Category Archives: American History

How American Newspapers Reported the New York Blackout of 1977

Forty years ago today, New York City was plunged into darkness. The city has certainly seen longer blackouts in its history but none as violent or as deadly in its effects than the Blackout of 1977. The deteriorating city, in the midst of a withering heat wave, was ill-equipped for such emergencies. Hundreds of stores were looted and  fires ravaged many neighborhoods.

For more details on the blackout, we have a couple podcasts which explore certain aspects of the event. The third part of our Bronx Trilogy — The Bronx Was Burning — focuses on that particular borough during the Blackout of 1977. And believe it or not, our fifth-ever Bowery Boys podcast was also about the Blackout, recorded on the 30th anniversary:

Here’s how the blackout and subsequent riots were reported in newspapers across the country in the days that followed.

While the first day’s reports focused on the basic facts, most naturally chose to zero in on the looting by the second and third days. These images of the blackout would linger in the minds of Americans far longer than images of the darkened skyline.

Fort Myers, Florida

The Press Democrat — Santa Rosa, California

Pittsburgh Post Gazette — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Baltimore Sun — Baltimore, Maryland 


Fort Lauderdale News — Fort Lauderdale, Florida


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner — Fairbanks, Alaska

Honolulu Star-Advertiser — Honolulu, Hawaii

The Clarion-Ledger — Jackson, Mississippi

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — St. Louis, Missouri

Idaho State Journal — Pocatello, Idaho


Surveying a number of newspapers from across the country, I observed that the three wire-service photographs that appeared to be most frequently published were:



The PBS American Experience documentary on the Blackout of 1977 is streaming for free on their website.

The Arrival of the Irish: An Immigrant Story

PODCAST One of the great narratives of American history — immigration — through the experiences of the Irish.

You don’t have a New York City without the Irish. In fact, you don’t have a United States of America as we know it today.

This diverse and misunderstood immigrant group began coming over from Ireland in significant numbers starting in the Colonial era, mostly as indentured servants. In the early 19th century, these Irish arrivals, both Protestants and Catholics, were already consolidating — via organizations like the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and in places like St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

But starting in the 1830s, with a terrible blight wiping out Ireland’s potato crops, a mass wave of Irish immigration would dwarf all that came before, hundreds of thousands of weary, sometimes desperate newcomers who entered New York to live in its most squalid neighborhoods.

The Irish were among the laborers who built the Croton Aqueduct, the New York grid plan and Central Park. Irish women comprised most of the hired domestic help by the mid 19th century.

The arrival of the Irish and their assimilation into American life is a story repeated in many cities. Here in New York City, it is essential in our understanding of the importance of modern immigrant communities to the life of the Big Apple.

PLUS: The origins of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:


The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!


St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, the embodiment of early Irish pride in New York. Below: A photograph by Edmund Gillon from 1975.

2013_3_2_ 627

Irish Emigrants Leaving Home — The Priest’s Blessing (dated 1851)

A lithograph by Maurer and Currier (of Currier and Ives) illustrating a rather stereotypical scene of Irish life.

An anti-Catholic illustration from 1855.

Library of Congress

In 1860, fear of foreigners inspired a San Francisco cartoonist to draw this image, imagining laborers from Ireland and China (responsible for building the railroads) ‘swallowing’ up the country. A mixed Irish/Chinese caricature completes the job.

Library of Congress

St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, a new signpost for the acceptance of the Catholic religion in America, sits alongside acres of hot real estate in 1905. Its neighbors would slowly transition from luxury manors to upscale shops and department stores.

Image courtesy Shorpy

By 1872, you were seeing much more thoughtful depictions of Irish Americans such as this one  by Duval and Hunter. “Print shows a mother pinning clover on her son’s suit lapel, on the right is a young girl standing at an open window waving a banner “God save Ireland.” A domestic scene in a palor with a sewing machine on the left.”



The departure of the 69th Infantry Regiment, the ‘Fightin’ Irish’ brigade headed to the battlefields of the Civil War. Lithograph dated 1862.


The caption, dated 1866 — “Irish Emigrants Leaving Their Home For America — The Mail Coach From Cahirciveen, County Kerry, Ireland.”

From a Harpers Weekly article from 1874 — leaving Queenstown (today’s town of Cobh) for New York.

Library of Congress

The insanity of Castle Garden, the prime immigration station in New York in 1880, before the construction of Ellis Island. Below that, registering names at Castle Garden in 1871.


The hazards of immigrants leaving Castle Garden, as vividly illustrated by Puck Magazine.

The flow of immigrants were better accommodated by Ellis Island, pictured here in 1907.


Irish women line up at the Emigrant Savings Bank, withdrawing money to send back to relatives in Ireland. (1880)

Library of Congress

Irish vaudeville often poked fun at their own stereotypes — and promoted many others. This 1880 Harrigan and Hart sketch was called ‘Ireland vs Italy.’


An 1886 cartoon by Bernard Gillam, illustrating the Tammany Hall tiger with Irish accoutrement.

Courtesy MCNY

‘Professor’ Mike Donovan, an Irish-American boxer who performed out west then became a boxing instructor in New York up until his death in the Bronx in 1918.


A typical example of an Irish-themed song from the Gilded Age, of the type which is obviously playing with some stereotypes of Irish people.

