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Reflections 2011
Series 7
March 6
Early E. Hudson Trails (N/NE): Broadway/Albany PR - Boston PR


If I haven’t yet sufficiently clarified the purpose of this series of postings on the New York area, let me do so now. I have mentioned that all major cities today seem to be continuous; it’s hard finding where one locality ends and another begins because of urban sprawl. With the difficulty of spotting the elements that originally comprised the urban area, its towns, it is equally difficult to see how those towns were connected by early trails and rails. New York has the additional difficulty of being comprised of so many waterways, and therefore so many islands. We tried to make sense of that by first going back to glacial days, and then later showing some of the ferries--the “sails”--that connected the “trails” and “rails”.


Yet still the waterway divisions remain. That’s a great positive, since there’s little that can equal the breathtaking ride by catamaran from Manhattan down to the Sandy Hook area (2011/5), but it behooves us to recognize the divisions that these waterways make to better understand how it all fits together. The first division is the Hudson, extended out to sea, creating an area to its west and one to its east, and then the secondary division within the East Hudson caused by the East River, extended out to Long Island Sound.


We’ll use the metaphor of a clock face. Look again at a map of all of New York Harbor and picture a clock face centered on the Upper Bay (#1). Moving our eye from the 5:00 position clockwise through New Jersey and Staten Island up to the Hudson, we find ourselves at the 1:00 position, and find that most of the areas converging on the Upper Bay are in the West Hudson area. This means that land travel to the NW (Port Jervis, and formerly on to Buffalo and Chicago), W (Newark Airport, and formerly on to Pennsylvania), SW (Staten Island), and S (Sandy Hook, Spring Lake, Atlantic City) is included in this huge swath of territory, and also explains why it took three postings to discuss travels to these areas (2011/4-5-6).


[A special comment is necessary about travel north along the Hudson, since this is possible within both the West Hudson and East Hudson areas. The prime route north has always been along the East Hudson side along US Route 9 and the old Hudson River Railroad. But in the West Hudson area, northward travel was also possible, along US Route 9W and the West Shore Railroad. Still, just the fact that these two latter names need to point out a west side location show that transportation on that side has traditionally been the secondary way for long-distance travel north. Also, the successor to the WSRR no longer carries passengers, but the east shore lines do. We shall continue to work with the fact that northward travel is primarily a function of the East Hudson.]


What follows in this and subsequent postings is complimentary to the earlier ones, and complete them, in that they deal with early trails, sails, rails of the areas east of the Hudson, which of necessity is subdivided around the secondary division of the East River (#5 on the above map). Let’s go back to our clock face metaphor. What we’ve called the Manhattan Prong (a geological term) is very slender, and fits in petitely only between the 1:00 and 2:00 position. Noting the multitude of land travel directions possible once one has arrived in the West Hudson area, in the tiny sliver of this area, long distance land travel is limited to the N and NE, given the ease of crossing the Harlem River. We shall see that the routes in practice lead N to Albany (and Montreal, with a significant turn W at Albany toward Chicago) or NE to Boston and beyond. Also consider this: George Washington had had enough trouble ferrying his soldiers out of Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan, and once the British invaded Manhattan and he and his armies had to leave, the waterways were not an option. He left Manhattan in the only practical long-distance land direction: north. Think of Washington Heights in northern Manhattan.


The remaining segment of our clock face, 2:00 to 5:00, is larger, though still slender, and goes to Long Island, also described as B-Q-LI (Brooklyn-Queens-Long Island). Realizing that Brooklyn historically “started” not at the Narrows or Coney Island but on the East River (#5) across from New Amsterdam, long-distance directionality here is essentially E, out to Jamaica, and eventually to the East End of LI, in practice, not to the South Fork (Montauk Point), which didn’t allow for further travel, but to the North Fork (Orient Point), which allowed for a water connection on to Connecticut and New England.


As for local roads, we’ll find that in slender Manhattan, there were separate northbound roads going up the East Side and the West Side. In Brooklyn, given its wider breadth coming off the East River, aside from the iconic route direction E to Jamaica, local roads did develop, in several directions, most interestingly, S to the village of Flatbush, then later, further S to Coney Island.


