The New Student's Reference Work/New York City

1757133The New Student's Reference Work — New York City

New York City. Manhattan Island, the heart of the second largest city in the world, is only 135 to 212 miles wide and 1312 miles long. A good pedestrian could walk across it in thirty minutes, and he could walk its length from the Battery, up Broadway, to Spuyten Duyvil Creek in half a working day. The island covers 4112 square miles. In this small space were crowded at the time Greater New York was organized (1898) 1,850,000 human beings. To this number must be added the 200,000 strangers normally there. In the daytime this number is swelled another million by those who work in the city but sleep from five to fifty miles away. Subtracting the park-area and other unoccupied portions, New York's resident population averages 50,000 to the square mile. In the lower East Side, below 14th Street and east of Broadway, is to be found the most densely populated spot in the world.

To the nonresident New York City seems a hopeless confusion. The mountain-like ridges of skyscrapers at the lower end of Manhattan dominate a scene that has not its match for impressiveness of wealth, power and human achievement anywhere in the modern or the ancient world. Its tangle of waterways is arched high with bridges, tunnelled under with subways, swarming with shipping and woven by flying shuttles of ferry-boats. Its islands and bordering mainlands bristle for miles with docks and slips. Farther than the eye can see, in every direction, stretch endless streets of tall, crowded buildings, filled with processions of millions of restless human beings.

All its confusion, however, will fall into lovely order if you erase from mind the works of man and catch your first glimpse of the region as it appeared to the eyes of Henry Hudson, the English navigator in the employ of the Dutch East India Company in 1609. No outlook on Sandy Hook noted his arrival in New York's lower bay. He sailed through the Narrows, the mile-wide strait between Long and Staten Islands that is used to-day by oceangoing steamers. In the middle of the 12 square miles of the upper bay is Bedloe's Island, where now Bartholdi's statue of Liberty holds her torch 305 feet in the air. Farther in is Ellis Island, where emigrants are now landed. Lying to the right is Governor's Island, now headquarters of the military department of the Atlantic. At the northern end of the bay, exactly opposite The Narrows, its length forming the eastern bank of Hudson River, Manhattan Island occupies the center of the stage.

In 1609 it was a wild and beautiful spot, the lower end covered with forests and sloping pasture. A clearly defined ridge extends up its center along the line followed by Broadway to-day, rising to rocky hills known later as Harlem Heights, Mount Morris and Murray Hill. In the northeast are marshy plains known now as Harlem Flats. The entire island is underlaid with rock, sometimes a hundred feet below the surface, that supports the weight of the city to-day. Hudson would not recognize the island now, for its hills, which rose 250 feet in the north, have been cut down and graded and built over with residences of moderate height, while ridges, ranges and peaks of skyscrapers, with ravine and canyon-like streets between, have risen from 300 to 800 feet in the lower end.

Land at Battery Park where the Dutch built a warehouse fort in 1623. All the shores around the harbor maybe seen from this point. To the west, beyond the Hudson, lies the Jersey shore, covered by Jersey City and Hoboken. To the northeast, over the Harlem, lies the mainland of New York state; and to the southeast is Long Island with Brooklyn. East River, which separates Manhattan from Long Island, is not a river but a strait connecting upper New York Bay with Long Island Sound. It is long and winding, a mile wide at its narrowest point, and contains three large islands — Ward's, Randall's and Blackwell's — that are occupied chiefly by the city's institutions and prisons. Brooklyn Navy-Yard occupies ¾ of a mile of the Long Island shore of East River. Since the blowing up of the rocks in Hell Gate Pass in 1876 and in 1885, oceangoing steamers are able to enter the upper bay from the Sound. The harbor is closed on the south by the beautiful, wooded slopes of Staten Island.

These natural boundaries of water separate Greater New York into five boroughs: Manhattan; Brooklyn; Queen's, made up of Long Island City, Flushing, Jamaica and part of Hempstead; the Bronx on the mainland across Harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek; and Richmond or Staten Island.

United under one municipal government in 1898 with an aggregate of 3,437,200 people, in 1910 the number had increased to 4,766,883. Jersey City and Hoboken, with their population of 260,000, are natural parts of the metropolis; but, as they lie in New Jersey, they cannot be annexed. By the last census it was shown that more than 5,000,000 are now living within a radius of 25 miles from Battery Park.

