Visitors to the Municipal Archives are often surprised to learn that the oldest records in the collection—dating back to the early 17th century—are in better condition than more recent materials. For example, manuscripts of the Dutch colonial settlers in New Amsterdam are perfectly legible, exhibiting only minor degradation due to age. The fact that they are written in the old Dutch language is really the only impediment to their usefulness for historical research.
In 1891 the Metropolitan Underground Railway Company presented a grand plan for New York City. They proposed to construct a set of tunnels and tracks that would crisscross Manhattan, connecting the Battery to 155th Street, as well as Jersey City and Brooklyn at an estimated cost of $60,000,000. While elevated lines were already in existence, this new transit system would alleviate traffic, reduce noise, protect service from the elements, and propel New York into the 20th Century. Included in the proposal were plans for an East River Tunnel, drawn up by Chief Engineer Charles M. Jacobs. From Battery Park to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, it would whisk travelers and freight between the boroughs in record time. Alas, the venture never came to fruition, at least, for Charles Jacobs. Instead he would helm the construction of a different kind of East River tunnel: a gas line connecting 71st Street to Ravenswood (now part of Long Island City) that was completed in 1894.
Some of the most spectacular items in the NYC Municipal Archives are the 3,200 drawings in the Department of Parks & Recreation collection. Of these, 1,500 are related to the design and construction of Central Park and will be the basis of the Municipal Archives’ new book The Central Park: Original Designs from the Greensward to the Great Lawn, to be published by Abrams in 2018. The Greensward is the master plan submitted in 1858 as part of the proposal of landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for the Central Park design competition.