The old Commons in Lower Manhattan is today’s City Hall Park. It was near King’s College where Alexander Hamilton took classes before his participation in the American Revolution.
John Adams’ 1774 description of this area of the city to takes us back in time: We…walked up the broad Way, a fine Street, very wide, and in a right Line from one End to the other of the City. In this route we saw the old [Trinity] Church, and the new Church [St. Paul’s Chapel]. The new is a very magnificent Building—cost 20,000 Pounds New York Currency. The prison [in today’s City Hall Park] is a large and handsome stone Building. There are two setts of Barracks. We saw the New York [King’s] College, which is also a Stone building.
The Commons is where people assembled in celebration or in protest of government laws and actions. It was the eighteenth-century equivalent of today’s Times Square. Many important events took place here, including the first New York City public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776. It was also here–in a celebration of Parliament’s repeal of the Stamp Act–that the first of five Liberty Poles was erected. There is a replica Liberty Pole in City Hall Park today. We see this area on the Hamilton & Washington walking tour.
John Roebling the engineer and architect of the Brooklyn Bridge had already been a prominent designer of suspension bridges before his great bridge connecting the cities of New York and Brooklyn. He was also a manufacturer of twisted wire rope used for suspension bridges. His factory was based in Trenton, New Jersey. He designed the Niagra River Gorge Bridge in 1885, the Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859, and the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge now known as the John A. Roebling Bridge Suspension Bridge in 1867, just two years before the Brooklyn Bridge started construction. That last bridge had been the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1057 feet for the main span before the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 with its main span at 1595.5 feet.
On July 4, 1804, one week before the infamous duel, the rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, were together at Fraunces Tavern at an event sponsored by the Society of the Cincinnati, whose members were American and French veterans of the Revolutionary War. Fraunces Tavern is one of the stops on the “Hamilton & Washington In New York” Walking Tour.
While the challenge had been established, the date for their encounter at dueling ground in Weehawken was still days away. The artist John Trumball was at Fraunces Tavern and noticed their unusual moods. He reflected on his observations years later in his published autobiography:
“On the 4th of July, I dined with the society of the Cincinnati, my old military comrades, and then met, among others, Gen. Hamilton and Col. Burr. The singularity of their manner was observed by all, but few had any suspicion of the cause. Burr, contrary to his wont, was silent, gloomy, sour; while Hamilton entered with glee into all the gaiety of a convivial party, and even sung an old military song. A few days only passed, when the wonder was solved by that unhappy event which deprived the United States of two of their most distinguished citizens. Hamilton was killed–and Burr was first expatriated, and then sunk into obscurity for life, in consequence of their compliance with a senseless custom, which ought not to have outlived the dark ages in which it had its origin.”
In 2006, as the city was performing an inspection of the Brooklyn Bridge to uncover structural abnormalities, they made an unusual find. In a dark and dank arched structure on the shoreline of the East River, underneath the bridge and near the Manhattan anchorage they found “medical supplies, paper blankets, drugs,” a stockpile of cold-war-era 17.5-gallon water drums that could be reused “as a commode,” 352,000 Civil Defense All-Purpose Survival Crackers (calorie-packed crackers that were probably still edible), along with doses of Dextran, a drug used to treat or prevent shock. This was reported by the NY Times. The items were stored during the cold war, evident from the supply boxes stamped with dates from 1957 and 1962, dates that correspond to the Soviet launching of the satellite Sputnik and the Cuban Missile Crisis, respectively. The room was still intact and had been for years without the city’s knowledge.
photo CBS News
The Brooklyn Bridge, which we walk over on the “Best of Brooklyn-The Brooklyn Revolution” tour , was a massive achievement in the annals of engineering. It cost over 15 million dollars and took from 1869 to 1883 to build it, but much of the populace did not trust suspension bridges. It was publicly known that a large percentage of them collapsed. Just six days after the bridge opened on May 24, 1883, with thousands of people on the bridge, a woman tripped a staircase on the bridge, another woman let out a scream, and the crowd pushed forward and down the stairs, creating a panic and stampede. As it was reported in the newspaper: “Those following were in turn pushed over and in a moment the narrow stairway was choked with human beings, piled one on top of the other, who were being crushed to death. In a few minutes, 12 persons were killed, 7 injured so seriously that their lives are despaired of, and 28 others more or less severely wounded.”
