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Walking East 7th Street: Political Row

Walking East 7th Street is a collaboration between GVSHP and the students in NYU’s Fall 2011 Intro to Public History course. Each pair of students was tasked with researching the cultural history of one particular block of East 7th Street and sharing with us something fascinating they discovered along the way. All posts in the series are written by students.

The fifth and final post in the series, by Winona Packer and Katelin Lee, focuses on East 7th Street between Avenues C & D.

East 7th Street between Avenues C & D
The block today

During the period of time between 1880 and 1910 there were significant shifts in the ethnic and economic makeup of this block of East 7th Street. For most of the 19th century the block was known as Political Row, yet by the end of the century the cultural and economic demography of the block had changed dramatically due to the influx of Eastern European immigrants.

News coverage of this transition made it seem as though the block was falling into decay; however, we weren’t convinced by the melodramatic depictions.  In order to better understand how the block changed we researched the story of one inhabitant, Patrick Keenan, a well known politician and resident, along with that of his immediate neighbors. Our research shows what they did, how they lived and where they were from.

1900 census, showing the ethnic make-up of the block

East 7th Street was a highly transitional place for many. Looking at the lives and differences between those that made their home on the block offers us an idea of what it would have been like living in the East Village at the time.

The former home of Patrick Keenan, a influential local politician who lived on the block

The block was mainly settled in the 1840’s, consisting of three story single-family homes, some of which are still standing. At the time the neighborhood was mainly made up of Irish, English, German and western European immigrants. There were major shipyards to the east and many of the inhabitants of the block were employed by or supplied labor and goods to the yards. Some of the residents were sea captains, merchants, factory men, and carpenters. These were people of modest means, but comfortable enough to build, rent or purchase, and inhabit a one family home. It was during the latter half of the 19th century that the block became known as Political Row. It was home to a number of the city’s civic leaders: judges, lawyers, aldermen, county clerks, bankers, congressmen, and senators. Many of these men grew up in the area. Many of these men were affiliated with the notorious Tammany Hall.

NY Tribune: December 22, 1903

The majority of these individuals left the block as their political responsibilities or businesses changed, their incomes increased, or their families grew in the final years of the 19th century.

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