By 1895 the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a genuine event, drawing New Yorkers of all kinds. These pictures are along 57th Street.

The parade in 1909, featuring a banner for the Kerrymen’s Patriotic and Benevolent Association.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, between 1910-15


New York City and the Inauguration of George Washington

PODCAST Part One of our two-part series on New York City in the years following the Revolutionary War.

The story of New York City’s role in the birth of American government is sometimes forgotten. Most of the buildings important to the first U.S. Congress, which met here from the spring of 1789 to the late summer of 1790, have long been demolished. There’s little to remind us that our modern form of government was, in part, invented here on these city streets.

Riding high on the victories of the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers organized a makeshift Congress under the Articles of Confederation.  After an unfortunate crisis in Philadelphia, that early group of politicians from the 13 states eventually drifted up to New York (specifically to New York’s City Hall, to be called Federal Hall) to meet. But they were an organization without much power or respect.

The fate of the young nation lay on the shoulders of George Washington who arrived in New York in the spring of 1789 to be inaugurated as the first president of the United States. His swearing-in would finally unite Americans around their government and would imbue the port city of New York with a new urgency.

This is Part One of a two part celebration of these years, featuring cantankerous vice presidents, festive cannonades, and burning plumage! (Part Two arrives in two weeks.)

FEATURING Washington, Adams, Madison, Livingston and, of course, HAMILTON!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:


The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!


The signing of the Constitution, September 17, 1787.

George traveling to his inauguration, as depicted in the 1896 book “The Century book of famous Americans : the story of a young people’s pilgrimage to historic homes” 

Internet Archive Book Images

And from an 1889 illustration:

Courtesy NYPL


President-Elect Washington crosses floating bridge (Gray’s Ferry) — and through one of many triumphal arches — on his inaugural journey, Philadelphia, April 20, 1789



Washington’s reception on the bridge of Trenton in 1789 on his way to be inaugurated 1st president of the U. S.



An illustration from 1855 depicts Old City Hall before it was renovated to house the new federal government.

Another view, with Washington’s six-horse coach in the foreground.



A depiction of Broad Street and Federal Hall as it looked in 1797, but you can easily picture how filled the streets would have been on Washington’s inauguration just eight years earlier.



Here’s how it looked on the 2008 HBO mini-series John Adams:

From an 1899 oil painting (artist unknown)


The presidential mansion on Cherry Street:



The lovely Richmond Hill, the vice presidential mansion home of John and Abigail Adams


St. Paul’s Chapel, where Washington worshipped in New York.  More information at Trinity’s website.

Election Night 1916: With a world war looming, America goes to the polls

One hundred years ago today, Americans went to the polls to vote for the President of the United States — between the Democrat and incumbent President Woodrow Wilson and the Republican Charles Evans Hughes.

The election was held on November 7, 1916, and it’s interesting to peruse the details of the day itself and the headlines from the following days, looking for parallels to our current election.


Like the current 2016 election, the choice back then sprouted from local political figures, pitting the former governor of New Jersey (Wilson) with the former governor of New York (Hughes).  Imagine Chris Christie running against Andrew Cuomo. (On second thought, don’t!)

Below: Hughes at a rally in New York a few days before Election Day.


Of course, technically there was a third candidate on the ballot and one with the deepest New York roots — Theodore Roosevelt. After great entreaties by supporters, the former president was submitted as the Progressive Party candidate, only to withdraw his name late in the process to endorse Hughes.



Hughes (pictured above) was a hand-picked recommendation of Charles S. Whitman, the popular New York governor who was himself re-elected that November. Hughes, who sat on the New York Supreme Court after his tenure as governor, was a popular candidate for President but he was no match for Wilson’s anti-war message. (Literally anti-war. Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war.” President Wilson would eventually enter the war five months after he was elected.)

Also on voters’ minds — Mexico. Several Americans had been killed in Mexico and on the border,  and the U.S. was in the middle of a punitive attack against Pancho Villa and his militias which had begun that Spring.

Below: A political cartoon by Clifford Kennedy Berryman from 1916


How They Spent The Day

Voting looking quite different than it does today. In New York, there were no designated polling places and no absentee voting for non-military members. Half of today’s electorate was missing as women would not achieve the right to vote on the federal level for another few years. (However they would receive voting rights in New York in 1917.)

Secret ballots and voting machines were relatively new installations to the voting process thanks to the election reforms of the 1890s. It was still a wild and relatively imperfect process but a great improvement over the mid-19th century heyday of voter intimidation and fraud.

An election campaign car, backing incumbent Woodrow Wilson for president in 1916 in New York.
An election campaign car, backing incumbent Woodrow Wilson for president in 1916 in New York.

Of course Hughes was a Republican and at a disadvantage in New York, still considerably controlled by the Democrats and, in particular, the political machine Tammany Hall.  “Tammany leaders did not give out any figures regarding New York City, but it was asserted at Tammany Hall that Charles F. Murphy was confident that the city would roll up a big Democratic plurality, and that New York state would go Democratic.”

Hughes watched the election results from New York City that day. According to the Times, he voted “in a little laundry in Eighth Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets,” and spent the day at the Hotel Astor in Times Square (pictured below).