We shall continue making heavy use of the 1776 Ratzer map, for which I have more information, beyond 2011/2. I finally got a few moments to zip over to the Brooklyn Historical Society in Brooklyn Heights, just two subway stops from me in Lower Manhattan. Their newly restored 1770 edition map hangs on a wall, under plexiglass, near other historical maps and pictures. It looks splendid. It’s 119 cm (47 in) high and 89 cm (35 in) wide. Really close inspection shows the hairline cracks in its beige surface, but given the magnificent restoration from what it had apparently looked like, those are really nothing at all. The official title remains “Plan of the City of New York in North America”, and the BHS refers in its informational plaque to this being the much rarer “1770 state” as opposed to the “1776 state”, the one we see online. However, those of us online have reason to feel somewhat at a loss.


In the Times article on the restoration, there were illustrations that hinted differences between the two “states”, but they became far more striking in real life. The two versions are equally excellent for what is today Lower Manhattan and the immediately adjacent area of Brooklyn, however the 1770 version covers A LOT more area, perhaps up to a third more in each direction. To the west, it shows the entire width of the Hudson, it shows Paulus Hook actually looking like a point of land (“hoek”), and also shows the colonial road leading west. To the south, all of Red Hook, too, looks like a “hoek”, surrounded by farmland, as is the case with much of Brooklyn. Fortunately, I have also found online a piece of the Ratzer map covering more of Brooklyn, so I can comment adequately using that map when the Brooklyn discussion comes up.


In Manhattan, too, there was a lot more, which I’ll elaborate more on now, since that’s the next topic. The BHS map shows in the west the local Road to Greenwich, as ours does, but also Greenwich Village itself; it shows not only the road to Kip’s (“Kepps”) Bay but Kip’s Bay itself, as well as Turtle Bay (in today’s Forties, where the UN Building is). But most importantly, it gives additional information on the Bowery, shown here as the Road to Kings Bridge. Further up it is actually labeled Bowry [sic] Lane. It was a road along which there were many bouwerijs (farm estates), most notably the large one owned by Peter Stuyvesant.


[Stuyvesant’s Bouwerij (2004/15) was off on a road two blocks of which still exist as Stuyvesant Street, which is more or less a right turn off the Bowery at about today’s 8th Street, just at the point where Astor Place (2008/20; 2011/3) runs two blocks to the left over to Broadway. These old streets were surveyed to run very nearly E-W, in contrast to the modern numbered (“East Side-West Side”) streets which actually run more WNW-ESE, as is visible on this early map from the New Netherland Institute in Albany. Notice how the Bowery leads into what later became Fourth Avenue, and notice that the site of the 1660 Stuyvesant family chapel is approximately where the 1799 church of Saint Mark’s-in-the-Bowery is located.]


The BHS Ratzer map, though, actually shows the estate further over to the east, on an attractive setting on the East River, with a somewhat longer road connecting it inland to the Bowery proper. This corresponds to the information I’d found in 2004/2, which describes the location east of First Avenue (compared with Fourth Avenue above) between 15th and 16th Streets (compared with 8th Street above, and allowing for the odd angle of the road).


Finally, a little further north, the Bowery forked into the Road to Kings Bridge on the east, and Bloomingdale Road on the west, leading uptown to Bloomingdale Village (today in the Hundred Teens around Columbia University at 116th Street; note that Bloomingdale Road is dotted). This was an extra wealth of information appropriate to our discussions.


Early East Hudson Trails-N/NE   If you’d asked me before this research what the earliest colonial road running north out of Manhattan was, I, and I’m sure many others, would have said it was Broadway, since Broadway is the street that to this day runs diagonally across the numbered streets and avenues forming all those intersections such as Herald Square and Times Square. I’ve also been well aware that Broadway officially runs north beyond Manhattan along the east bank of the Hudson, often bearing its own name, to right opposite Albany, crossing over the Hudson at the last moment. That would be a popular choice, but is only partially correct. Just look at the Ratzer map again. Broadway comes up to the fork at the Common and continues straight for a few blocks (identifiable from a modern map as up to Duane Street)--and stops. At the fork, what is today Park Row continues via the bend in today’s Chatham Square and becomes the Bowery, which is the basis for the first route north out of town, to Kings Bridge. It is even clearer that the Bowery is the road out of town in this 1775 map from the Digital Gallery of the NY Public Library where colors help visualize the landscape (also notice Greenwich Village at the top, and Corlear’s Hook, here under its British name of Crown Point, at the bottom). Clearest of all is this older 1729 map that clearly labels the Bowery route the High Road to Boston, while what later became the continuation of Broadway is described at this time as merely a rope walk.


