Skip Navigation

Home

In 1609 the people of the Lenapes and other Native American groups in our area would have seen the sails of Henry Hudson's ship as it made its way up the river that today bears his name. Little could they know that less than half a century later visitors would be commenting on the variety of languages spoken in the settlement that would become New York City. Since then our city has continued to welcome people from all over the world and they continue to shape it into a vibrant, exciting place to live. Continue

This online resource was made possible by a generous grant from the Verizon Foundation.

Where I'm From

By: 
Xiu

I am from Fuzhou.

I'm from a special, difficult and loud language.

I'm from locally grown jasmine tea and rice from water fields.

I'm from sweet potatoes and Wobian (a kind of rice soup).

I'm from the sound of flip-flops on the muddy road.

I'm from hide-n-seek and ghost stories under a full starry sky.

I'm from eating, with the pig laying down right under the table.

I'm from the neighbors gossiping and working together outside in the summer night.

I'm from a small, beautiful island belonging to Fuzhou.

We Are All Heroes

By: 
June

When I read Irene Laos’s story, “I Am the Hero” in the 2008 Literacy Review, it made me think about my past. At first, when the Chinese came here, everything was new to us. We had to learn things from the beginning, just like a newborn. Step by step, we learned little by little. English was a big issue for us. We learned by watching TV and listening to English-speakers, how they said what they said. Year by year, my understanding piled up. I’ve lived in Chinatown my whole life in New York. I lived in Hong Kong less than 18 years and in New York for more than 44 years.

The Tenement Museum
By: 
Ji-Xing
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street is a unique museum. I had never been before, but I went with my class last week. We were given a cordial reception by the hostess when we came in. She was an actress dressed as though it was the early 1900s. She treated us as if we were new immigrants to the United States. She told us how to find an apartment and a job. She said that she had immigrated from Greece to America and told us about her present conditions of living: Eight people in her family lived together with only a little comfort or privacy in a small, three room apartment. Their lifestyle and all their equipment was simple and crude, but I felt that they were very warm and kind. Seeing this apartment made me think about my own experience of hard work and plain living when I was a new immigrant to the United States. The scene was so vividly portrayed that I felt as if I were participating again. The famous Emma Lazarus poem says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” At first, it is very difficult for new immigrants. We are like those people in the poem. All new immigrants come to the United States looking for a wonderful future. The experience of succeeding is valuable, but the hard starting point is an unforgettable lesson. Because it was hard at the beginning, I know how to work hard in order to go forward and upward in my lifetime. I wish that the second generation would keep the excellent character of their fathers and mothers. Maybe they should visit the Tenement Museum to see an example.

Rutgers Farm Historic View Flyover

In this video see how lower Manhattan changed between 1775 and today. Focused on the area that once was Rutger’s farm, we can see how increasing immigration spurred the rapid growth of the Lower East Side in particular by using over lays of some of the maps from the NYPL collection.

These are the maps you will see in the video, in order of appearance

John Montresor. A Plan of the City of New-York & Its Environs…. London, 1775.

We fly first to modern lower Manhattan, seeing from about SOHO to the Battery. Then the above map appears and we zoom to Canal Street, which at that point is actually a working canal, the use of which isn't altogether clear to historians. We then bounce over to east side, zooming to an area from about Grand Street south to about 1/2 way between the present location of the Bklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

John Bute Holmes. Map of the Rutger’s Farm as It Existed in 1784, Accurately Made from Reliable Data. New York, 1874.

After fading into the modern view, we fade back to 1784, to a map that shows the actual farm itself, but on a map printed in 1874, with notations and colorations based on how the land of the farm was sold off. From the whole farm view, we zoom to the actual farmhouse (really a mansion). We then fade out the old map, and reveal what is now on the site, Jacob Riis Housing along the FDR.

William Perris. Maps of the City of New York. New York, 1857.

We then fade back into the historical, to 1857, Perris' Maps of the City... our first building level detailed maps of NYC, revealing the extent to which, in less than 100 years, the farm had been sold and the area fully developed into the vibrant, gritty city, complete with housing, shipyards, and industry all jumbled together. Then we zoom back up to see a collage of many sheets from Perris' Atlas mosaic- ed together.

Matthew Dripps. Sheet 4 from: Plan of New York City, from the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil Creek. New York, 1867.

The Dripps map shows a working port, booming by the 1867, with names of shipyards and all the associated businesses immediately onshore.

Do you want to explore old maps of your on neighborhood and create overlays to show how it changed? Try our digital map warper at http://maps.nypl.org/warper/!

