Knickerbocker New York is gone! In the tall canyons of lower Manhattan, few are the landmarks which recall to us the little city whose more fashionable citizens drove on bright spring afternoons to the pleasant country suburb of Greenwich Village, doubtless relieved, good horsemen as they were, that the hard paving of Broadway stopped at City Hall! The residences of people of fashion were then found on the Battery, while of the highest respectability were lower Broadway, upper Pearl and Nassau streets, Broad and Wall. Beyond the City Hall the softly rolling landscape was ribboned with shady roads, flanked here and there either by charming suburban homes to which the city families retreated during the summer heat, or by tidy farms whose owners were blissfully ignorant of eventual realty values. Surely a provincial city but, none the less, developing more rapidly than it knew into a cosmopolitan one!
It was not until the very last years of its existence that the consciousness of a Knickerbocker New York was formulated into anything definite. The Dutch traditions which had remained so important an element in the eighteenth-century town had hung about the city without occasioning any self-conscious attention or comment. It remained for a brilliant little group of young writers to utilize these traditions in their literary efforts and thus to preside in a twofold capacity both as registrars of an epoch which was dying and as heralds of a new era which was just begun.
The first twenty-five years of the nineteenth century were marked in New York by an amazing activity which extended into all departments of human endeavour. There was a rapid acceleration of commercial growth which called forth a corresponding development of mechanical invention. A social consciousness was evolving from the compact society of a provincial city into the beginning of a cosmopolitan attitude toward local affairs. Civic improvements of surprising farsightedness were begun, and politics, both local and national, were hotly debated. The artistic expression of these contemporary interests kept equal pace. The artists who created and the patrons who supported the artistic achievements of the day were all in close touch with the life of the city in its various phases.
The result of this expansion of interests and activities was the rapid outgrowing of the Knickerbocker town both literally and figuratively. The very consciousness of the Knickerbocker tradition, for the first time definitely expressed, was in one way a romantic creation to which was lent the glamour of remoteness, and to which point was given by the survival up to date of many traits and customs of the early Dutch inhabitants.
It was at the beginning of this interesting and important period that Duncan Phyfe came to live and ply his craft in New York. His early struggles to find a foothold coincided with the early years of the century, while the continually increasing recognition of his sincere craftsmanship and consummate artistry kept pace with the changes in the city's life and thought. His best work was done during this first quarter of the century and constitutes an important record of the cultural outlook of the people of the day. A brief glance, therefore, at the New York of the time, the New York which saw the accomplishment of Phyfe's finest work, will give a necessary background against which to judge this utilitarian art which served its purpose of contributing largely to the creation of worthy standards of taste in the public of the time.
By ten o'clock on the morning of the last day of the year 1799 a sombre throng of citizens had assembled in Broadway near the triangular park which this thoroughfare formed with Chatham and Chambers streets. A muted key was set by the frequent signs of mourning visible throughout the orderly crowd and was emphasized by the contrast with the colours of the drooping flags, the brilliant hues of uniforms, military and naval, and the shining insignia of the foreign diplomats and their suites, the philanthropic societies, the Masonic lodges, and the Society of the Cincinnati. In ordered ranks the cortège formed, each group falling into its appointed place—citizens, foreigners of various nations, representatives of the army, navy, and militia, of the civil government, paternal and philanthropic societies, mercantile groups, musical associations and clergy. Near the end came the great catafalque surmounted by the urn, glittering with burnished gold, draped in black, and flanked by eight pallbearers. Thus with pomp and ceremony was the funeral of the great Washington commemorated by his fellow citizens of the country which he more than any one man had helped to found, and of the city which for a short time was its capital.
The bier, followed by the General's horse caparisoned in black, and led by two negro grooms, passed down the east side of the Common to the head of Beekman Street, thence through Beekman and Pearl streets up Wall Street to the Federal Hall. It was here on the 30th of April, 1789, that Washington had taken the oath of office as first President of the United States, and in recognition of this fact a short pause was made before the building. Following Broad and Beaver streets, it passed around the Bowling Green in front of the Government House, which had been built in the expectation that New York would be the capital of the republic. Through the double rows of the marchers the symbolic urn was carried up Broadway and into St. Paul's Chapel, where it was placed before the altar. Solemn memorial services were held, a funeral oration was delivered by Gouverneur Morris, and musical eulogies were chanted. The people dispersed to their homes, perhaps to discuss the great works of the first President of the new republic, perhaps to speculate upon the future of that republic in the new century which was just beginning.