When the police cleared the Brooklyn Bridge, the bridge was covered with articles of clothing and other belongings including 42 umbrellas and parasols, 6 canes, 34 bonnets, a skirt and 6 pairs of shoes.
Never one to turn down a public relations opportunity, the impresario P.T. Barnum, used this tragedy to show the bridge’s herculean strength on May 17, 1884 by having 21 elephants, plus 10 camels and 7 dromedaries march across the bridge, with his most famous elephant Jumbo, bringing up the rear.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-designer of Central Park believed that every element added to the landscape design must satisfy human needs and not be created strictly for decoration. ” On the Central Park tour, we see the most beautiful bridges and arches that serve and protect the guests of the park. Here’s what Olmsted wrote:
“Service must precede art, since all turf, trees, flowers, fences, walks, water, paint, plaster, posts, and pillars in or under which there is not a purpose of direct utility or service are inartistic if not barbarous. … So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be not true art.”
Not long after the Civil War, the brothers John and Charles Arbuckle, revolutionized and started a new industry in today’s DUMBO, Brooklyn, by offering roasted coffee to consumers in single pound packages. Before that, coffee beans were purchased green and roasted at home over a fire or in a wood stove; getting a consistent and palatable end product was challenging. The Arbuckle Brothers had such a popular product that they shipped their coffee throughout the country. Marketing their product under the Ariosa and Yuban brands, they were still going through the 20th Century…and the Yuban brand is still around even today. On the Brooklyn Revolution tour, we visit the amazingly renovated Empire Stores, the site and facility used by the Arbuckle Brothers to process their coffee until they sold it in the 1940s.
While many people know about the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and Hamilton’s unfavorable opinion of Burr as a public and private man, it is less known that they were on the same legal team in the scandalous trial of Levi Weeks in 1800. Weeks was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Elma Sands, by throwing her down a well, in what is today SoHo, in December 1799. Weeks retained Burr, Hamilton and Henry Brockholst Livingston, all well-known lawyers to defend him. Weeks was acquitted after only a few minutes of jury deliberation. With strong public sentiment against the verdict, Weeks left New York for Mississippi where he became a builder and architect. His Auburn Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi is National Historic Landmark. Burr and Hamilton would engage in a duel in Weehawken a little over four years later in July 1804. The portrait is of Aaron Burr.
On the Hamilton & Washington in New York City walking tour, we see the famous Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street, a location that is very important to the history of the United States. The tavern, which you can visit today both as a tavern and museum, was originally built on a water lot (that was landfilled) as a brick house for Stephen De Lancey. Samuel Fraunces would acquire it in 1762 and opened the Queen’s Head Tavern and subsequently Fraunces Tavern. Washington bid his officers an emotional farewell at the tavern on December 4, 1783. The image shows the building on the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets around 1905.
Robert Fulton is undoubtedly, one of the most important people in the history of New York City. He is credited with commercializing the steamboat. His first boat, the Clermont, took travelers on a 150 mile trip up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany. The steamboat had a tremendous influence on trade and transportation improving both reliability and speed. In 1814, the wealthy Brooklyn landowner Hezikiah Pierrepont (as in Pierrepont Place), teamed up with Fulton, and took at 25-year lease on the ferry route between New York City and Brooklyn. The first steam-powered Nassau boat, made regularly scheduled trips between New York and Brooklyn and vice-versa, and effectively reduced the time in the winter and in storms from up to about 1.5 hours to only 12 minutes. We visit the Fulton Ferry landing on the Brooklyn walking tour and on the Hamilton & Washington tour we see the monument to Robert Fulton (near where he is buried) in the Trinity Church cemetery. Although the Brooklyn Bridge, completed, in 1883, reduced the steamboats viability, the Fulton Ferry operated until 1924. New York City currently offers a similar route from the Fulton Ferry landing to Wall Street in Manhattan. The photo is of Robert Fulton’s life mask done by Jean Antoine-Houdon, who also did George Washington’s life mask.