The History of New York State
Book II, Chapter IV
Part II

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


Before this happy celebration, however, a second war with England had laid heavy burdens on the Nation, though the affairs belong rather to the history of the Nation than the history of Manhattan. England at the time was worried by the aggressions of Napoleon and was waging war with France, to the great injury of American ships. England showed her hostility in particular by her practice of searching American ships.

And taking charge of former British subjects and some who had never been British subjects. The British warships often fired upon American vessels whose captains objected to their being searched. So it came about that American ships carrying merchandise to other countries and bringing merchandise to American ports were interfered with to an increasing extent, and American sea commerce was becoming badly ruined. The issue came early in 1812, when the United States declared war against Great Britain. New York at once arrayed itself for defense and when news came that the city was to be attacked a mass meeting was held in City Hall Park and everybody decided then and there to support their country with their fortunes, their honor and their lives. Then they went to work and abandoning every other superfluous task began to build forts and defenses. They constructed forts on the islands in the bay to defend the approach to the city from the ocean and they built forts in the Hell Gate to defend the approach by way of Long island Sound, and they built barriers on Manhattan Island itself. The war went on for two years, but New York City escaped unscathed. There were many skirmishes and the British succeeded in destroying Washington, but the decisive victory of the American forces in the battle of New Orleans, fought even after the treaty of peace was signed, closed the war. The Treaty of Ghent was singed on Christmas Day 1814, neither country gaining or giving up anything, and the land was thus once again able to work , untrammeled by anxiety, at the program of development that held so much promise.

New York Leading Market--During the third decade of the nineteenth century New York forged to the front as the leading mart for the products and manufactures of a large part of the eastern States. The city soon began to feel the stimulus to her trade caused by the operation of the Erie Canal. It brought to New York the control of the commerce of the Great Lakes, and the fruitful regions which bordered upon them and led into them. The Champlain Canal, which was completed in 1823, was the outlet for the produce of a large section of the country. The two waterways, connecting with the Hudson, made up a line of navigation of 708 miles. In addition, there was the chain of Great lakes, affording a navigation of 1, 625 miles, of which over 1,100 miles were within the limits of the State, of which New York City was the sole outlet. The great enterprise thus definitely assured the supremacy of the city as the commercial emporium of the western continent. The amount of tonnage estimated at 3,024,000, including both descending and ascending trips. In 1826 the toll on imports on the Erie and Champlain Canals was $762,000; in 1927, $859,000. The value of the merchandise laden and unladen at the port of New York in the period of 1825-1828 was seventy to one hundred million dollars, and the number of merchant vessels in port varied from 500 to 700 in busy season, besides 50 steamboats. The number of arrivals from foreign ports averaged 1,400, and of coasting vessels 4,000 per annum. One writer, in 1828, estimated "the arrivals at and departures of steamboats from this port during the year, or season of about 40 weeks, supposing each boat to make but two trips a week both ways, to amount to 6,400; and if an average of 50 passengers is allowed per trip, the number will be 320,000." #3 Great numbers were constantly arriving also by coasting vessels and from foreign ports, arrivals from this last aggregating something like 22,000. Not, perhaps, till about 1825 did New York recover from the depression of the embargo period and the War of 1812-15. The exports of 1806 were not again equalled in amount till 1825.

The most striking changes in the physical aspect of the lower part of New York City date from the close of the third decade of the century. A writer in the "Talisman" of 1829-30, returning from a long absence, observes: "Pine Street is now full of blocks of tall, massive buildings, which overshadow the narrow passage between and make it one of the gloomiest streets in New York. The very bricks there look of a darker hue than in any other part of the city. The rays of the sun seem to come through a yellower and thicker atmosphere; and the shadows thrown there by moonlight seem of a blacker and more solid darkness than elsewhere. It was not thus thirty or forty years ago. Shops were on each side of the way--low, cheerful-looking two-story buildings of light colored brick or wood painted white or yellow, and which scarcely seemed a hindrance to the air and sunshine."

