The Queens Borough President Panoramic Photographs

Staff at the Municipal Archives  continue to digitize the historical collections including paper records, books, motion pictures, maps, plans, and photographs.  My current assignment is the Queens Borough President photograph collection.  The thousands of fascinating pictures includes a series of panoramic images.  They were taken mostly during the 1920s and 1930s by the Topographical Bureau in the Borough President’s office, under the direction of the Engineer in Charge, Charles Underhill Powell. 

 Powell’s tenure coincided with a time of rapid change in Queens.  A borough that had long been mostly sparsely populated farmland was quickly becoming a diverse urban landscape.  This required a drastic overhaul of the borough’s infrastructure, and engineers like Powell went out to survey, document, design, and plan.

 The photographers generally used standard 8 x 10 inch sheet film, a format still popular for the high resolution it provides.  Sometimes, though, an 8 x 10 negative just wasn’t good enough.  In these situations, the photographers turned to what is known as a banquet camera.  Originally intended for photographing large groups of people, the wide negatives (usually either 7x17” or 12x20”) offered a lot of space to squeeze an entire crowd or banquet hall into one frame.  Banquet cameras fell out of favor when medium format and other roll film formats were invented, allowing more flexibility and ease of use in event photography.  But landscape and architectural photographers adopted the banquet camera for the precision, resolution, and wide angle of view it offered.

 The Queens panoramic negatives (which are all 7x17”) present a digitization challenge.  Because of their width, they cannot be captured at high resolution in one shot with an overhead camera and they are too fragile for a flatbed scanner.  There is an alternative: stitching.  I photographed each negative in three shots, which partially overlap with each other.  I then ran a Photoshop script to stitch them together.  This has worked surprisingly well, even on the most deteriorated negatives.  These advancing technologies and workflows allow us to make these beautiful images, which document an important period in New York City history, available to the public.

Alley Pond, Queens, June 15, 1927. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Alley Pond, Queens, June 15, 1927. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Skaters on Alley Pond, Queens, February 8, 1930. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Skaters on Alley Pond, Queens, February 8, 1930. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Nassau Boulevard, looking east from Main Street, Queens, August 20, 1928. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Nassau Boulevard, looking east from Main Street, Queens, August 20, 1928. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Little Neck Parkway, looking north at Union Turnpike, Queens, July 16, 1931. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Little Neck Parkway, looking north at Union Turnpike, Queens, July 16, 1931. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Under the elevated train, 31st Street, looking north at 23rd Avenue, Queens, August 28, 1935. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Under the elevated train, 31st Street, looking north at 23rd Avenue, Queens, August 28, 1935. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Grand Central Parkway, looking west, Queens, October 27, 1938. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Grand Central Parkway, looking west, Queens, October 27, 1938. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Main Street, looking north at 72nd Avenue, Queens, May 27, 1937. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Main Street, looking north at 72nd Avenue, Queens, May 27, 1937. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Queens Boulevard, looking west, October 25, 1938. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Queens Boulevard, looking west, October 25, 1938. Borough President Queens Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

The Apollo 11 Ticker Tape Parade: August 13, 1969

New York City ticker-tape parade for the Apollo 11 Astronauts, and receptions at City Hall and the United Nations, with Mayor John V. Lindsay, August 13, 1969. NYPD Film Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

On August 13, 1969, New York City welcomed Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Lt. Col. Michael Collins, Col. Buzz Aldrin with an exuberant ticker-tape reception to applaud their moon landing three weeks earlier on July 20. The City, and the nation, had to wait until the astronauts emerged from an isolation ward at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston before celebrating their triumph.

It would be a hectic day for the astronauts. New York City had three and a half hours for the ticker-tape parade; then it was on to Chicago for another parade. Their day ended with a state dinner hosted by President Richard Nixon in Los Angeles.

For many decades the New York City ticker-tape parade had been recognized around the world as the ultimate accolade for a job well-done. But by the 1960s, there had been so many parades (130 between 1945 and 1965 alone), that they came to be viewed as synthetic and routine.  In lieu of building tenants throwing ticker tape, the City had to deliver confetti and shredded paper to buildings along Broadway to ensure an appropriate cascade of paper. Businesses in lower Manhattan complained of disruptions. When Mayor John Lindsay took office in 1966, he announced that his administration would discontinue the ticker-tape parade in favor of more informal receptions tailored to the special interests of the guest. However, the spectacular success of America’s Apollo space program in 1969 cried out for ticker-tape celebrations and Lindsay couldn’t say no.

L-R: Lt. Col. Frank Borman, Lt. Col. William A. Anders, Mayor Lindsay, Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr., Governor Nelson Rockefeller on the steps of City Hall, January 10, 1969. Mayor Lindsay Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

L-R: Lt. Col. Frank Borman, Lt. Col. William A. Anders, Mayor Lindsay, Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr., Governor Nelson Rockefeller on the steps of City Hall, January 10, 1969. Mayor Lindsay Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Lindsay’s first parade, on January 10, 1969, hailed Apollo 8 Astronauts, Lt. Col. Frank Borman, Lt. Col. William A. Anders, and Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr., the first men to see the far side of the moon. Riding with the astronauts in the motorcade, Mayor John V. Lindsay was reported in The New York Times to have overheard them say, “It’s a forbidding place… gray and colorless… It shows the scars of a terrific bombardment… certainly not a very inviting place to live or work.” Thinking they were talking about New York, he broke in and told them, “If you’re going to talk like that you’re not going to get your gold medals.” They’d been describing the moon. And they got their medals.