Although Manhattan Island was settled by white men — bought for trumpery beads, brass ornaments and bright cloth — nearly 300 years ago; and though Brooklyn, New Jersey and Staten Island were occupied before 1640, the importance of New York City dates back little more than a century. Until after the Revolutionary War it was outranked by Boston and Philadelphia. Before 1825 and the opening of the Erie Canal to Buffalo, its inland trade extended beyond Albany only by wagonroad. As the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, it existed only forty years, and as an Indian trading post. In 1664 it was captured by the Duke of York, afterwards James II of England.

At that time it had 1,500 people, and the Dutch had so stamped their character, architecture, customs and language on the colony, that it remained Dutch for a hundred years, although an English colony. Descendants of wealthy Dutchmen who took up manories along the Hudson form the oldest aristocracy of New York to-day. The Bowery, Broadway, Bowling Green, Wall Street, Pearl Street, De Lancey Slip recall old Dutch days, as do Harlem and Spuyten Duyvil, Hoboken, Yonkers and points far up the Hudson. The foundation of the city's wealth, in Dutch colonial days, in furs, then in its windmills which gave it the monopoly in the bolting of flour for export, are set forth on New York's city-seal. It displays the four wooden sails of a mill, flanked by two beaver and by two flour-barrels.

The end of the Revolutionary War left New York in a deplorable condition — half of it destroyed by fire, business dead. The first sidewalks were not laid, nor the houses numbered, until 1790. In 1800 the city had 60,000 people and extended to 14th Street. The invention of the steamboat in 1807 gave the place its first real start. The opening of the Erie Canal (1825) extended its trade to Chicago, then a military post. New York linked the Old World with the new west. By 1830 it had 200,000 people. Before the first railroads were built to the west it had established its supremacy as the center of trade, finance, art, literature and fashion. In 1833 it had, in The Sun, the first morning newspaper to be sold by boys on the street for two cents. In 1842 it amazed the world by bringing water from Croton River, forty miles up the Hudson, through a stone aqueduct and over Harlem River on a high stone-pier bridge. The Croton waterworks took seven years for construction, cost $9,000,000 and delivered 95,000,000 gallons of water a day, a sufficient supply for the next half century. A second aqueduct had to be built in the 80's; and a new system is now under way in which nine villages are to be destroyed to make room for a reservoir. Brooklyn has its own system of waterworks in streams and sunken wells on Long Island. In 1853 New York held the first American worldfair in Crystal Palace on Murray Hill, and in 1856 it set aside Central Park and laid out upper Manhattan Island in broad parallel streets. The lower part of the city, below 14th Street and Union Square, is a maze of narrow, winding streets. For five or six blocks back from the water they follow all the turns of the shore.

At the beginning of the Civil War New York had 800,000 people, Chicago 100,000, and railroads had extended trade to the Mississippi. In 1878 the first elevated road was opened in the city; in 1883 Brooklyn Bridge. Harlem River had already been bridged, and railroads from the Hudson valley and New England entered Manhattan from the north. Western and southern traffic terminated at Jersey City, and transfer was made by ferry. Long Island traffic terminated in Brooklyn and Long Island City. By 1870, when Brooklyn was called “New York's bed-room” the ferry-lines were congested, and bridging the East River had become a necessity. The engineering difficulties seemed insurmountable and the cost prohibitive. The only solution, if oceangoing steamers were still to use the channel freely and communication between the cities to be constant and uninterrupted, was the suspension bridge with a wide middle span that should spring clear above ships' masts. Brooklyn Bridge was built — 115 miles long, with a middle span of 13 of a mile, suspended on 16-inch cables 135 feet above water. It took 13 years to build, and has cost $21,000,000. It has a roadway 85 feet wide, with room for foot-passengers, street-cars and railway tracks. But even this great engineering work is surpassed by Williamsburg Bridge, opened in 1903. Two more suspension bridges across East River have been built: the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, opened in the year 1909.

