Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Broadway in the '30s

The print shows a section of Broadway in 1836. It's an etching made from a drawing by an English artist and land surveyor, Thomas Hornor, and it's remarkable for its accurate detail and something akin to photographic realism.[1] Our viewpoint is a position on Broadway just south of its intersection with Canal Street. We are looking north and can clearly see the block between Canal and Grand Street but beyond that point it's increasingly difficult to make things out.

{Caption: Broadway, New-York. Shewing each Building from the Hygeian Depot corner of Canal Street, to beyond Niblo's Garden. Etched by T. Hornor. Printed by W. Neale. 17% x 27. Published in New York by Joseph Stanley and Co. Source: Library of Congress}

Here are some detail views of this interesting cityscape.

1. Broadway above Canal in 1836 had trees. Most look to be poplars. Its a shopping district and there are apartments above the shops. In one of these a woman, apparently with babe in arms, looks out at the passing scene. The sidewalks are crowded with people who seem to be well-dressed and — many of them — better than modestly prosperous. Dogs run loose while horses are kept carefully under control.


2. We are at the dawn of the age of electric traction and the first electric streetcar was already running on nearby Fourth Avenue. Here on Broadway, however, horses are the only means of transport, so much so that they are almost as abundant as people. Pedestrians occupy the streets as well as the sidewalks. There is a high pole with foot pegs for climbing and a Phrygian cap on top.[2] It must be a Liberty pole. There was one of these poles nearby at City Hall Park and evidently here at Broadway and Grand as well.[3] Note the presence of "Tattersalls" mid-block. Broadway House looks like a hotel but was considered to be an inn or tavern at the time. It was known for hosting political meetings.[4]


3. Joseph Stanley published this etching and he was not shy to have Hornor put his establishment front and center.[5] The uprights with cross-pieces were evidently used to display goods for sale, though no goods are here present. Note the cigar store. Two of my German-immigrant relatives were in the "segar" selling business in these years, though the shops they operated were in Washington Street a few blocks away. Nearby, Cornelius McLean runs a business making fanlights and window sashes.[6] The Bank Coffee House started out south of this location, in the rear of the Bank of New York at William and Pine Streets. I don't know when it moved here. "Coffee house" in this instance is a euphemism for tavern. The place was known as a merchants' gathering place.[7] The wagon carrying "Spring Water" is a reminder that the Croton Aqueduct has yet to be constructed.[8]


4. In these times people gathered at windows to catch light for reading or sewing, as do these ladies. The sign at 416 announces a trunk maker, but a book published in 1833 records a boot and shoe manufactury run by C.B. and J.C. Greene at this location.[9] In 1850, the owner's name was Adolphus Loss.[10] Mr. Wright, also at 416, sells, caps, and furs. [11]


5. Located at Stanley's shop at 50 Canal Street, the "General Depot for the Sale of Morison's Hygeian Medicine" sold the "Vegetable Universal Pills" of James Morison, a British entrepreneur who had announced that everyone could maintain his own health without the services of "elitistic" physicians. The plants in the windows proclaim the virtues of medicines based on natural plant products.[12] Analysis of the secret-formula pills showed that they were no more than laxatives. Signs proclaim the bookseller, Stanley, to be the American agent for sale of all London editions and of English editions of London and American writers. Here, in the 1830s, English authors seem to outrank the home-grown variety. In this view as in others, it's apparent that this part of Broadway was the fashionable shopping district of the 1830s.


6. There are horse-drawn omnibuses and hired coaches as well as private carriages. This was a period when men still rode horses in the city merely to get from one place to another. In a short while the cost and inconvenience of this form of transportation would eliminate it from common use.


7. Here we have one of the omnibuses, grandly pulled by four matched horses. The driver is assisted by a groom. Everyone rides inside. The British mail-style coach with roof-top seating would come later.[13] If it hasn't been plain before, it certainly is now clear to us that anarchy reigns on this part of Broadway. There's no lane discipline nor any sense that vehicles in motion take precedence over bodies at rest.[14] There are three large beams rising at angles on the sidewalk, but what they are I cannot say.


8. More public transport, more dogs, more pedestrians strolling street and sidewalk. There are many women out and about, most of them unescorted by men. There's only one cab-like vehicle that I can see. The hansom cab was invented in England in 1834 and only later introduced into the traffic of New York City. At the time our drawing was made people would hire much less maneuverable and more expensive Hackney Coaches to get around in.


9. Street-sellers outside the trunk and hat shops. You can buy wood to burn, potted flowers and notions, boots and curtain stuff. Note that the woodseller will cut to order.


10. Ice was a summer luxury. It would be harvested from ice ponds in winter and kept in sawdust-filled warehouses as long as possible through the warm months.


