Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's Niew?

Looks like Europe, no? This is Stone Street in New York City, formerly New Amsterdam. While in the city last week, I made a special point to explore the New Amsterdam area in downtown Manhattan as I have ancestors who settled there, while the colony was Dutch. As a southerner, I have been intrigued by this decidedly northern landing.

Much of my knowledge of the colony comes from the book The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto. This book does a great job explaining why:

1) New York is today the world's financial hub (the colony was established by the Dutch purely as a trading post, not for political or religious freedoms)

2) New Yorkers are apt to "live and let live" and be more tolerant of other peoples' beliefs (a product of the Dutch idea of civil liberties and their generally tolerant nature)

3) New York is diverse. New Amsterdam was not a Dutch colony filled with singularly Dutch people. Colonists from all over the world came to work for the Dutch West India Company. There were eighteen languages spoken in the colony!

One of my ancestors had a home in this area, and I love to walk the roads and trails where they lived, and imagine how it must have been when they were proving themselves to the world. When in lower Manhattan, you'll see street signs that are black. This color signifies that the street's footprint has not changed over time -- that these streets are the same width and plan as they were in the Dutch colony.

I had lunch at one of the cafes on Stone Street (above). Stone Street was the first street (paved road) in the New Amsterdam colony, hence the name: "stone". Pearl Street is just south, named for the oyster shells left by the Lenni-Lenape Indians. The shells gleamed in the sunlight -- like pearls.

Near the cafe society of Stone Street is the intersection of Pearl Street and Coenties Alley, and this is the location of the old City Tavern -- where Dutch colonists met to rail against Peter Stuyvesant's militaristic rule. The building eventually became City Hall, where the municipal government met. The colony received it's municipal charter in 1653 and stopped being a "company town" of the Dutch West India Company.

The yellow bricks in this sidewalk trace the footprint of the City Tavern. I made sure to get a person in the shot for scale.

Near Pearl Street you'll also see stenciled markings on the sidewalk indicating the waterline in 1609 when Henry Hudson came to the island. Over the past 400 years there have been a lot of changes in Manhattan's shoreline as a result of landfill, and these markers are another way to get a feel for the landscape of the past.

I followed the National Parks Service free audio walking tour on my iPhone. You can download the map and the audio here.

Also, learn about all the events celebrating the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson finding Manhattan at


Anonymous said...

Nice article. You reminded me of all those things I once knew, but have forgotten. Thanks, Bonnie

Ceci said...

Love this post!