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Tracking History: Gansevoort Plaza Then & Now

9th Avenue looking southwest from Little West 12th Street today

Though the character of Gansevoort Market has certainly undergone many changes over years, there are certain buildings and views that have remained remarkably intact. One such location where you can peer back in time is at Gansevoort Plaza, where Greenwich Street/9th Avenue, Gansevoort Street, and Little West 12th Street intersect. Though much new development has certainly occurred–we’re looking at you, Gansevoort Hotel–the New York Public Library Digital Archive can help you step back almost 150 years to the period just after the Civil War and witness an early effort to modernize the mass transit infrastructure for our fast-growing metropolis.

9th Avenue looking southwest from Little West 12th Street ca. 1867 (image courtesy New York Public Library)

In perusing the Digital Archives we found a gem of an image from ca. 1867 looking south down 9th Avenue (which turns into Greenwich Street farther south) from Little West 12th Street. In it you get a view of the set of buildings at and around 7 Ninth Avenue (AKA 2 Little West 12th Street),  which were built ca. 1849 on land purchased from John Jacob Astor I, and which remain well intact today. You also get a glimpse of the single-railed Greenwich Street/9th Avenue railroad—the city’s first elevated rail system. This early version of the Ninth Avenue el actually ran on a sets of moving cables (like San Franciso’s cable car system today), the motion of which was powered by steam generators located in buildings along the line. The elevated line, which was constructed during the same years as Alfred Beach’s peculiar underground pneumatic subway experiment, eventually ran from Battery Place downtown up to 30th Street at an unhurried fifteen miles per hour. As the decades progressed, steam powered locomotives replaced the cable-pulled system, and finally the line was upgraded to electric power early in the twentieth century (eventually demolished in 1940).

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