[A rope walk (here an indoors one) is a long, straight, narrow lane along which strands of hemp are stretched out to be twisted in rope, essential on sailing ships. A standard rope length was 1,000 ft (305 m) and a ship could require over 20 mi (32 km) of rope. When rope walks fell into disuse, because of their length and straightness they were often turned into streets, as this one eventually did become part of the route Broadway took. The German word (Plattdeutsch [Low German], actually) for rope walk is Reeperbahn, which is the origin of the entertainment district in the Sankt Pauli neighborhood of Hamburg (2006/9).]


So the Bowery looks like the oldest colonial road in Manhattan, with Broadway as a close contender, but there’s more to it than that. To some extent they each ran along bits and pieces of earlier trails, so it’s hard, and really not so necessary, to decide between them for age. Still, Broadway is the one that was later rather artificially given credit as THE road--the only land route--out of town. Let’s see what happened as we look at both Broadway and the Bowery.


It is to me a historically fulfilling fact that neither route was original to European settlers, but both had developed from at least one Native American trail. I think we picture the European arrival as one world taking over another, which had had little to contribute, but we should instead look at it this way: just as the British made a number of changes to the city’s infrastructure--and naming of places--when they took over the city’s administration from the Dutch, we have to look at the Dutch as having done the same thing from the Native Americans, in this case, the Lenape. Several Native American trails already existed here--as everywhere--often in turn having been taken over from animal trails, and the Dutch, in their administration, used these trails as the basis for many of their roads. The principal Lenape trail was referred to as the Wickquasgeck Road, named after a Lenape tribe, and went from the southern tip to the northern tip of Manhattan.


[AN ASIDE: Beside roads, other infrastructures were taken over. Greenwich Village began as a Lenape settlement named Sapokanikan (and Manhattan was the Lenape word Manna-hata). By 1629, the Dutch began settling it as a northern suburb called Noortwijck (“Northern District”; modern spelling Noordwijk). At this point, one would think that, when the British came along, they completely renamed it Greenwich (Village). But I find that’s not true, or not exactly. The Dutch word for a kind of pine is “grenen”, and they had an alternate name for Noortwijck, which was Greenwijck (“Pine District”; modern spelling Grenwijk). It was this Dutch name the British anglicized to Greenwich. Obviously, they were influenced by the Greenwich near London, but Greenwich Village was NOT named after that Greenwich at all. (This information is taken from an article by the above New Netherland Institute in Albany, and confirmed by Dutch Wikipedia.)]


The Wickquasgeck started where Lower Broadway does today, at Bowling Green, and ran to the Common (on the Ratzer map), today’s City Hall Park. The Dutch widened this section considerably into the broad boulevard it remains, and named it Heerestraat (or de Heere Straat; modern spelling Herestraat). The first word translates as Gentlemen, or Lords, even Patricians, so we can call it the Gentlemen’s Street, or Lord Street, or Patrician Street. Compare Herestraat to the main canal in Amsterdam, the Herengracht, the Patrician Canal. Because of its width, Heerestraat was also called by the Dutch Breede Weg, which the English later simply translated to Broad Way, then Broadway.


We’ve seen that Broadway ended at the rope walk on the west side of the Common, but would have been extended northward later on in order to assume the route of the Bloomingdale Road that had formerly split off from the Bowery (as shown on the BHS Ratzer map; this split is today’s Union Square). Broadway then became the main West Side route, all the way up to Kings Bridge, and beyond. The advantage that Broadway later had was that it was not obliterated by the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, which laid out the numbered streets and avenues north of the older city on a grid, but instead, Broadway was allowed to meander across the map as it does to this day. The Bowery route was not so fortunate.


