The History of New York State
Editor, Dr. James Sullivan
Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam
| A journal of the year 1852 described
New York as one of the greatest shipyards of the world.
"Our clippers astonish distant nations with their neat and beautiful appearance, and our steamers have successful competed with the swiftest-going mail packets of Great Britain. In the farthest corners of the earth the Stars and Stripes wave over New York built vessels."
Great was the effect upon the business of the country of these wonderfully increased facilities of communication, observes one historian:
The telegraph, the steamship, the railroad, brought all the world closed together, and sent the products of the world frying to each other's markets, putting into rapid and augmenting circulation great sums of money. The enterprises themselves called to large investments of capital from which phenomenal returns were expected. Hence the very stimulus to business produced by the progress of the world spread the fever of speculation, with its usual consequences. There was a recovery of business after the War of 1812, and a panic about 181 or 1819. There was a rush of trade about 1825 and a depression a few years later, subsequent both, if not consequent, upon the development of river steamboats and the opening of the Erie Canal. There was the panic of 1837, and now gain in 1857 business was prostrated by a fearful collapse. "Commercial crises are periodic,' observes Prof. Jevons. "It would be a very useful thing if we were able to foretell when a bubble or a crises was coming, but it evidently impossible to predict such matters with certainty. Nevertheless, it is wonderful how often a great commercial crisis has happened about ten year after the previous one." Whether just due or fat past due, the crash came in 1857. In August, the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust company suspended payment, its obligations amounting to $7,000,000. The shock to public confidence was terrible. There was a sudden run on banks and savings banks and suspension was inevitable everywhere. In September, Philadelphia banks led those of all Pennsylvania in cessation of payment. In October, the banks of New York followed suit, but they resumed in December. The excitement on October 13, just before the suspension was indescribable. At ten o'clock, the hour for opening the banks, there were from 30,000 to 40,000 people in Wall Street, surging in front of the various institutions, each man eager to get in before the other and draw his money before the stock on hand should be exhausted. Trade was paralyzed all over the country. Factories ceased running, and workmen had no way of earning wages. Steamers on lakes and rivers were unemployed Cargoes from abroad were sent back again, and shiploads of emigrants returned, afraid of the prospects in the new country. Proofs accumulated that the unnatural stimulus to business given by the new conditions of traffic and transport had brought on the calamity. "A prodigious weight of insolvency had been carried along for years in the volume of trade. Extravagance of living had already sapped the foundation of commercial success. Mismanagement and fraud had gained footing in public companies to an incredible degree. Hundred of millions of bonds were issued with little regard to the validity of their basis," the suffering among the poor which ensued in the city, with winter on hand, was alleviated as much as possible by benevolent provisions on the part of the authorities. Many of the unemployed were given work in the construction of Central park then under way, and at other public works in charge of the city. Soup-houses were opened in many parts, and food and fuel distributed with a lavish hand. In spite of all efforts, however, it is supposed that many perished from cold and starvation. It was a sad, long and dreary winter, but with spring confidence again revived and the country made ready for recovery. Over 5,000 failures were reported, with liabilities running up towards $300,000,000. #6
Amended City Charter--In April, 1849, the Legislature passed on amended charter for the city, providing that the mayor and aldermen should hold office for two years instead of one, and hat the charter election should be held on the first Tuesday in November. An important provision was the establishment of nine executive departments, the heads of which were to act as the constitutional advisers of the mayor, after the Federal plan of government. The nine department thus created were as follows:
The charter further required that required that the heads of the various departments, with the exception of the Aqueduct Board, were to be elected by the people, and were to hold office for a term of three years. All these officials were to be subject to the legislative authority of the common council.