The year 1834 is marked in the calendar as the year of riots. It was the first year in which the mayor was elected by popular vote, the candidates being Gulian C. Verplanck on an independent ticket, and Cornelius W. Lawrence on the Tammany ticket. There was great disunion in the Democratic ranks, a large number of the members supporting the independent ticket. A disturbance in the Sixth Ward during the election began to assume rather a serious aspect. Party feeling ran high because of the conservative opposition to Jackson's financial policy, and a number of Jackson Democrats seized the polls, destroyed the ballots, and sacked the room where the polling was held. Raids were made on the gun shops on Broadway, and since there was fear that the mob was about to attack the arsenal the aid of the military was called for. On the following day the polls were guarded by large bodies of citizens. But the riots continued and the city was declared in a state of insurrection. At the end of the election the news came that Lawrence had been elected and that the Whigs had elected the common council, and the riotous scenes at last calmed down. Bu the spirit of violence that gave birth to the riots did not die out so easily. There were frequent riots in the years that followed--Abolition riots, industrial riots, and riots, arising out of jealousies between the old and the new immigrants. Then came the Civil War, which gave men their fill of blood and violence and ushered in an era of peace by adding to the homogeneity of the country,. And ending the root cause of numerous quarrels.

The city, in 1837, had a population of about 300,000, the census taken by the mayor's marshals, in 1835, showing upward of 270.000. Near the Battery stood Castle Garden, then situated upon an insular mound of earth, approached from the Battery by a bridge. A great many private residences were to be found upon Broadway below and above Wall Street, and about this great thoroughfare banks were beginning to cluster more thickly then churches. In Wall Street, upon the site of the old Federal Hall, were reared the outlines of a structure, intended for a customhouse, and for a number of years occupied as such, but later to be made a sub-treasury. A Merchants' Exchange had been begun in 1826, but was not finished till 1842. A great many building operations were begun in 1837. New edifices of brick and stone were replacing the old wooden architecture and there was a continuous activity of masons and architects.

The exodus of the well-to-do from the lower parts of the city, which was to become general within a few years, had at this time hardly yet begun. Park Place, Murray, Warren, Chambers, Franklin, and White streets, and East Broadway, were, besides Broadway, the chief abodes of fashion. A few fine mansions had been built about University Square, or in lower Fifth Avenue. The city park included the land on which the post office later stood, and was covered with numerous shade trees. The new city hall, at the time considered one of the finest buildings in New York, was occupied by the justices of the United States District and Circuit Courts and by the Justices of the Marine Court and Common Pleas. The city was at this time deficient in public parks. Bowling Green was in inclosure monopolized by the well-to-do people who lived near it. With the exception of Vauxhall Gardens, the Battery was the only popular pleasure garden. Washington Square was then the parade ground upon which the militia was reviewed, and had previously been used at the Potter's Field. Union Square was still at this time well out of the town. Gramercy Park, although designed before 1837, was not laid out or improved until about 1840. On the east side of Broadway was the Masonic Hall, long deemed, next to the merchants' Exchange, the finest structure in the city. Columbia College was then in College Place, and the University of the City of New York had not yet been put in possession of its new building in Washington Square. The hotels in the city were still few in number. The City Hotel held the first place, but the recently erected Astor House soon rose to a position of primacy. Then there were the Irving House, at the corner of Chambers Street and Broadway; the American house, on Fulton street; the Exchange Hotel, in Broad Street; Lovejoy's, in Park Row; and Tammany hall, in Nassau Street, partook in part of the character of a hotel.

We have the authority of a writer in the "mirror," in 1837, that in that year there were often eight theatres in operations at the same time. The Park easily held first place and Europeans celebrities were often seen, and hear there. At the National Charles Kean played Shakespearean roles, and other actors of note appeared at the National, the Broadway, and the European Hall. Richmond Hill Theatre was located at the corner of Varick and Charlton streets and consisted of the old mansion house of Aaron Burr, to which additions had been made. On St. Valentine's day, in 1842, the leading people in society in New York held a ball at the Park Theatre, in honor of Charles Dickens. At the ball Washington Irving, who with other authors of the time was present, was almost as much a "lion" as Dickens himself.

