"Extravagance in Everything": New York City at Mid-Century

By the 1850s, the population of New York had passed the half-million mark, and the city continued its march north. Broadway had filled up beyond Union Square (there were only two or three vacant lots below 14th Street) and had reached Madison Square. Well into the West 40s, even the side streets were becoming dotted with single dwellings and clusters of row houses, and by the end of the decade, there were islands of row houses and tenements on the East Side as far north as 59th Street. Business and trade commanded more and more of the streets below Canal and soon Houston, as private residences, exclusive shops, and hotels kept pace, moving ahead of commerce, which dominated the southern portion of the island. The New York Herald boasted in the 1850s, "Extravagance in living, extravagance in style, extravagance in habitations, extravagance in everything prevails in New York."

Drawn and engraved by John Rapkin around 1850, this map charms us with its soft colors and views of Brooklyn, New York from Williamsburg, and the Narrows from Fort Hamilton. The darker shaded blocks are heavily settled areas with paved streets. Note the spur up Third Avenue, reflecting its rapid development after being "œmacadamized" (or perhaps the heavy traffic to the Stone Tavern at 45th Street?). This map was originally a plate in an atlas, and was beautifully enhanced with hand-coloring at a later date. The views of the harbor tell of the importance of New York City as a rapidly expanding port city prior to the Civil War.


John Rapkin (fl. 1845-51). New York. London; New York: John Tallis & Co., ca. 1850.
The New York Public Library, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division.


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