Just seven months later, on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 promise to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, giving Lindsay another opportunity to host a ticker-tape celebration. For both Apollo parades, Lindsay broke with tradition and rode with the honorees in their motorcades. Previous mayors had waited at City Hall to greet the guests, who were escorted up Broadway by the City’s chief of protocol.

For the Apollo 11 astronauts their busy day started with a flight to New York from Houston aboard the Presidential Jet, Air Force One. They landed at Kennedy Airport at 9:45 a.m. where a marine helicopter met them for a quick trip to the Downtown Heliport on South Street.  From there, a motorcade brought them to Bowling Green and the start of the parade.  Thousands of spectators cheered the astronauts along the traditional parade route up Broadway to City Hall where they received the City’s Gold Medal. 

After the City Hall festivities, the motorcade continued uptown stopping in front of the General Assembly Building at the United Nations for an 11-minute ceremony.  And finally, right on schedule, at 1:15 p.m., the astronauts reached Kennedy Airport for the flight to Chicago and another parade. 


Seated on the custom-built Chrysler Imperial parade limousine, L-R: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Col. Buzz Aldrin, Lt. Col. Michael Collins, wave to onlookers. Mayor Lindsay is seated at right, August 13, 1969. Department of Sanitation Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Press trucks lead the Apollo 11 Astronaut motorcade along Broadway approaching City Hall Park, August 13, 1969. NYPD Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Press and security personnel jog alongside the Apollo 11 Astronaut motorcade as it turns into City Hall Park, August 13, 1969. NYPD Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Spectators waiting for the Apollo 11 Astronauts, City Hall Park, August 13, 1969. NYPD Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

City officials, Apollo 11 Astronauts, and their families recite the pledge of allegiance on the steps of City Hall, August 13, 1969. NYPD Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Following the City Hall reception, the Apollo 11 Astronaut motorcade continued uptown along Centre Street on their way to the United Nations, August 13, 1969. NYPD Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Spectators and more confetti greet the Apollo 11 Astronaut motorcade on Centre Street, August 13, 1969. NYPD Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

The Apollo 11 motorcade arrives at the United Nations for a brief ceremony, August 13, 1969. NYPD Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Sanitation workers in front of Pier A preparing to clean up after the parade, August 13, 1969. Department of Sanitation Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Sanitation workers cleaning the parade route along Broadway, August 13, 1969. Department of Sanitation Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

The Electric Grid

Power. Electrical Power. It’s been in the news a lot recently.  There’s not enough of it. It’s not distributed to the right places.  Diversify the grid. Find new sources. Eliminate the monopoly.  Those could be the headlines from newspapers covering the introduction of electricity into the City.  This power source which we take for granted was a new technology in 1881. It threatened the gas monopoly, created opportunities for dozens of new companies and forced City leaders to develop processes and procedures—bureaucracies even—to deal with it. 

 Regulating the new source of power initially fell to the Board of Commissioners of Electrical Subways.  But do not jump to conclusions.  This Board was not concerned with transit but with the installation of underground cables and electrical conductors—“subways” in lieu of the spaghetti of wires that criss-crossed the City on above-ground poles. Authority then passed to the Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Lamps and Gas. That Bureau shared power with the three-person Board of Electrical Control in the administrations of Mayor Hugh Grant and Thomas Gilroy and reverted back to the Bureau of Lamps and Gas in 1895.  A suggestive, un-dated memo from an anonymous source in the Grant files severely criticized the Board for “practically giving away” the franchises to install lights and recommended that “The Board should be moved from the boudoir in Wallack’s Theatre building owned by one of the commissioners to suitable offices in or near the City Hall. Then the Department of Public Building Lighting and Supply took the reins.  By 1918, the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity handled the work.  But by this point, the Department’s major responsibility was water, not electricity.

 This was a transformative period in the City’s history. Waves of immigrants, principally from Southern and Eastern Europe arrived.  New industries sprung up.   The late 19th century was a period of innovation and improved living conditions.  And of course, there was the 1898 consolidation of the greater City of New York consisting of five boroughs which brought opportunities and new municipal headaches.

 Into this heady mix add the invention of a new means of generating and managing electrical power. Tinkerers had played with electricity for decades and even created light bulbs.  But there wasn’t a practical use until Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, which had a carbon filament that could provide light for up to 600 hours.  Based in Menlo Park, NJ his new invention was used to light streets in that locale.  Shortly thereafter, in 1879, he founded the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York City, worked to distribute electricity along a grid, developed generators and built the first power generating station--The Pearl Street Station.  The plant converted coal to electricity and in September 1882, building interiors, as well as streets, in about 80 locations in lower Manhattan were alit.[PT1] 

 Although Edison is commonly thought to be the first to illuminate a New York City street, the honor actually belongs to the Brush Electric Company which lit up Madison Square Park and Broadway in 1880 The company previously had demonstrated the effectiveness of its arc lighting system by successfully installing street lights in Wabash, Indiana and Cleveland in 1879.  This led to street lighting contracts in other cities, including New York. Thus began the competition between gas and electrical light providers that would eventually produce Consolidated Edison.  The electric “arc” lamps actually cast more light than gas lamps.  It appears that each electrical arc light could cast sufficient brilliant light to replace four or five gas lights.  While the brighter lights were lamented by some who preferred the softer yellow glow emitted from the gas lamps, they appealed to business owners whose merchandise could be viewed in store windows throughout the night.

