Wall Street North and South Sides, from Broadway to William Street, as It Appeared Before the Great Fire of 1835.
Fifth Avenue from 38th to 42nd Streets About 1880
With this number the Manual presents what it considers its most important work for old New York in a series of Restorations, and for its first attempt has selected Wall Street. In this drawing of Wall Street we have been fortunately able to achieve a degree of historical accuracy which is of great value in a record of this kind and which we hope to maintain as the work progresses.
Certain unusual circumstances contributed to the result in this particular instance. First and foremost must be regarded the complete outline of the buildings sketched by Hugh Reinagle in the margin of the now famous “View of Wall Street looking East from Trinity Church” and lithographed by Peter Maverick, Jr. “The drawing for this lithograph,” says Mr. Phelps Stokes, “must have been made between 1827 and 1834 and is a most interesting view of the period.” With this as a foundation, other contemporary drawings were consulted. Wall Street has always enjoyed a measure of popularity among artists and writers unique among streets, which has resulted in making its records singularly full and complete. So in addition to Reinagle and Maverick, we have three other well-known artistsBurton, Fay and A. J. Davisall of whose work ranks deservedly high. and each of whom contributed one or more buildings in this street to the existing collection. With the additional aid of contemporary maps, plans and other data, it is not at all unlikely that the restoration we present is for all practical purposes, as correct as anything can be that must necessarily be constructed almost a century after the original has disappeared.
Some trifling criticism may be offered here and there. Perhaps Nassau Street might be shown a little wider. When the Federal Hall stood where the Treasury Building now is it was squarely in the centre of the street, the square of its end forming the jog that you will notice in front of the Hanover Bank Building; and the entrance to Nassau Street was through a small passage known as Pie Alley, which ran along what is now the side of the Bankers’ Trust Building; then turned to the right as it reached the end of the building, and led into Nassau Street.
When the old Federal Hall was replaced by the Custom House shown in our picture, this opening was considerably enlarged, but none of the contemporary drawings show it as wide as when in 1848 the Treasury Building was completed with Nassau Street showing as we know it now. With trifling exceptions such as this, our work will bear the closest scrutiny and investigation.
That is what we intend to accomplish. No city has been more fortunate than has our own in the preservation of its old records. Even with some regrettable and irreparable losses, there is still wonderful material avail-able for the task we have set ourselves. And as we develop the plan much more of it will undoubtedly appear. It is not at all an unusual thing for a man to walk into our office from San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, and even as far as Melbourne, Australia, and bring us some long-forgotten item which has come to light while rummaging through old family papers. Either he or his family lived in New York years ago and he feels that these old papers are valuable to uswhich indeed they arethough personally the owners have lost all interest in them. So in this way we secure occasional items of rare interest and of great value in our work.
This idea of restoring some of our old streets to their former appearance is perhaps the most important service the Manual can render the City and has long had our thoughtful consideration. The changes in Fifth Avenue, for another example, have. been so recent and revolutionary that it will no doubt be a great pleasure to many of our readers to see this old thoroughfare as it appeared less than forty years ago when it was the City’s most fashionable residential street. The material for this work is at present very full and complete. Neglected for another half century and it would be absolutely impossible.
In the days which we depict it was strictly a region of beautiful homes. There existed no particular reason for illustrating or publishing special views of it, as in the case of a financial centre like Wall Streetyet its present day importance in a. business sense invests its past with an absorbing interestand its delightful history in a less hectic period will soon loom large as one of the most interesting pages in our city’s history. Historical accuracy is of course the one and only thing that will make these pictures truly valuable. We have no use for them as mere illustrations, and so you may occasionally see a building omitted in a block. That will indicate that no reliable data have been obtained and, pending such, we prefer to wait further developments.
Our plans in this direction are quite ambitious, and in time, no doubt, we shall have a fairly good representation of how some of our most famous streets looked in the days of their youth, and we predict for the series the power to renew and increase the love and veneration of all our citizens for the dear little village in which they live.
The City at the time of which the Wall Street view was made was still considerably behind Philadelphia in point of population. There was no coal used in. the houseswood being the only fuel. A load of this was dumped in front of your house, where it lay until a negro came along with a long buck saw and cut the sticks into proper lengths. Running water was available in certain sections, but the entire town practically depended upon the corner pump or on the special barrels from the “Tea Water Pump” which was peddled around the City. Gas had not yet put in an appearance, though there were rumors that such an illuminant existed and had been successfully used in London. Whale oil and tallow dips were still the source of artificial light. Most of the merchants lived in the top floors of the small two-story buildings in which they did business. Private carriages were owned by so few persons that each one was personally known to all the people in the city, and it was a common thing to hear the owner’s name mentioned as his vehicle drove by. Notwithstanding that slavery had been officially banished from New York and that the Declaration of Independence was now almost half a century old, slaves were still numerous in. New York, and a society for the manumission of slaves was very active and carried on a constant effort to have the slaves granted freedom or deported to the South.
