“Yikes! What a Way To Go...New York City's Travel Experience
By Miriam Medina


Part I
New York City's Travel Experience
1642-1820

Researched and Compiled by Miriam Medina
 

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"The First Ferry between New York and Brooklyn, or New Amsterdam and Breukelen, as the two places were then called, was established in the year 1642, by Cornelius Dircksen, who owned a farm and kept a country inn near where Peck Slip now is. He came at the sound of a horn that hung against a tree, and ferried the waiting passengers across the river in his little skiff for the moderate charge of three stivers in waumpum. Rowboats, canoes, and other small craft were used at first; later flat-bottom boats for the accommodation of passengers and cattle were propelled by sail. The ferry became a source of revenue to the city over the river as far back as 1658. (1)

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In 1647 Stuyvesant's council recommended the construction of a small wharf, and in the next year the first pier in New Amsterdam was erected on the East River at Schreyer's Hook. A second and larger pier, called the "Bridge," was built in 1659 near the foot of the present Moore Street. (43)

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It is recorded that "on the 10th of October, 1653, an ordinance was passed by the government of New Amsterdam, regulating the rates of ferriage at three stivers each for foot passengers, except Indians, who paid six, unless there were two or more." As the Indians were charged more than the pale faces, it is likely that they ferried themselves over when possible, and that thus originated the saying, "Paddle your own canoe." (1)

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In 1654 the shore, from the Stadt Huys to the "corner of the ditch" (De Heere Gracht), was planked up and filled in with earth and rubbish probably the first land fill made for the improvement of city's waterfront.(43)

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Ferry service, on the western side of Manhattan, across the Hudson to Jersey City, was begun in 1661 by another Dutchman, William Jansen. If the traveler were in a hurry, Jansen carried extra oars so he could row too, but with no discount in price. (38)

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There was a Harlem River ferry in 1667.  (43)

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The city had three ships, seven sloops, and eight small boats.(43)

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The first bridge over the Harlem River was built under a franchise for 99 years, granted in June, 1693, to Fredryck Flypsen or Philipse, to build and maintain at his own expense a bridge over the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and to collect certain "easy and reasonable tolls" from such passengers as might cross it. The bridge was to be twenty-four feet wide and provided with a draw of sufficient size to permit the passage of small craft. It was further stipulated that it should be free for the passage of the King's forces, and should be called King's Bridge. This bridge was built during the same year, a little to the east of the site of the present structure which bears the same name. It remained in the hands of Philipse's descendants down to Revolutionary times, when it was forfeited to the State on account of the adherence of the family to the English Crown. (20)

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The city had sixty ships, sixty-two sloops, and forty boats.(43)

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The South Ferry Stapleton (Staten island) run did not open until 1713, but there is a clear record of a rowboat service to New Jersey, soon to be supplanted by horsepower (using windlass and sweeps), that began in 1661, crossing the Hudson squarely at South Ferry.(43)

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In 1717 two ferries were provided to run from the old Long island landing, viz., the Nassau Ferry, carrying cattle, goods and passengers to the above mentioned three New York slips, and the New York Ferry, carrying only goods and passengers to Hanover Square and Coentis Slip. (39)

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In 1728 shipyards occupied the river front between Beekman Street and Catherine Street, then the northern limits of the city, and in 1740 there were three shipyards in the neighborhood of Dover Street, and this was called the "shipyards district."

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The first New York stage was started in the year 1732, to run between New York City and Boston. The journey took 14 days.(2)

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The Fulton Ferry in 1740    (click twice)

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Foot of Wall Street and Ferry-house, 1746. (picture)    (click twice)

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About 1759 public opinion became so strongly aroused against the payment of tolls that a second bridge, called the Free Bridge was built by public subscription at or near the site of the present farmer's or Fordham Bridge. This diverted all the travel from the old structure and the obnoxious tolls were finally suspended. (20)

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In 1774 three ferries were established with landings in New York at Coentis Slip, Fly Market and Peck Slip. On the Long island shore were two landings provided, the one at the original landing place and another at the Red Mills, at the foot of later Atlantic Street. (39)

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The Hoboken ferry was first opened with sailboats and rowboats in 1775, and was run with varying success by several owners until after the close of the Revolutionary War. John Stevens first came into possession of the lease of this ferry to Vesey street, New York, now Barclay street ferry in 1789, but retained it only for about two years. The lease of the ferry then passed to other hands, and in 1808, David Goodwin secured the lease of the ferry, and in 18111 John Stevens was the proprietor. He now built a steam ferry-boat, named the "Juliana," and this David Goodwin appears for a time to have had the control of the vessel while running on the ferry, though the lease was to John Stevens. (37)