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Mayor William R. Grace Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

Mayor William R. Grace Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

Records in the collections of Mayors Grace, Hewitt, Grant, Gilroy, Strong, Van Wyck and McLellan provide information on the electrification of New York City in the period between 1880 and 1909.   The files combine the humdrum business of government with correspondence and reports that grapple with the challenge of safely integrating new technologies on the streets of the City.    There are lists of streets from which wires and poles are to be removed; analyses of bids to light up the City; reports on individuals electrocuted; complaints, permits and contracts.  There even are two remarkable pages that show the 1886 design of a proposed sidewalk arc light and the safety features below the street from

 Back to the wires.  There were dead wires, live wires, telegraph and telephone wires. Fire Department wires. Police Department wires.  All in all a tangled mess of poorly insulated cabling.  And they presented real dangers, as illustrated by a letter documenting a death due to electrocution.

Mayor Hugh J. Grant Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

Mayor Hugh J. Grant Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

Statistics about electrocutions are scant in the Mayoral papers but these tragedies were not uncommon.  The coroner’s report from a 1889 death caused by electric shock stated that “the overhead electric wires in this city are a constant danger to life”.  Further it urged the authorities to take “Immediate and vigorous action in the direction of placing underground all overhead electric wires in the city.  Shortly thereafter the Board of Electrical Control took up the topic of poorly insulated wiring and Mayor Grant offered a resolution for the Electrical Expert to have all the improperly insulated wires removed immediately. The Board did not adopt the motion.  The Mayor stated, “Rather than have a death occur from one of those wires, knowing that I was responsible for it, I would not care if all the electric lights in the city stopped.  Four days later, Mayor Grant ordered all of current for the electric arc lights to be turned off.  This plunged the City into “endless tunnels of gloom” as reported by the New York Times.

 This is New York so there were complaints about dangerous poles, tangled wires and inappropriate wires. Several residents complained of dead poles.  Others demanded more lights. One letter received in the Mayor’s Office, logged as Complaint #336 and referred to the Board of Electrical Control is particularly winsome.  “Will you kindly inform me how I can obtain relief from the Telegraph and Telephone Companies who have taken possession of the clothes poles of my roof?

Mayor William L. Strong Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

Mayor William L. Strong Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

The “Electrical Expert” employed by the City reported regularly on the removal of wires and poles. One report documents the condition of “wires on the roof of the City Hall”.  A total of nineteen wires, ten from telephone and telegraph companies, five from the police department and four dead wires topped the building.  The live wires were slated to run inside a flue that would run from the roof to the cellar and the wires would no longer be visible.

 By 1887, regulations were in place to regulate the removal and installation of the poles from which wires were strung and mandating the conversion to subterranean cabling.  The poles and their wires were an eyesore and a danger.  One company that cornered the market installing the subterranean grids was The Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York.  In a 1891 letter from an Edison vice president to a company attorney noted that the City was spending $1 million annually to pave streets/sidewalks and lamented, “It is of course unfortunate that both the electrical installation and the work of paving should be in this transitional state at the same time, repeating probably the experience of the gas companies a generation ago. “  The company was attempting to install their boxes before the pavement was laid, a familiar story to New Yorkers today.

 As the subways were completed, the Board of Electrical Control or its predecessors would issue an order to the company controlling the area requiring that the poles and wires be removed.  Demand was expanding so quickly that the Board issued temporary permits in order to accommodate the demand. The City was growing.  Between 1880 and 1900 the population more than doubled from 1,206,299 to 3,437,202 residents. Moving all of those people required improvements in transportation and electricity led to the replacement of steam engine powered trains with the quieter electric powered trains on the elevated lines. By this time, it was clear that electricity was desired not just to light the City’s streets but to brighten up commercial establishments, speed up factory work and modernize residential buildings.  Special exhibits showcased electrical appliances for the home, building a new market.

 In 1885, the City (which meant Manhattan and parts of what became the Bronx because this precedes Consolidation) appropriated $716,700 “for lighting the streets, parks and public places of the city” and solicited bids for the work.  Beginning in the 1820s when the State issued a contract to the New York Gas Light Company and continuing into the mid-1930s, City streets were largely lit by gas lights. The electric “arc” lamps actually cast more light than gas lamps.  It appears that each electrical arc light replaced four or five gas lights.  The brighter lights were lamented by some who preferred the softer yellow glow emitted from the gas lamps.  The nine bids that were received reflected this—seven of the nine were from gas companies.   The multiplicity of companies appear largely to be geographically based which is reflected in the names:  Manhattan Gas, Yonkers Gas, Northern Gas, Harlem Gas, etc.   And then there was the Consolidated Gas Company which in 1884 created a new company out of several smaller gas providers, according to the Poors Manual of Public Utilities, starting a trend.