New York's two great problems have been housing and transportation, and most of its colossal engineering works have aimed at the solution of one or the other. The four bridges across East River are supplemented by three tunnels under it. The first was built by the Long Island Railroad; the second by the Belmont street-car system to Long Island City, to connect surface-lines. The last is the Brooklyn extension of the subway system, running from the Battery. This consists of two steel tubes, ten feet in diameter, lined and covered with concrete and connected by a diaphragm arch like the Siamese Twins. It is a mile and a quarter long and cost $10,000,000.

There has never been any question of bridging the Hudson, whose channel is more than a mile wide. The Pennsylvania railroad first tunneled under it from Jersey City to get a terminal on Manhattan at 32nd Street. This continues through a subway across the city and connects with the Long Island Railroad's tunnel under East River. The McAdoo tunnels are in two pairs, connected by the Jersey City subway and running to the Rapid Transit Railroad subway on Manhattan. This means that one may go under the Hudson and East Rivers, across New York under the skyscrapers, from Jersey City to Brooklyn Heights. On Manhattan itself, in addition to the surface lines, there are four parallel lines of elevated tracks from the docks to Spuyten Duyvil, three of them crossing the Harlem into the Bronx. And there is the subway!

By 1899, to use a chemical expression, New York was populated to the point of saturation. More and more people had to get away from Manhattan Island at night, and no more streets were available for cars. The subway was built by the city at a cost of $35,000,000 and leased to the constructing company for 75 years for a percentage of the receipts,[1] an experiment in municipal ownership that is being watched with interest by other cities. The subway runs northward from the Battery, branching north of Central Park, one branch running north through Harlem to 230th Street, the other northeast under Harlem River to the Zoological Park in the Bronx. It has a total length of 21 miles, the longest tunnel in the world. By tunnels under the Hudson and East River the subway is connected with Jersey City and Brooklyn.

Up to Central Park the Rapid Transit Underground Railroad was excavated from the surface. A steel-cage tube was built in the trench, lined and covered with concrete, roofed over and a street paving of asphalt laid on. It is lighted by sky-lights of bulls-eye paving glass. Under Central Park it is tunnelled. It crosses a valley on a viaduct, then branches and bores through the higher levels of Harlem and the Bronx. In places it descends to 100 feet below the surface, and the stations are hollowed out of solid rock. On March 19, 1913, contracts were let for an additional subway system to cost $326,000,000.

The business center of New York refused to spread. Wall Street, the financial heart of the metropolis, is only four blocks from the Battery, the City Hall three quarters of a mile. Two miles north, at Union Square and Broadway, is the center of the publishing business. A half mile farther, at Broadway and 23d, the famous "flat-iron" building and the tower of Madison Square Garden dominate the region of hotels and theaters. This business section is about 2½ miles long by one wide. The entire harbor frontage of Manhattan, from West 70th Street on the Hudson to East 40th Street on East River, is lined with docks and slips, backed by great warehouses of exporting companies.

“The City,” where money is made, could expand only in two directions — northward or skyward. The invention of the steel-cage or Chicago-construction building and of the passenger elevator made it possible to grow skyward. You can get your best idea of the number and magnitude of the skyscrapers from Brooklyn Bridge. The pedestrian in lower Manhattan passes from one shadowy canyon to another. He can well believe that these tall buildings will increase New York's office-capacity ten-fold to twenty-fold. Crowds never tire of watching the steel bridges set up on end and closed in with mere weather-curtains of brick and stone. But the most amazing part of the engineering work is far underground. To sustain the enormous weight of these buildings it is necessary to sink bridge caissons to bed-rock, sometimes 100 feet below the surface, on which to rest the piers. The work underground often costs a quarter-million dollars. The superstructure rises, usually, from 16 to 22 stories or 300 to 400 feet. The Woolworth Building, on Broadway between Park Place and Barclay Street, set a new standard, with its 55 stories rising 790 feet in the air. Eiffel Tower, with its 984 feet, is the only work of man on earth that is higher, and there are said to be no mechanical difficulties to prevent the erection of buildings of 100 stories. The Singer Building is as noteworthy for beauty as for height. Seen from Brooklyn Bridge, its proportions, grace and detail remind one of the beautiful Shepherd's Tower of Giotto in Florence. It proves that a sky-scraper may be as beautiful as it is useful and wonderful.