Welfare and Statistics-- There was a visitation of the cholera to the city in 1849 and another notable vent was the fatal riot in Astor Place, growing out of the enmity between the American actor, Edwin Forrest, and the Anglo-Irish Actor, William Charles Macready. To the other side of the account in the period must be credited the establishment of several organizations for the public good, some of them of the first importance. Thus John Jacob Astor, then the wealthiest man in the city, died on March 29, 1848, and by will left a sum of $400,000 dollars for the establishment of a free pubic library in New York. The library was incorporated January 13, 1849, and was first opened to the public early in February, 1854. Then there was the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor. This was incorporated in 1848, the first president being James Brown, the banker. In 1851 the New York Juvenile Asylum was incorporated chiefly through the efforts of Robert M. Hartley, and a number of other prominent men, Dr. John Dennison Russ, the secretary of the Prison Association, becoming its first superintendent. The five Point Mission was also established about this time and helped to ameliorate considerably the conditions in a poor quarter. In the early part of 1849 the New York Free Academy, later to develop into the University of the City of New York, also opened its doors. The school building was large red brick structure., four stories high, situated at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Twenty-third Street. The Free Academy grew out of an application of the Board of Education to the Legislature of 1847 for a law authorizing the establishment of a free college or academy in the city for those pupils who had been educated in the common schools. The act was passed on May 7, 1847, with the proviso that it should be submitted to the electors of the city. On being submitted on June 9, 1847, there were 19,m404 votes recorded in favor of it, and 3, 409 against it, so that the act became law.
The Children's Aid Society, an organization that made it its purpose to look after homeless children, was organized in 1853, largely as a result of the initiative of Charles L. Brace, who became its first secretary. It tried to establish a workshop in Wooster Street, where boys might find employment and learn a trade, but in this case with small success. Good work was done when the society established a dormitory in the "Sun" building for newspaper boys, charging them six cents for abed, six cents for breakfast, and five cents for tea, with a free bath thrown in. Good work was also done for the girls by the society. An industrial school was established, and there was evening schools, Sunday meetings, and girls' lodging houses. In 1854 St. Luke's Hospital also was opened, a year or two after the Demilt Dispensary on Twenty-third Street and Second Avenue, this last having been made possible by a bequest of Sarah and Elizabeth Demilt, two sisters who had bequested $20,000 to the three dispensaries then existing in the city. In 1852, moreover, the Young men's Christian Association was established in New York, after the pattern of the similar institution that had been sometime before established in London. Most of these institutions endured and some of them flourished exceedingly. It is very evident that these central years of the century saw the foundation of numerous organizations that have grown into landmarks so prominent that without them a great part of what is New York would disappear to the eyes of this generation.
Meanwhile, New York had been growing visibly. Her population in 1840 was 312,700, he foreign commerce amounting to something like $100,000,000. In the decade that followed her population had increased to 515,547, and her foreign commerce to $260,000,000. By 1855 the number of citizens had multiplied to nearly 630,000, and the foreign commerce to $323,000,000. The immense volume to which trade had grown was indicated by the multiplication of piers on the waterfront. These had in the central years of the century grown to the number of 113, stretched along a waterfront of thirteen miles, fifty-five piers on the Hudson River front and fifty-eight on the East River. In the year preceding 1850 it was estimated that nearly 1,700 buildings of various kinds had gone up in the city. Fifteen public markets supplied the immense population with food. There was the Catherine Street market, founded in 1786. Then there was the Washington Market, the Gouverneur, the Greenwich, the Centre, the Essex, the Fulton, the Clinton, the Chelsea, the Tompkins, the Jefferson, the Union, and the Monroe, in the order of their ages, growing up one after another as the population increased and crept northward. #7 in 1850 the manufacturing establishments had increased to 3,387, employing 83,600 persons. The production of manufactured articles was valued in that year at $105,218,308, with a capital of #34,232,822. The city by the year 1850 had spread upwards as far as Thirty-fourth Street, though it did not represent a solid block, there remaining still a number of open areas. Above Thirty-fourth Street there were here and there oases of country villages, such as Yorkville, which have since been swallowed up in the remorseless march of stone and mortar.
