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New York through the Centuries

Sarah N Walker

This is an itinerary for a day in the Big Apple. My favorite parts of the city are also the oldest parts of the city - the Dutch colony, the neighborhoods of the northward expansion of the city in the 18th and 19th centuries, and finally, the home to many newcomers, the Lower East Side.

This walking tour could take you a whole day or a half a day, depending upon your fitness level and how long you tend to linger at a single place. I will lead you from South Ferry through the Financial District and the City Hall area up into Chinatown, where you can have lunch, and finally into the Lower East Side, where, if you have time, you could visit the fantastic Tenement Museum.

This is not a descriptive tour. You will need a good guidebook (see my list at the bottom of the article).

The Tour of Oldest Part of New York City

Take the 1/9 train to South Ferry. If you would like to get a good view of both Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, hop onto the next Staten Island Ferry (free). Do not get off, but ride it right on back.

Visit the remnants of colonial New Amsterdam, including the Castle Clinton National Monument, Bowling Green, Fraunces Tavern, and the old streets, Pearl and Water, named after their early functions as an Oyster shell dumping ground and the last street before the East River. If you wish, visit South Street Seaport. Though not much of the truly old remains, it was a market from early on.

Head northwest along Wall Street, passing Federal Hall and the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange), to the left. Enter the grounds of Trinity Church, paying attention to the many early tombstones, including some notables, such as Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton.

Walk up Trinity Plaza, at which point you will come to the crevasse that has become the World Trade Center site (2004). Cross the street and take time to visit St. Paul's.

City Hall area, photo by Sarah W.

Walk up Broadway to admire New York's seat of government in City Hall Park. If you can pop in the lobby of the Woolworth Building, do that, too. Pass along the back on Chambers Street (Duane St.) to see the memorial to the African Burial Ground. Tweed Courthouse now hosts the Museum of the City of New York. I would save this museum for another day and continue walking to get a feel for the layout of the heart of early Manhattan.

Walk out along the Brooklyn Bridge, going at least half way, if not the entire way. You will enjoy beautiful views up the East River, down towards the South Street Seaport and of both Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Walk back to the island and up past the Municipal Building, past Foley Square. You are now into the lower southwest corner of Chinatown. The famous Five Points area (Gangs of New York) is right under your nose, but unfortunately it no longer exists, and is difficult to pinpoint on a modern map (SW corner of Columbus Park). Do not miss walking along Canal, Elizabeth and Mott Streets for great photo opportunities. If you are hungry for a snack, try one of the Chinese bakeries on Canal, get a boba tea (tapioca ball/cream tea) or lychee ice cream down the street from the New Green Bo (on Bayard between Elizabeth and Mott).

Lunch Recommendation:

New Green Bo, 66 Bayard St, tel: 212-625-2359
It looks like a hole in the wall, but you will see from the reviews pasted on the front window that this little place serves up good food and at the lowest prices possible.

Enjoy wandering around Chinatown, possibly stocking up on cheap souvenirs, such as 5 T-shirts for $10, or I Love NY bags. Walk N of Canal on Mulberry and Mott streets to see the leftovers of Little Italy - tacky souvenir shops, gazillions of restaurants and perhaps some decorations left from San Gennaro.

If you must, an Italian Restaurant Recommendation:

Angelo's of Mulberry, 146 Mulberry Street, tel: 212-966-1277
You have to watch out for tourist trap restaurants in many areas of New York, and especially in Little Italy. But Angelo's, though perfectly catered to tourists, is no trap. The food (southern Italian) is good. Make reservations if going for dinner.

Continue exploring ever-expanding Chinatown and head east on Grand Street. Take a left onto Orchard and find the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Stop and get on a tour (check for tour times before arriving). You are now in the Lower East Side. The tours (two of them) will give you a great idea of the historical background of this neighborhood-perfect for wandering the rest of the afternoon, if time remains.

Another "if you must (eat something)" recommendation near the museum:

Katz's Deli, 205 E Houston St., tel: 212-254-2246
If you have seen the movie "When Harry Met Sally," then you will recognize the setting. I am not a huge fan of pastrami and deli foods (except bagels with egg salad!), but if you are, then get your butt over there to the best-loved deli of them all. It is just a few blocks north of the LESTM and right on the brink of Alphabet City.

Sarah in January 2003 over the East River.

Sarah in January 2003 over the East River.

Photos

www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3084: Photos from January 2003 visit.

Guidebooks and Other Books Useful for Tourists

Sarah's recommended guidebooks and books about New York City.

General Travel Guide Books

Martin Dunford, The Rough Guide To New York - 9th Edition, Rough Guides, 2004

Essential, in my opinion

Order from Amazon

Esther Labi, New York (Eyewitness Travel Guides), DK ADULT, 2003

The Eyewitness Travel Guide for New York is also good.

Order from Amazon

Zagat 2005 New York City Restaurants, Zagat Survey, 2004

Zagat Survey - you don't have to agree with all ratings in this guide, but it is a good way to help choose a restaurant.

Order from Amazon

Sanna Feirstein, Naming New York: Manhattan Places and How They Got Their Names, New York University Press, 2001

Order from Amazon

For Those Who Want the Nitty Gritty and Some Further Reading

Edwin G. Burrows, Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, Oxford University Press, 1998

Order from Amazon

Kenneth T. Jackson (Editor), The Encyclopedia of New York City, Yale University Press, 1995

Order from Amazon

Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives, Penguin Classics, Reprint edition, 1997

A primary source with excellent photographs perfect after a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Order from Amazon (also available on the web - bartleby.com)

Jacob A. Riis, The Battle with the Slum, Dover Publications, 1998

Published complete on the web with illustrations.

Order from Amazon (also available on the web - bartleby.com)

Resources

www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3084: Photos from January 2003 visit.

www.nycvisit.com: New York City Official Tourist Site.

www.newyork.com: Tourism site with useful links.

www.nychinatown.org: RK Chin, A History of Chinatown/Five Points.

www.gothamcenter.org: CUNY's New York History Organization; has a good interactive timeline.

www.nytimes.com/specials/nyc100/: 100 Years of NYC history by the NY Times.

www.archaeology.org/online/features/cityhall/: Excavations under City Hall Park and politics by Marilyn Anderson.

www.albany.edu/mumford/1920/usnews.htm: Immigrants 1900/2000.

www.africanburialground.com: African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan.

www.bartleby.com/175/1.html: Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914). The Battle with the Slum. 1902

www.tenement.org: Lower Eastside Tenament Museum.


Sarah was born and raised in Seattle, Washington but currently lives in Munich, Germany.

© Sarah N Walker, 2004

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