The History of New York State
Book II, Chapter IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


This then is the city in the year of grace 1897 (writes one of its most recent historian). To this it has grown from its days of small things in 1614, when white men first made a habitation on Manhattan island; or in 1626, when it became the seat of the colonial government; or in 1653, when it was incorporated as a Dutch municipality; or in 1780, when it was made the capital of the budding republic. It has grown to an immensity of physical magnitude, covering the island whose immense southern tongue it barely filled with houses even up to the commencement of the nineteenth century; and adding an equal territory across the Harlem on the mainland. It has grown to a vastness of population, numbering in March, 1896, no les then 1,916,891 souls, which places it alongside of the few greater cities of the world. It has grown to a fullness of life, in commerce, industry, art, intelligence, benevolence, which has won for it a commanding position among the capitals of Christian civilization. But even this showing does not do justice to the real New York; hers if a city greater then that covered by that name. Brooklyn was a part of her, with a population of 1,00,000 souls, for several years the third city in the Union; Jersey City, with 170,000 inhabitants; Hoboken, with 50,000; Yonkers, with 40,000; even Newark, with 20,000, and more distant Elizabeth ands New Brunswick, must all be counted as part of New York, made possible by her greatness. All that territory, with cities towns, and villages, within a radius of at least 30 miles of the city hall, is the real extent of the City of New York. These places are dependent on her commerce and industry; they exist by the business done in her streets; they furnish residences to her business men. Hence for many years it had been the thought of public-spirited men that justice should be done to the real state of affairs; that by the name of New York a somewhat larger extent of that territory owing its population and business to the city on Manhattan Island should be designated. The proximity of another State on the west side of the Hudson forbade the incorporation of the communities there existing with the mother city. But on the south and east and north no State barriers interfered; and a movement was started to include in one great municipality Brooklyn, part of Queens County, Staten Island or Richmond County, and a portion of Westchester County. The originators of this scheme may be said to be James S. T. Stranahan, Brooklyn's "first citizen,' as he is fondly called, and the Hon. Andrew H. Green, who was made comptroller when the Tweed Ring collapsed. In 1890 the project had advanced so far as to obtain legislative action. The :legislature appointed a commission of seven, of which Andrew t., Green was made president, to inquire into the expediency of consolidating into one municipality New York, Brooklyn, and contiguous towns and villages, and to submit a report with recommendations. As a result oft heir work a bill was prepared and introduced into the Legislature of 1893, calling for the submission of the question to the vote of the people of the cities, towns and villages involved. No action was reached at this session upon the bill, but it was passed at the session of 1804, and on November 6, 1804, the people gave their vote. #25 The record of the vote was as follows:





New York County



Kings County



Queens County



Richmond County



Mr. Vernon (City)



East Chester (town)



West Chester (Town)



Pelham (Village)







It was thus made apparent that the feeling in favor of the amalgamation of these municipalities, with a single exception, was overwhelming and me were attracted by the vision of a New York which would vie with the largest cities in history. While the larger consolidation was pending, by act of the Legislature on June 1, 1895, West Chester, East Chester, Pelham, and Wakefield were annexed to new York City, adding another 20,0900 acres to her territory, and making void the plurality of one against consolidation in West Chest Township, though the adverse vote of Mount Vernon was paid heed to. This annexation carried the city line up to the limit in West Chester County contemplated by the commissioners of Greater New York. On January 6, 1896, the first consolidation act was passed. The small excess in the number favoring the project in Brooklyn was considered, and an amendment was proposed granting a referendum of the bill to the people of that city, but it was lost. By the constitution adopted by the State in 1894 a certain degree of home rule had been conceded to cities by giving their mayors the privilege of vetoing bills referring to matters in which they were especially concerned. The Consolidation Bill was, therefore, sent for approval or disapproval to the mayors of New York, Brooklyn, and Long Island City. it was returned with the vetoes of Mayor Strong, of New York, and Mayor Wurster, of Brooklyn, with messages giving reasons for their objection. The mayor of Long Island City, with its struggling population of about 30,000, approved the bill. It was again passed over the vetoes of the mayors, and the Governor approved the bill on May 11, 1896, and it became law. The Governor, thereupon, carried out the provision requiring him to appoint a commission to draw up a charter for the new municipality. It was t include the mayors of three cities, and certain State officials, together with "nine other persons, residents of the localities under consolidation.'" Of these nine, appointed in June 9, 1896, Seth Low and Gen. B. F. Tracy, ex-Secretary of the Navy, formed a part. The commission was to have its charter framed and reported to the legislature by February 1, 1897, the same to be adopted by that body before it adjourned.

When it had become presented and approved the by Legislature, the bill was again sent, accompanied by the charter, to the three mayors. The mayors of Brooklyn and Long Island City sent it back with their approval; Mayor Strong against with his veto. This was disregarded by the Legislature, who passed the bill adopting the charter, and on Wednesday, May 5, 1897, Governor Black affixed his signature. The act of consolidation and the charter of the greater city was to go into effect on January 1, 1898, the mayors and council to be elected in November, 1897. The charter divided the city into five boroughs: 1. Manhattan, covering the whole of Manhattan island, the original extent of New York. 2. The Bronx, embracing all the annexed territory in Westchester County. 3. Brooklyn, covering all of that city, embracing the original territory of Kings County. 4. Queens, embracing that part of queens county included within the territory of the city. 5. Richmond, embracing all of Staten Island. The legal title of the city was made to be "The Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of New York." Besides the mayor of the city was to be under the control of a municipal assembly, consisting of two houses; the upper, to be called the Council, and composed of a president and twenty-eight members; and the lower, to be called the Board of Aldermen, composed of sixty-one members. The area included a radius of twenty miles, with the city hall in New York as a center to circumscribe it, its precise measurement being 317.7 square miles. The population was estimated on January 1, 1898, 3,430.000 souls, making New York the second city in the world. Thus at the end of the century was realized the climax of municipal existence in the Western hemisphere which had begun life as the tiny village of New Amsterdam nearly 300 years earlier.

When the close of the century was reached New Yorkers looked back over the history of their city ands saw that here had been few other municipal histories like it. There could be little comparison with the cities in the Old World, for these had histories very much longer, and in the case of the oldest of them it might be said that a century in the life of New York represented 1,000 years in the life of them. But the people of New York saw their city like most of the cities of the Old World. New York, it was felt by its own citizens was a city still in the making, with the term of its adolescence still far off. The New Yorker had begun to learn to think in figures of millions. A million people within a single day seemed at the time to be almost the limit that was possible or desirable. Then the city became coterminous with counties and then it grew until it became in its crowded area equal to some European kingdoms, and gathered more counties within its orbit. And all this had grown to seem natural and desirable as lines of speedy transportation bound the most distant parts of the city together. It became in time clear that it was just as easy to care for a million as a thousand and that the million would not be there if there was not the ability to take care of them. And so New Yorkers come to take the city as a fact like other facts, a living fact that grew out of an energy and by a law of its own being, which artificial restrictions were not required to check or regulate.

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

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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