The panic of 1857 ushered in a black period, but the period as brief. There was a rapid recovery and the financial stamina of the nation showed that it could survive under an immense strain. In two or three months the banks resumed payment, and the idea of the Clearing House was shown to be sound. There was a decided return of confidence and the old provincial fear that a man's money was safest in his own pocket or under his own mattress, melted away again. The purchasing population plucked a certain amount of advantage from the panic. Prices of ordinary commodities remained very low during the rest of the year. There still remained a certain amount of unemployment, but no evidence of particular distress. In course of time the various factories were working at normal pitch again, and the city resumed its rapid rate of growth, in population, as in the building trade and in industries. Almost synchronizing with the financial panic was the agitation about the police question. Mayor Fernando wood appeared to be too much of a demagogue to a large section of the population and an effort was made to endow the city with a State metropolitan police in place of the municipal police, which the mayor held under control. The conflict precipitated a series of riots. The mob was largely on the side of wood and formed itself into "Dead Rabbit" guards and "Roach" guards to back him up. They were challenged by "Atlantic Guards" and "Bowery boys," to numerous trials of strength and pugnacity and in some of the these affrays the Seventh Regiment had to be called upon again, and there were a number of fatalities. Mayor Wood, however, was a stubborn fighter, and though his opponent, Daniel T. Tiemann, was elected mayor in 1857, and again in 1859, Wood was again in power in 1861.
Atlantic Cable and Ocean Leviathans--In 1857 the attention of New York was largely engrossed by the enterprise of laying a cable across the Atlantic Ocean. The great project had loomed into the realm of possibility gradually. Cables had been laid across bays and smaller seas in various parts of the world, and had worked successfully. It needed the sort of tasks with which Americans had become familiar to contemplate as practical the enterprise of bridging 3,000 miles of turbulent ocean. The leading spirits in the enterprise were Cyrus W. Field, and Peter Cooper, who went to Europe and enlisted the support of a number of capitalists and scientific men. In1 857 the cable had been constructed and was ready for laying across the bed of the ocean. The two nearest and most accessible points on either side of the ocean were selected. One-half the cable was coiled on board the American ship, "Niagara," and the other on board the British ship, "Agamemnon." The two vessels then started out to meet each other and in mid-ocean on July 22 the two ends were joined together. The work was not done without the surmounting of great obstacles. The cable broke three times. In August a new plan was adopted. The cable was made fast at Valentia Bay in Ireland, and the "Niagara," began to pay out, the "Agamemnon" having to take up the work when the first half was laid. The cable broke again on august 11, after 300 miles had been paid out. There was a renewal in the work in 1858, when the two vessels, following the earlier plan, met again in mid-ocean on July 29. On August 6 each arrived at its destination and the shore ends were made fast. Telegraphic communication was attempted and was achieved with complete success. The fact was announced to all the world, and the jubilation was universal. Cablegrams were exchanged between President Buchanan and Queen Victoria, and there were celebrations in New York and other cities. The first difficulties had, however, not been surmounted. There was renewed breakage of cable and failure to transmit, and the Civil War was over and eight years supervened before all was in working order again.
In 1860 there landed at Castle Garden the first embassy from Japan. From the early part of the seventeenth century Japan has cut herself almost completely off from the intercourse with European Nations. In 1852, Commodore Perry had broken the spell of reserve and by his visit led Japan to open her doors again to the world. In1860 a treaty was concluded with the United States and the special mission that touched land in New York was the result. They were received by the mayor and corporation, and escorted by regiments of militia to the Metropolitan Hotel, on Broadway and Prince Street. They were serenaded in the evening and the city was illuminated. The Japanese remained in New York till July, 1, on which date they left for their journey through Europe.
The Japanese were still in the city when the first of the Atlantic leviathans, the "Great Eastern," arrived. She was fitted with both screw ands paddle wheels, the wheels being fifty-six feet in diameter and the screw propeller twenty-four feet. the horsepower developed by the screw engines was about 6,000, that of the wheel engines about 4,000. There were five smokestacks. Of her six masts, the three in the center were ship-rigged; one in the front and two at the stern were small and arranged for fore-and-aft sails. The sides of the ship were of iron; its length being 680 feet. it was capable of carrying 800 first-class passengers, 2,000 of the second-class, and 1,200 third-class. She sailed on June 17 from Southampton, the highest number of miles run in one day being 325. On arrival in New York, she was visited by crowds of sightseers. Her later record showed that the "Great Eastern" was a little too large to be easily manageable in that early era in ship building In later years science made leviathans of he type a much more practical combination of strength, capacity and speed.