Comparative exhibit of the methods of Rapid Transit proposed for New York (1891)

Impact on Physical City

Three kinds of railway systems are detailed in this 1891 print.

New York District Railway [Title page] (1886-91)

Impact on Physical City

This print causes one to think about the past—of boats, and the future—of railways.

Subway construction, New York City

Impact on Physical City

This 1902 print includes captions for its different images. Top images from left: "A steel viaduct of upper New York"; "The first subway engine in operation"; "A subway stretch nearly completed". Bottom images from left: "The underground railway ready for tracks"; "Workmen waterproofing the subway floor"; "The City Hall switching subway vault".

This actual map and comparative plans showing 88 years growth of the City of New York: is inscribed to the citizens by the proprietor, David Longworth / G.B. King sc. N.Y. 1817; engraved by Jas. D. Stout

Impact on Physical City

This map also includes depictions of City Hall, the Asylum, New York Hospital, the New York Institution and the City Hotel.

View in South Street, New York (1878)

Impact on Physical City

This 1878 print from Harper's Weekly: a journal of civilization shows the activity by the wharves and docks of South Street.

English classes at Tompkins Square, Oct. 1920 (1920)

Public and Social Support

This poster from 1920 illustrates that the new York Public Library, Tompkins Square Branch, offered English lessons to Polish immigrants.

Work with schools: Y.M.C.A. lesson in English to foreigners, ca. 1920s?

Public and Social Support

This archival photograph from the 1920s is of men taking an English class at the Y.M.C.A.

Summer resort of the Children's Aid Society on Staten Island (1874)

Public and Social Support

The different part of this print are captioned: Top: "The building and grounds"; Center: "Sketch in the dormitory"; Bottom left: "The dining-room"; Bottom right: "Giving fresh milk to the children".

Rivington Street: Children reading on Rivington Roof

Public and Social Support

This photograph captures children reading on the roof of their Lower East Side New York Public Library Branch.

The children's public playgrounds (1891)

Public and Social Support

This 1981 print captioned the different activities at the children's playground: "Under the horse's feet"; "Upsetting ash-barrels"; "A dangerous place to play"; "Trying hard to amuse himself"; "First free public play-ground established by the N.Y. So. for Parks and play-grounds for Children"; "No place to play in peace"; "Playing with fire".

Group of Slavic mothers who have just arrived, Ellis Island, New York (1905)

Arriving

Lewis Wicke Hine's photograph show a group of Slavic mothers arriving in New York in 1905.

Meeting of friends (1871)

Arriving

This print from Harper's Magazine in 1871 shows friends or relatives greeting each other.

Among the immigrants: interiors of the Labor Exchange at Castle Garden

Arriving

The facilities at Castle Garden, according to this ink print, included a Labor Exchange, where immigrants could begin to look for work.

The immigrants' gateway to America (1926)

Arriving

This 1926 photograph shows immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, and waiting to enter.

A rush day: immigrants waiting to be admitted

Arriving

In this photograph, immigrants wait in boats to be processed through Ellis Island.

A labor agency on lower West side, New York City, 1910

Working

Lewis Wickes Hine's 1910 photograph of a Labor Agency shows the social conditions for male immigrants seeking employment. Shipping and Construction are two areas posted.

Triangle Fire

Working

Published in 1917, this series of photographs captures the Triangle Fire. The photographs are captioned as follows: "Letting down a victim's body"; "The building at the height of the fire"; "the one inadequate fire-escape"; "view of interior after the disaster"; "where the fire started"; "top of elevator"; "scene at the temporary morgue"; "the doors that opened inward"; "Shutters obstructing (sic.) escapes"; "The living victims"; "Where the bodies fell".

Street scene on East side, New York City (1900-1937)

Working

This photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine shows the social conditions of immigrants on the Lower East Side. It captures peddlers, a blind man with a sign advertising his work written both in English and Hebrew, and what appears to be a mother with two young daughters looking on.

Drum and Dance

By: 
Modou

I’ve been drumming almost eight years in a dance school near Union Square. It’s a place I really enjoy: the music, the energy, the sound, the movement. When you get into the school, you see a studio with colorful art on the walls, and a lot of smiles. The people are happy.

Where the Polish Jews do their shopping. Sausage factory on the east side; Habib Assi the Syrian chef; (1900)

Working

This was originally printed in a 1900 edition of Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. It accompanied the article "Food and Foreigners in New York" by John Gilmer Speed.

Girls sell newspapers too, May 1910

Working

This 1910 photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine captures young girls engaged in the common immigrant job of selling newspapers.