There was at the time something of a literary renaissance in the country and the period under review has even been described as the Augustan age of American literature. Emerson, Longfellow, and Hawthorne were just making themselves known. Hawthorne's "Twice Told Tales" were first published in New York and were welcomed by Lewis Gaylord Clark in the "Knickerbocker Magazine." This magazine was then in its most flourishing condition and had numerous contributors of great name, both American and foreign. Southey, Bulwer, Guizot, Longfellow, Hawthorne, Whittier, Bryant, Cooper, Irving, were among those who wrote for it. The Harpers were then issuing a number of important works, including reproductions of books on the other side which have since taken rank as classics. Poe's name was also becoming known to New Yorkers. The pioneer of the penny press and the first paper to substitute steam-presses for the old machines was the New York "Sun," which first appeared in 1835. Steam presses and the reduction of the price of the journals revolutionized the press of the city. almost contemporaneously with the "Sun" the "Herald" came into being. The "World: was the offspring of the "Courier and Enquirer," which, edited by James Watson Webb, was the Whig organ of the period. Before the days of ocean steamers or telegraphs Webb maintained a fleet of small vessels outside of Sandy Hook to hail each incoming packet for the latest news from abroad. In 1840 Horace Greeley, under the auspices of Thurlow Weed, started a campaign sheet known as the "Log Cabin," from which the "Tribune" was afterwards developed.

In 1842 all property qualifications for city voters were done away with. In 1829 a city convention had been chosen by city electors for the purpose of revising and proposing amendments in the city charter. Five delegates were selected in each of the thirteen wards and the convention, representing the intelligence of the old town, met in June, 1829. The convention prepared and submitted to the people a series of amendments to the charter, all of which were duly ratified at a popular election. The Legislature approved the work of the convention and of the people, and the amendments became part of the city charter. One of these amendments fixed the date for charter elections on the second Tuesday in April. Charter elections continued to take place upon this and succeeding days until 1840, in which year the legislature, at the instance of the Whigs, passed a registry law for the city. Besides providing a large number of election districts in each ward, the act required the enrollment of voters before election in their different wards, somewhat as do our modern registration laws. It also removed the last property qualifications at charter elections and confined an election to one day, the second Tuesday in April, in each year. No change was made in the date of charter elections until 1849, when it was enacted that charter elections should thereafter take place on the same day as general elections. It was found that citizens were apathetic in the spring, and that the best method of securing a full vote upon an important municipal matter was by holding the municipal elections at the same time as the general elections.

Even as late as the third decade of the nineteenth century New York had not greatly improved in police matters much beyond the system in vogue among the early Dutch settlers. Public order was maintained by the constabulary, except upon occasions of extraordinary public excitement, when the mayor possessed the power of appointing special constables. Towards the close of the fourth decade of the century the watch had increased to a corps of nearly 1,000 men. Its personnel was drawn from every sort of avocation. The stevedore, truckman, or carpenter, or any workman of that sort was eligible to serve was watchmen by night. The old round of duties, dating from the time of New Amsterdam, was still maintained. Watchmen were to call the hours of the night, give alarms of fire, cry out the street in which the fire was raging, ring the bell provided for the purpose, and hang out a lantern on a pole to indicate the size of the conflagration. The city had by this time become aware that it had outgrown this antiquated system. Crimes had grown with the growth of population. At first improvement was attempted by the creation of new police justices, then by the creation of special marshals to be summoned to aid the ordinary constabulary force in special emergencies and by the formation of the first detective squad known to the city. In 1844 the Legislature enacted the Municipal Police Act, but the act was left unexecuted until the city, by appropriate ordinances, was ready to put it into operation. The common council, however, preferred to establish a municipal police of its own. By the new ordinances the force was of a treble character; there were the watch, the municipal police, and the police proper, each owing its appointment to a different source. Under the ordinance the mayor, with the consent of the aldermen, appointed men to the municipal police, and prescribed their dress. Mayor Harper appointed the first uniformed police corps, a body of 200 men. After a year's trial the ordinance was repealed, and the act of 1844 was put into execution, terminating the old watch system. The new law provided for a day and night police force not exceeding 800 men, under the control of police captains and assistant captains in the several district headquarters. The act established also a chief of police, to be appointed by the mayor and nominated by the common council. The municipal police continued to be the locally constituted guardians of the city until, in 1857, the Legislature, departing from all traditions that had previously governed its action upon city mattes, without the consent of the metropolis, created the metropolitan police.

