Castle Garden

Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, once known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort now located in Battery Park, in Manhattan, New York City. It is perhaps best remembered as America’s first immigration station (predating Ellis Island), where more than 8 million people arrived in the U.S. from 1855 to 1890. Over its active life, it has also functioned as a beer garden, exhibition hall, theater, public aquarium, and finally today as a national monument.

Castle Clinton in Battery Park

name: Castle Clinton National Monument (formerly Castle Garden)
built: 1808
architect: John McComb, Jr.; U.S. War Department

Excerpt from Daytonian in Manhattan:

Since the 17th century the lowest point in Manhattan, then known as Schreyer’s Hook, had contained a fortification of one kind or another.  But around 1788 it was resolved to demolish the badly damaged old stone Fort and build a residence for the President of the United States on the site.  Known as the Government House, its foundation stones came from the old fort.  For nearly 20 years New York City’s southern tip would be without protection.

In 1806 Congress dedicated 400 feet of ground off shore for the erection of a national fortress.  Planned by Lt. Joseph G. Totten of the United States Engineers, the project relied on a stone mole constructed below the water line.  The South West Battery would be connected to Manhattan by a long drawbridge.  Completed around 1811, the large oval-shaped fort, capable of mounting 28 heavy cannon, was built of red sandstone with walls thick enough to withstand a cannon barrage.  Inside were cisterns, two large magazines for the storage of weapons, explosives and provisions, and barracks for the soldiers and officers. […]

On August 1, 1855 Castle Garden opened as an immigrant processing station.   The New York Times said “Bob Murray got out his brand new books, all ruled and labeled, to keep the record of the new comers, his assistants were ready for service in ascertaining their wants; the bathtubs were full of Croton for anticipated ablutions, and Captain Cruttenden was duly prepared to give the aliens all needful dispatch by railroad or steamboat to their Western homes.”

The Committee that insisted that the Castle Garden location would prevent the immigrants from being ill-used apparently did not consider rogue workers.  On July 7, 1857 the New-York Daily Tribune printed a letter to the editor that complained “It is a fact too well known, that the Castle Garden establishment, beneficial as it may be to the immigrants, generally speaking, is still very far from being perfect—very far from preventing all abuses.  Again it is a matter of notoriety that a considerable number of immigrants (almost all of them Germans) have lost their luggage at the Castle Garden depot, after having been compelled to intrust [sic] it to the safe keeping of the establishment, and have never been compensated for such losses.”

The Castle Garden commissioners held a monopoly on railroad tickets and hotel bookings for the immigrants.  If a runner were found offering lodging even at an approved boarding house, that establishment would lose its ability to house immigrants.  The penalty often spelled the end of the small businesses.  The Evening World complained on October 14, 1887 that “the pool” (the authorized railroad tickets) overcharged the newcomers.  A runner was able to offer tickets to Omaha, for instance, at $23.75 each.  “The rate charged by the pool in the Garden is $26,” said the newspaper.

Read more in Wikipedia

Immigrants at Castle Garden
Immigrants at Castle Garden
Castle Garden, ca 1880 (lower left)
Castle Garden, ca 1880 (lower left)

Jefferson Market

From Wikipedia:

The [Third Judicial] courthouse was completed in 1877, and in 1885 a panel of American architects sponsored by American Architect and Building News voted it the fifth most beautiful building in America.

In the triangular block that housed the police and district courts was also a market that played a central role in the daily life of the neighborhood.



The Market

Thomas De Voe, a butcher with a strong interest in documenting the history not only of his trade, but of public markets in general, wrote a detailed account of the Jefferson Market, which even in its earliest incarnations (ca 1835) was very large, housing sixteen butcher stands. By the 1860s there were, according to De Voe, butchers, poulterers, fruit and vegetable dealers, fishermen, as well as vendors who sold household goods and sundries. He includes anecdotes about specific individuals and events. An example follows (1865: 572-573):

The Blind Man of Jefferson Market

On the Sixth Avenue side, under the eaves of the country market,
may be daily found the “Blind Man of Jefferson Market,” Henry
McNerney, once an assistant clerk in the Navy Department at Washington,  under the Honorable James K. Paulding. Every morning, except the Sabbath, may be seen the little prattling daughter leading her blind father, threading her way through the carts, wagons, baskets, &c., to his little inclosed stall, where she leaves him with a “good-morning,” and back home again she returns for her school ; in the evening the same duties are regularly performed by her to take him home again, and on Saturday night late, between ten and eleven, his wife or son performs that duty. As soon as he arrives at the market he opens his small store of goods, by taking down the shutters, dusts off his exposed wares, and tastefully, as well as feelingly, puts all in order ready for his scanty sales.

