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Blog Posts by Subject: History of North America

Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City

Robert A Caro’s tome The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is a thick, unwieldy book at 1344 pages. It sits on my shelf with yellowed pages. I bought it shortly after I moved to New York City 30 years ago. I enjoy history and learned after I moved here that Robert Moses was an important piece of the NYC history puzzle. The book upon first reading was lost to me. I had no real understanding of New York City at that point and Robert Moses’ story 

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A Mystery in Astor Hall

I recently received a research question that posed a bit of an unusual mystery. The question was why John Jacob Astor, a founder of the library, was listed as a benefactor on one of the Astor Hall marble columns not once, but twice.

The question sent me over to Astor Hall to investigate, where I found the first four benefactors listed as John Jacob Astor, William Backhouse Astor, James Lenox, and John Jacob Astor, in that order. Hmm, a mystery indeed.   To answer the question, I began with the first issue of the ... Read More ›

Literary Memories of an Ex-Manhattanite

After thirty-four years of living in Manhattan, I’m left with a lot of memories, crackling in my head like dried-up autumn leaves.

I was born in Brooklyn and spent all of my adult years in Manhattan (first on the Upper West Side and then in Stuyvesant Town) except for one curious, Alice in Wonderland sort of year in Astoria, Queens. Recently, however, my wife and I packed our few sticks of furniture and scraps of clothing (like the Joads in Grapes of Wrath) and moved to Westchester, proving that there is always a new page 

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Boss Tweed's Last Swindle

Amazing to think how something beautiful can come from something corrupt.  The inspiring Jefferson Market Library (born a courthouse) had just such a beginning. You may have heard of Boss Tweed?  William Marcy "Boss" Tweed was a 19th century politician who swindled New York City out of millions of dollars.  By the 1860s, Tweed became head of Tammany Hall, a powerful group of Democratic politicians.  He organized his associates into the Tweed Ring, which sponsored schemes for city improvements.  Millions of 

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Drawing on the Past: Enlivening the Study of Historical Geography at maps.nypl.org

On behalf of The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, the NYPL’s Director of Digital Strategy and Scholarship and our partners EntropyFree LLC, I am proud to announce the launch of maps.nypl.org

This new website is a parallel snapshot of all maps currently available on the Digital Gallery as well as a powerful set of tools designed to significantly enhance the way we access and use maps and the cartographic 

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Where Is St. John's?: The Old Burying Ground

St. John's Burying Ground used to occupy the space which is now James J. Walker Park, between Leroy, Hudson and Clarkson Streets. In a sense it still does since the old stones were buried in place and few of the 10,000 occupants were moved. The only stone remaining is one dedicated to three firemen who gave their lives in the line of duty over 150 years ago.

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The Pony Express: History and Myth

Nearly everything you thought you knew about the Pony Express is wrong. Well, perhaps not wrong, but exaggerated or romanticized. If you’re like me, you’re probably imagining men dressed in fringed leather uniform on horses, riding at break-neck speeds to carry important business and love letters hundreds of miles, perhaps while simultaneously shooting their Wincester rifles in the air. When not dashing across the prairie, the riders would be found roping cattle, drinking and playing cards in saloons, hunting buffalo, and dodging Black-Hatted Bandits and 

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Leroy Street 75 Years Ago

Look at all that parking! So few cars! The downside of Leroy Street from 75 years ago is no trees. I'll take the trees and Leroy Street (aka St. Lukes Place) as it is today.

The pictures are great, but the captions also contain illuminating nuggets of information. The top caption talking about the Hudson Park Branch includes:

"The eastern side of the building exactly marks the old eastern boundary of the Trinity Church Farm, which was originally one of the Dutch farms confiscated by the Duke of York, and was deeded in perpetuity to Trinity Church by ... Read More ›

The City of Light Before the Advent of Electricity: New York City Travel Writing, 1600s

Gotham. The Big Apple. The City of Light. Crossroads of the World. And my personal favorite: the City of Superlatives. These are all sobriquets that have been applied to New York City at one time or another.

The city that has insinuated its way into the hearts of so many travelers has inspired an incredible outpouring of travel guides and literature.

Travel writing at its best is half reporting and half myth-creating by the adventurer fortunate to visit an unknown, perhaps exotic destination. These treatises offer a 

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Road Trip

What could be more American than the road trip narrative? From Jack Kerouac to Tom Robbins, Americans have penned accounts both real and fictional about the joys and singular boredom of the open road. The rolling hills and prairies, the breeze wafting in through the window, and the seemingly endless dots of small towns, roadside restaurants and gas stations all stem from a particularly American phenomenon: the Interstate Highway System.

The

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division! Come see Willem Janszoon Blaeu's Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova in person at the fabulous Mapping New York's Shoreline 1609-2009 exhibition, open today and the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving in the Gottesman Exhibition Hall located on the first floor of the

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Charting the Future I

Over the years, as we push more and more of our maps onto the web, such as Pieter Goos' Zee-Atlas, 1672, from which the below image was taken, we ask… ...what do we do with all this stuff? ...how do we make digital maps meaningful?

One approach is through our blog, where we highlight various places and themes depicted. Often there is much more to read between the contours, about, among 

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Mapping New York's Shoreline: The Storied River

Staff of the New York Public Library recently hand picked a set of nearly 500 images, collected from across our Digital Gallery, composing them as a curated set of images at the Commons on Flickr. They represent the Hudson River Valley through several hundred years of history and complement

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Happy 4th of July!

Images of the High Line

Have you visited the High Line yet? I haven’t but I am looking forward to making the trip in the near future. The High Line is an elevated train track which fell out of use during the 1950s due to the increased use of interstate highways for freight deliveries. In the late nineties, two New Yorkers came together to start Friends of the High Line, a group whose mission was to keep the historic structure from being demolished. Ultimately, the group partnered with the

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It's All About Pride

View Literary Pride March in a larger map

It's no wonder that the riot that started the worldwide gay revolution started in Hudson Park's neighborhood. By 1969, the Village had long been a mecca for artist types — writers, painters, actors and performers — and for gays and lesbians. These were people who's worth 

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Photographic Views on Google Earth

As I have mentioned in the past, part of my work entails handling some wonderful photographs. One collection I processed last year was the Photographic Views of the United States, comprised of photographs from locations across the continental U.S., Hawaii and Alaska. While its layout is intuitively alphabetized by state, Matt Knutzen, from the Map Division decided to provide an alternative visual interface, 

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Milstein joins the Flickr Commons!

Just last week, the New York Public Library updated their Flickr Commons photostream. The newest images are from the Milstein Division and include construction photographs of the Woolworth Building as well as block by block street views of both Fifth Avenue (1911) and

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South Village Historic District

People are surprised that the Hudson Park Library is not landmarked nor is it in a historic district.

The line of townhouses just across the street are most definitely landmarked. Afterall, one of New York's most famous mayors lived there. But, no, Hudson Park has not been so designated. True, the building is 103 years old and was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the architects of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (aka the library with the 

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Civil War Blues

Fashion held an uneasy place in the war years of the North-South conflict in America. The Union and Confederate armies, uninterested in flashy uniforms, chose practical wear, while women remained ensconced in thick petticoats and triangular-shaped gowns. Some fashion textbooks call this the “crinoline period”. Hoops, or the cage crinoline, made women’s dresses billow as they did, and also made mobility more problematic.

Since the North controlled ports and shipping, and therefore received 

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