Despite signs of a contentious election spilling over into altercations at the polls, the day of voting in New York City was relatively free of conflict, with people standing in long lines with “only a negligible number of arrests for disorderly conduct and other causes having been made.”

While influencers supporting specific candidates were not allowed at the polls, suffragists were certainly there, passing out flyers for their cause and in certain cases, providing poll workers with sandwiches and coffee.

How They Watched The Results

As with many celebrations, there were three gathering points of information, all near newspaper offices — Times Square, Herald Square and City Hall Park.  In midtown, people awaited a gigantic searchlight atop of the New York Times building for signs of victory. Late that evening, a red light filled the sky, and New Yorkers who were Hughes supporters began celebrating. At the Hotel Astor, the name HUGHES lit up in electric lights as thousands celebrated below.

It was a confusing time; downtown at the New York World building (pictured below), a white searchlight announced Wilson as the winner. (It would take days for results from all 48 states to come in.)


The streets of Times Square were thick with revelers — it was comparable to New Years Eve crowds and, in fact, probably exceeded them — although this was mostly due to the fine weather and the results coming in at around the same time as the Broadway theaters let out.

Earlier in the week, city officials authorized the shutting down Times Square due subway construction but it seems people still managed to gather around the edges, looking “like the exit of the Polo Grounds after a world’s series game.”  The sounds of horns were deafening. Bonfires were set along side streets.

Below: In 1911, in front of the New York Herald building in Herald Square, crowds watch a sporting event via ‘playograph’, a hand-manipulated board. Election results were posted in a similar fashion.


In Herald Square and in Times Square, information on election tallies was delivered via constantly updated bulletins. “[B]ulletins followed each other every few seconds as reports to The Times were telephoned over to the operators from The Times Annex, and the lofty canvas screen was within the view of probably 100,000 people down Broadway and Seventh Avenue.”


The New York Evening World had a merry go of it, lampooning election enthusiasts on the street. The merry-makers was festively illustrated (see above and below and here for the rest). Yes Election Night used to be fun!



Bulletins were also posted in Columbus Circle. Due to disliked results or perhaps the trauma of the crowd, one man “drop dead there early in the evening.” [source]

Adding to the chaos — a midnight subway fire in Harlem! [SUBWAY FIRE IMPERILS 2,500; SCORES OVERCOME BY SMOKE]

The Results

A map of election results which ran in the New York Times on November 8, 1916, is remarkably similar to one which might run in newspapers today. Of course, given the evolution (or de-evolution, depending on you how you choose to look at it) of American politics, the party affiliations have remarkably changed!


In the end, as with many other elections, New York’s electoral votes went to the Republicans but New York City firmly voted for Wilson. “New York City gave Woodrow Wilson a scant plurality of 40,069 to offset the 186,930 plurality for Charles E. Hughes which the up-State counties sent down to the Bronx line. The city’s vote for Wilson was 351,539, compared with 312,386 which it gave him for President four years ago.”  [source]


The election was not ultimately determined for a few days. The newspaper front page below is from November 10, four days after Election Day:


Hughes supporters instantly leveled charges of fraud at their opponent but the former governor was too dignified to take the bait.  While not yet conceding on November 11, “Mr. Hughes declared that in the absence of absolutely proof of fraud no such cry should be revised to becloud the title of the next President of the United States.” [source]



The New Americans: Look into the faces of the immigrants of Ellis Island

PODCAST REWIND The epic tale of Ellis Island and the process by which millions of new immigrants entered the United States.

For millions of Americans, Ellis Island is the symbol of introduction, the immigrant depot that processed their ancestors and offered an opening into a new American life.

But for some, it would truly be an ‘Island of Tears’, a place where they would be excluded from that life.

How did an island with such humble beginnings — ‘Little Oyster Island’, barely a sliver of land in the New York harbor — become so crucial? Who is the ‘Ellis’ of Ellis Island?  And how did it survive decades of neglect to become one of New York’s most famous tourist attractions?

FEATURING our special guest Tanya Bielski-Braham who walks us through her own family’s immigration experience over a century ago — from Eastern Europe to America.


THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST — Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#87), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed on iTunes or directly from our host page.


The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!




Here’s a look at many of the faces of newly arriving immigrants from between the years 1906 and 1915, photos by Augustus Frederick Sherman, a clerk on Ellis Island.  Interestingly these are not ‘official’ photographs. Sherman himself was particularly interested in national costume and mostly chose subjects who happened to be wearing the most flamboyant apparel from their respective countries.   You can see more pictures from this series at the National Park Service website on Ellis Island.   The particular images below are courtesy New York Public Library

Dutch brother and sister from the island of Marken in the Zuiderzee.


A woman from Guadeloupe, Caribbean. 1911

Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) -- Photographer. [1911]
Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) — Photographer. [1911]


Girl from the Kochersberg region near Strasbourg, Alsace, France.

NYPL, Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) -- Photographer. [ca. 1906]
NYPL, Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) — Photographer. [ca. 1906]
A shepherd from Romania, 1906/

Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) -- Photographer. [ca. 1906]
Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) — Photographer. [ca. 1906]
Boys from Scotland.

Courtesy NYPL. Augustus F. Sherman [ca. 1906-1914]
Courtesy NYPL. Augustus F. Sherman [ca. 1906-1914]

Romani people from Serbia, 1906.

