Viele's Famous Topographical Atlas of the City of New York

This classic "œwater map" of Manhattan is still in use today by the construction trade, and is considered "œgospel" as far as location of underground streams is concerned. The peach color represents landfill "” as of 1874! Dark green represents wetlands and creeks. Notice the area near Canal Street, which was once a canal draining the rather large wetlands on the Hudson River. Minetta Creek can be seen wrapping around the West Village. In five separate sheets, Viele's "water map" stretches from the Battery in extreme southern Manhattan up to the West Bronx. The feathered hachuring lines represent hills, which, naturally, move away from the darker green of the streams in their valleys. Most of these waterways are now underground in culverts.

In 1913, Eugene Quackenbush, the surveyor and draughtsman of the Viele map, recorded his recollections of his "early handiwork." This important document, which is preserved in the Map Division, reads in part:

General Viele personally told me that his map was compiled from old maps then on file among the city records so far as relates to that portion of the city then built. But such portions of the city which were then undeveloped, were surveyed and the data obtained was used in compilation of the map.... The map was compiled from a sanitary point of view to indicate the old water courses and swamp lands that existed during the early period of the city and the correctness of it has been vouched for many times in tracing contagious diseases to such localities where previous water courses had existed and subsequently filled in for the purpose of erecting buildings.


Egbert Ludovicus Viele. ["œWater map" of Manhattan]. Color lithographs. From Viele's Topographical Atlas of the City of New York. New York: E. L. Viele, 1874.
The New York Public Library, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division.


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