New York Historical Photos – An Amazing Look at Pre-1900 New York City & Central Park
New York City is one of America’s oldest and largest cities. First settled along the Hudson River in 1624 by the Dutch, the colony of New Amsterdam was established on Manhattan Island two years later in 1626. In 1664, English settlers took control of the area and renamed it New York.
Today, practically every inch of Manhattan is covered in concrete, buildings or fabricated parks. To get a better perspective on what New York City looked like in the past, we present a collection of New York historical photos and renderings from the late 1800s when much of the land was still covered by dirt and grass.
Old Photos: New York City – When It was Still Covered in Dirt
The above New York historical photo shows the land currently containing the New-York Historical Society. The photo was taken in 1887 from the rooftop of the Dakota Building (completed in 1884), at 72nd Street and Central Park West. The large center building is the original Victorian Gothic structure of the Museum of Natural History. Still standing today, the building is surrounded by additional American Museum of Natural History buildings spread-out over four full city blocks.
Looking at 5th Avenue and 92nd Street today, you’d never guess that the area used to be a cow pasture. But, as the above 1888 photo of the southeast corner of this block shows, cows and farmers were its only residents at the time. This all changed by 1924, however, as the property was used to build New York City’s most luxurious housing for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton – a 54-room triplex penthouse apartment. The luxury building is still standing today, divided up into 26 individual apartments that are among the most exclusive and desired addresses in the city.
This photo of the upper west side was taken from the original Barnard College building in 1897. It features General Ulysses S. Grant’s Tomb in the western area of the photo. Grant’s Tomb had just been dedicated at the time of this photo. By the 1960s, this area would be fully developed and, unfortunately, already become a “bad” neighborhood. During this time, the former president’s tomb had been covered with graffiti, littered with drug paraphernalia and alcohol bottles, and even used as a bathroom facility and homeless shelter. For the 100th anniversary of the dedication, however, in 1997, the monument was restored to its former glory and the Morningside Heights neighborhood had been cleaned up.
Old Photos: Construction Photos of the Central Park Reservoir
Next we present several New York historical photos documenting the construction of the Central Park Reservoir. Constructed between 1858 and 1862 and located between 86th and 96th Streets, the 106-acre reservoir is 40 feet deep and holds more than a billion gallons of water. The reservoir was once a major part of the city’s fresh water supply and distributed water throughout Manhattan.
The handwritten captions on these New York historical photos state that these photographs were given to New York Mayor Daniel Tiemann by the construction crew hired to build the reservoir, Fairchild Walker and Co.
The reservoir was used up until 1993, when it was deemed obsolete due to contamination concerns and installation of a new water main under 79th Street. After decommission, in 1994, the reservoir was renamed for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in recognition of her contributions to New York City and because she enjoyed jogging along the running track that surrounds the reservoir.
Early Central Park Lithograph
Above we present John Bachmann’s lithograph, View of Central Park, New York, printed around 1875. Born in Switzerland and trained in Paris, John Bachmann (1814-1896) was a respected artist and lithographer who was particularly known for his bird’s-eye view depictions of American cities.
Central Park spans 843 acres of land between Fifth and Eighth Avenues in New York City and stretches from 59th to 110th Streets. A competition was held for the design of the park in 1857 and the plan submitted by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux was awarded the winner. Central Park was quickly constructed and welcomed its first visitors in 1859.