Knee breeches, silk stockings, silver buckles and periwigs had however completely disappeared. The men wore “skin tight” trousers held down by a boot strap. Coats of brilliant colors formed the popular styles, and they were ornamented with large, shining brass buttons, and were cut very much like the present dress suit. High, rolling collars with heavy “stocks” or f four-in-hands together with vests of startlingly vivid colors, the whole surmounted with a huge high hat of rough beaver, completed the costume of the man of fashion as he appeared in Wall Street for the afternoon promenade. Such was New York at the time shown in our Wall Street views.
In our last number we gave expression to a haunting fear that was in our hearts regarding the material success of our venture. And we recalled the experience through which Bancroft’s History passed. The first and second volumes were received in respectful silence, but no great amount of public interest seemed apparent. Yet with the appearance of the third volume the situation changed in the twinkling of an eye. It aroused enthusiasm in every direction, stimulated sales not only for the third volume but created a larger and wider demand for the entire work from beginning to end.
Our experience, we are happy to say, has been of a similar character. We have always had an abiding faith in the love of the New Yorker for his city and have proclaimed this belief in season and out. While we suffered through the war, our faith never wavered. We might be wrong, but we wanted two things before we would capitulatePeace and the Third Number.
Fate willed that we should have both at once, and it is with a perfectly savage feeling of delight that we record the result. With the signing of the Armistice, the sales immediately increased; and upon the general distribution of the crucial third number, a demand for the back volumes made itself at once manifest and has continued ever since. Interest in Old New York has been aroused as never before, and we regard the Manual as a leading factor in this renaissance. It is good to know that this publication is now firmly established upon a permanent basis.
It was of course only natural that so. astute an observer as Professor Brander Matthews would comment on this reawakened interest in our city. The sentiment he says has already reached important dimensions and each year sees a wider field brought under its influence.
Our own experience has been of a similar nature. A peculiarly effective demonstration occurred in our neigh-boring borough last March where the writer addressed the Brooklyn Institute on the subject of “Old New York,” illustrated with some of these quaint and rare old views taken largely from the-Manual.
Heretofore, it had been hard to get more than a moderate attendance at these lectures; but at the Institute so many were unable to gain admittance at the first lecture that it had to be repeated twice in the month following and in each case to a capacity audience.
The vivid contrast between the City of yesterday and today as shown in these slides is dramatic in the extreme. One has only to recall the skyline of fifty years ago compared with the skyline of today to get an idea of the thrill that these wonderful pictures produce. A close-up night-view from the Woolworth Tower requires a descriptive page all for itselfthe myriad lights of the Equitable in the, foreground like a sky full of stars; the diamond necklace that seems to hang from the arc lights of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the cluster of globes that sparkle on Broadwayall combine to produce one of the most inspiring pictures ever imagined in or out of the theatre.
The late Frederick W. Whitridge remarked to us during a discussion regarding the size of our City : “New York is not a large City. It is a very small town. The real New York is still nothing but a good sized village ; these millions and millions are not New Yorkers.”
This picturesque figure knew the old city as few of its average residents could possibly know it. In his early years while connected with Grace Church Sunday School he, with Miss Amy Townsend and other workers in the Parish, was instrumental in founding our original Circulating Libraries. And curiously enough, one of the first subscriptions for this work was a thousand-dollar bond given to Miss Townsend by Mr. Carnegie. That bond is still in existence and contributes its little income toward the Library fund just as it did when the project was first started.
But we meant to direct attention to the comparative smallness of the real New York. That is one reason why the circulation of the Manual will remain somewhat restricted. It is gratifying to know, however, that the first sale of these new Manuals at auction brought a premium of $7.00 above the published price, and may indicate that the real New Yorker is more numerous than the estimate hazarded above.
As a matter of fact very few copies of the new series have been sold compared with the old ones. In 1866 the Common Council ordered ten thousand copies of that year’s issue to be printed, and awarded Mr. Valentine an extra bonus of $3,500.00 for his work. This edition of ten thousand copies was, like all the old Manuals, given away by the City without cost. A like number was printed of most of the other numbers except possibly the very early ones. Yet the price brought today by these old books is very gratifying (number one, for instance, $125 to $150) and starts some interesting conjectures as to what the present Manuals will bring half a hundred years hence. When you stop to consider that compared with the old Manuals, there has been scarcely a tenth part of the new ones sold, one gets an idea of the scarcity that will prevail in a few years. We do not care to see it so early in its career mounting the ladder of fame by joining the ranks of that venerable and fascinating classthe Rare and First Editions. But such seems to be its good fortune.
The title page of this year’s Manual is the work of Mr. William S. Eddy, 29 Broadway. He is undoubtedly an artist of no mean ability and his delightful decorative interpretation of our quotation from Shakespeare is a splendid illustration of what the right lines drawn by the right man can accomplish.
Mr. Eddy should be intrusted with more commissions of this kind.