 By 1899, all of the smaller companies had become subsidiaries of the Consolidated Gas Company.  Its bid covered “all the streets and public places now lighted by the Brush and United States Electrical Light Companies, and all the lamps now lighted under the existing contracts by the New York, Manhattan, Metropolitan and Harlem Gas Companies”.   The workers who lost their jobs due to  this new monopoly petitioned City and State officials and  urged “prompt and speedy action to obtain for the City of New York the right to maintain its own gas works and mains and to furnish to this city the gas required for fuel, light and other purposes, at the minimum price consistent with the expenses of such a public work, or to favor any measure which may offer immediate relief to the citizens of this city from the control and capacity of the existing  companies.”

Mayor Hugh J. Grant Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

Mayor Hugh J. Grant Papers, NYC Municipal Archives

In 1900 the Edison Company and Consolidated Gas merged. By 1919 the Consolidated Gas Company was a vertically integrated company producing gas meters, electric meters, current.  It had gobbled up several of the smaller electrical companies as subsidiaries including the Astoria light, Heat and Power Company.

 In 1904, no less a dignitary than future New York Governor, Republican Presidential nominee and eventual Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes, led a state investigation into utility companies.  The four-volume transcript reveals a good deal of messy bookkeeping as part of the extensive consolidation of gas generating companies into one large entity:  the Consolidated Gas Company.

 In 1928 The New York Edison Company published a book, “Towers of Manhattan” featuring sketches of various new skyscrapers that comprised “a skyline of surpassing interest and beauty.”  It included a sketch of the company’s headquarters and also, in an act of conceit, the power plant located at 14th Street and the East River.  The preface pays homage, though, to the successful work of the bureaus and bureaucracies, remarking on the “inexhaustible supply of electric energy which passes unseen and unrealized under the streets of New York—over the copper threads which link these unique buildings to the great power plants on the water front.”

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Illustrations. Towers of Manhattan, The New York Edison Company, 1928. Municipal Reference Library

Illustrations. Towers of Manhattan, The New York Edison Company, 1928. Municipal Reference Library


 

Covering Wars Before Before the Advent of “Fake News” and the 24-Hour News Cycle

In an era of “fake news” and 24-hour news cycles, it’s worth a look back at how the press covered things back in the days of the Pony Express, snail mail and telegraph—without television, radio, the Internet. 

One good way to do that is to examine coverage of the Civil War through a set of dozens of yellowed and fragile copies of Horace Greeley’s Weekly and Semi-Weekly New-York Tribune residing in the Municipal Library. Those editions condensed the decidedly pro-Union Daily Tribune and were mailed to tens of thousands of readers from Maine to California starting at $2 a year and eventually going up to $4 annually.

The January 9, 1863 edition of the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune.

Not surprisingly, war news dominated most editions—which were generally eight pages. But there was local news from New York on education issues, a Queens County Fair, a fire in Buffalo, the latest Cattle Market prices, advertisements for such things as Holloway’s ointment—“for sabre cuts, gunshot wounds and all other wounds”—and, in late 1862, ads for “cheap editions” of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” at $1.50 for five cloth-bound volumes.

The Library’s collection picks up in September 1862, just before the major battles at Antietam/Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg. Many of the dispatches are from “staff correspondents,” but there also are stories from newspapers in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, written in the somewhat formal or stilted language of the time, which include references we would find racist today. Several issues contain large maps of troop movements and battles.

The September 13, 1862 edition reported: “We continue to extract the pith of rumors and opinions concerning the position, conduct and prospects of the Rebel army” in Maryland, and added, “Our Washington dispatches say that a fight is expected at Frederick (Md.) where the Rebel main body is thought to be.” It went on to quote “two men from Frederick” who say, “There are but few Rebel troops there … the Rebels are in a state of great destitution; many of them are shoeless and are only kept in the ranks at the point of a bayonet.”

Another dispatch quoted Union soldiers as saying they believed “an immediate attack on Harper’s Ferry was intended. Some of the soldiers (said) they reckoned there were about 12,000 Union troops at the Ferry with at least 2,500 negroes worth a million dollars.”

The December 16, 1862 edition of the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune included a map of “the new state of West Virginia,” which would not officially become part of the Union until June 20, 1863.

The September 19 edition included a dispatch on a “fierce and desperate battle at Antietam “between 200,000 men (that) has raged since daylight …it’s the greatest fight since Waterloo.” The correspondent breathlessly added: “If not wholly a victory tonight, I believe it’s a prelude to a victory tomorrow.”

The prediction proved to be true, as the Union Army, led by Maj. Gen. George McClellan routed the Rebels in one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War in which 22,717 men were killed, wounded or reported missing. The paper called it a “brilliant victory,” and added: “All agree that no battle, since the rebellion broke out, has engaged more men or been fought with more desperation … Our (Union) soldiers behaved like heroes.” The dispatch also noted, in a back-handed way, the dedication and resolve of the Confederate Army: “It is not for love, much as they profess it … it is for hate, in part, of the d—mned Yankees.”