Courtesy NYPL, Sherman, Augustus F. -- Photographer. [ca. 1906]
Courtesy NYPL, Sherman, Augustus F. — Photographer. [ca. 1906]

Sherman, Augustus F. -- Photographer. [ca. 1906]
Sherman, Augustus F. — Photographer. [ca. 1906]
An indigenous Sami woman from Finland.

NYPL -- Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905
NYPL — Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905


Russian Cossacks, 1906

NYPL, Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) -- Photographer. [ca. 1906]
NYPL, Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) — Photographer. [ca. 1906]

A Slovak woman with her children, 1906

NYPL Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) -- Photographer. [ca. 1906-1914]
NYPL Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) — Photographer. [ca. 1906-1914]

A Danish man named Peter Meyer, from Svendborg, 1905.

NYPL, 'Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920' (c1905)
NYPL, ‘Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920’ (c1905)


An Indian boy named Thumbu Sammy, aged 17, who came to America on the SS Adriatic, April 14, 1911.


An Italian woman, her name and former home unknown, 1906.

Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) -- Photographer. [ca. 1906]
Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) — Photographer. [ca. 1906]

A merry piper from Romania.

Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) -- Photographer. [ca. 1906]
Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis) — Photographer. [ca. 1906]

Identified as a ‘Protestant woman from Zuid-Beveland, province of Zeeland, The Netherlands’



Wilhelm Schleich, a miner from Hohenpeissenberg, Bavaria



A gentleman from Algeria.



A Greek immigrant in his palace guard uniform from home.


“Lapland children, possibly from Sweden.”


The United States Capitol Dome was built in the Bronx

In the fall of 1783 Lewis Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, helpfully suggested in a letter to the Continental Congress that his own bucolic estate Morrisania (in today’s area of the South Bronx) would make a fine home for the new capital of the United States.  That didn’t happen, of course, but the Bronx plays a big role in another big national moment of pride – the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building.

In short, the dome was constructed in the Bronx. At Westchester Avenue, between Brook Avenue and St. Ann’s Avenue, as a matter of fact. Ten short blocks from where Mr. Morris is buried today.

The Capitol Building in Washington D.C. was originally built in 1800. After suffering a fire during the War of 1812, it was a thoroughly redesigned, with a low wooden dome adorned with copper. By the 1840s the copper had oxidized, giving the dome a similar hue as the one worn by the Statue of Liberty today.

From an early 1846 daguerreotype by John Plumbe:


But with the inclusion of new states into the Republic, the nation’s leaders were outgrowing this home. The addition of new wing extensions in the 1850s made the copper dome seem embarrassingly small. In a city of mighty and grandiose architecture — for a young country still very much unsure of itself — this simply would not do.

The story now turns to New York, home to some of the most profitable iron foundries of the 1850s.  It seems extraordinary today, but the city actually had several large iron works scattered throughout the region. Below: A 1865 depiction of one such iron foundry at 14th Street and the East River

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

A couple key foundries were built near the southern shore of Westchester County, near Spuyten Duyvil Creek, including Johnson Iron Works and J.L. Mott Iron Works.  (Mott’s president Jordan Mott would develop nearby land into the small town — and later neighborhood — of Mott Haven.) They were kept in business by mass production for railroad lines and, a decade later, by manufacturing cannons and other weaponry during the Civil War.

Another local iron works was Janes, Beebe & Company which was originally housed in a factory at Reade and Centre Streets in Manhattan.  By 1859 the boardroom will have changed a bit to become Janes, Fowler, Kirkland & Company. A little audacity on their part would win them a most treasured contract.


Colonel William Buel Franklin, a respected civil engineer and later to be a Union Army general (as pictured above), was tasked with developing the new dome and reached out to various iron foundries for bids. Originally, Janes, Fowler, Kirkland & Co. had only been asked about providing surface covering for the dome.  Seeing a possibility for greater profit, they boldly offered to do the entire thing — for an unbelievable price:

“Having thus made an offer in accordance with your letter of the 1st instant, we beg leave to lay before you another proposition. We have examined the plans for the dome, and we find the design of what remains to be done above the work now being put up, is so dependent, the one part on the other, that it forms a whole that cannot well be divided…. [W]e therefore propose to execute all that remains to be done to the dome, including the putting up of the entire work, exclusive only of staging and hoisting, as before expressed, for seven cents per pound (7c)”  — source

That’s a little under $2 per pound in today’s money. What’s astonishing is that they were mostly known for small ornamental iron furniture and decor, not exactly recommending themselves for such a massive project.

From an 1866 advertisement in the New York Tribune Almanac:

The Tribune Almanac and Political Register, 1866
The Tribune Almanac and Political Register, 1866


Sadliers' Catholic Directory, Almanac, 1874
Sadliers’ Catholic Directory, Almanac, 1874

But the company’s bold ‘all in’ proposition got them the job, although both they and Franklin were later accused by members of Congress of colluding on a higher price — that the dome could have actually been completed for mere six cents a pound. (Although such price gouging was a regular feature of government contractors, this appears in retrospect to be your usual Congressional grousing.)

Janes, Fowler, Kirkland & Co. were awarded the contract in February of 1860, the same month that a young lawyer from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln spoke to a packed Cooper Union, a mile north of Janes’ original foundry.