The Prince of Wales also arrived in1860 and caused as much furore as the "Great Eastern." He was under twenty at the time and his good looks and position naturally created not a little stir in the hearts of the fair daughters of the city. He travelled under the title of Baron Renfrew and was thus saved from much of the ceremony that goes with a visit of a royal personage. There were numerous civic and military honors, and there were balls at which there was much competition among the belles as to who should have the honor of dancing with the guest of honor. Trinity church decorated the pew that had been reserved for the prince and provided it with exquisite prayer books specially bound and ornamented. The purpose of the gesture was an expression of appreciation for what some of the sovereigns of England had done for Trinity in the British occupation. After receptions by the civic authorities a ball was given at the Academy of Music on October 12. Over 3,000 persons were present, a floor was laid, embracing parquet and stage, 135 long and 68 feet wide. It was described as the greatest ball that ha d ever been given in the city up to that time.
Eve of the Civil War--it was the eve of the civil War, and yet never had New York appeared more peaceful or prosperous.
It had not yet attained the metropolitan greatness of the present time; it was still a provincial city, compared to the chief European capital, London and Paris. Some unseen cause weighed upon its progress and kept it in a kind of vassalage to Europe. Yet its growth had been comparatively rapid; its population in 1856 was about 630,000; its commerce flourished with unusual vigor; its fine ships and able seamen contended almost equally with those of England for the mastery of the seas. The city had grown rapidly from its early limits below Canal Street to the once rural district from Fourteenth to Twenty-third and Thirty-fourth Streets. Some fine houses had been built on Fifth Avenue, and instead of the red brick and the London style that had been used until now on Broadway and around St. John's Park and Washington Square, brownstone was introduced to give an air of gloomy dignity to the streets of New York. It was to become a city of brownstone. In 1856 we should miss many of the conveniences that surround us today. The slow stage still travelled its weary way along Wall Street and Broadway; the streetcars were just coming into use. No vision of rapid transit, do dream of an elevated railway, had yet dawned upon our patient citizens; a trolley road in those happy days would have seemed a miracle, and a telephone a gift from above. Who could have fancied, in 1856, that he might one day converse at ease with his friends in Boston, or send messages by telegraph around the world; that he could speak to his antipodes in China; and bargain with the merchants of Australia from his office in New York?
In 1856 the suburbs of the city still retained many of their attractions. Bloomingdale was still not unworthy of its name, and where now great block of houses cover the land, gardens bloomed and fair landscapes of river and shore opened from Burnham's and Claremont. Harlem was a quiet county town, shut off by a long ride or sail from its ruling center; there was yet not city beyond the Harlem River--only country seats and scenery of rare beauty. In those early days each citizen lived in his own home, and not in a an apartment; tenement houses had begun their odious career, but the great blocks of apartment that now form the chief trait of New York's domestic life were wholly unknown. The flat or apartment house was the invention of the Roman commons, it was revived in Edinburgh and Paris; and had within twenty years covered New York with a crowded population. It cannot be said that our city in 1856 was a model of neatness; in fact, its odors and its malaria might rival those of a medieval capital. Its politicians paid little attention to the comfort and happiness of the people. The mayor was Fernando Wood; the aldermen were no longer reputable; political influence often shielded great criminals; bribery was common; the worth class of the population often carried the elections of New York. Fortunately, the State was in the hands of a higher order of politician; a King or a Clark was governor. A metropolitan police was provided for New York and Brooklyn and Mayor wood, who had garrisoned the city hall and attempted rebellion, was forced to obey the law. The Central park was scarcely begun; the Battery park was neglected, and lay for many yeas a repulsive waste. Our street were noted for this uncleaness and bad pavements; our public buildings were mean and poor; the police was inefficient, the city unhealthy, its death rate high, and life and property insecure. But already New York was assuming the position of a metropolitan city, and had drawn in nearly all the commerce of the Union. The California mines contributed to its prosperity; the decay of Charleston and Norfolk sent their ships to its harbor; it had no longer a rival. Yet, more then ever, as it rose to comparative supremacy, did it become dependent upon the strength and prosperity of the whole Union. It was the offspring of union, the seaport of a united nation, the center and source of its political life. President Pierce, in his messages, had drawn a pleasing