Several days after Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation – to take effect Jan. 1, 1863—freeing 3.1 million enslaved people. The September 26 edition included a dispatch filed two days earlier on a massive celebration in Washington, D.C.

“The serenade in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation tonight called out a large and enthusiastic throng,” the Tribune reported. “Nobody expected a long speech from the President, so nobody was disappointed with the brevity of his remarks … He had issued the proclamation with a full knowledge of what he was doing and would stand by it.”

The January 9, 1863 edition of the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune had a large front page map of the battlefields in Kentucky and Tennessee that the paper called “by far the most accurate and complete of any yet published.”

In non-war news, the September 23 issue also wrote of “Our Indian difficulties.” The dispatch reported on a letter from Dakota Sioux Chief Little Crow to Gen. Harry Hopkins Silbey “in which he wants to know in what way can he make peace” to end the fighting in the Sioux Uprising of 1862 in the Minnesota River Valley in which Sioux warriors raided settler villages. But the war went on a little while longer. Afterward, 38 Dakota tribe members were hanged the day after Christmas 1862.

On October 31, 1862, the Tribune reported on the Union Army’s failure to capture control of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, a key Confederate pipeline. “It is now known that the late expedition up Broad River to break up the Charleston and Savannah Railroad was not a success. In plain words, the Union forces were defeated … We cannot judge, at this moment, of the nature of the affair, but it does seem strange that so apparently simple a matter of the obstruction of this road is so long delayed.”

The newspapers of November of that year detailed the push toward the Great Battle of Fredericksburg, which would result in one of the costliest Union defeats of the war. On November 7, the Tribune reported that, “dispatches from General McClellan’s headquarters say that the advance of the Army of the Potomac up the Valley on the left side of the Blue Ridge, is being pushed forward with all dispatch. Gen. Pleasanton occupied Upperville Monday afternoon after a spirited engagement with the enemy lasting four hours.”

On November 28, the paper reported that there was “no fighting yet at Fredericksburg. The Rebels are bringing up their entire army evidently to contest the passage of the river by (Gen. Ambrose) Burnside. The dispatch laments that the Union army was not being aggressive enough. “Our army seems to be waiting until the whole force of the Rebels shall arrive to get into line of battle.”

The December 16, 1862 edition of the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune reported on the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The December 12 edition reported that preparations for the Great Battle had begun. “A large portion of the city (was) destroyed.” But the news quickly turned grim for the Union army. A December 14 dispatch reported the ominous news in a large headline and 11-deck sub-headline: 

“OUR TROOPS OBLIGED TO FALL BACK. THE OBJECT SOUGHT UNATTAINED.” 

The story, which took up four full columns, reported: During last night and this afternoon the Rebels have considerably extended their works and strengthened their position. Large bodies of troops are now to be seen where, but few were to be found yesterday.” In total, 12,700 Union soldiers were killed, compared to 5,300 Confederate casualties.

Several weeks later, the Tribune reported a “great and glorious” Union victory at Murfreesboro, Tenn. “The Rebels ran away in the night... their Army utterly demoralized.”

“The Draft Riots of New York, July 1863,” from The Diary of George Templeton Strong, NYC Municipal Library.

“The Draft Riots of New York, July 1863,” from The Diary of George Templeton Strong, NYC Municipal Library.

The Library’s collection of these papers has a gap between January 27, 1863 and August 30, 1864, which encompassed the Draft Riots in New York City. The Civil War in New York City, by Ernest A. McKay tells of the riots, which erupted from July 11–16, 1863 when white mobs opposed to the draft rioted, pillaged, hanged at least one black man, and trashed Tribune offices. “Windows were broken at Tribune offices and some furniture was destroyed.” McKay then recounted the “disgraceful burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum” on Fifth Avenue, between 43rd and 44th Streets. “A wild horde, mainly of Irish,” ransacked the building. “Hundreds of rioters ran through the four-story building stealing anything in sight.” 

“The Draft Riots of New York, July 1863,” from The Diary of George Templeton Strong, NYC Municipal Library.

That gap also included the Battle of Gettysburg. However, the Daily Tribune in early July 1863 told the tale which, presumably was in the semi-weekly editions. On July 3, 1863, the Daily Tribune recounted the “severe battle near Gettysburg … the battle opened yesterday morning by severe skirmishing … the fight continued throughout the day with variable results.” On July 7, the daily paper heralded “The great victory … Our whole army in motion from Frederick, Md. A courier from Gettysburg to-day reports that Gen (George Gordon) Meade’s army this morning advanced 6 miles beyond the battlefield.” More than 50,000 men were killed in the three-day battle, the largest number of the entire war and a key turning point of the Civil War.

The Library’s collection picks up in late 1864, after the Battle of Atlanta and leads up to the Battle of Nashville, which was fought in late December 1864. Proclaiming a “great victory,” the Tribune’s December 23 edition reported the Rebel army was in “full retreat” after the Union side attacked the Rebels’ rear guard, capturing large numbers of prisoners.