Fortunately by this time, however, the foundry had decided it needed a much larger space for ambitious projects such as the Capitol dome. In 1857, anticipating great things, they moved from Manhattan to a foundry in the town of Morrisania in Westchester County. The iron works was “1,000 feet long by 50 feet wide, giving employment to a large number of hands, many of whom have been with the firm for years.”


The new Morrisania foundry of Janes, Kirtland and Company, in 1862

Courtesy the U.S. Capitol
Courtesy the U.S. Capitol

From here, parts were forged, partially assembled and loaded onto ships in the East River where they then made their way down to the District of Columbia. The foundry became a critical job creator for the town. “The wages paid to the workmen amount to many thousand dollars yearly, and with the taxes paid is of great importance to the town of Morrisania.” [source]

The Civil War halted construction on a great many projects across the country, but not at the Capitol Building. In the spring of 1861, the firm was told to stop working on the dome. But contractors at Janes realized that so much work had been done — and so much ironwork already delivered — that they continued unabated, taking the government in good faith that they would pay their bills after the war.

“There was not a day during the Civil War when the sound of the hammer was not heard at the Capitol,” wrote George Cochrane Hazleton in 1914. “Even when, in May 1861,  all work was ordered to be suspended, the contractors practically continued at their own expense to put in place the 1,300,000 pounds of iron castings then upon the ground.”


They completed work on the dome — in all, using 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron — in October of 1865, six months after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Adrian Janes, founder of the foundry, died on March 2, 1869, but he had seen his company produce marvelous things by this time. His Bronx foundry also produced the Bow Bridge in Central Park in 1862 and would later manufacture the railings used on the Brooklyn Bridge.

While the foundry is long gone of course, one vestige of Janes’ legacy remains — St. Mary’s Park. The land was purchased from the Morris family by Janes in the 1850s for the purpose of developing a foundry and other properties, including his home.  For a time the area was even known as Janes Hill, and an area to the park’s northern side still takes that name.

A small chapel was once on the property — St. Mary’s Church — for which the park gets its name. The Mary in question is actually Adrian Janes’ youngest daughter Mary. If that seems a bit hard to believe, keep in mind that St. Ann’s Episcopal Church just a couple blocks south — where Gouverneur Morris and Lewis Morris are presently interred — is actually named for Gouverneur’s wife Ann!


From the January 5, 1859 New York Herald — Mr. Janes was also a speculator in guano (bat and seabird droppings) as evidenced by the newspaper notice below:





Hamilton Grange: New York’s Most Historic Mobile Home (NPS at 100)

This month America celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the organization which protects the great natural and historical treasures of the United States. There are a number of NPS locations in the five borough areas. Throughout the next few weeks, we will focus on a few of our favorites.   For more information, you can visit National Parks Centennial for a complete list of parks and monuments throughout the country.  For more blog posts in this series, click here.




I’m going to write a musical about Hamilton Grange.

This three-hour musical epic will be a complete survey of this historic home, which was built by Alexander Hamilton in an area of Manhattan a good hour and a half from town.

It will be a story of struggle, evolution, change, spirituality, love and melodrama.

And here’s the catch — this imagined musical would begin with the death of Hamilton in his duel with Aaron Burr. (Far from giving this scoundrel a Tony-winning sized role, Burr would not even make an appearance!)  Because in most ways, that’s when the story of Hamilton Grange really begins.

It will be Hamilton’s home until the cows come home.

Last week I took a free tour of this charming  National Park Service location, newly energized by musical appreciations of Hamilton and his life. My tour of Hamilton’s home was completely booked, and at least two people in the tour wore Hamilton: The Musical shirts. (Two other musical fans were turned away to join a later tour. My advice: Call ahead. Get on the list.)

You will ultimately visit only a small number of decorated rooms and in fact may have a richer educational experience in the Grange’s excellent gallery about Hamilton’s life.  But while several historic homes in the New York City area are larger and more spectacular, few have such an extraordinary tale of survival as Hamilton’s pet project.


Hamilton purchased a set of upper Manhattan lots in 1800 in order construct a fine home for his family. Its name would be inspired by an ancestral Scottish mansion as well as his childhood home in St. Croix.  Designed by John Macomb Jr, (who was also commissioned for fellow NPS landmark Castle Clinton, as well as New York City Hall), the Hamilton Grange was completed in 1802, accompanied on the peaceful landscape by duck ponds, barns and an orchard.


The house feted an extraordinary roster of politicians and dignitaries who ate and drank to their hearts’ content in the Hamiltons’ mirrored dining room (which you get to peek in on during the tour). Indeed, a week before the duel, the Hamiltons threw a lavish dinner party with the likes of John Trumbull and Nicholas Fish.

And like every good piece of New York City real estate, the Grange plunged the family into deep debt.



After Hamilton died in the summer of 1804, Hamilton’s widow Eliza Schuyler Hamilton struggled to maintain the family finances.  Eventually a group of supporters (led by good ole Gouverneur Morris) bought the home and sold it back to her for half price. She managed to stay there until 1833, at which point she moved into her son’s new home on St. Mark’s Place.

Below: The Grange, left adrift as the city moved up around it. Date of picture unknown,  but most likely early 1880s.