picture of the general advance of the country. "It is a matter of congratulation," he said, in one, "that the republic is advancing in a career of prosperity and peace." New York reflected the general improvement. One proof of its blindness to any political danger at this time was the celebration of new Year's Day, 1856. "Never," we are assured by a contemporary, "had the venerable custom of New Year's calls been so generally observed." The streets were filled with visitors; the houses thrown open with generous hospitality; in whole blocks there was not a parlor that did not blaze with light, nor a family that did not receive its New Year's guests. the city was all mirth and rejoicing, and one who, in our less fortunate time, wanders through our silent street on New Year's Day, will miss the graceful hospitality that has forever passed away. Yet the winter of 1856 opened cold an severe upon the city. the snow lay for many weeks upon the ground, until the people grew weary of the sleigh bells and the impassable streets; the rivers were frozen hard, the means of communication with the interior were still imperfect, and many suffered. All over the country the same rigorous weather prevailed. Far away in Kansas the chill winter opened upon the settlers with unexampled severity; the boundless prairies were covered with a thick veil of snow, the thermometer sank to twenty degrees below zero, and the people in their imperfect cabins shivered and froze in unusual cold. From Kansas, too, came often reports of the violence of the opposing factions and the raids from Missouri; yet no one saw the cloud gathering in the West, or fancied that anything could check the rapid progress of our metropolitan city. In this period Central Park was gradually transformed from a wild and rock tract of land to a beautiful pleasure ground. Its accomplished designers prepared a plan that was carried out with rare taste and discretion. Over the bare rocks vines were cast and sheets of flowers; in the valley the lakes were formed, and swans, black and white, glided over them in stately grace. The ramble, one of the earliest of its attractions, soon glittered with running stream and was covered with early flowers. The mall, terrace over the lake, the long line of trees, the find walks and drives, the wild scenery of the upper park, compacted the early charm. And since then, year by year, the Central park has added a thousand beauties of its earlier grace; its walks, once nearly bare, are now overshadowed by lofty trees and a fine foliage; its meadows are green, its rocks and hills clothed with flowers; the admirable taste of its landscape gardeners has been proved in the gradual perfection of their plans. No city has so fair a park; none a more valuable and useful ornament. It had long been the desire of the leading citizens of New York to provide a public park for the use of the people. Very early in the century it was proposed to encircle with a fine ornamental garden the lake or pond that then covered all the grounds where now stand the Tombs and its uncleanly neighbors. The lake was then known as the "Fresh-water Pond," and its marshy environs were never healthy, and often covered the city with fogs and malaria. It would have been fortunate if the plan cold have been carried out. We should then have had a fine sheet of water in the midst of the city, where now are some of its least reputable districts, and should have lost the "Five Points," and the marshy site of the Tombs and the new municipal building. But the design was never perfected. Gouverneur Morris, as Miss booth tells us, when he laid out a plan for the upper parts of the city, proposed to forma park of 300 acres, reaching from Twenty to Thirty-fourth Streets, and from the Third to the Eighth Avenues. This, too, was almost certain to be rejected. It would have made the center of the city a scene of beauty, and given health and recreation to millions. WE lost the fine improvement of the Fresh Pond, the park above little attended to and of less use to the people. In nothing had our rulers been so inattentive to the wants of the city as in providing for a succession of public pleasure grounds. They might have been carried all the way from the Battery to the Harlem, and given New York, like imperial Rome, or even London, or Paris, a breathing spot in the midst of the densest quarters. The opportunity was neglected, and our city will not in many years recover its loss. Our crowded quarters are still our disgrace. But a succession of small parks may yet be provided on the east and west sides of Broadway, by some future friends of humanity. #8
We have also an interesting picture of Broadway handed down to us from the eve of the Civil War. Already at that time the famous thoroughfare was beginning to take on the commercial aspect which was to be its chief permanent habiliment. In the early days the seat of pleasant residences, shaded with trees and celebrated for its drives and walks, it had at this time become a street of shops, offices, hotels and theatres. The business houses in the retail trade reached far up town; the finer dwelling houses were above fourteenth Street and around Union and Madison Squares. "Broadway in 1858 has become not unlike the Strand in London and a Paris boulevard," observes the writer of the time. #9.
