Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street

If you could step into a time machine and go back to Manhattan in 1884, this is what you’d find where today the New York Public Library stands.

The Croton Distributing Reservoir was the above-ground reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue that provided  the city’s drinking water for much of the 19th century.  From Wikipedia: “The reservoir was a man-made lake 4 acres (16,000 m2) in area, surrounded by massive, 50-foot (15 m) high, 25-foot (7.6 m) thick granite walls. Its facade was done in a vaguely Egyptian style.”

The reservoir  was a favorite destination for tourists because the view from the promenade  was excellent:

In 1844 Edgar Allen Poe recommended the promenade:

When you visit Gotham, you should ride out Fifth Avenue, as far as the distributing reservoir, near Forty-third Street, I believe. The prospect from the walk around the reservoir is particularly beautiful. You can see, from this elevation, the north reservoir at Yorkville; the whole city to the Battery; and a large portion of the harbor, and long reaches of the Hudson and East Rivers.

Just across from the reservoir on Fifth Avenue was Rutger’s Female College, which was founded about 1840 (as a female ‘institute’)  on  the lower east side.

Looking south on Fifth Avenue
Looking south on Fifth Avenue

In 1860 the institution was upgraded to a college and moved to  the buildings at 487-491 Fifth Avenue,  built in 1856   as an early attempt at luxury apartments.

Sophie and Anna of The Gilded Hour attended Rutgers Female College.


34th Street

Crossing Fifth Avenue 1889
Crossing Fifth Avenue 1889



Hoboken (undated)
Hoboken (undated)

In the early 19th century, Colonel John Stevens developed the Hoboken waterfront as a resort for Manhattanites.

hoboken-ferry-terminalOn October 11, 1811, Stevens’ ship the Juliana, began to operate as a ferry between Manhattan and Hoboken, making it the world’s first commercial steam ferry. In 1825, he designed and built a steam locomotive capable of hauling several passenger cars at his estate. Sybil’s Cave, a cave with a natural spring, was opened in 1832 and visitors came to pay a penny for a glass of water from the cave which was said to have medicinal powers. In 1841, the cave became a legend, when Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Mystery of Marie Roget” about an event that took place there. The cave was closed in the late 1880s after the water was found to be contaminated.

The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Hoboken (source)

HOBOKEN, a city of Hudson co., New Jersey, on the Hudson river, opposite New York, with which it is connected by two steam ferries, and at the terminus of the Morris and Essex division of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western railroad; pop. in 1850, 2,668; in 1860, 9,662; in 1870, 20,297, of whom 10,334 were foreigners. It joins Jersey City on the south, with which and with the adjoining places it is connected by horse cars, and extends about 1¾ m. N. and S., and 1 m. E. and W.

It is regularly laid out, a portion of the streets running nearly parallel with the river, and the others crossing them at right angles, and is for the most part compactly built. There are three public squares, viz.: Hudson square, near the river; the “Public” square, near the centre of the city; and a smaller one in the S. part.

The river frontage is only about ½ m., the N. portion of the city being separated from the Hudson by a narrow strip of land which was set off to Weehawken in 1859. At the S. end of this strip is Castle point, commanding a fine view of the river and New York harbor, and containing the Stevens mansion and grounds; and N. of the point are the “Elysian Fields,” formerly a favorite place of resort for New Yorkers, but now mostly sold for business purposes.

From just below the point to a short distance above a walk has been constructed along the margin of the Hudson, which forms a magnificent promenade. The river front is lined with wharves, and here are two United States bonded warehouses, and the termini of four lines of steamers to Europe, viz.: to Bremen, to Hamburg (two), and to Stettin.

Hoboken is divided into four wards, and is governed by a mayor and a common council of 12 members. The streets are paved and lighted with gas. Water is supplied from the Passaic river by the Jersey City water works, but it is proposed to erect separate works and supply the city from the Hackensack. The principal charitable institutions of Hoboken are St. Mary’s hospital (Roman Catholic) and the widows’ home.

There are three large brick public school houses. The schools comprise primary and grammar grades, and in 1874 had 27 teachers and about 3,000 pupils. Evening schools are opened in the winter. There are also an academy, a female seminary, a Catholic school, four weekly newspapers (two German), and 11 churches. — Hoboken was settled by the Dutch in the early part of the 17th century, and named from a village on the Scheldt a few miles S. of Antwerp. It became a city in 1855.

Catholic Churches in Hoboken

1864 – September 20:  The parish of “The Church of Our Lady of Grace” was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey.The first Catholic school, the current Kelly Hall, opened. The Sisters of Charity conducted the education of the children.

1866 – The Sisters of Charity start to build a hospital and asylum. St. Mary Hospital was blessed on May 6, 1866.
1871 – St. Joseph parish church  founded
1874 – May 18: Work commenced on the building of the present Church located on the corner of 4th and Willow.




Hoboken Oral History Project


Gilsey House Hotel

Gilsey House Hotel
Gilsey House Hotel. Click for a full size image.

In part adapted from Wikipedia.

Gilsey House was designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch for Peter Gilsey, a Danish immigrant merchant and city alderman. It was constructed from 1869 to 1871 at the cost of $350,000, and opened in 1872.

The hotel was luxurious – the rooms featured rosewood and walnut finishing, marble fireplace mantles, bronze chandeliers and tapestries  – and offered services to its guests such as telephones, the first hotel in New York to do so. It was a favorite of Diamond Jim Brady and Oscar Wilde, Samuel Clemens was a guest, and it attracted the theatrical trade at a time when the area – which became known as the Tenderloin – was becoming the primary entertainment and amusement district for New York’s growing population, with numerous theatres, gambling clubs and brothels.  Note nearby:  the infamous Haymarket saloon, The White Elephant Gambling Resort, Shang Draper’s Saloon, Crawley’s Pool Hall, Kirby’s Gambling Resort, and the saloon owned and run by John Sullivan, the famous boxing champion.  A block east on Fifth Avenue the wealthy still held sway. Note the Knickerbocker Club and a number of prominent churches.

Gilsey House, Broadway, New York, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views
Gilsey House, Broadway, New York, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views