The death of Washington, practically coinciding as it did with the opening of the new century, marked the end of one period in the country's history and the beginning of a new. The trying years of war, the more trying years of the consolidation of independence won, were over. The Government of the United States of America was organized and founded upon a constitution. The time had come for the new country to try its mettle in competition with the great world without, no longer as a colonial possession, but as an independent nation conscious of its strength, the extent of which could be gauged only by its exercise.
The route followed by the marchers in the Memorial Parade may well be taken as a summary outline of the city as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Carrying out in the main the lines of growth suggested by the old Dutch town, the lower end of Manhattan was divided by streets which followed generally the shore lines of the East and Hudson rivers and were intersected at irregular intervals by cross streets running from river to river. The present location of the City Hall, which was not yet begun, marked a northern limit to any real city development. There, on the "Common," stood the Bridewell, the City Alms House, and the Prison. Most of the country north of this point retained a purely rural aspect. "Within easy reach was the Collect Pond around which youths and maidens sauntered on Sunday afternoons in summer or upon whose frozen surface they skated in winter. It was here in '96 or '97 that John Fitch had made his crude experiments in steam navigation. Other uptown resorts for pleasure were the Old Vauxhall at the corner of WTarren and Greenwich streets, a house built by Sir Peter Warren and a public garden patterned after its famous London original, while various road houses along the East River offered in their menus tempting specialties to the summer boating expeditions and winter sleighing parties which came their way. In so small a town as this New York there was no exclusively residential section, but in all the streets the residence and the shop, the church, the tavern, and the market elbowed each other without giving or taking offence. The finest houses now being built of brick with slate roofs were on the Battery and in its immediate neighbourhood, lower Broadway and its intersecting side streets. Broadway was the Bond Street of New York and contained many fashionable and elegant shops. Already at this time New York had begun to feel itself the leading city of the eastern seaboard. Its location immediately rendered it the most important port for European import as well as the most central point for domestic export. Founded originally as a trading post—not as a haven for religious or political freedom—it was but natural that the commercial aspect of the city should always have assumed a preponderant place and that the marts of trade should have stood cheek by jowl with the church and the dwelling.
English though the city had been since the end of the seventeenth century, the Dutch tradition had been tenacious, particularly in the outlying country districts in New Jersey, up the Hudson, and on Long Island. In these districts the changes in tradition, in customs and usage, had come slowly, while in the city itself a much more rapid development had occurred due to the increasing number of immigrants from beyond the borders of the Low Countries. England preponderantly, of course, Ireland, Italy, and
l'LATK 1. SIDE CHAIRS SHOWING SHERATON INFLUENCE
France had all contributed to the growingly cosmopolitan population of the town. The French Revolution, with the resulting disorganization, led to a particularly large influx of cultivated Frenchmen. In numbers perhaps not greater than those of other nationalities which were coming at the same time, the conditions in France were such that the émigrés came almost wholly from the educated classes, members of the lesser nobility, and of the professional and artistic groups. It is not surprising, in view of this fact, that the influence of France and the civilization for which it stood—intensified by the memory of that country's aid to America in her dark hour—should have îiad a marked influence upon the city, particularly in its social and artistic life. The city's social history of the period is marked by a gradual change during twenty-five years from an English to a French flavour in which was mingled the faintest memory of the earlier Dutch characteristics.
Thus the original vigour of the city was reinforced by fresh infusions from abroad, in the repeated additions to its population of residents whose very presence in the new land argued their possession of sturdy bodies, active minds, and not a little imagination. All of this vigorous growth in population was paralleled by commercial prosperity, a proportionate increase in public and private wealth, a constantly widening horizon of political and cultural interests—in short, the beginnings of a cosmopolitan and somewhat self-conscious attitude toward the city itself and the world beyond its walls. Lengthy and detailed accounts of European affairs, predominantly the activities of Napoleon, fill large portions of the contemporary newspapers, as do the notices of arrival from and departures for Europe of those luxuries of fashionable life which each continent could offer to the other.
As though timed to guide the thought and influence the actions of the youthful city, so recently out of leading strings, there arose a constellation of literary stars whose effort was both to give to the city a background of recorded legendary or actual history and to mould its contemporary life by the exercise of gentle social satire. The brightest star of all was Washington Irving who, as a child of six, had with his nurse joined the crowd which gathered before Federal Hall when the oath of office was administered to the first President. Irving's studies for the bar had been interrupted by an illness which necessitated a voyage to Europe, whence he returned in February, 1806. He found the city at a pleasant moment in its growth with an organized and mellow society which afforded both a subject and an audience for the kindly wit and humour of his satire. Although admitted to the bar, his greater satisfaction lay in his literary activities, among the first results of which were the Salmagundi papers. Based upon the suggestions of Addison's Spectator, these essays were humorous satires upon the social foibles of the day and were written and published in conjunction with his brother, William, and James K. Paulding. His next effort, "A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Diedrich Knickerbocker," was heralded by an advertising campaign of thoroughly twentieth-century character. In this history he not only satirized the pedantry of local antiquarians, but from the characteristics of the solid
Dutch burgher created a distinct literary type which later from time to time he developed in the charming stories of Knickerbocker legendary lore which have given to parts of the Hudson valley a permanent place in the literary geography of the world.
During a second lengthy sojourn abroad, Irving produced a number of exquisitely written stories and sketches upon English and continental themes which won for him his place among his European peers. Thus we see him not only as the creator of the first national literature based upon American incident but also as an author of international repute in the English reading world.
These youthful spirits, of whom Irving was the leader, contributed their share to the social life and literary activities of the town. Known as the Knickerbocker group, these young men divided their time between the city and a charming bachelor's hall, an old country home on the Passaic not far from Newark, celebrated in the Salmagundi papers as "Cockloft Hall." Of this lively group Mr. Hamilton Wright Mabie has drawn a vividly sympathetic picture in his little book, "The Writers of Knickerbocker New York."
During Irving's protracted sojourn abroad, the other members of this group of his friends and contemporaries were busy making names for themselves. James Kirke Paulding, best known as a political writer and anti-British patriot, wTote not only political treatises and satires but, as well, poems, novels, and parodies. He raised his protest against English dominance in political as well as in literary and artistic affairs. At the same time the two friends, Fitz-Green Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake, were carrying on the impulse given by Irving and Paulding to social and political satire. Endowed, as Mr. Mabie says, with talent, though not with genius, these four "conspired against the dullness of the town and made it smile at its own follies."
In 1822 James Fenimore Cooper came to the metropolis, heralded by his reputation as the author of "The Pioneers" and "The Pilot." He was followed in 1825 by William Cullen Bryant, whose reputation as a poet was firmly based upon "Thanatopsis" and "Lines to a Waterfowl." Still attached to his career as a lawyer, it was some time before Bryant made his permanent connections as an editor. During the years 1821-1822, Richard Henry Dana 1st. edited in New York the short-lived magazine, The Idle Man. With his Bostonian background and his New York affiliations, he was a most important link between the literary groups of the two cities.
With the coming of these men and others toward the close of the first quarter of the century, the beginnings of a different school of writing were heralded. They are less a part of the last days of Knickerbocker New York than they are of nineteenth-century America, and they form a connecting link between a time which seems to us remote and a present which was, but just now, with us.
The artistic and intellectual interests of the town were nourished not only upon literary food. As a pendant to the group of writers, an equally vigorous company of artists and architects was working with a knowledge and sureness of touch which, while reflecting the changing tastes of the present, argued no lack of appreciation of the great traditions of the past. Here, too, we find men of versatile minds and training excelling not alone in one thing but in several, taking their places as active and conscientious citizens in the affairs of the city and the nation.