“The 4th Corps crossed the Harpeth River at Franklin on Sunday morning. (Gen. George) Thomas is pursuing the enemy to Duck River. We have nearly all (Gen. John Bell) Hood’s artillery and his army is really fully demoralized.” The December 27 issue elaborates: The Rebels’ retreat from Franklin to Duck River beggars all description. Hood told his corps commander to get off the best way they could.”

The March 24, 1865 edition previewed the expected “great combined attack in Mobile” (the Mobile Campaign), which would be fought from March 25 to April 12, and resulted in a Union victory. It was the last great Civil War battle. The collection ends just before General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, VA, on April 9, 1865.

The New York Herald, which ultimately would merge with the Tribune summed up the surrender this way in large, bold-faced headline: “THE END.”

The sub headline read: “SURRENDER OF LEE AND HIS WHOLE ARMY TO GRANT.”

Unbuilt New York: Brooklyn’s Eighth Ward Market

Ground Plan of the Markets of the City of New York, undated. Common Council, NYC Municipal Archives.

Markets have been a staple of New York City life since the 1600s, when the Dutch established the Marketfield next to Fort Amsterdam. By the early 1900s, there were approximately 2,500 active open-air vendors operating in the city with little to no oversight. This led to corruption and unsanitary conditions. In 1918, as a response to the growing health hazards and corrupt officials, the City established the Department of Public Markets to oversee food distribution, relations between farmers and consumers, and pushcart peddling. While many markets were built by the Department, our blog this week tells the story of Brooklyn’s “Eighth Ward Public Market.” The intricate drawings and blueprints of the proposed market in the collection of the Municipal Archives illustrate what would have been a striking addition to the City’s infrastructure. Sadly, the market never became a reality.

“New” W Washington Poultry Market, undated. Department of Marine and Aviation Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Statue of Irving T. Bush at Bush Terminal Piers Park, photograph by Nathalie Belkin.

Many New York City covered markets in the early 20th century were designed with brick and terracotta buildings that demarcated their boundaries. The second floor of the buildings, for the most part, housed the market headquarters and offices. Popular covered markets included the West Washington Poultry Market, which stood at West Street and Gansevoort Street, in Greenwich Village, and the original Fulton Fish Market near the Brooklyn Bridge.

However, for every covered market that was built, most proposed during the 19th and early 20th centuries remained unbuilt. One such market would have been located on a two-block stretch of Brooklyn waterfront between 36th and 38th Streets. This market began its surprisingly long and ultimately doomed journey in 1895. Irving T. Bush, working under the name of his family's company, The Bush Co., organized six warehouses and one pier as a freight handling terminal on the waterfront of South Brooklyn. During the early days of Bush Terminal (today known as Industry City) it had many detractors and earned the moniker, “Bush’s Folly.” However, by 1918, The Bush Co. owned the Bush Terminal Railroad Company as well as 3,100 feet of Brooklyn waterfront, along 20 blocks.

Drawing of the Eighth Ward Market by the Public Buildings and Offices, December 1906. Department of Ports and Trade Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

In 1906, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment authorized $2,000,000 and bond premiums in the amount of $204,094.13 (over $5.7 million today) for the Brooklyn market. Following that approval, in January 1909, the Board of Estimate adopted an ordinance, authorized by the Comptroller and approved by Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr., for the issuance of corporate stock in the amount of $45,000.00 (over $1.2 million today). This funding was designated for use by the Brooklyn Borough President, Bird S. Coler, for preparation and extension of land for a public market in Brooklyn’s Eighth Ward.

Corporate Stock Request and Approval, Department of Finance, Comptroller’s Office, 1908, NYC Municipal Library.

Corporate Stock Request and Approval, Department of Finance, Comptroller’s Office, 1908, NYC Municipal Library.

Corporate Stock Request and Approval, Department of Finance, Comptroller’s Office, 1908, NYC Municipal Library

Engineer’s Blueprint, Eighth Ward Market, Intersection of Bulkhead Wall with Adjoining Bulkhead Wall of the Department of Docks, December 30, 1909. Department of City Works, NYC Municipal Archives.

Plans and drawings show that the ambitious market would cover approximately 20-acres and include dedicated trolley tracks to bring goods and supplies directly to every individual stall or shop in the market. Intricately detailed blueprints note that the market would have its own electric lighting, heating, and refrigeration plants, an incinerator, as well as pavements specially graded in order to ensure optimal drainage.

This waterfront market would also include a large public bath with a recreational pier. The public baths were to be the centerpiece of the market and would help the City comply with an 1895 State law requiring construction of free public baths in cities with a population over 50,000. Newspapers of the time lauded the public market as the single most important part of the South Brooklyn Waterfront Improvement Project.

Drawing of Eighth Ward Market, Public Baths, Bureau of Public Buildings and Offices, July 31, 1907. Department of Public Works, NYC Municipal Archives.

The public baths incorporated men’s and women’s entrances, toilets, offices and stores. The plans accounted for 42 male showers and 29 female showers.

Blueprint of Eighth Ward Public Market, Public Bath House & Comfort Station, undated. Department of Public Works, NYC Municipal Archives.

Blueprint of Eighth Ward Public Market, Outline of Market Square, Refrigerating and Power Plant, and Public Bath, undated. Department of Public Works, NYC Municipal Archives.

