Modernization, development, improvement—all are buzzwords for the end of Gotham as we know it.
In the 1840s, Edgar Allan Poe felt this way too.
Poe may have died in Baltimore, but in the 1830s and 1840s he hopscotched around New York, living on Greenwich Street, West Third Street, today’s West 84th Street and then a cottage in the the Bronx, where his young wife died of tuberculosis.
His outings gave him a unique view of New York’s charm (and its noise, grime, Sunday alcohol laws, and the ugliness of Brooklyn houses, but lets save that for another post).
In an 1844 letter, he bemoaned the way the city was urbanizing before his eyes—which he saw after he rowed out to Blackwell’s Island and was able to see New York from the water. [Above right, the Beekman Estate in the East 50s]
“The houses without exception are frame and antique. Nothing very modern has been attempted—a necessary result of the subdivision of the whole island into streets and town-lots.” [Above left, the David Provoost Mansion at East 57th Street]
“In twenty years, or thirty at farthest, we shall see here nothing more romantic than shipping, warehouses, and wharves.”
“These localities are neglected—unimproved. The old mansions upon them (principally wooden) are suffered to remain unrepaired, and present a melancholy spectacle of decrepitude.
“In fact, these magnificent places are doomed. The spirit of Improvement has withered them with its acrid breath. Streets are already ‘mapped’ through them, and they are no longer suburban residences but ‘town-lots.’” [Above left, the Rutgers mansion in Yorkville]
“In some thirty years every noble cliff will be a pier, and the whole island will be densely desecrated by buildings of brick, with portentous of brownstone, or brown-stonn, as the Gothamites have it.”
Was Poe right or what? [Above, East River at 86th Street in the 1860s, by Currier and Ives]
[Images: Wikipedia, NYPL Digital Collection]