In February, 1801, there was opened in rooms in the Government House near the Battery an exhibition of paintings presented to the city by Napoleon Buonaparte, First Consul of the French through Robert Livingston, the Ambassador of the United States at Paris. To Chancellor Livingston, also, was due the establishment of the Academy of Arts which was formed by subscription in February, 1802, and reorganized in 1817 with Trumbull as president. As the Academy thrived, there were added to the collection "antique statues, busts, bas-reliefs, and books," among the last, twenty-four volumes of Piranesi, presented by Napoleon. Most of the "antique statues" were, to be sure, casts bearing such awe-inspiring names as Belvidere Apollo, the Venus of the Capitol, and the Laocoon. Of the "moderns" are mentioned busts of Washington, Hamilton, Clinton, West, and three of Napoleon.
Another popular resort for the artistically curious was John Vanderlyn's "Panoramic Rotunda." Here, on Chambers Street east of the City Hall, the well-known artist held an exhibition in a hall built for the purpose in 1818. The motley group of panoramic scenes included the Palace and Gardens of Versailles painted by Vanderlyn; the City of Paris by Barker; the City of Mexico, the Battle of Waterloo, and the City of Athens. A smaller connecting gallery was used by Mr. Vanderlyn to show his own paintings including his Caius Marius which had received a second prize at Paris.
Not far from the Rotunda on Broadway near the south angle of the park was Mr. Paff's antiquity shop. He had no competitor in the fine arts of buying, selling, or repairing pictures. In the Architectural Rooms of Ithiel Towne and M. E. Thompson, in the Exchange, was assembled an extensive collection of books and prints relative to this noble art.
Of the painters whose names may fairly be associated with this period which we are reviewing, two are known to us chiefly by their artistic works, two by their scientific accomplishments.
John Vanderlyn and John Trumbull, historical, landscape, and portrait painters, ranked high as artists who painted in the taste and spirit of their time. Vanderlyn, a real Knickerbocker, born in Kingston-on-the-Hudson, studied, like the other painters of his generation, first in this country, then abroad. He was, in fact, the first American painter to study in France, rather than in England. His chief rival in New York, and by no means a friendly rival at that, was John Trumbull.
Trumbull, by the accident of birth, began his life with the advantages of good family and thorough education. His father was the Revolutionary Governor of Connecticut and Harvard was his college. In 1804 he came to New York with his English wife and set up his establishment in a house at the corner of Pine Street and Broadway. A good deal of an opportunist, he had made other visits to New York, usually, as now, in the effort to further his own success. His return found him well known as an historical and portrait painter, the pupil of Benjamin West, a soldier and a diplomat. He remained in America until 1808—the years from 1794
until 1806 had been prosperous but the embarrassments of commerce between 1806 and 1814 hit heavily the wealthy commercial clientèle of the painter. Again in 1816 he returned—the War of 1812 had come and gone while he was in the enemy's country—and his first effort was to revive the Academy of Arts of which he was elected president. From this time he was chiefly occupied in painting historical scenes for the Washington Capitol, then rebuilding. His relation to the Government was as nearly as possible that of a "court" painter. His work is a characteristic note upon the period, for it breathes the picturesque glory of battle, it depicts the important occasions in the foundation of the Government, and portrays the leading figures who took part in these events.
Robert Fulton and Samuel F. B. Morse are best known to us by their scientific contributions—Fulton for his successful forwarding of the use of steam in navigation, Morse as the inventor of the telegraph. But both of these men began life as painters and have left a number of examples of their work which bespeak their skill in an art which later was crowded out of their lives by scientific investigation.
Morse in 1824 was living in New York and was commissioned by the Corporation of the city to paint the portrait of the venerable Lafayette, who was then beginning his triumphant tour through the United States. Two years later he was instrumental in founding the National Academy of Design, of which he was the first president. This step brought about his ears the vituperations of the leaders in the Academy of Arts. For some years after this his painting and lecturing were continued before his inventions began to occupy all his energies. A charming fictional treatment of Morse's life is the delicate pen picture drawn in F. Hopkin-son Smith's "The Fortunes of Oliver Horn."
Fulton, born in 1765, had practically given up portrait painting by 1794, according to Dunlap. His training had been similar to that of Trumbull and Morse. He had received instruction and encouragement from West in London, and had travelled on the Continent. It was during his residence in England, while he studied and painted, that he first became seriously interested in canal navigation and later, when an intimacy grew up between him and Chancellor Livingston in Paris, his dreams of the accomplishment of steam navigation had begun to come true.
Henry Inman, born in 1801, was one of the younger group of painters whose earlier work falls within our period. Apprenticed to John W. Jarvis at the age of fourteen, he was one of the organizers and the first vice-president of the National Academy of Design. Listed as a portraitist, he excelled both in miniature and oil painting, while in the latter medium his work included not only figure and portrait work, but genre and landscape as well. Inman's teacher and patron, Jarvis, was an eccentric soul who painted much and well both as a miniaturist and as a painter in oils. He not only worked in New York—with whose art, however, he is particularly associated—but travelled to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, and New Orleans to execute commissions for portraits.
Charles B.-J.-F. de Saint Memin worked in New York from 1793 to 1798, returned in 1810 for a short time and again in 1812. A representative of the type of French artist who
came to this country after the Revolution in his own land, Saint Memin engraved small medallion portraits of many of the most prominent people in the larger cities of the country. His technical method appealed to the spirit of the time. In executing his portraits, mostly in profile, he made a drawing which he reduced by pantograph to the small dimensions of his medallion. The copper plate was then engraved and the original drawing, life-sized in crayon, the engraved plate, and twelve proofs printed from it, were delivered to the sitter for the sum of thirty-three dollars! Saint Memin's etched silhouettes are less well known than his engraved portrait medallions, but his views of New York are familiar to all interested in the earlier aspect of the city.
The work of these artists is a correct indication of the contemporary spirit. The chief works of each of them fall into one of the two groups of portrait or historical painting. The first group, that of portraits, was the inevitable result of a successful commercial era when fortunes were being made and families were assuming in their own eyes an importance which could well be expressed and perpetuated in this way. In the second group, that of historical paintings, the story of the founding of the republic is told in a familiar language full of pride in the bravery of its soldiers and the wisdom of its statesmen.
In a contemporary list of New York artists in which the names of Vanderlyn, Trumbull, and Morse occur, there are also mentioned the two architects, Thompson and Towne. To these must be added the name of John Macomb, the architect of the City Hall.
This building, the finest of its time in the city, if not in the United States, was begun in 1803. The premium for the best plan had been awarded to Macomb and Mangin, though there is still controversy as to how much credit is due to Mangin in the conception of the design. The prevalence of the yellow fever at the time of the laying of the cornerstone was something of a damper to the ardour of the citizens and was an accurate omen of the vicissitudes which were to beset the architect during the years before the completion of the building in 1812. The twenty-five thousand dollars voted in 1802 had been expanded to half a million by the time the building was finished. It is unnecessary to describe this little gem of early-nineteenth-century architecture for it may be visited any day in its present surroundings of skyscrapers. It is said that although the front and sides were built of Stockbridge marble, the north side was brown-stone, painted, since it seemed hardly likely that any important development of the city would occur north of the City Hall Park! This story is not, however, consistent with the plan of the city as laid out by the commissioners in 1811, from which there has been but little deviation since. It would require much space to tell the story of the building of the new City Hall or to do justice to the professional ability and artistic genius of John Macomb. Let it suffice to put him at the head of the list of the New York architects of his day and to allow his masterpiece to speak for him.
Of the two architects Thompson and Towne, we have heard in connection with the library of architectural books, prints, and drawings which they had established. A surviving though dormant example of Thompson's work is the marble building which housed the U. S. Branch Bank in
Wall Street, where the new Assay Office now stands. This dignified façade, with its rusticated ground story supporting four Ionic columns, pediment, and entablature, will shortly be reërected in its permanent location as the south façade of the wing of American Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The material used was the marble of Westchester which was superseding the brown freestone of New Jersey and which was an adequate substitute for the fine marble brought at so great expense from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for the City Hall.
