Category Archives: Old New York

Valentine’s Manuals of the Corporation of the City of New York

David T. Valentine was born in East Chester,  Westchester County, New York, on September 15, 1801. He came to New York City at the age of 16 years and, like many of us, never left. From 1830 until 1868, a period of over thirty-seven years, he was Deputy Clerk and Clerk of the Corporation of the City of New York. Most importantly, perhaps, beginning in 1841-42  until he was forced to retire in 1868, he was responsible for the issuance of what initially  was called “The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York,” and which, as time passed, became known to lovers of New York City history as “Valentine’s Manuals.”

As clerk, he had access to the records of the city that had been maintained (sometimes haphazardly) since the time that New York was a Dutch metropolis. The first Valentine’s manual had a folding map of New York City in 1841.  The second contained a fold-out view of the new Croton Dam and another showing the shore line of the city from the time it was called Nieuw Amsterdam.

NY Scene 1

[Copyright Kenneth Hicks, added colors only, 2014]

Over the course of his 37 years working for the City and producing the manual, over 800 illustrations and maps were published as well as random documents snatched from the archives such as, for example, the proceedings of courts from the earliest times.

Many of the illustrations were intended to preserve the views of the land and the buildings that were even then quickly disappearing, to the dismay of many.

Bwy 17th 1823

[Copyright Kenneth Hicks, added colors only, 2014]

Needless today, we owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Valentine and to all of those who helped him put together these volumes.

I have scanned certain of the lithographs from copies of the Valentine’s Manuals in my possession and have added color to some. I will publish more in the future on this site.




A Walk Across High Bridge from Manhattan to the Bronx

On July 4th, Alice, Zach and I took a trip up to Highbridge Park in Washington Heights, on the upper end of Manhattan, and walked across High Bridge.  I had driven under it many times, wondered about it, marveled at it, and read about it, and when it was reopened in June of this year after being closed for over forty years, I was determined to walk across it.  (More on why it was closed later).  Oh yes, click on pictures to enlarge them!

The bridge1The High Bridge, so named because it really is very tall, was originally built to bring water from the Croton Reservoir across the Harlem River and into Manhattan.  It was designed to resemble a Roman aqueduct and no doubt caused feelings of great pride in the New Yorkers of the time.  It was beautiful.

highbridge-rev2Above is a picture from the Bronx side of what High Bridge looked like when it was first built.  In 1928, four spans on your left were replaced by a single steel arch in order to make the Harlem River easier to navigate.

This is a picture of New Yorkers enjoying themselves walking across the span back in the the 19th Century, when this was a favorite excursion.

Highbridge1869rev-323x380This is a picture of some visitors yesterday.

Alice and meO tempora, o mores!

But yes, that would be me and Alice.  And here is Zach and Alice.

Alice and ZachAnd here is a view of the entire bridge, looking from the Bronx side to Manhattan.

The Bridge2You will remember that the bridge was closed for over forty years.  I will show you a picture and ask you to try to figure out why it was closed.

North and fenceNo, the answer is not because that is the ugliest view in America!  Although looking at the Cross Bronx Expressway, the Deegan Expressway, and the railroad tracks is not easy on the eyes.  The reason is illustrated by the fence that was put up to stop “people” from throwing things over the side onto cars, trains, and boats that passed beneath.  I know, I know.  Why the…. Never mind.  Deep breath.

We left the bridge and walked through HighBridge Park on the way home.  The Park at one time had a huge Reservoir.  It now has a nice size swimming pool.  It also has trails on which one can forget that there are people in the world who throw things off bridges.

ThistelThere are also mulberry trees where we stopped and ate a few, as we do every year, at least once a summer, just to prove we know they really are edible and will not kill us!  The park also has beautiful rocks, although (and Alice says I am being paranoid) one rock definitely gave me a Bronx cheer.

Bronx cheerThis rose was not in the park, but was so beautiful, it had to be part of the remembrance of the day.

RoseAnd, since it was a walk on July 4th, it would not be right to leave out one of the nicest sights of all.

Flag and cloudsHappy fourth of July!


The Collect Pond

This is another lithograph from “olden times” in New York City, courtesy of the 1860 Valentine’s Manual. The famous Collect Pond was where Mr. Livingston and Mr. Fulton were said to have first tried out their crazy idea for a steam powered boat. It is now the site of a parking lot for the Court.   The Civil Court would be approximately where the water narrows; the Criminal Court would be on the right, and the Family Court, on the left. This view would be blocked entirely by the New York City Department of Health building.  They are all noble institutions, but I prefer the pond.

Collect Pond 1

The view may be somewhat fanciful.  However, there are newspaper reports from the early 1800s of spectators sitting on the hills to the west of the pond (left in the picture) and watching ice skaters performing all sorts of acrobatics.  That is a scene we would love to see!

As the 19th century progressed, the pond became horribly polluted and the Common Council finally voted to fill it in.  Perhaps some of those nice rolling hills are now sitting at the bottom of the Collect Pond.

New York City in 1650 and 1823

Today we are starting a new category for our blog — Old New York — where you will find all sorts of photographs and prints and maps and anything else that we think is interesting about this weirdly wonderful city.

Let’s kick things off with a view of the New York waterfront, looking in from the East River back in 1650 when the place was still called Nieuw Amstrdam.  It’s a print that first appeared in a series of books that are now called Valentine’s Manuals, because Valentine was the name of the Clerk of the City of New York when these manuals first started appearing.

NY Scene 1

Next, let’s skip forward 175 years or so to 1823 for an image of the junction of Broadway and the Bowery at 17th Street, which is approximately where Union Square Park is today.  What would you give to be able to step into either of these pictures?

Bwy 17th 1823

We hope you enjoyed these.  We will be back!