Courtesy NPS
Courtesy NPS

With the new grid plan eventually stretching up into upper Manhattan, farmhouses that were situated at all angles to maximize their glorious views now proved impossible to accommodate. Most were torn down with a few exceptions (such as the Dyckman Farmhouse, the oldest house in Manhattan).

The battered old Grange would certainly have been erased from history if not for the congregation of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church who found use for the structure as an uptown chapel. The catch — it needed to move to their lot a block and a half away, conforming to Convent Avenue. By 1888 the house then became Hamilton Grange Reformed Church.

By the following year, the Grange was joined by a larger church structure which practically enfolded itself around the old house.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Sadly other nostalgic components of the property which still remained — Hamilton’s thirteen famous elm trees, pictured below — were unceremoniously torn out in 1900.

Courtesy New York Historical Society
Courtesy New York Historical Society

Further aesthetic travesties beset the house when an apartment complex was built onto the other side. Have you ever ridden a really, really packed subway? Now imagine riding that subway for almost a century. Thus was the fate of Hamilton Grange, a house-sized collectable artifact now shoved onto a tight shelf.


Almost immediately, concerned historians began discussing the rehabilitation of the house. “The Hamilton Grange is the oldest structure in this sector of the city, as it is assuredly the most historic,” observed the New York Times in a full-page spread in 1912. “In its present setting, hemmed in by rows of modern dwellings and apartments, its beautiful lines appear exceedingly incongruous.”  Daughters of the American Revolution beseeched the city to purchase the property.

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Curiously it was first proposed to move the Grange to St. Nicholas Park in 1915 as “it would not obstruct the landscape yet still stand on a portion of the Grange farm.” This prophesy would indeed come to pass almost 100 years later.

In the 1920s, plans were again picked up to transform the squished little house into a museum. Apparently there was some interest in moving the entire thing to Chicago when, in 1924, this glorious announcement was made:  “The rivalry of New York and Chicago to possess Alexander Hamilton’s historic home has been ended by preserving the stately old mansion as a public museum near its original position on Manhattan Island. Hamilton Grange, as it is generally known, has become the property of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, after some twenty-five years of unremitting effort.”  In 1933 it finally reopened as a museum.

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But even with the church congregation gone, even with the house filled with artifacts that were once owned by the Hamilton, the house’s placement robbed it of any context.

In 1936 a statue of Alexander Hamilton was mounted in front of the building. It was officially dedicated on the very same day that a statue of General Philip Sheridan was dedicated in a ceremony in Christopher Park.  Today — thanks to Stonewall National Monument — the Sheridan statue now too stands on property operated by the National Park Service.

The statue remains in front of the church even as the house is now gone.

IMG_4449 (1)

The NPS would finally get its hands on Hamilton Grange after it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and Congress declared it a National Monument in 1962.  The house was to be moved to another location and fully restored.

But unfortunately the city’s financial upheaval of the 1960s and 70s threw off any serious work on the house. Or to quote a historic preservation graduate student from a New York Times 1988 article:  ”’If the Grange were anywhere else, this would be a fait accompli,’ said Michael Adams, a Columbia University graduate student in historic preservation. ‘The only reason it has fallen into this deplorable condition is because it is in Harlem.’ ”


Finally in 2008, efforts were finally made to lift the house from its tucked-in spot near St. Luke’s to its new home in St. Nicholas Park. The newly revitalized house was opened to the public in 2011.

Here’s a dramatic video of its historic move:

Today the Hamilton Grange feels out of place — but in the right way. Another tall structure hovers over it to the east, but at least it doesn’t smother the house’s natural beauty, restored in a bright canary yellow.  Surrounded by the rocky terrain of the park, visitors can get a sense of the calm that Alexander and his family might have felt as they gazed out from the porches.

And almost 175 years after his family moved from the house, the Hamilton Grange has finally become a show-stopper.

WANT MORE INFORMATION? Visit the NPS Hamilton Grange National Memorial site for more information.

LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST! We have a podcast on the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It’s Episode #168. You can find it on iTunes at our show page.  Or download it from here.


Castle Clinton: New York’s Most Underappreciated Landmark (NPS 100)

This month America celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the organization which protects the great natural and historical treasures of the United States. There are a number of NPS locations in the five borough areas. Throughout the next few weeks, we will focus on a few of our favorites.   For more information, you can visit National Parks Centennial for a complete list of parks and monuments throughout the country. 
The following is also an excerpt from the Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, now available for sale wherever books are sold and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.




Tourists looking to purchase tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (also two landmarks that are maintained by the NPS) enter an old circular stone structure in Battery Park called Castle Clinton. Ticket selling is by far the least exciting job in the fort’s history, a rather banal function for a building that traces its origins to the founding of the United States.

Back in 1783, fresh from the victories of the Revolutionary War, New Yorkers gathered around the docks on November 25 to forever wave off the British from New York Harbor. When it was soon discovered that one last British flag remained hanging from a greased flagpole—a final goodbye prank, as it were—jaunty patriots shimmied up to remove it. This event would soon become the driving force of New York’s annual Evacuation Day celebrations, a symbolic marker of the end of British rule. (If we could come up with a method to safely secure drunk revelers as they climbed greased flagpoles today, then we’d say let’s bring it back!)