By 1911, it was clear that long delays in construction of the market were becoming burdensome to both residents and officials of the city. Commissioner of Docks and Ferries Calvin Tomkins, also believed that as Bush Terminal grew and the New York Dock Company tracks were built around the proposed public market site, it was no longer feasible or wise to build the market at the original site.

Nonetheless, in January of 1912, at a meeting held by the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, members seemed sure that construction of the market would continue at the original location. Drawings and blueprints clearly show the level of detail and planning that had gone into the design of the market. The main discussion at the meeting focused on renaming the market from the Eighth Ward Public Market to The South Brooklyn Public Market - a possible portent for plans of a market serving more than the local community. Attendees also praised the installation of a high water pressure system that would ensure enormous savings to the manufacturing and shipping interests of the area.

Calvin Tomkins, Commissioner of Docks, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 21, 1911.

In April 1912, Docks Commissioner Tomkins convened a public meeting at Prospect Hall. His proposal to move the market site was met with loud protest by over two thousand residents. Many vocalized the need to retain the original site due to the amount of money already spent (the Board of Estimate had allocated $500,000 to continue construction). Tomkins argued that the market would serve the entire City; not just the Eighth Ward community: “It must be connected with other large improvements. It must be accessible. It must have approaches by rail and by water, and it must be centrally located.”

Eventually, with continued discussions and further endorsements by and between the Borough President, the Commissioner of Public Works and the Tax Commissioner, a second site was settled upon: Seventeenth Street at the Gowanus Canal. But alas, by 1915, Brooklyn still did not have its public market on either of the chosen sites. Frustrated Brooklyn residents blamed this on the politicians from Manhattan.

Map of Waterfront Development and Eighth Ward Market Site, both locations noted. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 19, 1912.

“Mrs. Bangs Says Politicians Make Brooklyn Wait.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 26, 1915.

In 1918, a South Brooklyn market did finally open, at Hicks and Baltic Streets. The market was small and served the immediate community; it was set up by the South Brooklyn League. As late as 1924, there was still a glimmer of hope for the Eighth Ward Public Market, with the 7th Assembly District Republican Club endorsing it. However, by July 1934, there was no market and an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle put to rest any further claim of a market coming to the area:

“Seventy-five workmen are engaged in converting the city-owned property…once set aside as the site of the proposed 8th Ward Market and an ‘eye-sore’ for the past 25 years, into a permanent playground and baseball field.”

Today, the waterfront area once reserved for the Eighth Ward Public Market is part of the sprawling Industry City complex and home to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, with popular restaurants, storefronts, offices and warehouse space for many of New York’s museums and retailers.

While Brooklyn’s Eighth Ward Public Market was never built, and the Lower East Side continued to be the hub of covered and pushcart markets life, its shadow remains in beautifully illustrated drawings and diagrams; there are annual reports and newspapers which discuss budgets, neighborhood concerns and political battles, all of which remind us of the grand market that never was.

Drawing of Eighth Ward Market, Administration Building, May 1907. Department of Ports and Trade Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Where Bad Boys are Made Good

William Bartell was arrested in 1897 on a charge of “maliciously and willfully” breaking windows and smashing doors. Martin Leddy was arrested in April of that same year, charged with being “disorderly.” According to his mother, he “remains away from home late at night and associates with idle and vicious companions.” In 1902 Thomas O’Shaughnessey, Jr., was charged with vagrancy, having “no visible means of support, lives without employment… and does not give a good account of himself.” He was twelve years old.

Intake record, 1896. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Intake record, 1897. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Intake record, 1898. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Intake record, 1899. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

What was to be done with such hardened criminals? Since they were under fourteen years of age, they were sent to the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys. Located at 18th Avenue between 56th and 58th Streets, this nine-acre estate was previously home to the Villa de Sales Academy, a Catholic boarding school for young ladies. By 1897 it was filled with hundreds of boys, all of them remanded by the court for committing misdemeanors. There the youth were taught military drills and battle hymns. They received practical instruction in a variety of trades, such as printmaking, cobbling, carpentry, and baking. They were given an education, a warm place to sleep, clothing, healthcare, and good food. There was discipline, of course, but it was to be fair and just, managed without corporal punishment. All of this without walls and fences, locks and bars. This was reform for a new era.

Report on Martin Laddie [Leddy], 1897. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

If you read the papers during the school’s tenure, you would be hard-pressed to form a differing opinion. Politicians, businessmen, and journalists extolled the virtues of the institution. The Reverend William Nichols of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities said of it, “I do not know any school in our community where the boys are better cared for and instructed under better conditions. I thought as I listened to the beautiful music that every one of those boys in that band has a trade with which he may be able to earn his living some day when he leaves this institution.” While Justice Robert J. Wilkin commented, “I never went through a dormitory where the air was so sweet and clean…” And yet, over the course of its thirteen years there were numerous stories of mismanagement, neglect, and violence, as well as reports from multiple city agencies detailing poor conditions and extravagant costs.