Behind and before him are arranged his crockery, candies, cake, and cord; shoe-strings, sewing-thread, suspenders, sugar-plums, and many other little articles, make up his stock in trade, where all can be reached, cases opened, any article selected, and change given; and, I believe, but few have been heartless enough to steal or take advantage of him. His trade, however, is quite slow, but patiently he waits for the sometimes few shillings, and then again an exceedingly good business day will bring him in a few dollars : he says, ” I did pretty well when I first came here ; then I took in three, four, and five dollars — now I seldom take in as many shillings.” […] He has been located here since 1852, by the kindness and intercession of some of the authorities who gave him a stand here, without rent; but I am sorry to record that at times, when any amount of sales were made by him, one of the Clerks demanded fees ; however, within the last five years business has been so dull with him, that no fees have been collected from him.

The De Voe volume makes it clear that infrastructure of the public market was very large, complex, and in the author’s experience, dishonest and open to bribery.

The Courthouse

In the nineteenth century arrests made in [[the Tenderloin]] district – notorious for gambling, boxing matches and prostitution — were made by police officers of the …. but the accused were arraigned and often tried at the Jefferson District Courthouse, as in a particularly sensational case involving Mae West.

From “The Jefferson Market Library’s Fascinating History” by Clive I. Morrick, December 2014. The WestView News.

Mae West spent the night of February 9-10, 1927, in the Jefferson Market prison. It happened this way. She was a Brooklyn born writer, producer, and star of risqué plays. On February 9, with Mayor Walker out of town, and prodded by the Society for the Prevention of Vice, the police raided her play “Sex” at Daley’s Theater on 63rd Street and arrested the entire 22-strong company. The play had opened without protest on April 26, 1926.

The 22 were taken first to the local station house and then to the Men’s Night Court on East 57th Street. Mae West, whose age was recorded as 26 (she was 33), and co-star Barry O’Neil, were docket numbers 1795 and 1796. Magistrate John V. Flood set Mae’s bail at $1,000. Unable to raise that in the middle of the night she went to jail for a few hours. Six days later, Flood remanded the principals in the company to the Court of Special Sessions to be tried on three public morals charges.

But Mae’s lawyers obtained a jury trial in the Court of General Sessions on Centre Street on the ground that this was a matter of public importance. After a grand jury indictment her trial began before Justice George L. Donnellan and a jury on March 28, 1927. The jury’s guilty verdict followed on April 5, and the sentence – 10 days in the Welfare Island workhouse and a $500 fine – on April 19. She served eight days.

The next year there was a repeat performance by the authorities over her play “The Pleasure Man.” Her trial began on March 17, 1930, and ended in a hung jury. There was no retrial. In 1932, she left for Hollywood and became the Mae West of (the apocryphal) “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” fame.


architectural plan
architectural plan


jefferson market
The elevated train station stairs on Sixth Avenue, directly adjacent to the Jefferson Market.


What is today the Jefferson Market Library on Greenwich Ave. between 6th Avenue and West 10th Street was formerly the Jefferson Market. The block originally housed a dingy police court in the Assembly Rooms over a saloon, a volunteer firehouse, a jail, and an octagonal wooden fire lookout tower constructed in 1833.

The wood tower and market structures were razed in 1873 to make way for a new civic complex and courthouse, which opened in 1877.

Photo circa 1855-60, Jefferson Market Library. (source:

Flatiron Building

This excellent photo can be found at Ephemeral New York: an 1884 shot of the corner where the Flatiron building now stands. A big, clear, detailed photo like this is a rarity.

The 1902 Flat Iron building is iconic, as recognizable as the Eiffel Tower (though on a smaller scale) or Trafalgar Square in London. Film makers use it to establish geography almost as a matter of course. But look at this corner before all that (clicking on the image will take you to the full-sized version at Ephemeral New York).

23rd Street, Broadway and Fifth Avenue 1884
23rd Street, Broadway and Fifth Avenue 1884