But the threat of an unwelcome British return lingered on. In 1790, the city dismantled Fort George (the dilapidated fort built by the Dutch), and the cannons that gave the Battery its name were removed and replaced with a strolling promenade. But less than two decades later, new saber rattling by British forces so unnerved New Yorkers that they built new, stronger forts at locations scattered throughout the harbor. Some of them—like Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island and Castle Williams on Governors Island (another NPS property) —still stand today.

A modest museum inside Castle Clinton features three interesting models of how the structure used to look and how it related to the land around it.


But none has had the inconceivable adventures of West Battery, completed in 1811 as an island fort, located 300 feet from shore and connected to the mainland by a long bridge. Its thick stone walls could withstand a vicious attack, and its 28 guns aimed into the harbor would surely beat back any aggressors. It was later renamed Castle Clinton, after New York’s governor (and former mayor) DeWitt Clinton, a hopeful name, given Clinton’s own political tenacity and endurance.

But while the War of 1812 would come to American shores, it never arrived in New York Harbor. After serving some minor military purposes, Castle Clinton was eventually sold by the federal government to the city in 1823. And it was then that things got decidedly more festive for the old fort.

During an excavation in 2006, portions of the old Battery Wall were discovered.  They are displayed within Castle Clinton today.


First it was transformed into an entertainment palace, rechristened Castle Garden, and greatly expanded, with a spacious second floor and an ornate fountain at its center. Still accessed by a narrow bridge, the experience was magical and otherworldly for visitors, its gaslight illuminations dancing above the waves.

Image from 'A Home Geography of New York City (1905).
Image from ‘A Home Geography of New York City (1905).


Castle Garden was a ballroom, concert venue, lecture space, and even beer hall. In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette, the most exotic still-living embodiment of the Revolutionary era, was feted here by grateful New Yorkers. In 1842 Samuel Morse demonstrated a new gadget that would change the world—the telegraph. (A line was strung between here and Castle Williams; its first message was, rather dramatically, “What hath God wrought?” And they hadn’t even seen their phone bill yet!) For a short time, you could even enjoy luxurious saltwater baths out on the Battery promenade.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

But the most famous evenings at Castle Garden (pictured above in 1850) belonged to the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. Extensively hyped by impresario P. T. Barnum, the so-called Swedish nightingale brought New York music lovers to tears here on September 11 and 13, 1850, perhaps the most legendary concert nights in American history (pre–stadium seating, that is). “Jenny Lind has already won a hold on the sympathies of the American public, such as no other vocalist ever obtained,” cooed the New York Daily Tribune. “The audience for which she sang was the greatest ever assembled at a concert in this city.”

Just five years later, in 1855, Castle Garden would see thousands more foreign imports, albeit less enthusiastically proclaimed. For it was then that the old fort-turned-amusement venue became New York’s first immigration depot, a desperately needed transformation, coming as a tidal wave of European immigrants vexed the ports.

Newly arrived Irish and German immigrants during the 1840s and early ’50s had been taken advantage of by greedy “runners,” unscrupulous characters who led them into scams or false promises of housing and employment, often leaving them with neither (and empty pockets).

The interior of Castle Garden during its period as an immigration station.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

Castle Garden, as an immigration depot, registered the new arrivals and provided vital connections with immigrant aid societies. It would be a proto–Ellis Island, processing more than 8 million people upon their arrival to America. Most likely some of you reading this have ancestors who passed through the halls of Castle Garden.

Castle Garden as an immigration station, 1861, the former battery swarming with activity. Millions of immigrants arriving in New York passed through this depot.

Another model within Castle Clinton features the landscape as it looks during the period the structure housed the New  York Aquarium.


By 1890 the federal government finally got involved with immigration processing and built a new processing center upon a little island in New York Harbor, long ago owned by Samuel Ellis. This switch freed Castle Garden to occupy itself with some other residents—this time of the underwater variety.

After a redesign by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the New York Aquarium would open here in 1896, its former concert hall and processing desks replaced with the latest aquatic technology of the day. By this time, of course, landfill had joined the structure to the mainland. Families could now gallivant through Battery Park and into the front gates to explore a maze of open pools and glass exhibition tanks, filled with a variety of creatures that (more often than not) did not survive the changing of seasons.

Today there are no aquatic creatures of any variety. However there are plenty of tourists from all over the world, lined up to get their boat tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.


They were a surprising yet appropriate pairing, the old fort and a bunch of tropical fish, replete with harbor waves crashing nearby. Unfortunately, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses was not a fan and decreed that the retrofitted old fort had finally performed her last number. In 1941, Moses used the construction of the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel as an excuse to move the popular aquarium to Coney Island, snarling that “the Aquarium is an ugly wart on the main axis leading straight to the Statue of Liberty.” The fort should be destroyed entirely, he explained, for “its guns never fired a shot against an enemy.”

Inside the New York Aquarium at Castle Garden:

Courtesy Castle Clinton
Courtesy Castle Clinton

His destructive urges were only partially rebuffed by the community. Most of the frill and finery—almost everything that had been added since 1823—was removed, leaving only the barren stone form of the original fort intact. And that’s exactly how it has remained ever since. Castle Clinton received National Monument status in 1975.

