The Grid That Became New York City – At The Museum Of The City Of New York

4 Jan

The Museum Of The City Of New York currently has yet another fascinating exhibit about the history of this great city.

The exhibit is called The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011 and it celebrates the 200th anniversary of the planning of the street grid of Manhattan.

From their website:

Featuring an original hand-drawn map of New York’s planned streets and avenues prepared by the Commission in 1811, as well as other rare historic maps, photographs and prints of the evolution of the city’s streets, and original manuscripts and publications that document the city’s physical growth, the exhibition examines the grid’s initial design, implementation, and evolution.”

The exhibit runs from Dec 6, 2011 through Apr 15, 2012.

Today’s New York Times ran an article about the exhibit, and also published a few fabulous, vintage photographs of the city during it’s younger days.

Here, from the New York Times, and from the Museum Of The City Of New York, I’d like to share a few of the images.

This etching – quite early on – is looking north on 2nd Avenue from 42nd Street – 1861(!):

This one is looking south on Park Avenue from 94th Street – in 1882:

Here is Riverside Drive and 94th Street, in 1890:

And this photo is of Madison Square in 1894:

The New York Times article says in part:

The show celebrates the anniversary of what remains not just a landmark in urban history but in many ways the defining feature of the city.

After all, before it could rise into the sky, Manhattan had to create the streets, avenues and blocks that support the skyscrapers. The grid was big government in action.

Simeon De Witt, Gouverneur Morris and John Rutherfurd were entrusted with planning the city back in 1811. New York huddled mostly south of Canal Street, but it was booming, its population having tripled to 96,373 since 1790 thanks to the growing port. Civic boosters predicted that 400,000 people would live in the city by 1860. They turned out to be half-right. New York topped 800,000 before the Civil War.

The planners proposed a grid for this future city stretching northward from roughly Houston Street to 155th Street in the faraway heights of Harlem. It was in many respects a heartless plan. There were virtually no parks or plazas. The presumption was that people would gravitate east and west along the numbered streets to the rivers when they wanted open space and fresh air, and not spend lots of time moving north or south. That partly explains why there were only a dozen avenues.

First, Manhattan had to be surveyed, a task that took years. Property lines had to be redrawn, government mobilized for decades on end to enforce, open, grade and pave streets. Some 60 years passed before the grid arrived at 155th Street. Streets were still “rough and ragged” tracks for a long while, as one diarist observed in 1867, describing a recently opened stretch around 40th Street and Madison Avenue as a mess of “mud holes, goats, pigs and geese.”

New York’s grid had its virtues. For one thing, it proved flexible enough to adapt when the city’s orientation did shift north-south, flexible enough to accommodate Central Park.”

I can’t wait to check out this exhibit! Hubby and I love this museum of New York City.

Here is its visitor info:

Museum of the City of New York

1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street

New York, NY 10029

212-534-1672 Phone

The Museum is open seven days a week: 10:00 am–6:00 pm

The Museum is closed on the following holidays:


Christmas Day

New Year’s Day

Suggested Admission (this means that you pay what you want! You can pay more or less than the suggested amount.)

Adults: $10

Seniors, students: $6

Families: $20 (max. 2 adults)

Children 12 and under: free

Members: free

Also, their website says: If you live or work in East Harlem above 103rd Street, visit the Museum free of charge. Mention  “I’m a neighbor,” and the suggested admission charge will be waived.

This museum always has great exhibits – all New York City-themed all the time (and be sure to check out their superb gift shop, as well.)

But to see these vintage photos and maps in person will be an extra special treat!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: