By Robert Pigott
As a bit of greenery opposite the Criminal Court on Centre Street has replaced an unsightly municipal parking lot, the name given this new park -– Collect Pond Park -- evokes 400 years of New York City history. The soggy origins of the block containing the new park pre-date the 17th century encounter of the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam and the Native Americans who inhabited the woods, fields, streams and ponds that were pre-colonial Manhattan.
This is the history I tried to capture in Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space. It was, admittedly, a task that exceeded my talents, but I have tried to bring it to life in its various locations: the tenement rooftop, the hold of the cargo ship, the sidewalk, the ash heap, the dead horse, the spaces of daily living where real people form real relationships, where shifting loyalties, new solidarities, old divides, and modes of resistance and acquiescence form the daily stuff of historical change.
Click below to read an excerpt from “Hell, Death, and Urban Politics,” Chapter Six of Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space (Monthly Review Press, 2013)
By Richard Howe
In the early summer of 1625 the handful of Dutch West India Company settlers who had wintered on Noten Eylandt (Governor’s Island) began moving to Manhattan, along with the hundred or so newcomers who had just arrived from Amsterdam. Nicolaes Wassenaer reported that by the middle of September, 1625, they had gotten their cows and horses onto Manhattan, which suggests that the move was finished sometime around then. Since the cows and horses were moved further on up the North (Hudson) River a few days later, the settlers’ first orders of business on Manhattan were to put up housing for themselves and then to get started on the West India Company’s rather ambitious plans for the new town, which called for a large fort and 120 houses, as well as barns, mills, and facilities for making charcoal, firing bricks, and making staves. It was soon apparent that the company’s plans were far too ambitious to be undertaken by what were all in all no more than perhaps 125 people. If the southern tip of Manhattan was as heavily forested as Eric Sanderson suggests in his marvelous reconstruction of the island as it was in 1600, the company’s plans would have required the settlers to clear over 1,500 acres of forest, which —- using Michael William’s productivity estimates —- might have taken 100 able-bodied men as much as a year or more to accomplish. There just weren’t that many able-bodied men among the settlers in 1625, though there would have been a year later, when the population of the settlement had grown to around 200. And so the West India Company’s grand plans were quickly set aside: the top priority in the late summer and fall of 1625 was simply to build enough housing -— even if only temporary housing -— to survive the coming winter.
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