At the Common, the Wickquasgeck forked right, up today’s Park Row and the Bowery, so at that point, it was actually the Bowery, the upper part of which was renamed Fourth Avenue, that more or less followed the Wickquasgeck. However, the 1811 grid plan, executed between 1839 and 1844, abandoned and obliterated all trace at this point of the old road north of where the Bowery/Fourth Avenue ends today at 14th Street and Union Square. Union Square’s name does not celebrate the Federal union of the US, nor labor unions. It simply refers to the union of Broadway and the Bowery (here Fourth Avenue). Why was there a union of roads? This is where Bloomingdale Road had taken off at an acute angle from the Bowery, and Broadway was extended north to this point to assume the Bloomingdale Road route. After Union Square, however, Broadway continues northwestward and the Bowery route, which originally had followed the Wickquasgeck as it looped conspicuously east, up today’s East Side, disappears.


It seems ironic that the two main roads should have abutted each other, but it makes sense once one realizes that Broadway was brought up here so that Bloomingdale Road could be handed off to it. But the irony continues that then one of the roads should have become obliterated beyond this celebrated “union”.


[The Historic House Trust of NYC includes the Merchant’s House Museum in the Seabury Treadwell House on East 4th Street, a half-block off the Bowery and 1 ½ blocks from Broadway, just south of where they merge on 14th Street. It maintains its original furnishings and was built in 1832, shortly after Union Square was opened in 1815. I go annually in December to the Museum’s Holiday Party.]


The now obliterated road only began cutting across towards the west where Manhattan started to narrow in the north. It cut across what today is the NE corner of Central Park, and then, amazingly, we see it again today! In the area around Central Park North (110th Street), Saint Nicholas Avenue in Harlem suddenly appears running N at a sharp angle to the surrounding grid. It is the northern remnant of the old road, as the Bowery is the southern remnant. At this narrow point in northern Manhattan both Broadway and the Bowery/St Nicholas route are once again not far apart. St Nicholas Avenue bends at 124th Street to the NE, now parallel with other avenues. Finally, it joins Broadway at 169th Street, which means that now, the Wickquasgeck, Broadway, and the Bowery/St Nicholas are one, up to the northern tip of Manhattan. (On the map, a street running north out of the 169th Street confluence continues to use the St Nicholas name, up to 193rd Street, but this is just cosmetic.)


Here is a summary:

  The WICKQUASGECK trail had run from the southern to the northern tip of Manhattan.

BROADWAY followed it at the southern end (Bowling Green to the Common [City Hall Park]), then again at the northern end (169th Street to Kings Bridge). In between Broadway assumed the route of Bloomingdale Road.

The BOWERY/ST NICHOLAS route followed the trail between the Common and today’s 169th Street, with the central part having been obliterated on the modern map.

The most simplistic way to look at it: the colonial roads start together, split at the Common, rejoin at 169th Street and both cross the Kings Bridge.


But finally, we add one delightful layer of importance onto this. One of these colonial roads was the Post Road. Care to guess which?


One mapmaker called it the Albany and Boston Post Road, since beyond Kings Bridge this road split in two directions, as the Albany Post Road (N) and the Boston Post Road (NE). Others just called it the Boston Post Road, since that was by far the larger and more important destination, with the Albany Post Road taking off after Kings Bridge. Other maps simply indicate it within Manhattan as the Eastern Post Road, which gives us the answer. It was the Bowery/St Nicholas route that was the Post Road.


In practice it was both Post Roads from the start (as one mapmaker indicated), but it was also considered--as I’d like to do--that the Manhattan segment was only the Boston PR, with the Albany PR taking off of it after the bridge.


[There actually was some overlap of the Post Road on Broadway. Wall Street is parallel to Broadway halfway between Bowling Green and the Common. Probably because New Amsterdam’s border was defined by Wall Street and anything beyond it at one time had been Out of Town, the Boston Post Road started officially at Broadway and Wall Street, where the first milestone was positioned (the BPR was famous for its many milestones). This means that a short stretch of Lower Broadway not only constituted part of the BPR, it was its point of origin. Also, in northern Manhattan, between the convergence of the roads and the bridge, Broadway and the BPR were one and the same for a second time.]


