York history books the island was dubbed Manhattan after the Dutch name for the native inhabitants, was purchased from the Lenape Indians in 1626 for sixty guilder (approximately $500 in today’s currency). The settlement, located at the southern tip of the island, became New Amsterdam, after the Dutch capital city. The British took the strategically located city in 1664 and renamed it New York, after the Duke of York. Control of the city switched back and forth once more before it became a permanent part of the British colonies in 1674.

The Revolution

An important phase in New York ‘s history the colony thrived under the British, becoming a major US port and commercial center. However, Manhattan suffered greatly during the Revolutionary War and was the site of several armed conflicts between General Washington and his Continental Army and the British forces. In fact, New York City and Manhattan were occupied by the British for the duration of the war and New York City was the last port evacuated by the British at the end of the war, in 1783. New York City served as the capital of the newly formed United States from 1788 to 1790, before the creation of Washington DC.

The Gilded Age

One of the greatest moments in New York history was the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which connected the Great Lakes with the Hudson River, helping to take New York City from a medium-sized town to a booming commercial center, surpassing Boston and Philadelphia in importance and size. The large number of European immigrants, arriving weekly in New York in the late 19th century and early 20th century, helped to provide labor for the increasing number of factories and businesses in the city.

New York history indicates that life before unions and taxes was a distinct two-class system, with a few very wealthy men, such as John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan, controlling the fates of tens of thousands of poor workers. For those with money, the late 19th and early 20th century was a gracious and elegant age. Many of the city’s most venerable institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, and the New York City Library, were created through the generosity of wealthy New York business leaders of that era.

Old New York City

Old New York City

Manhattan Today

Although New York is made up of five boroughs (Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island), Manhattan is undoubtedly the most famed. In fact the borough of Manhattan is synonymous with New York City itself.

Manhattan today is a vibrant metropolis, composed of distinct New York neighborhoods that still retain a taste of the city’s rich ethnic heritage. Manhattan is home to the world’s largest theater district (Broadway), the world’s largest and most important financial markets, is the fashion capital of the United States, and is home to important museums, cultural events, concert venues and some of the greatest New York City hotels on offer. The city is still a mecca of all sorts of travelers and fortune-seekers, from around the United States and the world.

New York Neighborhoods

One of the Big Apple’s greatest strengths and one of the things that makes the city interesting are the diverse New York neighborhoods and ethnic fabric. Among the most notable of the New York neighborhoods in this borough are:

TriBeCa is an acronym for “triangle below Canal (Street),” first came to prominence in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, as young professionals sought more affordable housing in Manhattan. This New York neighborhood is notable for its 19th century warehouses that have been converted into loft apartments. Trendy shops and restaurants followed the renovators and today TriBeCa is one of the more chic in Manhattan. Robert DeNiro launched the TriBeCa Film Festival in 2002 to bring visitors back to the New York neighborhood after 9/11. The Festival is now one of the nation’s most popular film events.

Greenwich Village, the area in southern Manhattan is bounded by Broadway, Houston St, 14th St., and the Hudson River, developed from marsh and grassland, outside of the settlement of New Amsterdam and later New York. The hamlet became popular during the yellow fever epidemic of 1822 when residents fled to more open, healthy air of Greenwich Village. Many of these refugees stayed in this New York neighborhood.

The late 19th and early 20th century brought an influx of artists, writers and actors to the area, drawn by the cheap rents and free-thinking attitudes of the residents. Among the most notable of these are Eugene O’Neil, Jack Reed, and Marcel Duchamp. Later, the “Beat Generation” of the 1950’s would find the neighborhood and it became a haven for writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.

Today this popular New York neighborhood is a combination of the trendy and the avante-garde, with cobblestone streets lined with ethnic restaurants, interesting boutiques, and cutting-edge jazz clubs.

New York’s Chinatown nestled between TriBeCa, Little Italy, and Broadway, is the largest Chinese community in the United States. First settled in the late 1880’s, Chinatown today is home to approximately 300,000 residents. The vibrant residential and commercial district is a fun place to wander, shop for specialty Asian foods, and enjoy a Dim Sum brunch.

Early Chinatown was populated with, mostly male, immigrants who came to America to work in the garment factories. As the area grew, it incorporated adjacent New York neighborhoods, such as the notorious Five Points (now the site of Columbus Park) and most of Little Italy. The neighborhood, today, centers around Mott Street, home to many of the area’s 200 restaurants.

SoHo, an acronym for “south of Houston (Street)” is nestled between Greenwich Village, Little Italy, and Chinatown. This New York neighborhood is noted for its late 19th century Gothic-style cast-iron buildings and came to prominence in the 1970’s and 1980’s as young professionals discovered the unique (and affordable) buildings. Many artists moved to the neighborhood and carved loft studios and apartments out of the historic spaces.

Today, most of the “true” artists have departed in search of affordable housing. The loft apartments are now some of the most sought-after in Manhattan. The interesting area is also home to dozens of art galleries, boutiques, trendy New York City hotels and a myriad of restaurants, such as the famous Katz Delicatessen, shown in the film “When Harry Met Sally”.