Provision of Pure Water--Another great problem that began to receive adequate attention at this time was the provision of pure water. "there is not, perhaps, in the Union a city more destitute of the blessing of good water then New York," was a remark made in 1837. The chief sources of water supply at the time were the old "tea-water pump," near the northern end of Orange and Chatham street; the town pumps, which then garnished nearly every block; the Manhattan Company; and Knapp's Spring, which furnished the supply to the upper part of the city. The mains of the Manhattan Company were distributed through the lower part of the island. The water from Knapp's spring was carted about in hogsheads and sold at a penny a gallon. The town pumps were free. All the water used in the city was drawn from the island itself. Public sentiment insisted that water should be furnished by the city corporation and that no privilege should be accorded to private capital. There were many projects but little was accomplished, until at last the disastrous fire of 1829, which brought to the notice of everyone the peril ensuing from the lack of an abundance of water, compelled immediate action. A committee was appointed by the common council and this committee urged the construction of a well and reservoir at Thirteenth Street and the Bowery, the laying of iron pipes throughout the city, the erection of steam pumps to force the water into the reservoir, and of hydrants at the various street corners. The purpose of the pipes was to furnish water for use at fires, but out of this economical beginning sprang the Croton Aqueduct "for the immense and immediate advantage in case of fire derived from the reservoir impressed more vividly upon the public mind the far greater advantage that would result from having a river at command." #4

Once the question of the supply of abundant water free from impurities had been raised, it could not easily down. It was shown that the water used by New York for domestic purposes left much to be desired. In the crowded neighborhoods and in the vicinity of the numerous graveyards the water was found to be dangerously impure. A report presented to the Board of Aldermen from the Lyceum of Natural History expressed the conviction that no adequate supply of wholesome water could be obtained on the island for the wants of a growing community like New York. As a result a number of projects were discussed and the plan of utilizing the Bronx River was put forward. Finally De Witt Clinton was employed to canvass the various schemes. He reported strongly in favor of the plan for bringing the water of the Croton to the city, citing its advantages, its elevation and the abundance and purity of the supply. The common council as a result requested the Legislature to authorize the appointment of five commissioners with power to examine all plans, make surveys and estimate the probably expense. This led to the enactment of the law of 1833, under which Governor Marcy, with the consent of the Senate, named commissioners armed with plenary powers to hold office for one year. The engineers chosen for the work soon made it clear that the Croton River was alone adequate to the requirements of the city. the developed plan contemplated the bringing of the waters of the river at a sufficient elevation above the Harlem to deliver them without the use of power into a distributing reservoir to be located near fifth Avenue and Thirty-eight Streets, then well out of the town, from which it could be easily conveyed to the top of the highest buildings in the city. An act of the legislature, passed May 2, 1834, made it the duty of the council to submit the whole subject to the voters of the city at the charter election of 1835, and upon its ratification the council was authorized to issue interest-bearing water stock of the city not exceeding two and a half millions of dollars in amount. The report of the commissioners in February, 1835, shows them deeply impressed by the magnitude of the enterprise. The developed plan has it that the waters were to be taken near the mouth of the Croton and conveyed to the city in an aqueduct declining fifteen inches in a mile, supplying ordinarily more then 50,000,000 gallons. It was estimated that the expense of conveying the water in a close aqueduct of masonry would be $4,250,00, but this figure was far below the actual cost. The popular vote in April, 1835, showed itself strongly on the side of the project, the figures being 17,330 against 5,963.