11. Lockwood's was a bookseller, here advertising as a school book depository. A memoirist of 1893 remembers the "famous book-store of Roe Lockwood, on Broadway, below Lispenard Street, where all the boys of forty years ago went to purchase their school-books."[15] I think the wig maker was John Hotblack, "wig and ornamental hair manufacturer, wholesale and retail, 415 Broadway."[16] One of the dogs has a dead bird in its mouth; two others look ready to fight over it. No one nearby pays any attention to the three. Street sellers on this side of Broadway offer potatoes and other foodstuffs that can't be identified.


12. Here's the title of the print. Niblo's Garden was operated by John Niblo at 557 Broadway, then only a couple of years old. It was a public garden and theater.[17] Back then, the suburbs began not far north of its location.


Here's a copy of the print with aquatint in lower resolution.


{Hand-colored etching aquatinted by J. Hill, 1838; source: "unforth Claire H." on flickr -- About unforth / Claire H.}

She also gives these detail views.







An old book has yet another version.


{Broadway and Canal in 1836 from Valentine's manual of old New York, Volume 12, edited by Henry Collins Brown (Valentine's manual, inc., 1917)}

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Some sources:

Niblo's Garden, in The New York clipper annual (1892) at Columbia University Libraries
(New York : Frank Queen Pub. Co., 1883-)

Thomas Hornor: Pictural Land Surveyor, by Ralph Hyde; Source: Imago Mundi, Vol. 29 (1977), pp. 23-34. Published by: Imago Mundi, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/

The iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 (v. 6) by I. N. Phelps Stokes
(New York, Robert H. Dodd, 1915-1928)

The New York mercantile union business directory (S. French, L.C. & H.L. Pratt, 1850).

Bowery Village, The diary of Michael Floy, Jr., Bowery village, 1833-1837, by M Floy; Richard Albert Edward Brooks; Margaret Floy Washburn (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1941)

Valentine's manual of old New York, Volume 12, edited by Henry Collins Brown (Valentine's manual, inc., 1917)

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Notes:

[1] Photography had been invented at the time Hornor made this drawing, but no photograph of the time could match the fine detail he produced.

[2] To Americans of the time, the Phrygian cap symbolized liberty achieved by revolution. It was the bonnet rouge of the Parisian sans-culottes and Marianne, the national symbol of France, is normally shown wearing one.

[3] There was definitely one at this intersection in 1856 &mdash see Liberty Pole on barrypopik.com. However, this drawing made in 1852 shows the pole sporting an American flag, still surmounted by windvane but lacking the cap.

{Broadway looking north at Grand St., engraved on copper for the Society of Iconophiles of New York, by Walter M. Aikman 1905 from a painting by R. Bond 1852. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

[4] Tattersall's is easy to make out in this drawing. Broadway House is the large building on the corner to the left.

{Broadway between Howard and Grand Streets, in 1840. 17 x 24.8 cm. Cutting from Munsey's magazine. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

Regarding Broadway House, see The iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 (v. 6) by I. N. Phelps Stokes
(New York, Robert H. Dodd, 1915-1928) and Historic Lower Broadway, Relics of the Past Becoming Scarce in That Section, but a Few Remain to Recall the Men and Events of Importance in Days Gone By. New York Times, May 24, 1903, Sunday, Page 33.

[5] As well as publishing books and prints, J. Stanley & Co. ran the Franklin Circulating Library and Reading Room. This ad appears in New York As It Is (1833).


[6] See New-York as it is: containing a general description of the City of New-York; list of officers, public institutions, and other useful information: including the public officers, &c. of the City of Brooklyn : with additions and corrections : accompanied by a correct map by Edwin Williams (T.R. Tanner, 1833)

[7] See History Of Coffee in Old New York.

[8] I've written a number of blog posts about the aqueduct. One of them discusses "tea water," a term, like "spring water," which merchants used to convey the notions of purity and fresh taste. [9] Trow's New York city directory (J. F. Trow., 1860)

[10] New-York as it is: containing a general description of the City of New-York; list of officers, public institutions, and other useful information: including the public officers, &c. of the City of Brooklyn : with additions and corrections : accompanied by a correct map by Edwin Williams (T.R. Tanner, 1833)

[11] For Adolphus Loss: The New York mercantile union business directory (S. French, L.C. & H.L. Pratt, 1850).

[12] See The Nineteenth Century — The Beginnings of Modern Medicine by Albert S. Lyons>. Here is a page from New-York as it is of 1833:


[13] I've done a series of blog posts on these horse-drawn omnibuses: [14] In fact the practice of marking lanes and enforcing lane discipline did not evolve until the 20th century. See the wikipedia article on lanes for more on this.

[15] The quote comes from Bowery Village, The diary of Michael Floy, Jr., Bowery village, 1833-1837, by M Floy; Richard Albert Edward Brooks; Margaret Floy Washburn (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1941). See also The New York mercantile union business directory) (S. French, L.C. & H.L. Pratt, 1850)

[16] Wigs New-York as it is (1833).

[17] New-York As It Is (1833) carried this ad for Niblo's:


And see (The New York mercantile union business directory). And see also Niblo's Garden, The New York clipper annual, 1892(New York, Frank Queen Pub. Co., 1883-)

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