Manhattan’s “Lower East Side,” has traditionally been synonymous with “working class neighborhood.” Though becoming increasingly gentrified, the area – bounded by Houston and Canal Streets, the East River, and the Bowery – is one of the oldest of New York neighborhoods. The Lower East Side was a refuge to thousands Eastern European immigrants, many of them Jewish, that arrived in New York during the early 1900’s. In fact, the area is still the Manhattan ‘s center of Eastern European and Jewish culture.

Historically, the Lower East Side has been home to leftist and counter-culture activists, including Emma Goldman and Leon Trotsky in the 1900’s, Allen Ginsberg in the 1950’s, and Abbie Hoffman in the 1960’s. Today, many of the early 20th century tenements have been restored and converted into upscale lofts and apartments. This New York neighborhood is also home to a number of nationally recognized music clubs, including the Bowery Ballroom and CBGB’s.

Hell’s Kitchen, located in Midtown West, refers to the area bounded by the Hudson River, 8th Avenue, 34th and 57th Streets. Historically, the area was home to the hospitals, transportation companies, and warehouses that supported midtown Manhattan. Consequently, the rents in Hell’s Kitchen tended to be lower than in the other new York neighborhoods. That fact, plus the neighborhood’s close proximity to the Broadway theater district, made it a convenient and affordable home to actors, dancers, and theater people. Past residents have included Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Hope, and Madonna. The renowned Actor’s Studio is located in Hell’s Kitchen as are the CBS Broadcast Center and the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio. The area was traditionally a working-class Irish-American neighborhood and is depicted in the musical “West Side Story” and in Damon Runyan’s tough New York City stories.

Today, Hell’s Kitchen is one of the most popular New York neighborhoods as new development, spurred by relaxed zoning laws after 9/11, has led to new businesses, office towers, and apartment buildings. Among the most spectacular of these is the Heart Tower at 56th St. and 8th Ave.

Harlem, long associated with African-American culture and commerce, is a Manhattan neighborhood, nestled between the Hudson and East Rivers, from 155th Street to Washington Heights. The area was first settled by the Dutch in 1658 and named “Harlem,” after a prominent Dutch city. The area was also the site of a major Revolutionary War battle against the British. Harlem during the 18th century was home to several large estates, such as that of Alexander Hamilton.

Harlem remained a largely undeveloped New York neighborhood until the mid-19th century. The easy access of the elevated trains, built in the 1880’s, helped to draw Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants to Harlem. It was the early 1900’s, though, that saw the great migration of African-Americans from the American south and blacks from the West Indies, seeking opportunity and employment in the north. Black churches and black real estate operators moved into the area and helped to spur development. By the 1920’s, the residents of Harlem were more than 90 percent African-American. Black art, music, and culture thrived in this New York neighborhood, during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and such institutions as the Apollo Theater, the Savoy Ballroom, and the Cotton Club were born.

The 1990’s saw the beginning of a second Harlem renaissance. Blocks of row houses and apartments were renovated. Businesses and high-profile tenants, including former President Bill Clinton, moved into the area, and Harlem property values have soared, up an average of 300 percent during the 1990’s.

Chelsea, located south of Manhattan’s garment district and north of Greenwich Village was largely orchard and farmland until the Hudson River Railroad ran its lines through the neighborhood in the mid-19th century. Work on the railroad and the docks along the Hudson River brought scores of immigrants to the Chelsea, most of them Irish. Early 20th century Chelsea is aptly depicted in the film “On the Waterfront” and by George Gershwin’s haunting music in “Slaughter on 10th Avenue.”

Today this New York neighborhood is home to over 200 art galleries, converted warehouse lofts, brownstones, and dozens of restaurants of all genres. One of the landmarks of the area is the Hotel Chelsea, a private apartment building turned hotel, built in 1884. A list of past residents of the hotel reads like a who’s who of New York writers, artists, and musicians. It includes Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, O Henry, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, Stanley Kubrick, Patti Smith, the Ramones, and several of Andy Warhol’s “Factory Girls.”

Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood, bounded by 42nd and 29th Streets and Fifth and Second Avenues, is named for its first non-native residents, an 18th century Quaker merchant family named Murray. Until the end of the 19th century, Murray Hill was considered “uptown,” the northernmost developed portion of Manhattan. Today, the area is a quiet, residential neighborhood, home to many older New Yorkers as well as Bryant Park, the New York City main research library and many fantastic New York City hotels.

So why is New York City called The Big Apple?

by NYJ Team

As one of the greatest cities in the world, New York City has several interesting nicknames. Have you ever wondered why this metropolis is known as The Big Apple? The story behind it is surprising. This term was first used in the 1920’s by a sports journalist who worked for the New York Morning Telegraph. Since then, the phrase Big Apple has worked its way into mainstream culture on a global scale.

