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 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?
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.
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.
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.