The plan encountered many difficulties that had not been foreseen, deep ravines, the crossing of which called for embankments and bridges, rocky hills that had to be pierced by tunnels, the spanning of numerous streams, aqueduct bridges over wide valleys, and the engineering problems in the building of the great dam itself cross the Croton River. the problem of the crossing of the Harlem River aroused much controversy--the leading plans contemplated the construction of a bridge that would be no impediment to navigation, or the use simply of iron pipes, the first plan being eventually favored by the Legislature. In June, 1842, the commissioners made a journey through the aqueduct on foot to see that everything was perfect and on the twenty-second day of that month water was first introduced. On July 4 the water was introduced into the distributing reservoir at Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street. In October the arrival of the water was celebrated by a procession and other ceremonies. There was good ground for pride and jubilation and the demonstration surpassed the pageant that attending the opening of the Erie Canal nearly a score of years before. The fountains in City Hall Park and Union Square tossed their jets into the air to the pleasure and amazement of the on-lookers.

Development of Railroads--the period marked a turning point in the development of the city. the gift of an unlimited supply of good water almost synchronized with the new endowments from which the whole country benefited. The era was the era of the steamboat, the railroad, and the telegraph. In New York the benignity of the time showed in the trend of the well-to-do from the lower parts of the city to the wider spaces in the north. It showed in the decoration of the public places and buildings and in demand for the conservation of the parks and open spaces. It showed in the increased celerity with which the city on the Hudson forged beyond all rivals as the foremost metropolis in the Union. Its safe and spacious harbor, its situation at the mouth of a great river moving from the neighbored of the Great lakes, and emptying itself in the Atlantic were thus supplemented by the invention of the steamboat and the lines of communication that went to and from it as a center round the circumference of the earth. It was about 1854 that the first trunk line established its communication between New York City and the westernmost boundary of the State. Apparently the recollection of what the Erie Canal had done for the city and the State and the first great line of transportation on land was made also to bring the Erie near to our shores. As early as 1836 construction of the road had begun at various points, and in 1841, the first section, reaching back forty miles from Piermont to Goshen, was completed. When the line was completed there was a good deal of celebration. President Fillmore came from Washington with his Secretary of State, Daniel Webster. Two trains conveyed the guests from Piermont to Dunkirk. On May 14, 1851, gaily decorated trains were set going. The road soon vindicated its utility. By September, 1854, the report of business for the preceding twelve-month showed that the road had carried 1,125,123 passengers and 743,250 tons of freight. The earnings for the year amounted to about sixteen or seventeen per cent of the total cost. It had in operation 183 locomotives and 2,935 cars.

Following this came the establishment of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. This also aimed at the linking up of New York City with the lake region, its course being in the main parallel with the Hudson and the Erie Canal. It took advantage of the comparatively level country near the borders of Lake Ontario and of the natural high way from the Hudson afforded by the valley of the Mohawk River. but it was not conceived of as a whole from the beginning, but resulted as the combination into a system of a number of short lines. One section of it, the line between Albany and Schenectady, is historic as the first railroad projected and the first in actual operation in America. It was chartered in 1826, and in September, 1831, before the preliminary survey had been made for the Erie Road, it was already running between its two termini. Gradually the stretch of country between the upper Hudson and Buffalo was supplied with railroads. These included the Utica & Schenectady, the Syracuse & Utica, the Rochester and Syracuse, and the Buffalo & Rochester. There were besides all these a number of other lines that ran off as tangents to the main curve. The Schenectady & troy line ran in the northwesterly direction. The there was the Schenectady & Syracuse Direct. From Buffalo there went a road as far as Lockport, but soon the Falls Branch was established by the company, thus making up the Rochester, Lockport & Niagara Railroad. Then there was the evolution of the Mohawk Valley Railroad, representing a union of all the track that ran from Rome, or Utica, to Albany.

