The photo sharing service Instagram is a tricky site if you’re a history buff. By design, it’s meant to capture the immediate moment, often drenched in a filter to make things seem nostalgic or historic. The Bowery Boys have an Instagram account if you’d like to follow us along there, although we are mostly just documenting our journeys through the city, stopping to photograph places we are researching for upcoming shows or simply locating hidden spots of historical interest.
However I’d like to draw your attention to somebody else’s account which I think you’ll enjoy. Josh Vogel, a curator at the Skyscraper Museum (you can see his work at their latest show Ten & Taller), operates an independent Instagram account called NYC Urbanism, offering up old photographs, maps and drawings of Old New York for you to ogle in place of the usual selfies and photos of food.
The images, many of them rarely seen, provide a rich and interesting portal into the past via a photo app that seems initially unsuited for such fascinating discovery. NYC Urbanism has taken a tool meant to render superficial displays of nostalgia and turned it into something legitimate.
Vogel recently helped me out on the latest episode of The First podcast, focusing on the invention of the first electric chair. (Check out the episode if you haven’t; it’s a fascinating and bizarre tale set in upstate New York.)
Below are a few of my favorite posts from his account. Head over to Instagram and follow NYC Urbanism for little daily doses of eye-popping New York history:
#MapMondays! 1930 plan to fill New York Harbor with landfill! The proposal by T. Kennard Thomson was originally published in 1911 in Popular Science and would have filled the entire east river with landfill in addition to creating new peninsulas off of Staten Island, Bayonne and Sandy Hook, totaling fifty square miles overall! With the East River gone, Thomson proposes connecting the Long Island Sound back to the harbor by digging a new channel from Flushing through #Brooklyn. Thomson revised the plan in 1930 (seen above), naming the new landfill City of New Manhattan, half of which would be in the state of New Jersey, separated by the extension of Broadway which would be a grand boulevard over railroad tracks and end in a tunnel to Staten Island – no need to keep the Staten Island Ferry around! This grand boulevard would be four miles long and three decks high, with levels for trains, automobiles and airplane landings! Tunnels would also go from Sunset Park to Bayonne, Red Hook to Jersey City and Cobble Hill to Jersey City. #MapMonday
#MapMondays! 1908 map of #Williamsburg #Brooklyn (looking East) showing the addition of the Williamsburg Bridge, Plaza and approach (now Borinquen Place) inserted into the street grid. The #WilliamsburgBridge was the second bridge to span the east river following the Brooklyn Bridge almost two decades earlier and took half the time to build. By the time the bridge opened the independent city of Brooklyn had been consolidated into New York City. #mapmonday #brooklynhistory
British New York in 1674, ten years after Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrendered the city to the British. Following it’s capture, New Amsterdam’s name was changed to New York after the Duke of York who organized the attack. The colony of New Amsterdam had only been established fifty years earlier by the Dutch West India Company whose governor Peter Minuit “purchased” the island from a native tribe who did not believe in land ownership for approximately $24 in trinkets. #mapmonday #cartography #newamsterdam #castelloplan #newyorkcity
From our historic postcard collection: “Birds eye view of Fulton Street” 1906. The cupola of Brooklyn Borough Hall can be seen on the left. The triangle building in the middle is a Shake Shack today. You can also see that Adam’s Street which leads into the Brooklyn Bridge was widened in the 60s, during the same time the two beautiful buildings on the right were demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Law campus. #historicpostcard #downtownbrooklyn #brooklynlawschool #boroughhall #brooklynlawschool #fultonstreet #brooklynfriendsschool #fultonstreetmall #cadmanplaza
Luna Park, Coney Island (1905). The park was built two years earlier on the site of the 1895 Sea Lion Park. The park located on the north side of Surf Ave between 8th, 12th and Neptune featured oriental style buildings with over 1,000 painted spires, minarets and domes, lit with over 250,000 electric lights. At the center of the park a 200-foot tall Electric Tower, which was the centerpiece of the Pan-American Exposition two years before stood in the middle of a lake. Most of the park was destroyed in a fire in 1944. #lunapark #coneyisland #neptuneave #steeplechasepark #coneyislandbeach