Ithiel Towne was one of the more prominent architects of the city and possessed a very fine architectural library which was freely open to the use of students. Friend and associate both of A. J. Davis and M. E. Thompson, Towne designed and built many buildings both alone and in conjunction with Davis. Much of his surviving work is, however, an exponent of revival architecture, whether of the Greek or Gothic style, and falls just outside our period either in time or in spirit.
Thus the fine arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, and literature were not without representation in the early republican metropolis. Music and the theatre, too, enjoyed considerable favour. The Park Theatre in Chatham Street reigned supreme as the home of the drama and the opera. Gutted by fire in 1820, it was reopened on the first of August, 1821, to renewed glory, and was advertised as a fireproof structure to soothe the timorous! Traffic rules for approach to it by carriages were necessitated by the crush and confusion of vehicles bringing their fashionable fares.
A number of other theatres attempted to rival the Park, but its fine location near the new City Hall and in the heart of an exclusive district left it little to fear. An amusing touch is seen in the rise from notoriety to gentility of The Theatre, Chatham Street, not far from the Park. Originally somewhat déclassée, by 1824 it was considered a "reputable theatre in every respect," perhaps owing to its rebuilding and refurbishing in that year. Besides the three established theatres running before 1825 there were many other places of amusement, but none so attractive as Castle Garden, the old fortress off the Battery, which had been re-christened for its mission of peace and pleasure. With the covered amphitheatre surrounded by a broad promenade, the lively band and the myriad twinkling lamps at night, Castle Garden formed the most notable resort in the city and was constantly thronged by a gayly dressed crowd in all seasonable weathers, although its popularity with the smart set fluctuated somewhat from year to year. Here landed the distinguished visitor, Lafayette, in October, 1824, to receive from the city the most spontaneous welcome it has ever given to a foreign guest. The city papers were filled with advertisements of dancing teachers—mostly with good French names—and the terpsichorean art found many devotees.
It is difficult to separate from the record of the artistic growth of the city its contemporaneous commercial and civic expansion. The mental picture of New York of this time is a composite of pleasant social life and commercial activity, of artistic effort and civic improvement, all interspersed with timely political controversy. It includes the continued stimulation of all of these by new inventions and far-reach ing plans for the future. Unfortunately, in a word picture it is impossible to unite all of these ideas so compactly, and almost equally difficult to condense into a few paragraphs the story of any one of the many departments of endeavour. Particularly is this true of the physical and commercial aspects of the city's growth which very closely reacted upon its artistic efforts, while the political questions of the day, centring very closely around parties dominated by the personalities of their leaders, are an excessively involved series of controversies which were the subject of heated dispute and personal antagonism.
The outside influences which acted most strikingly—and effectively—upon the city were those due to wars, fires, and pestilences. In some ways they hindered, in some ways helped, the city's expansion; certainly they all changed its geographical appearance. To wars and rumours of wars, to embargoes laid and lifted, were due the fluctuations of import and export which in large degree controlled the commercial prosperity and depression alternating in the records of customs revenue. Who would think of having his own or his wife's portrait painted or a new house built when the embargo was laying a lean hand upon every man's income?
During the early years of the century, the Napoleonic Wars occupied the stage of the world. The United States, a young but important maritime commercial nation, might well have been crushed between the upper and nether millstones, France and Britain. By turns and together these two nations flirted with or scowled at the young republic whose commerce was affected by the interference of French or British war legislation. The delicate situation resulting from this European condition, very complicated in detail, was resolved into actual war with England by the declaration of war in April, 1812.
The war found the country insecurely united as a political entity and considerably divided in its attitude toward the conflict itself. The general feeling in New York had been against war because of the interference with commerce, but when once the country was definitely involved, the city did not fall behind in its participation. Twenty-six privateers were fitted out at New York before October, volunteers were trained on land, large subscriptions to the war loan were obtained, and every effort was made to render the fortifications of the city adequate.