Meanwhile, the idea of linking New York with this system in the lake region was seldom lost sight of, and thus in 1846 the Hudson River Railroad Company was chartered, and the first trains set running. The New York Central Railroad, in 1853, combined the short railways west of Albany to Buffalo, with its side branches under a single management. The union, in 1869, with the Hudson River road constituted the second trunk line connecting New York with the interior country. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, the third trunk line to enter the city, was formed by the consolidation, in June, 1871, of the original Pennsylvania railroad from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh with the United Railroads of New Jersey, which had at that date absorbed the various independent railroad companies of New Jersey, and controlled and operated a through line to Philadelphia. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, by the extension of its lines to buffalo and to Oswego on Lake Ontario, may also be included among the trunk lines and feeders of the metropolis. It was organized on December 10, 1853, by the consolidation of the Lackawanna and Western, which had been chartered in 1849, and the Delaware and Cobbs Gap Railroad, which had been charter in 1850. In 1868, by its lease of the Morris & Essex Railroad, chartered in 1835, it gained an entrance to Jersey City and New York, and made connection with the Hudson. In 1882 it leased the New York, Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad, running from Binghamton to the International Bridge, New York, with a branch line to the city of Buffalo, and thus became a trunk line and rival of the Erie. The West Shore Railroad, later leased by the New York Central & Hudson River system, was built for a through line between New York and the West, in opposition to this last-named company. The New York Central & Hudson River railroad, whose line it paralleled, at once reduced rates on its lines, and the West shore, being unable to compete, was thrown into the hands of receivers in June, 1884, and sold under foreclosure in November, 1885. A new company was organized December 5, 1885, by which the road was leased to the New York Central. The Baltimore & Ohio railroad, another of the great trunk lines to enter New York, sent its first through train to the city at the end of 1886. Thus the city, in course of time, became linked by rail with all the parts of the continent to that time opened up.

Improved Communication--The rush to California following the discovery of gold in 1848 made it in three years a State with a population of 3,000,000 people and New York was called upon to supply it with its commodities. Shortly before the rush, the ports of china had been thrown open to American commerce, and New York merchants began to send their ships full laden to San Francisco, and then dispatch them in ballast to Canton for tea. It was this new line of commerce that ushered in the era of the clipper ships, a new kind of sailing ship which originated in Baltimore about 1840, but which was perfected in New York. A clipper was constructed in the first place for speed. Her lines were sharper, and she was longer and narrower than were her predecessors. The first to be built were rather small craft with fewer then 100 tons displacement, and the Samuel Russell," famous for her speed and beauty, was of 940 tons. But the commerce and the long voyage called for large and stronger ships. Accordingly, one after the other, there appeared the "Challenge," of about 2,000 tons; the "Invincible,' of 2,150 tons; the "Comet," of 1,209 tons; and the "Swordfish," of 1,150 tons--all designed in 1851 by William H. Webb. They were incomparable vessels and the carried the fame of rising America into the chief ports of the world. The newspapers and the public of New York followed their performances much as adherents of the turf followed the runs of a favorite thoroughbred. On the water with the wind billowing their canvas they moved as miracles of beauty, the last word in grace among the things capable of being produced by the hand of man. The "Comet," sailed round the Horn to San Francisco and back in seventy-six days. The "Swordfish" sailed from Shanghai to San Francisco in thirty-one days, that is a the rate of 240 miles a day. In 1852 157 vessels entered at the port of San Francisco, and of these seventy were clippers. The effect of the accomplishments of these famous ships on American commerce is indicated by the fact that, in 1853, the value of the tea imported into New York from various regions in China exceeded $8,000,000. American shipping was a thriving industry in that era. #5 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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