1902 Encyclopedia > New York City > New York City - Introduction

New York City
(Part 1)

New York City - Introduction

NEW YORK, the principal city of the United States in point of wealth and population, and, next to London, the most important commercial and financial center in the world, lies mainly on Manhattan island, which is situated at the upper of New York Bay, between the Hudson River and East River, on the west and east respectively, and the harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek, small connecting tide-ways which separate it from the mainland on the north-east and north. The legal limits of the municipality also include on the northern side a portion of the mainland which formerly constituted the towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and Kingsbridge, the boundary on the N. being the city of Yonkers and on the E. the Bronx and East Rivers, containing I all 41 _ square miles, or 26,500 acres, of which Manhattan Island makes 22 square miles, or 14,000 acres. They also contain the small islands in the East River and New York Bay known as North Brother’s, Ward’s Randall’s, Blackwell’s, Governor’s Bedloe’s Ellis, and the Oyster Islands. The city-hall stands in 40o 42’ 43" N. lat and 74o 0’ 3" W.2 long., and is about 18 miles distant from the ocean, which is reached through the upper and lower bay, together constituting a harbor of the first order. The upper bay has an area of 14 square miles and the lower bay of 88 square miles of safe anchorage. The ship channels have from 21 to 32 feet and from 27 to 39 feet of water according to the state of the tide. The Hudson and East Rivers also afford the city 13 _ square miles of good anchorage. The tide rises and falls on the average 43 inches. Manhattan Island, as well as the adjacent country to the north and east, is composed mainly of rocks, chiefly gneiss and mica schist, with heavy intercalated beds of coarse-grained dolomitic marble and thinner layers of serpentine. These rocks have been usually supposed to be Lower Silurian, but professor Newberry holds that they have so great a similarity to some portions of the Laurentian range in Canada that it is difficult to resist the conviction that they are of the same period. The deep troughs through which the Hudson and East Rivers now find their way though New York harbor to the ocean are supposed by the same geologists to have been excavated in the late tertiary period in which Manhattan Island and the other islands in New York Bay stood much higher than they do now, when Long Island did not exist, and a great sandy plain extended beyond the Jersey coast some 80 miles seaward. Manhattan Island, for half its length from the southern point, slopes on each side from a central ridge. On the upper half of the island the ground rises precipitously from the Hudson River in a narrow line of hill, which again, on the eastern side, sinks rapidly into a plain bordering on the Harlem and East Rivers, and known as Harlem Flats. The surface is throughout rocky, with the exception of this plain, and leveling on a great scale has been necessary in laying out streets. The district beyond the Harlem river, which extends as far north as the city of Yonkers, is traversed by lines of rocky hill running north and south, and still thickly wooded. The original settlement out of which New York has grown was made on the southernmost point of the island, and it has, since the beginning of the 18th century, spread due north and from river to river.

The street called Broadway runs from nearly 3 miles along the crest of the island, forming for that distance the central thoroughfare from which streets spread with some regularity to the water on each side. The leading thoroughfares originally followed the line of the shore, along which the earliest buildings were chiefly erected, the central ridge being the last to be occupied, until the city reached what is now known as Wall Street, the site of which was marked by a rampart and stockade extending from river to river across the island. Within this space the streets were laid out either as convenience dictated or as old pathways suggested, without any general design or any attention to symmetry, and were named, for the most part, after prominent settlers. The first regular official survey of the city, tracing the line of the streets, was made in 1856, when Wall Street was its northern limit. In 1807 the present plan of the city was adopted, with its broad longitudinal avenues crossed by side streets at right angles, beginning at a point about two miles from the Battery and running the whole length of the island. The erection of buildings along these streets had led to the leveling of the region below the Central Park, but in the part the varied outline which once characterized the whole island is still retained. The precipitous banks of the Hudson river at the upper end have also compelled a treatment in which the original configuration of the ground is preserved, and the streets and roadways are adapted to it. The city in its growth northward absorbed several suburban villages known as Greenwich, Harlem, Manhattanville, Fort Washington, Morrisania, and Kingsbridge.

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