Today the old fort quietly allows New York’s showier landmarks their day in the sun. But we challenge you, Mr. Moses. There may never have been a shot fired from Castle Clinton, but these walls have seen more drama and have been more important to the American experience than almost any other American fort standing today.

WANT MORE INFORMATION? Visit the NPS Castle Clinton National Monument site for more information.

LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST! We have an entire show on Battery Park and Castle Clinton. It’s Episode #31. You can find it on iTunes at the Bowery Boys Archive, featuring our older shows.  Or download it from here.

In Chinatown, A Poignant Reminder of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

New York had no significant Asian population in 1880 outside of those who lived on a handful of small streets east of the Five Points neighborhood. Primarily focused around Mott Street, the first Chinese residents were businessmen and laborers, mostly men, close knit by design. Accurate population figures are hazy, but between 800 and 2,000 Chinese and other Asians lived in the Five Points and eastern waterfront region in 1880.

In cities around the country, small Chinese enclaves had been formed, most from workers who had arrived to work on the transcontinental railroad and other Western projects. In all places — and especially San Francisco, the  American city with the largest Asian population — the Chinese were met with prejudice, scorn and hatred.

It was for this reason that the United States passed what amounts to one of the most odious laws in this country’s history — the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Whereas in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof:


SEC. 14. That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed.

[read the entire text of the law here]

Below: From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 1882 — “We must draw the line somewhere, you know.”



In these crazy political times, it’s always good to remind ourselves of the fearful restrictions and laws that the United States had once embraced.

A small but poignant exhibit on the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act arrives in Chinatown this Sunday, May 22 — at the First Chinese Baptist Church (21 Pell Street).  Remembering 1882, The Chinese Exclusion Act and Chinese Railroad Workers Exhibit is a small traveling exhibit explore the racist causes and devastating effects of the law, which was eventually extended and made permanent (before finally being abolished in 1943).

Head over there by 2 pm and catch a screening of the film Ancestors In The Americas: Chinese In the Frontier West.

For more information, check out their Facebook page

And if you can’t make it on Sunday, perhaps you’d consider signing this White House petition, asking the president to officially apologize on behalf of the United States of America for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.”


Image at top, per the original caption: Chin Quan Chan; Seattle District, Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files, Applications to Reenter, c. 1892-1900]: Chin Quan Chan Family, Chinese Exclusion Act Case File

Courtesy US National Archives





“My dear Stanford…” Letters from Tesla at the New York Public Library

Here’s a little inside look on some of the fun stuff that we sometimes get to do while researching a podcast:

Tom headed over to the New York Public Library while researching our show on Nikola Tesla and got the opportunity to looking into the library’s rich trove of original documents from the Manuscripts and Archives Division.

It’s one thing to study facts in a book or read the depictions of events in an old newspaper. It’s quite another to get close up to the historical figures themselves through their actual correspondence, not so much for the information, but for the tone and character of their voices.  Even though these papers are all mostly business-related, you can really get a sense of Tesla’s personality and how he viewed others. He was ambitious and creative. He was anxious and protective.

As we mentioned in our podcast on Nikola Tesla, his South Fifth Avenue laboratory was destroyed in a fire on March 13, 1895. It was a well publicized event, especially in scientific journals. Tesla most likely received many letters like the one below at his home at the Gerlach Hotel (today’s Radio Wave Building, named so in his honor).

Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Courtesy New York Public Library



The next three are letters to friend and architect (and scaliwagStanford White, outlining the constructionn of Wardenclyffe Tower in Long Island.  The third letter is by far the most intriguing, sent days after the shooting of William McKinley.  The president died the day after Tesla’s letter was sent, and White’s friend Theodore Roosevelt would then ascend to the presidency.

The American Bridge Company was newly formed in 1901 but traces itself to the civil engineering firm that built the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, the longest arch bridge in the world at the time. New York projects for the firm in the 20th century would include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Woolworth Building and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. They’re still in operation; in fact they’re finishing up work on a project at the George Washington Bridge.

Pennsylvania’s Bethlehem Steel Company was a giant of steel manufacturing in the Gilded Age. Just as Tesla and George Westinghouse got to display the marvels of alternating current at the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago, so to did Bethlehem Steel get to employ their wares; the world’s first Ferris Wheel, the grand attraction of the fair, was held together in Bethlehem Steel.






And here was the final result of their labor — the Wardenclyffe Tower in Shoreham, Long Island.


Courtesy Daniel C. Elton




The final letter is intriguing for being written on the official Wardenclyffe Tower letterhead! Of course, in 1915, the tower had been long shut down, and Tesla was racking up the bills at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

His correspondence is with young inventor Benjamin Miessner who was studying at Perdue University on this date.  Miessner eventually went into acoustical research; he later innovated technologies in sound recording. A picture and biography of Mr. Miessner appear below this letter from the Press Club of Chicago’s Official Reference Book.

In the letter, Tesla references the fire of 1895 and his automaton experiment which was revealed at Madison Square Garden. You can also see a real preoccupation with keeping and protecting patents for his work (and a subtext of preservation of those patents). After all, in 1915, Tesla was out of money!



His correspondence partner Benjamin Miessner in 1922:




And finally, some library cards that Tesla check out himself, with an address of the Waldorf Astoria (which needed no address):




Documents from the Nikola Tesla letters. Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. We thank the library for their help with this podcast and with all other things!