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"In 1786, the Legislature granted to Isaac Van Wyck, Talmage Hall, and John Kenny, all Columbia County men, the exclusive right "to erect, set up and carry on, and drive stage wagons between New York and Albany on the east side of the river, for a period of ten years, forbidding all opposition to them under penalty of two hundred pounds. Notwithstanding the traffic, the roads were bad, the stages were  uncomfortable, and the trip fatiguing, as the passengers were routed up about three or four o'clock in the morning and traveled until nine, or later, at night, putting up at poor and ill-kept inns. The stages originally started from Cortlandt Street, but later from Broadway and Twenty-third Street; the route, of course, was over the Boston Road from that point to Kingsbridge. The distance was 159 miles. Every one who could do so traveled on horseback, as the stage was not of the kind we read of in Dickens. The steamboat and the railroad sealed the doom of the old stages. (3)

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The first hack started in New York in the year 1792, by Gabriel W. Alston. There were about 200 at the time in New York. For a carriage to Harlem, and back, three hours the price was $4; to King's Bridge, all day was $5. The price per day for a hack, driven in any direction was $5. The penalty for a hackney coachman demanding more than the legal rates, is the forfeiture of his whole fare, and a fine of $10. (2)

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A) The next bridge was built at Third Avenue by J.B. Coles, in 1795 to 1797. He was at first reimbursed by tolls collected from the passengers over it. This bridge remained in use until 1855 or 1858 when it was torn down to give place to the bridge which has just been removed. The latter was completed and opened to the public in 1867. It was very low, being only 13.2 feet in the clear above high water, with an opening on each side of the centre pier of 82 feet. (20)

B) The Catharine ferry was first established in 1795. To distinguish it from the "Old" or Fulton ferry, it was called the "New Ferry," and ran from what was then called "New Ferry street," in Brooklyn, to the foot of Catharine street. This ferry was leased to Rodman Bowne, 1811, and continued to him and his brother by renewals until 1852, when the ferry was purchased by Cyrus P. Smith and William F. Buckley, who obtained a renewal of the lease for ten years (1853 to 1863). (37)

C) In 1795 the New Ferry was established, running between the Olympia settlement, now Main Street, Brooklyn, and Catherine Street, New York City. (39)

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A) The first stage that ran merely on the island, was started, in the year 1798, by Barnard de Klyne. He ran from Wall Street To Greenwich or "the village" which was then separate from the settlements on the south part of the island.(2)

B) As far back as 1798, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston had received from the Legislature, as the discoverer of the new power of steam navigation, the exclusive right to use this power in all the waters within the limits of the State for twenty years, provided that within twelve months he should produce a boat, the average speed of which should not be less than four miles an hour. This he failed to do; and the grant remained in abeyance until 1803, when having made the acquaintance of Robert Fulton, in France, and aided him in some encouraging experiments, he obtained a renewal of the monopoly for the twenty years ensuing, on the condition that he and  Fulton, his partner in the grant, should fulfill the required conditions, within the space of two years. Fulton enjoyed his triumphs, reaching the place of his destination in thirty-two hours, and secured the monopoly of steam navigation over the waters of new York. The Nassau commenced running on May 10, 1814. (1)

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A) In the year 1800, merchants residing a hundred miles, or more, from New York, and distant from the North River ten or fifteen miles, sent their bed and bedding to the landing from which they were to sail for the city, by a team, and themselves followed on horseback. At the landing, their bed, &c., was placed on board the sloop that conveyed their produce to market, and by it they took passage for the city. Such was the convenience of traveling at that day.(4)

B) About the year 1800 there were two ferries to Brooklyn, one from Fly Market Slip, near the foot of maiden Lane, and the other from Catherine Slip. (1)

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A) It was in the year 1801 that the first  public horse-drawn vehicle was run wholly within New York City to accommodate paid passenger travel, and the crudest kind of method and animal propulsion was used to carry the public then numbering on Manhattan about 60,000 people over a limited area, traveling leisurely around. (33)

B) The first public vehicles mentioned as having been run in 1801 in  New York City were the bus lines running from Bull's Head (near 26th street and Third avenue) to Manhattanville and Harlem. (33)