Inmate report, 1900. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

The Brooklyn Disciplinary School for Boys was established by Chapter 235 of the New York State Laws of 1896. It was governed by a Board of Managers chosen by the Mayor of the City of Brooklyn. It was not, however, placed under the jurisdiction of any specific department. This became an ongoing point of contention when Brooklyn became part of Greater New York. The Charter of 1897 did not address the issue and instead let the original law stand as written. While the State Board of Charities had a nominal say in all such institutions, the actual governance was left to the Board of Managers and those they appointed as President and Superintendent of the school. For over a decade, the school was left to its own devices.

Census report of student body, 1900. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Toward the end of the 19th century there were few options for wayward youth. Religious institutions were ill-equipped to act as reformers and even less-equipped to handle the hundreds of children sentenced by the courts for short-term care. Institutions like the House of Refuge were for felony cases and boys who had reached the age of maturity, while the majority of the other public and private charities focused on adult poverty or the care of infants. Thus the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys was born out of a necessity to address the rising number of troubled children convicted of minor offences, without resorting to harsh sentences. The solution to recidivism was to be holistic: discipline, education, instruction, with free time for play and, on occasion, brief visits home with their families. Typically the boys were charged in the Police Court (and post-consolidation, in the Children’s Court) with misdemeanors ranging from vagrancy to petit larceny. Their time at the school could run from a few months to five years or more, depending on the severity of the crime, their behavior, and their home situation—the sentence was entirely determined by the Superintendent and Board of Managers. If the boys received good marks for their military drills or work in the shops, they may be offered parole. If they ran away, no parole or consideration of release would be offered for a full year. Parents or guardians could also secure release if they needed help around the house or for family emergencies by writing directly to the superintendent, though this was often denied.

Unfortunately there were difficulties from the outset. The buildings were in poor condition and required continuous maintenance. In March, 1899 a fire broke out necessitating the removal of some of the students to the Catholic Protectory. In 1900 one of the buildings was condemned, again forcing the school to temporarily remove students to other institutions. As the population rose, at times exceeding 400 boys, the dormitories became overcrowded and the facilities degraded. It seemed that no matter how many improvements were made, there was never enough money to properly fix the problems, and the money that was granted was done so begrudgingly.

Investigator’s Report, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Investigator’s Report, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Then there were the scandals. Typhoid broke out in October of 1900 killing two children, forcing the school to address its consistently appalling sanitary conditions. In 1909 long-time Superintendent James P. Farrell was excoriated in the press and investigated by the Board of Managers for using city funds to pay for imported bacon, grapes, and game. This was followed by an investigation of the use of corporal punishment. Children, parents, and employees came forward to say they had witnessed countless acts of violence. In one instance a witness recalled hearing of a punishment known as the “Star-Spangled Banner,” wherein the child was stripped and beaten with a stick “for the number of stars and stripes on the flag.” There were even rumors that Farrell and house mother Anna Hutchinson were involved in a very tawdry affair. On top of this were the constant escapes. It was not uncommon for 50 or more children to decamp over the course of the year. While most were apprehended, there were always a few who succeeded.

Letter concerning a former inmate who drowned trying to escape from Randall’s Island, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Letter concerning a former inmate who drowned trying to escape from Randall’s Island, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Transcript of an interview reporting corporal punishment at the school, 1907. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

There were also positive aspects. Children were housed and trained together without regard to skin color or nationality. A banking system was instituted in order to teach responsible financial habits. The skills boys learned in the various shops allowed them to find employment upon release and help support their families. At the end of their sentence, an agent was even sent to their homes to make sure that conditions were such that the boy would not turn again to crime. In general, the school appeared invested in the well-being of the children, arranging for medical care or offering recommendations for employment. “I am anxious that the boy should profit by this opportunity, for I consider him deserving, and will look forward to a bright and prosperous future for the lad. It is assumed that you are as good as your word and that you will furnish him with shelter and support.”

Inspector’s report of Home Conditions, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Inspector’s report of Home Conditions, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Inspector’s report of Home Conditions, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Inspector’s report of Home Conditions, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Inspector’s report of Home Conditions, 1910. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Letter from parent requesting her son’s discharge, 1908. Records of the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School for Boys, NYC Municipal Archives.

Calls to close the school grew steadily after 1910. Due to the lack of oversight, the rising costs, and the need the replace much of the infrastructure, many politicians had decided the school had run its course. There was talk of purchasing land on Long Island to recreate the school on the “cottage plan,” wherein the boys would be placed in smaller houses instead of dormitories. A report by the Commissioner of Accounts in 1913 all but ended that chance. Instead a new State Disciplinary School was proposed. The plan called for a merger with the House of Refuge and the creation of a new, conglomerate institution in Yorktown Heights, Westchester County. That plan was eventually abandoned after residents fought to keep the facility out of their community and it wasn’t until 1932 that a new school was finally established further upstate in the town of Warwick.

The Disciplinary Training School for Boys officially closed its doors on September 1, 1914. Its tenure may have been brief, but the records tell a compelling story of a unique institution existing at the cross-roads of a new century. From intake files to correspondence, bills of lading to financial reports, it is apparent that the school had a hand in almost every facet of the city and borough of Brooklyn, as well as the larger conversation of youth reform.