The Vigilance of Trinity

Oct 20 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science], Art, Community, History, Landscapes

Trinity Church, N.Y.C. 1791. Digital ID: 801103. New York Public Library

Trinity Church, N.Y.C. 1791. Credit: NYPL Digital Archives

Standing directly at the western end of Wall Street, Trinity Church is perfectly framed. Seriously, the young colony could not have chosen a better spot. Today it looks a bit out of place at first glance, but its Gothic spire and dark exterior seem to hold the nearby skyscrapers at bay—which is fitting since this building reigned as the tallest in the mid-nineteenth century. Sunlight and shadow coexist perfectly on the grounds, making the surrounding churchyard a refuge from the busy city that flows around the land. Buildings have lives of their own. They have histories, and they mark and record the history, culture, and time that passes around them. Trinity Church, which is one of New York City’s oldest houses of worship, is no different.

Wall Street, N.Y. Digital ID: 809984. New York Public Library

Wall Street, N.Y. 1847. Credit: NYPL

Wall Street, N.Y. October 2010

In 1696 the Anglican community of the growing colony petitioned Governor Benjamin Fletcher for land for a parish. He approved the sale of the downtown plot to the Crown, which then issued a charter to the parish with a rent of 60 bushels of wheat annually. The church appeared to be well received. In fact, legend has it that even famed Captain Kidd pitched in to help with construction. This building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1776, which was believed to have been set intentionally and destroyed twenty-five percent of the city. Rebuilt in 1790, the roof of the second building collapsed under the weight of snow 40 years later, and the third building—the one that stands today—was constructed in 1846.

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NYC History Uncovered: The Discovery and Demolition of the Hudson Wall

Jul 15 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science], [Science in Society]

There is no question that we build upon that which precedes us—quite literally, in some cases. Downtown Manhattan is littered with traces of our Dutch heritage. When opportunity arises to witness New York's past, it is a chance to reflect on how we have arrived at our present and the expansions that have been required to do so.

In 2008, construction at the World Trade Center site ran aground of a section of the Hudson River Wall dating to 1899. The sea wall, which took six decades to complete, is a historical resource. Though the uncovered section would have to be removed for construction of an underground walkway, the site was carefully studied by the Louis Berger Group, allowing researchers to understand more about New York's early waterfront—including earlier walls and piers as well as assorted symbols of life (e.g., ceramics, pipe, bone, etc.)

This week, a 40 foot section of the wall was visible to the public! Though portions of the wall currently exist along the shoreline, it was a real treat to see this bit of dry-docked maritime architecture. And so it is with immense pleasure that I share this bit of urban archaeology with you, Readers.

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Urban Archaeology in Action

Jun 08 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science], [Science in Society]

I recently learned about a wall that was uncovered near City Hall. It may date to the 18th-century, and in fact may be connected to the First Almshouse—a poorhouse that stood on this site from 1735 to 1797. It's also a great opportunity for the public to see archaeology in action!

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A Return to the Five Points [FP1]

Apr 20 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

Recent mob outbreaks in Times Square have people concerned about rising levels of violence in the city. For some it evokes the city's reputation from the 1970s. But New York City has always held a bit of a reputation:

In small clusters, the world began coming to North America via this island nestled in its inviting harbor. And while the West India Company had a firm Calvinist stamp to it, which it tried to impress on its colony, the makeup of the settlement—itself a result of the mix of peoples welcomed to its parent city of Amsterdam—helped to ensure a raggedness, a social looseness ... Days got livelier; with nightfall, the soft slap of waves along the shore was drowned out by drinking songs and angry curses (Shorto 2005: 61).

My suspicion is that the concerns about New York City today echo sentiments about New York City in the 1970s, which echo the sentiments expressed about New York City in the 1830s—when New York City was home to one of the most notorious slums in the world, the Five Points.

In other words, the time of present memory is almost always the most dire circumstance. I invite you to journey back in time with me to walk the streets of the Five Points, and draw your own conclusions about the intersection of the city's past and present. But before you secure your valuables and venture into the alleys and tenements of the area, let's look a bit at the history.

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