Early in the morning the street begins to fill with carts and vehicles bringing supplies from the country to the market. From all the by-streets which connect Broadway with the river crowds of men, women, and wagons and horses emerge from the Brooklyn, Hoboken, Williamsburgh, Staten Island, and New jersey ferries. It is still very early in the morning; the shops are closed; only here and there an omnibus makes its reluctant appearance, its driver and horses not having yet shaken off the sloth of the night. There are also some carriages stopping before the Astor House, St. Nicholas, Metropolitan and other hotels, with a load of travelers, just coming from the east, west, north, or from European and California steamers. At this early hour Broadway look thoroughly respectable, like a big ball room. Soon after a crowd of clerks and business men rush down the famous thoroughfare. Then comes later the stream of fair women shoppers from the upper part of the town, filling the sidewalks; next, in the afternoon, the tide of business men rushes back along the same thoroughfare; and in the evening the street is again crowded with persons going to theatres and the various amusements of the night.
As in the cities of Europe, the less respectable features of the main thoroughfare became prominent in the night time. Noisy revelers made their appearance on the sidewalks; women of the demi-monde minced along. The police and the watchmen, shadowed suspicious people, and a medley of hilarious revelry was carried through the air. These noises gradually diminished, and in the dull silence that supervened the chimes of Trinity told the early hours of the morning.
New York and the War--Needless to say, when war broke out, New York from every angle, was called upon to play a ruling part. It was in the first place the principal base of supplies in the long struggle to preserve the Union. Even before actual hostilities commenced two important expeditions, designed to succor beleagured garrisons, were fitted out in New York. There was a period of waiting and reflection in the beginning. The challenge to war was first thrown down on December 20, 1860, when south Carolina, through its representatives in the city of Charleston, made a proclamation to the effect that "the union before existing between South Carolina and the other States under the name of the United States was dissolved." Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit, and on February 4, 1861, delegates from six of the seceding states met at Montgomery, Alabama, and constituted themselves a new union under the name of "The confederate States of America" Thus that act of secession, the threat of which had come now and again from the varying parts of the Union since shortly after the period of the Revolution, had been accomplished at last. But even then there were men in New York who thought that diplomacy might avert the evil. Efforts were made by leading citizens to organize a movement which would use every avenue by which the South could be dissuaded from secession, and Mayor Fernando Wood actually advocated the policy of making New York a free city in the event of disruptions. One of the last efforts to bring about a peaceful solution as the meeting held in Pine Street. Charles O'Conor, a leading lawyer of the city, presided, and resolutions, firm but sympathetic, were unanimously passed. A committee was named to present a copy of the resolutions to Jefferson Davis and the Governors of South Carolina, George, and Alabama. It was like the clutching at a straw. To quote from the resolutions, "the current of disunion" had acquired a force which proved irresistible, and the drafters of the resolutions were before long foremost among the men fighting to preserve the integrity of the country. On January 18, 1861, another meeting was called by the Chamber of commerce, at which another memorial was drawn up with 40,000 signatures and sent to Washington. Again on January 29 a mass meeting was called at Cooper Institute. By resolution three commissioners were appointed to visit the conventions of the six seceding States to submit to them what was called the Crittendon Compromise.
All in vain. A little after four o'clock on the morning of Friday, April 12, 1861, the first confederate gun opened fire on Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. The small guard surrendered on the fourteenth, after a fight the record of which thrilled the Northern States. This rash act of the Southern forces supplied all that was needed to fire the warlike spirit of the North. The regiments of the North at once began to march. On the night of April 17 the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment reached new York by boat from Boston. The people turned out in mass to cheer them.
The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
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