The Big Apple

Click for more on why NYC is called “The Big Apple”

History and Facts

John J. Fitz Gerald was a sports columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph during the early 20th century. He first used the phrase Big Apple to describe the significance of New York City for horse racing. It’s widely believed that Fitz Gerald actually got the idea from African-American workers who cared for thoroughbred horses in stables. In the context of the 1920’s and racing, these workers most likely referred to any major city as the Big Apple.

This nickname for New York City was heavily promoted during the 1970’s as part of a marketing plan. Once bustling with activity, Midtown Manhattan fell into unrecognizable decline after World War II. Politicians and citizens of this great city had big plans to restore the glamour and glory of NYC.

The Big Apple was heavily incorporated into visual advertisements that appeared on billboards, plaques and other signs throughout the streets. Clothing, apparel, souvenirs and other items were also marked with The Big Apple logo. Today, it’s quite evident that the innovative marketing campaign has boomed business in Times Square and many other districts in Manhattan and other boroughs.

The Big Apple Comes to Life in the Streets

If you’d like to see symbols of The Big Apple come to life, head to Citi Field in Queens. The stadium of the New York Mets proudly presents the historic Home Run Apple, which used to pop up during the games. Today, you can take some cool selfies near this large artifact that solidifies the city’s nickname as The Big Apple.

The waterfront promenades of Manhattan’s West Village lead to the Apple, which is a bronze installation with a height of 9 feet. The base of this giant apple includes benches that may be used by the general public. As you walk the famous Broadway in Times Square, you might notice the Big Apple Corner on W 54th Street. In fact, Fitz Gerald lived most of his life on this street in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.

Madison Square | Surrounded by Historic & Contemporary Landmarks

by NYJ Team

Situated in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, Madison Square is a public space that’s surrounded by historic and contemporary skyscrapers. This famous square is cantered on Madison Square Park which is a 6.2-acre park that includes monuments of prominent politicians and other leaders. From parades and farmers markets, Madison Square is a popular gathering spot for local events.

Madison Square Park

Click for details on Madison Square Park

Architecture and Sightseeing

Constructed in 1909, the Metropolitan Life Tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks at Madison Square. This 50-floor skyscraper has Italian Renaissance and Revival elements that were designed by Napoleon LeBrun and Sons.

In 2015, this historic property was renovated and transformed into a luxurious hotel. Designed by the acclaimed architect Cass Gilbert in 1928, the New York Life Building is another prominent building at this famous square. This 40-floor skyscraper has a Gothic Revival facade that’s been beautifully preserved over the decades. As the name implies, the skyscraper is primarily occupied by the New York Life Insurance Company. A golden pyramid on the rooftop is the signature feature of this elegant property.

In 2011, One Madison Park became the second tallest building at Madison Square. Home to hundreds of upscale residential units, this modern high-rise tower has an architectural height of more than 617 feet. The curtain-wall facade with glass and steel components has dramatically transformed the traditional atmosphere at this square.

Some other architectural landmarks in the neighborhood include the Madison Square Building, Victoria Building and Croisic Building. Built in the 1910’s, these properties were some of the tallest in Lower Manhattan for several years.

As you stroll or relax at Madison Square, you’ll also notice the iconic Flatiron Building. Wedged in between Broadway, 5th Avenue and West 23rd Street, this triangular edifice was erected in 1902. The 20-floor building was one of the tallest in New York City for multiple years. Today, the Renaissance Revival landmark has 22 levels that have been expanded to accommodate modern demands for commercial use. The Flatiron Building is one of the most photographed skyscrapers in NYC. Situated at the southwest corner of Madison Square, the Flatiron Plaza offers awesome views of this iron-shaped wonder.

Located at the northern end of the square, the National Museum of Mathematics is a kid-friendly museum that presents dozens of educational exhibits. Floor 0 includes the Twisted Thruway, Tracks of Galileo, Hoop Curves and other awesome installations. Floor 1 features the Hypercube Room, Harmony of the Spheres, Octahoron Room and other exhibits that will surely stimulate the minds of curious visitors. The Enigma Cafe is a great place to recharge and relax after learning about arithmetic, geometry and other advanced mathematical concepts.

Madison Square Park

The heart and soul of Madison Square is a 6.2-acre park that dates back to the 1840s. The green space includes impressive monuments of Chester A. Arthur, David Farragut, William Seward and Roscoe Conkling. After admiring the bronze figures of these prominent American statesmen, you can pay tribute to World War I soldiers at the Eternal Light Flagstaff.

Madison Square Park has plenty of wide and paved trails that are suitable for walking, jogging and bicycling. You’ll also find lots of comfortable benches under dense trees or near lush plants that beautify most of the grounds. Dozens of restaurants and cafes surround the Madison Square Park, so you won’t have to walk far to grab some treats and drinks.

Location and Directions

You can get to Madison Square by hopping on a New York City Subway train that stops at the underground station on East 23rd Street. The N, Q, R and W routes offer express and local services at this rail station. Carrying traffic heading uptown, Madison Avenue has several stops for Metropolitan Transportation (MTA) buses. Some of the buses also stop on various points along 5th Avenue, which runs downtown. Additionally, Madison Square is considered one of the most pedestrian and bicycle-friendly areas in Manhattan.