My previous postscript ran somewhat longer than anticipated, due to the massive amount of work happening in and around New York City. Thus a focus on this post on the cartographic, including some of the great resources available, and the rich history of maps new and old that emerge to tell a visual story of hidden hydrology in the city and larger region. There are so many, that one who wants to dive in can jump down to the resources section below to see lots of great sites showcasing the maps, my focus here is to highlight a few I thought were interesting and beyond general map nerdiness, some that had a particular relevance to hidden hydrology.
An old version dates back to the early settlement times, from 1639 the Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier (via Library of Congress) is a fun introduction to the area, north to the right showing the section of Manhattan (Manatvs) and areas surrounding. Fun to see a map from this far back, and it does represent some of the topography and hydrology in some rudimentary ways.
Many maps come via The Iconography of Manhattan Island, via Wikipedia “a six volume study of the history of New York City by Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, published between 1915 and 1928 by R. H. Dodd in New York. The work comprehensively records and documents key events of the city’s chronology from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. Among other things, it shows the evolution of the Manhattan skyline up to the time of publication” More: “Stokes’s worldwide research teams scoured public and private collections of maps, guides and obscure source material to complete his encyclopedic monument to New York City. It describes in detail the growth of a fortified Dutch settlement into a major city, and ultimately included six volumes sold to subscribers and libraries in a limited edition of 360 sets printed on Holland-made paper and 42 on Japanese vellum.”
The following plate from this Iconography is from 1693, showing Manhattan and the shift from New Amsterdam to Nouvelle Yorc:
The Bradford Map is another resource, showing “…the city of New York at the time of the granting of the Montgomery charter …” and “from an actual survey” and starting to highlight some hydrological resources like the Collect Pond. The map is a reproduction from the 1800s, but shows the area in 1730 and is similar to the later Maerschalck map, showing similar area in the 1750s.
A beautiful map is a 1777 version Plan de New-York et des Environs, showing a similar zone with a lot more detail, a precursor of some of the more detailed maps (and sophistication of mapmaking) in the late 18th century.
A larger area comes via 1766-1777 and the Plan of the city of New York in North America – surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767 by Ratzer, showing a larger zone beyond the Hudson and East Rivers.
From the header above we see the influential British Headquarters map that was used heavily in the creation of the Welikia project. This map shows the larger area of Manhattan in fine detail, with topographic relief – a zoomed in section shows why this was such an important historical document.
Fast forwarding a bit to the early 1820s, the Randel Map was an atlas of. Via The Greatest Grid website: “Between 1818 and 1820, John Randel, Jr. prepared an atlas of 92 watercolor maps that vividly illustrates the properties, old roads, and major features of pre-grid Manhattan as well as the future location of the new streets and avenues of the 1811 grid. Drawn at a scale of 100 feet to 1 inch, the Randel Farm Maps provide a detailed picture of Manhattan before its transformation. Hand drawn and colored, they are among the most significant documents in the history of New York as well as a rarity in American urban history, as no comparable maps exist for other early-19th-century American cities”. There are 92 individual maps, but an online map stitches them together in a beautifully detailed composite here.
The maps got more broad, with titles to fit like “Topographical map of the city and county of New-York, and the adjacent country : with views in the border of the principal buildings, and interesting scenery of the island.” from 1836 showing the entire island of Manhattan with relief,
This was perhaps the precursor to one of the most fantastic maps, that created by Egbert L. Viele, the 1865 gem “Sanitary & Topographical Map of the City and Island of New York.”
The detail is amazing, and it’s available as a high-res download at multiple sources, including Wikipedia which describes it as such: “…survey of the original streams, marshes and coastline of New York City, superimposed over the street grid. The map is still used by modern geotechnical engineers, structural engineers and planners to design the foundations of new buildings and structures in the city.” A few close ups illustrate this point, and allow for georeferencing to the modern city:
A few other maps that caught my eye, specific to Hidden Hydrology Broadside of the Collect Pond, New York and Steam Boat (Five Points) highlights that the pond was still there in 1846 (or at least as represented here from 1793).
And the birdseye perspectives are another great resource, showing a different viewpoint. As a tool to communicate place, I’ve always been fascinated by these, such as this 1870 version from Currier & Ives (source unknown as I got this via Twitter) but I believe it’s from Library of Congress.
