History of Manhattan Borough, New York

In 1609, Henry Hudson led the first Dutch expedition to New York. Commissioned by the Dutch East India Company, the Halve Maen sailed from Amsterdam and dropped anchor in what would become New York Harbor. Purchased from the Canarsie Indians for 60 guilders, or $23.70, Manhattan Island, is now worth more than $60 billion. According to the U.S. Census taken in 2000, the population of New York County was 1.54 million people and covers the space of only 23.7 square miles.

The island was originally inhabited by the Wappingers, a Native American people, but they did not contest the sale of it between Peter Minuit, Hudson`s associate, and the Canarsies, in 1626. The original Dutch settlement on the island was named "New Amsterdam." With a population of 270, the town occupied the tip of Lower Manhattan with forts, homes, farms, and government buildings. The English captured New Amsterdam and renamed it "New York," in 1664.

Numerous changes during the 1800s

More than 20 square blocks were damaged when the Great Fire blazed through Manhattan in 1835. Encompassing the area among Wall and Broad streets, Coenties Slip and the East River, the flames caused more damage than the new nation had previously seen. Although every fire company in the area responded to the alarm, the conflagration did not subside for three full days.

Significant upgrades to apartment dwellings were made when the first tenement house act was passed in 1867. It was the first act of its kind, and led to more rigorous and positive legislation, which upgraded living conditions for apartment renters on the residential Lower East Side of Manhattan. Many of these dwellings doubled as sweatshops with families living and working in them.

Highlights of the law provided that "each sleeping room have a window ventilator, a fire escape, and good and sufficient water-closets or privies" for every house. Cesspools were banned, and each new tenement had to be graded for drainage and connected with the city sewer system.

Relocating to Manhattan after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Chinese immigrants set up housekeeping in what became Chinatown. Owing to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the only Chinese immigrants to live in Chinatown were tradesmen and professionals. Since their wives and families were prevented from joining their men, Chinatown became known as a “bachelor community.”

Harlem’s colorful past

Another neighborhood on the island is Harlem, with its roots dating to 1658, when it was called "Neew Haarlem" by the Dutch who settled there. During the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Harlem Heights was fought in western Harlem around the Hollow Way, in September 1776. Since that time, Harlem has enjoyed a multicultural heritage, with a Jewish Harlem, Italian Harlem, Mexican Harlem, and Black Harlem. During the early 1900s, a large number of blacks entered Harlem so that by 1920, Central Harlem was essentially African American.

The African-American culture flowered there in the 1920s, and the area went through what was called the "Harlem Renaissance." Jazz became a popular musical form and was played in such famous venues as the all-white Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington performed, as well as the Renaissance Ballroom and the Savoy Ballroom, which were integrated. Although romanticized, this was a tough time for Harlem blacks. Many suffered through extreme poverty, an increase in crime, and overpopulation in slum-like tenements.

During the 1930s, the Apollo Club opened, and the Savoy Ballroom became a renowned place for swing dancing. Over the next 70 years, crime in Harlem skyrocketed until Mayor Rudolph Guiliani introduced aggressive policing tactics to bring the problem under control. By 2005, the crime rate in Harlem became comparable with the wealthy, predominately white neighborhoods of American cities such as Santa Monica, California.

Other accomplishments of the late 1800s

Accomplishments of the 1880s included the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, and The Wall Street Journal was first published in 1889. The newspaper initially cost four cents per copy and consisted of four pages of listings on the Dow Jones index of stocks and prices, as well as railroad and crop conditions.

The first extension beyond Manhattan Island’s boundary came when some Westchester County towns were annexed into New York City in 1874. In an effort to consolidate the area, Manhattan became one of five boroughs of New York City in 1898. The others were: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.

Rapid growth during the 1900s

During the 20th century, Manhattan went through a major facelift and accomplished numerous "firsts." Among those were the opening of its first subway in 1904, the first edition of the New York Daily News, published in 1919. The Holland Tunnel opened in 1927. “Black Tuesday,” on which the stock market collapsed, occurred in 1929.

In one day, more than 16 million shares were traded, and the Dow Jones Index dropped 23 percent from the previous week`s closing. Then The Great Depression came on with a roar. In 1934, the Securities and Exchange Commission was established to prevent such catastrophes from happening again.

During the late 1960s through most of the 1970s, Manhattan Island suffered from urban flight, as the middle-class fled to the outer boroughs and suburbs owing to an increase in crime. Major revitalization efforts were called for, which began during the 1970s.

Construction of the World Trade Center and One Chase Manhattan Plaza anchored the rebuilding process. One Chase Manhattan Plaza was built in 1974 at a cost of $121 million. The 60-story office complex was erected near Liberty and Pine streets.

The World Trade Center, twin-towered, 110-storied buildings, were dedicated in April 1973. At the time, the twin towers were the tallest buildings in the world. Nearly 20 years later, those same towers were attacked by terrorists using a car bomb, killing six and wounding more than 1,000 others.

A new century`s violent infancy

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center was destroyed when two hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the towers, causing them to collapse, killing more than 2,700 people. On May 28, 2002, the last girder was removed during a somber ceremony, marking the end of the cleanup.

The island of Manhattan boasts numerous cultural and athletic attractions, along with other points of interest. For more in-depth information about Manhattan, see New York City, New York.


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