Where the City Began
This is the New York you remember from all those black-and-white 1930s movies: narrow streets, looming skyscrapers, suited businesspeople, Cary Grant, and cabbies with that quintessential New Yawk accent. Today, of course, the cabbies are mostly from Bangladesh, but the rest is pretty much the same – minus Cary Grant.
The Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam was set up on these acres in the 1620s, and in 1626, the colony’s governor, Peter Minuit, made his legendary $24 purchase of Manhattan island from the Indians at or near what is now Bowling Green Park, a tiny triangle of green at the very base of Broadway. At the tip of the island, Battery Park gives a wonderful view of New York Harbor. It is also the jumping-off point for ferry service to two great symbols of America: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Lady Liberty (whose official name is Liberty Enlightening the World) was designed by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, and was presented as a gift from France to the United States in 1885 as a symbol of friendship and of the two countries’ shared notions of liberty. Erected on a granite pedestal on Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island), the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886, and received a remarkably effective face-lift in time for her centennial.
Slightly north of Liberty Island, Ellis Island was the processing station for roughly 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954. Today, approximately 40 percent of Americans have an ancestor who entered the country through the island. A six-year renovation in the 1980s rescued the island from disuse, turning it into a moving memorial and interpretive center where Americans can research their heritage and retrace their ancestors’ arrival, entering through the same baggage room and registry room. Those who don’t want to visit the monuments but want a good view of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline can hop on the Staten Island Ferry, which runs every half hour to and from New York’s outermost borough.
Back in Manhattan, enter the maze of streets north of Battery Park and listen for the sound of Big Money’s heartbeat beating firmly on and around legendary Wall Street. Named for an actual wall erected by the Dutch to ward off Indian attacks, it’s been the center of commerce in the New World for more than two centuries. The New York Stock Exchange, housed in a handsome Beaux Arts building designed by George Post in 1903, is the center of the action, the largest securities market in the world.
Wall Street is also home to Trinity Church, at one time the tallest structure on the New York skyline at 281 feet. Built in 1846 by William Upjohn, the Episcopal church is now dwarfed by practically everything around it, but still functions as a house of worship and as a peaceful refuge. On Mondays and Thursdays it hosts a free midday concert series.
Five blocks north is St. Paul’s Chapel; built in 1766 in the Georgian Classic-Revival style, it’s New York’s only remaining pre-Revolutionary church, with a graveyard full of 18th- and early 19th-century notables. George Washington worshipped here after his inauguration as president in 1789, but the church recently became better known for the work it did following September 11, 2001, when it became a twenty-four-hour relief center for recovery workers. In the days after the attacks, the church’s iron fence was festooned with notes, missing-persons posters, firemen’s hats and baseball caps, banners, origami cranes (symbolizing peace), and other items dedicated to the more than 2,500 casualties. The memorial has now been removed and archived by the church and hopefully will be displayed in the future at a site to be determined.