The Department of Transportation’s plans to pedestrianize portions of Astor Place have caused quite a stir in the neighborhood, as they have the potential to obliterate the historic street configuration that dates back to the earliest settlements in the city. As mentioned in our letter to DOT, Astor Place follows the path of an old Native American trail that appears on maps of Manhattan at least as early as 1639 ‐ only a decade or so after the Dutch first settled on
the island. In its early days, the trail was used to connect the present‐day Bowery to a trading post on West 14th Street. When John Jacob Astor officially opened Astor Place as a street in 1836, he maintained its connection with Stuyvesant Street, another remnant from Dutch Manhattan. Stuyvesant Street was originally a lane stretching across the holdings that Peter Stuyvesant purchased from the Dutch West India Company in 1651.
Evan T. Pritchard’s Native New Yorkers sheds some additional light on the role of Astor Place in Native American history. The area that is today Southern New York, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware was inhabited by a group known as the Lenape (“the people”). Referred to as the Delaware by English speaking colonists, the group had a strong presence on Manhattan Island.
Three distinct Lenape groups inhabited the island in the 16th Century: Canarsie, Sapohannikan, and Manhattan. Each of these groups spoke a different language. What we now call Astor Place was the central meeting point of the groups, called Kintecoying (“Crossroads of Three Nations”) where three major trails intersected. In keeping with tradition for meeting places, a large oak or elm tree would most likely have existed at this spot, under which leaders from each group would meet to discuss issues, trade, and play games (including bagettaway, better known as lacrosse). The trail that became Stuyvesant Street and Astor Place ran from Shempoes Village (near the present day intersection of Stuyvesant Street and Second Avenue), west to Kintecoying. The Native American connections continued as the city developed and John Jacob Astor, the area’s namesake, amassed a great fortune trading furs with the Lenape.
The streets around Astor Place represent an important remaining vestige of this historic trail. If you’d like to aid in our efforts to see this history clearly and permanently demarkated in DOT’s plan, please mail a letter to the Public Design Commission. Or read all about our preservation work in the East Village.