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Manahatta: The Ecological Blueprint of Activism

Last year we introduced the Mannahatta Project’s Welikia Map – an innovative tool that provides insight into the historical landscape of Manhattan Island in 1609. Dr. Eric W. Sanderson and his team consolidated key data that ranged from the ecological make-up of the environment to the surrounding Lenape settlements to create the map. As a result, any user can now access a resource that has proven vital in researching the indigenous and ecological history of New York City. 

Settlers first arrived on Lenape land in 1609, after the Dutch East India Company sponsored a voyage led by Henry Hudson on the vessel ’Halve Maen.’ After stumbling across what is known today as North Carolina, Hudson and his crew traveled north until finally reaching Mahicantuck, known today as the Hudson River.

Edward Moran’s 1892 painting, Henrik Hudson Entering New York Harbor, September 11, 1609, Courtesy of the Berkshire Museum

Permanent European settlers began to arrive in 1624, along the lower Hudson River, encountering the indigenous Lenape tribe. Through colonization and development, much of the natural landscape of the island of Manhattan was altered. Using the Welikia Map, however, users can learn about the diverse ecology of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo – areas that presently have their own assorted ecosystem of socially and politically significant sites. 

From the headquarters of the NAACP, to the sip-in at Julius’ Bar, and to our very own activism rooted at 232 East 11th – each site of historical significance has a diverse ecological and indigenous background that further adds to the storied past of our neighborhood. 

232 East 11th Street

American Hornbeam Tree

Located on Munsee, Lenni-Lenape land, the ecological background of the site housing Village Preservation’s offices can be researched using the map. Upon selecting our block, you can see the hundreds of plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles that likely trekked the same soil we walk on today. According to the map, the inhabitants of our block were primarily the Meadow Vole and Red-Tailed Hawk. Further, the surrounding forests likely contained the American Hornbeam tree. The map also indicates that our block was along one of the many trails established by the Lenape. 

80 Fifth Avenue

Kalmia latifolia “Mountain Laurel”, Jacob Bigelow, (ca. 1817)

Known as the headquarters for both the International Workers Order and the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Renaissance Revival-Style building found at 80 Fifth Avenue is grounded in diverse soil, naturally designed to support a lush botanical space. The soil found within this block and surrounding areas provided ample gathering supplies for the Lenape, such as the Mountain Laurel, a plant containing properties that once aided in the treatment of skin-related ailments.

70 Fifth Avenue

Constructed between 1912 and 1914, the Beaux-Arts style building at 70 Fifth Avenue was once the headquarters of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, the NAACP. Officially landmarked in 2021, the building is regarded as one of the most significant sites of activism in the early 20th century. Located between 12th and 13th Street, it’s also within a block that once provided a reliable hunting and gathering space for the Lenape. Selected species in the area include beavers, raccoons, and even snapping turtles. Gathering supplies included tobacco, lyreleaf sage, and swamp rose.

Lenape Settlement Manhattan, Courtesy of NYPL Digital Collections.

159 West 10th Street

Julius’ Bar was the site of the New York City Mattachine Society “Sip-in” on April 21, 1966. Today, November 15th, the proposal to landmark Julius’ Bar was finally heard by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The site marks yet another prominent achievement for the LGBTQ community in Greenwich Village. 

One of the many species recorded in the Welikia Map for the area surrounding Julius’ Bar is the American Black Bear. In indigenous cultures of the Northeast, like the Lenape, “Bear Ceremonialism” was prominent, as many records indicate the symbolism of this animal in various traditions. Representing resilience and leadership, the bear has taken on many forms in indigenous history. Like many of the historical events that have taken place throughout the East Village, Greenwich Village, NoHo, and the encompassing Munsee, Lenni-Lenape land, resilience has been a key element in the many instances of activism in our neighborhood.

Ursus Americanus, NYPL, ca. 1845

Visit our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map to see other important sites of historical significance, and compare them yourself to the fascinating records of the Welikia Map here. Learn more about the Lenape Tribe here.

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