Although Broadway for the most part had nothing to do with mail routes, that fact was downplayed in later times. At a later date, Broadway was declared to run all the way to Albany, essentially melding the concepts of Broadway and the Albany Post Road north of Kings Bridge (that was never the case within Manhattan). That left the other road able to be referred to as just the Boston Post Road. So a final version of long-distance colonial roads out of Lower Manhattan is that there were two: the Boston Post Road (East Side, then NE to Boston) and--somewhat simplified--Broadway/Albany Post Road (West Side, then N to Albany).


The unified roads left Manhattan at its northernmost point at the Kings Bridge, in this idealized view we’ve seen before. But understanding just where that was is problematic. The northernmost point was a small peninsula ending in what is called Marble Hill. And Marble Hill, very interestingly, is not located today exactly where it once was.


It was decided in 1895 that the Harlem River needed straightening to ease the passing of ships, and the Army Corps of Engineers cut a channel, the Harlem River Ship Channel, across the south of Marble Hill turning it into an island, as seen on this 1896 map, with the original course of the river on three sides and the channel on the south. While this seems somewhat reasonable, what followed does not to me. In 1914, the original course of the river around Marble Hill was filled in (Map by Iseeaboar), physically attaching it to the Bronx. There have been unsuccessful moves to legally change Marble Hill to be part of the Bronx, but it remains part of Manhattan, meaning that now, Manhattan has a land border. (!!!) (When we said that Brooklyn and Queens have the only substantial land border between boroughs, I referred to the Marble Hill situation as being the only (minor) exception to that.)


Now as to the bridge question: there had been a ferry service here since about 1669, but then the Kings Bridge was built in 1693 to connect Marble Hill (its northern side) to the mainland . Although it was the original fixed crossing, it was a toll bridge, and in 1759 the Dyckman Free Bridge was constructed nearby to allow local farmers to cross. Both bridges and their sites have now been covered over with landfill, but at Broadway and 230th Street I understand there’s a plaque commemorating the Kings Bridge. While the real Kings Bridge and its location are hard to imagine as the northern gateway to and from Manhattan, it behooves one instead to visualize, at the southern end of Marble Hill, the large Broadway Bridge, including both Broadway and an elevated subway line, as a possible, albeit unworthy, successor.


[The Historic House Trust of NYC maintains the1784 Dyckman Farmhouse Museum a short distance south on Broadway, at 204th Street. The house is a remnant of the large Dyckman farm, today reduced to a small park. It is the oldest remaining farmhouse in Manhattan, but I can’t imagine it has many (any?) competitors. One can just imagine what it’s watched go by on Broadway, contiguous here with the Post Roads, on the way to the bridges a bit further along in Marble Hill. These 1967 black-and-white photos taken by the National Register for Historic Places have their own charm. Scroll down for other pictures, including the reconstructed Hessian Hut on the grounds.]


BROADWAY/ALBANY POST ROAD Right beyond Marble Hill is the aptly named Bronx neighborhood of Kingsbridge, and both Broadway and the Albany Post Road took off from here to the north. This map shows the route from Bowling Green to Sleepy Hollow in Westchester, a small part of the way to a ferry dock in Rensselaer, opposite Albany. Most of the route is today US 9, and depending on the town the route crosses, the name varies considerably: (Old) Broadway; (Old) (Albany) Post Road.


Historically, the most interesting portion of the road today is an unpaved stretch, called the Old Albany Post Road, that was bypassed when “improvements” were made on nearby US 9. The dirt road runs for 10.6 km (6.6 mi) in Philipstown NY, roughly opposite West Point on the other side of the Hudson. This part of the road had been built on established Native American trails, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is one of the oldest unpaved roads still in use in the US. It had been used by the Continental Army during the Revolution, and had been the site of a stagecoach route. Commercial sites to serve travelers, such as inns, arose starting in the 1730’s. A well-known one opened shortly before the revolution and remains in use today as the Bird and Bottle Inn. (When I read this fact, the unusual name sounded familiar; I now remember that I ate there once, but really don’t remember it well.) Benjamin Franklin, as Postmaster General, advocated the use of milestones on post roads, which happened after 1763. This is Milestone 54, today housed under protection.