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In 1803 the Old Ferry, or Fly Market Ferry, and the New Ferry, or Catherine Street Ferry, were the only two ferries running. The Old Ferry operated then two kinds of boats; the barges, rowed by four men each and holding eight or ten persons, and the sailboats, with deep bottoms. These had no regular steersman and the first passenger to arrive took the helm; horses and wagons were in the bottom of the sailboat, exposed to all kinds of weather, like the passengers. (39)

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The rent of the Middle, or "Old" ferry, from foot of the present Fulton street, in Brooklyn, to the Fly Market Slip, was $3,050 in 1805, but in May, 1811, it was leased to Theodosius Hunt and Losee Van Nostrand, for three  years, at a rental of $3,450 per annum. The same year the "New Ferry" (Catharine street), was leased for five years, at $1,275 per annum. (37)

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In November, 1806, five gentlemen associated themselves together, for the purpose "of rendering the passage between Hudson and New York by water more expeditious, convenient, and pleasant to ladies and gentlemen traveling North and South through the State of New York, as well as to promote the interest of those concerned" by building a packet of one hundred and ten tons burthen, for the purpose of carrying passengers only. To accomplish this object, they bound themselves to each other to
furnish the sum of six thousand dollars. In accordance with this agreement, the superior packet sloop Experiment was built, and superbly fitted up with state-rooms and berths, her whole length below deck for the accommodation of passengers, and performed the passage between New York and Hudson in an unprecedented short space of time. (4)

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Sloop Experiment, Laban Paddock master, for the accommodation of passengers on the North River, will sail from Hudson every Wednesday morning at ten o'clock, and from New York every Saturday evening, at six o'clock. And the sloop Experiment, Elihu S. Bunker, master, for the same purpose will sail from Hudson every Sunday morning, at nine o'clock, and from New York every Wednesday evening, at five o'clock, throughout the season. (4)

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The Brooklyn, Jamaica and Flatbush Turnpike Company was incorporated on March 17th, 1809, and laid its turnpike upon the two main branches of the Kings Highway. Both were old Dutch roads, having originally been constructed by the Dutch authorities along the Indian trails.(39)

UNTIL THE YEAR 1810 row boats or pirogues were the only ferryboats upon the rivers. Next came the horse boats__twin boats with the wheel in the centre, propelled by a sort of horizontal treadmill worked by horses, the first of which was introduced on the 3d of April, 1814, upon the Catharine street ferry. This was a boat of eight horse power, crossing the river in from twelve to twenty minutes. (1)

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A) The first steam ferry-boat on the East River was the "Nassau," another one of Fulton's construction hitch was put on the Fulton Ferry, May 10, 1814. It carried as many as 550 passengers, four horses and four vehicles were carried at one time. The Nassau was very popular and was often used during the evening for moonlight excursions. (1)

B) In 1800, wealthy landowner Alexander Macomb purchased a large amount of land along the eastern bank of the Harlem River in what was then part of Westchester County. Across the Harlem River in Manhattan, Macomb constructed a four-story, tidal-powered grist mill. To connect his land to the grist mill, and to provide additional power for his grist mill, Macomb proposed a dam and bridge, between Bussing's Point on the western bank to Devoe's Point on the eastern bank, in 1810.The original Macombs dam and bridge opened to traffic in 1814. Cost overruns and construction delays plagued the second bridge, now renamed the "Central Bridge." The bridge finally opened in 1861 at a cost of $50,000.The old bridge was closed and The new Macombs Dam Bridge opened to traffic on May 1, 1895 at a cost of $1.8 million. (6)

C) The Paulus Hook ferry company was incorporated by the New York Legislature in March, 1814, as the York and Jersey Steamboat Ferry Co. The first boat built for the company was named the "Jersey," and was in service for many years. The second built, and of the same model as the "Jersey," was constructed in 1813, and named the "York."  It is said these boats were slow coaches that when they passed close to one another in the river passengers on the two boats could hold quite a lengthy conversation before they got beyond talking distance. (37)

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In 1816 a stage line was established to run between 125th Street in Harlem and Park Row, leaving Harlem early in the morning, with a return trip in the afternoon fare 25 cents. (33)

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In 1820 there were several lines of stages from Bowery and Park Row to various sections of the city. These stages held the monopoly of the city's "rapid transit" business until the advent of the first horse-car line on Fourth Avenue, running between Prince Street and Bowery and Harlem River, in about 1832 (the population of Manhattan at that time being about 220,000). This line did not meet with public favor and was not successful, for it had to close down in 1837 for want of patronage and did not resume the horse-car traffic again until 1845, although there was an intervening steam-car operation.(33)

Sources of Information Utilized

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