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Map It! Manhattan Street

Manhattan Street in 1861. Major & Knapp Engraving, Manufacturing & Lithographic Co. Published in 1864. Source: New York Public Library

Last month reader Mike commented on our Lewis Street post that his aunt lived nearby on Houston, and that he remembered seeing a ‘Manhattan Street’ when he visited. I hadn’t heard of Manhattan Street, and since I love looking at old maps, I just had to investigate!

Lo and behold, there it was on the 1857-62 Perris map. For such an epic name, Manhattan Street was actually only a block long, running from Houston to East 3rd Streets. The image above comes from the New York Public Library’s digital collection, and depicts the short street in 1861. It’s an incredible snapshot of what one corner of the city looked like the year the Civil War broke out. From what I can tell, the view faces southeast from East 3rd Street.

Here it is on the 1857-62 map:

Manhattan Street on the 1857-62 Perris & Browne map. Plate 34. Source: NYPL digital collection.

Manhattan Street was located between Avenue D to the west and Lewis Street to the east. Building footprints colored yellow on the map indicate a wooden house (others are brick and stone, if you’re curious). This map is a particularly great resource for the image above because it was last updated in 1862, one year after the image date.

The two corner buildings on the east side of Manhattan Street are wood-frame whereas those on the west side are made of brick. This is what leads me to believe that the view in the image is of the east side of Manhattan Street from East 3rd (you can see one little house on the south side of Houston in the background).

The setback brick building to the east (or left) of the corner building in the image is actually part of the Manhattan Coffee & Spice Mills, as is indicated on the map. Pretty neat, right?

1916 Bromley map. Plate 26. Source: New York Public Library digital collection.

Manhattan Street was still there in 1916, but none of the houses on the street made it. The buildings that replaced them – five- and six-story old law tenements and a five-story public school – speak to the immigrant neighborhood that this area had become by that time.

2014 Google map.

I wasn’t able to track down the year Manhattan Street was created (though further research should find it), but it was closed in the 1940s with the construction of the Lillian Wald Houses from 1945-50. However, unlike Lewis Street, you can still visit it, or at least some form of it. Today, the pavement to the west of the school is known on maps as Lillian Wald Drive, serving as an access road to the housing development.

“Manhattan St” circled in blue. 2014 Google map.

And in one of those great quirks of history, letters for Manhattan Street have remained on the side of the school building to this day. So if you ever happen to walk by here you can point up and share a bit of history with your friends about Manhattan Street, that once tiny street with a big-time name!

Explore more in our Map It! series.

4 responses to “Map It! Manhattan Street

  1. To confuse matters, there were, for a time, TWO simultaneous Manhattan Streets! According to Don Rogerson’s “Manhattan Street Names Past and Present: A Guide to Their Origins” (2013), Manhattan Street was the “[f]ormer name of West 125th Street, Hancock Place and West 124th Street between Hancock Place and St. Nicholas Avenue. Laid out prior to 1806 as the main street through the settlement of Manhattanville, most of the street was incorporated into 125th Street in 1920.” About “your” Manhattan Street, Rogerson writes that it was a “former alley that connected East Houston Street and East 3rd Street, running about one half block east of Columbia Street. An access street west of the public school building on Houston corresponds to the location of the former street, the northern part of which has been closed.”

  2. In the 1700s, there was a swampy meadow here (“Stuvesant’s Meadow”) with a little stream (“Stuyvesant’s Creek”) running through it. The East River shore was closer to East Houston Street and East 3rd Street then (i.e., closer to “Manhattan Street.” ) During high tides, water would completely surround the area (about an acre) which was on a slight rise. When the tides surrounded the spot with water and completely cut it off from the larger Manhattan Island, the locals called the spot “Manhattan Island” and would sometimes picnic there. Why not “Little Manhattan Island?” Who knows. Maybe “Manhattan Street” was a nod to “Manhattan Island?”

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