BOSTON POST ROAD When we lived in the North Bronx, only a few blocks away was Boston Post Road. We accepted it as an everyday neighborhood road with local shopping, and only vaguely pondered its history. This shows the extent of the BPR in New York State. One sees it from Wall & Broadway, to Park Row, the Bowery, lower 4th Avenue to the break at Union Square. After the gap on the East Side, in Harlem Saint Nicholas Avenue runs up to meet Broadway, and the route then passes the Dyckman Farmhouse and at Marble Hill, crosses the Kings Bridge. Broadway/Albany Post Road then take off to the north, and the BPR continues east, with several gaps. In a road segment called today Gun Hill Road (in 1777 revolutionaries fired on the British from Gun Hill), the BPR/Gun Hill Road crosses the Bronx River. Here, on the land of one John Williams, a colonial farmer, once stood Williams’ Bridge, where he charged a toll to travelers to cross the Bronx River. Just as the Bronx neighborhood beyond (N of) Kings Bridge is today Kingsbridge, the Bronx neighborhood beyond (E of) Williams’ Bridge is Williamsbridge.


With a few more gaps, the old route leaves the Bronx under the name of Bussing Avenue, then in Westchester becomes Kingsbridge Road (!!!) before melding into the green line. This line, to my consternation, is US 1, the main traditional route to New England, and is still known as the Boston Post Road. I now understand that there must have been a later realignment in the Bronx, shown here in green, that cut straight down to Harlem, and this was the BPR I had been familiar with; old, but not quite the oldest routing. In any case, both routings are contiguous along the Westchester coast up to the Connecticut border. In some towns along the BPR, such as Rye NY, the area near the road has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, since it was often the first road in the area. The BPR is also famous for its , many of which survive to this day.


And then comes another surprise. Multiple BPR routes! (Click to enlarge.) Note first the original Kingsbridge/Williamsbridge route as well as the later variant further south, and follow the road up to New Haven, where three alignments follow.


The LOWER POST ROAD followed the shoreline through Rhode Island, is today the most well-known of the alignments, is what everyone today thinks of as the BPR, and is the one that has been designated US 1. However, it was not the most used one in its day, for the same reason we discussed about on the building of the LIRR (2006/11 “Off to Boston!”). Long Island was considered the better rail route, even with the necessary ferry crossing from the East End, because it didn’t have all the river crossings that would have been necessary in southern Connecticut. Those multiple crossings, and the waits for ferries involved, made this alignment of the BPR less desirable as well, and was probably one of the factors in the LIRR decision.


The UPPER POST ROAD was the most traveled of the three routes, being the furthest from the shore and its problems. It left New Haven for Boston via Hartford and Springfield and is today US 5 (New Haven-Hartford-Springfield) and US 20 (Springfield-Boston). It was also popular, because it was said to have the best taverns. This alignment was originally a Native American trail called the Pequot Path. The importance of Native American trails may better be appreciated when one realizes that some of them had seen so much traffic over the years that they were worn down up to two feet (60 cm) below the neighboring forests. Starting 1 January 1673, it was the Upper Post Road that was used to deliver mail via a system of post riders. Later it was widened so that wagons and stagecoaches could use it. The first successful long-distance stagecoach service ran along the Upper Post Road starting in October 1783.


The MIDDLE POST ROAD is the youngest alignment, since it ran through an area of Native American settlement where there had been uprisings in the 1670’s, and it was often dangerous for settlers to travel there. Afterwards, it became the shortest and fastest alignment, since it was obviously a short cut, leaving the Upper Road at Hartford and joining the Lower Road almost at Boston.


For the arrival in BOSTON I refer the reader to 2006/11 for a description of the highly unusual geography (from today’s standpoint) of Colonial Boston. I’ll just say now that Boston was almost an island, but was made a peninsula, the Shawmut Peninsula, by a narrow neck of land to the SW, the Boston Neck. While Manhattan may show some areas of landfill, Boston has lost a great deal more of its water area due to landfill. It will become obvious that the area of Boston Neck was clearly the gateway to Boston, just as Kings Bridge was the (northern) gateway to New York (Manhattan). There had been a town gate and earthen wall on Boston Neck since about 1631, but the view today of the site of the town gate is uninspiring (here, looking down Washington Street toward downtown Boston). But in years gone by, this was the upper end of the Boston Post Road.

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