Realty has advanced in price with the advance in the rental space that may be erected on a given plot of ground. The record price was made in the sale of the southwestern corner of Wall Street and Broadway, for $576 a square foot. The average rental of office room is $2 a square foot per annum or $25 a month for an office 10x15 feet. This, however, includes elevator and janitor service, heat, hot and cold water, toilet rooms and lighting. The cost of maintenance of the larger buildings, including superintendence, taxes, insurance and repairs, runs up to $100,000 a year.

To detail the enormous volume and varied character of New York's public and private business, which exceeds that of the Netherlands, Spain or Mexico, would require volumes. We can give only an idea of their magnitude by the statistics for a year. The city spends $200,000,000 a year in public expenses, of which $35,000,000 go into permanent improvements, ⅓ as much as the Federal government spends. Its public debt of $698,000,000 is three times that of Mexico. Eighty per cent of this sum is raised in taxation on the real estate, which is valued at $7,044,192,674 and is increasing at the rate of $150,000,000 a year. The schools absorb $30,000,000 a year. There are 528 buildings of all kinds with an enrollment of 702,897 and a teaching force of 18,923. The fire-department has 131 engine-houses and 4,333 employes. The police number 9,920. The city maintains 70 parks with an acreage of 6,692, streets, sewers, waterworks, bridges, public docks, a normal and city college, a city library in New York and Brooklyn with numerous branches, public hospitals and corrective institutions and municipal courts. It keeps up two zoological gardens, a botanical garden and an aquarium in Battery Park.

The amount of private business is indicated by the bank clearings, exports and imports. In one year total banking transactions aggregated over $100,000,000,000 carried on through nearly 300 national, state and savings banks and trust companies. The imports for 1909 were $909,606,851, an increase of 60 per cent, in 20 years, and the exports $767,968,283, an increase of 100 per cent, in twenty years. One hundred and twenty seagoing steamers make regular trips from New York to ports all over the world. Of the 1,041,570 emigrants who arrived in the United States in one year, 786,094 entered through Ellis Island. They came from 40 different countries, and are represented by 47 foreign consuls resident in the city. Fully three fourths of the population is of foreign birth or parentage, many of the Jews, Germans and Irish having become wealthy, while the hordes now coming from southern and eastern Europe keep the ranks of skilled and unskilled labor filled.

New York's financial and commercial interests are on so enormous a scale that they overshadow its great manufacturing industries. It makes vast quantities of clothing, boots and shoes, cigars, furniture, foundry and plumbers' castings, jewelry, machinery and musical instruments. It has sugar-refineries, packing-houses, flour, coffee and spice mills, marble and stonecutting yards; and makes milliner's supplies.

The visitor will save time, money and patience by getting a good guide-book and map with transportation routes shown upon it. To read Washington Irving's Knickerbocker and Thomas A. Janvier's Old New York will greatly increase one's pleasure in visiting old colonial and revolutionary points of interest. It is the strangest thing to find beautiful old Trinity Church and its graveyard full of ancient tombs, at Broadway and Wall Street. Here lies the body of Peter Stuyvesant, last of the Dutch governors. A catalogue is necessary to an enjoyment and understanding of the treasures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You will want to see Columbia University, established as King's College in 1756; the Hall of Fame on University Heights; the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, built at a cost of $6,000,000, covering three city-blocks; Grant's tomb on Riverside Drive; the Museum of Natural History and the Egyptian obelisk in Central Park; the statue of Nathan Hale by Macmonnies and that of Farragut by St. Gaudens. You will want to go to the top of a few of the great skyscrapers; see the famous palaces on Fifth Avenue; visit a few of the 66 opera-houses and theaters; and lunch or dine at some of the hotels and restaurants that figure in stories and news of New York. You will want, no less, to go down the Bowery and into the queer, crowded foreign quarter of the East Side. New York is the oldest and newest and greatest thing in America; an epitome of our history and the essence of our achievement.


  1. The company pays interest on the construction bonds, puts aside a certain amount annually to take up the bonds and pays the city all profits in excess of stated dividends.