And some map-objects and infrastructure systems that are fascinating, including this one, a ” Sketch showing the ground under carriageway at intersection of Wall, Broad, and Nassau Streets : as occupied by water, gas, steam, pneumatic, cable and electric pipes, sewers, basins, culverts and vaults to houses, etc., February 1885″
There’s also a wealth of maps covering many Boroughs, but these map be for another time – and the resources below offer lots of chances for locals or the curious to dive in to more depth.
There’s great interactive maps like the interactive to quirky side, there’s a fun historical Spyglass Map, showing the New York City of 1836 vs. today, The Smithsonian, had David Rumsey provide some discussion of this map to go along with an article about it, where: “Rumsey looks to the map’s delicate shading to tell much of its story, noting that the heavily shaded areas represent the most densely populated portions of the city at the time of the ma’s drawing. “Pretty much everything past 14th St. is country,” he explains, adding that much of what is considered Manhattan today wasn’t yet settled. In addition to the population shading, the hills of Manhattan are shown by hachures, an antiquated method of showing relief on drawn maps. “A lot of the history of Manhattan is the destruction of its hills,” Rumsey says. “Basically that topography was obliterated, except for Central Park.”
And a fun but perhaps limited in usefulness ‘Urban Scratchoff’, which does a similar thing with by revealing a 1924 map underlay. I feel as if I keep scratching but never really win anything.
A great site focused on Manhattan that filled in much of the above content is the map page of Manhattan Past which is connected to the site and book ‘Street Names Past & Present’ focused on the place name origins of area around the City. The maps are broken down chronologically back into the 1600s, with links to originals and some brief text, a great primer for delving into the larger pool.
Additionally, The Greatest Grid is a site that emerged from the exhibition The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan 1811-2011, at Museum of the City of New York in 2011 to 2012, which “documents the creation of Manhattan’s signature grid, which set a remarkably flexible framework for growth as a town of 100,000 in 1811 became today’s world city of 1.8 million people (in Manhattan only). Balancing order and freedom, uniformity and individuality, the grid continues to serve as a model of urban planning in the 21st century.” Some great background on the development of the city and the grid, as well as great maps, are found within.
The resources available are amazing, drawing on local and international institutions – one of the best being the Open Access maps from the New York Public Library, where the The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division has over 20,000 free, high resolution downloads available, many of the maps above coming from this source, and their active Twitter feed @NYPLMaps showcases many more.
Another I thought was very comprehensive and well organized was via Stony Brook University called NYS Map Pathfinder. Larger institutions carry plenty of maps of New York City due to it’s significant, as The Library of Congress has extensive holdings for New York City, and as most map nerds know, the David Rumsey collection is the go to for maps, including lots for New York, with some great tools, as well for viewing and sorting. Just sifting through you find the historic, but a wealth of interesting map techniques, such as this Map of Greenwich Village made for the Whitney Studio Club from 1920.
And speaking of other non-historic maps, not specific to hidden hydrology, I’d be remiss without mentioning the New York version of Rebecca Solnit’s atlas collection Nonstop Metropolis, A New York City Atlas, authored with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro and true to form with the other regional versions from San Francisco and New Orleans, is part of the compendium of maps as storytelling devices. Read this great long essay via Public Books entitled Visible Cities by Laura Yoder for where she dives into “maps that catalogue social and cultural complexity, and teach us to engage with difference in productive and generous ways.” Another good review via Hyperallergic, “Creating an Atlas of Overlooked Cartography for New York City” where they relate that “Every map is an intense act of creative collaboration, with essays and illustrations in Nonstop Metropolis from over 30 artists and writers.” The image below is indicative of this style, showcasing “Wildlife”
A book that looks interesting by Marguerite Holloway is the author of The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor, and another on the maps, there’s the 2014 publication Manhattan in Maps 1527-2014 by
For modern mapmakers, there’s a rich collection of resources, including NYCityMap and OASIS both displaying tons of thematic info on current conditions in the city, the latter even providing a historical slider showing the Mannahatta layering.
I could post maps and larger stories of hidden hydrology every day for a year and not run out of interesting tidbits here in the Big Apple, which reflects the richness of historical context and also the passion for many people to investigate their hidden hydrological histories. And it seems a fitting segue to where we are heading. Next up, we head over the pond to the undisputed champion of Lost Rivers – London.
HEADER: Facsimile of the unpublished 1782 British head quarters coloured manuscript map of New York & environs – via David Rumsey