The city was the scene of several spectacular returns of war heroes. In September an enthusiastic reception was given to Commodore Hull of the U.S.S. Constitution after his defeat of H.M.S. Guerriere on August 19th. Captain Decatur sailed away from New York in his frigate, the United States, and returned in December the victor over H. M. frigate Macedonian, which he had disabled on October 25th by force of superior gunnery. A great banquet was given on December 29th for Decatur and Hull, both of whom had received the freedom of the city and had been asked to sit for their portraits which were to hang in the City Hall. The effect of these two naval victories did much to hearten the citizens by the proof of the prowess of the Americans when pitted against the greatest naval power of Europe.
Numerous other lesser naval victories were celebrated and land defeats mourned, but the climax of enthusiasm was reached in the illuminations and ceremonies in October,
1813, in honour of Perry's victory on Lake Erie in September. He, too, received the freedom of the city and his portrait was requested for the City Hall. Great rejoicing greeted the news of the signing of the treaty of peace in Ghent, which reached the city in February, 1815.
Fires, great and small, were of periodic occurrence in the town. The record of an extensive fire in an ancient section is usually followed by the projection of some fine stone or brick buildings soon to rise from the ashes. The yellow fever and other plagues which from time to time devastated the population were instrumental in extending the familiarity of the city dwellers to the delightful country near by. Greenwich Village grew into a thriving town during the epidemic of 1822. The disease appeared in Rector Street about the middle of July, and by the 20th of August practically all sorts of business offices were removed to Greenwich Village—even the ferries changed their courses—and scarcely any residents were left south of the City Hall. Early in November the citizens were able to return to their homes, leaving behind them, however, enough people to make up a nucleus for future growth.
Due to the desire partly to guard against the spread of disease, partly to simplify the topography of the city, very many changes and improvements were made in its geographical layout during the period. Whole streets in the old part of town were widened, Hudson and Washington Squares laid out, planted and surrounded by stately mansions. The triangle of ground, now Hanover Square, was cleared of its buildings and made a breathing space. A plan for the future development of the island was drawn up, the various fresh-water ponds were filled in, and the low rolling hills surrounding the Collect were levelled for filling.
At the same time these civic improvements were going on, the whole situation with reference to transportation was revolutionized by the application of steam to navigation. Fulton's successful establishment of steamboats on the Hudson was one of the most important events of the period in this country, if not in the world. The inventor's early death in 1815 prevented his witnessing the full development of the plans which he, with Robert Livingston, had inaugurated. By 1825, about one hundred steamboats of every description had been built in New York, passage to Albany was accomplished in ten to fifteen hours, the trip to England or France in about twenty-five days or a month. There were also lines to Vera Cruz, Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans, Boston, Richmond, and Havana.
The establishment of these lines of steamship communication with European and American ports resulted in a huge increase both in the population of New York and in its commerce. The population in 1800, about 60,489 inhabitants, had by 1825 reached 168,000, an average increase of about 4,000 a year. The value of merchandise passing through the port, in 1800 about fourteen million dollars, by 1825 was more than thirty-four millions. Marked downward fluctuations resulted from the embargoes of the Napoleonic Wars and from the War of 1812, while the too great revival of importation after the latter war led to a paralysis of domestic trade and manufacture which affected all classes of society.
By the year 1825, however, the process of stabilization had pretty well worked itself out. Most of the activities which
PLATE IX. ARMCHAIR SHOWING EMPIRE INFLUENCE PART OF SUITE WITH SOFA, PLATE XVII
have here been so briefly suggested were established in their regular courses. From the provincial city had evolved a young metropolis, filled with a considerable sense of its own importance, interested no longer exclusively in its own affairs but branching out in all directions to make valuable contacts with other parts of the country and with lands beyond the seas. The growth of New York had been more rapid than that of any other city on the eastern seaboard, and already through its port came and went a proportionately larger flow of export, import, and immigration. Its natural position rendered it particularly convenient as a centre of distribution for the rest of the country.
Transportation by land had not kept pace with transportation by water. The application of steam to navigation had given to the steamboat an advantage which it took the locomotive many years to discount, and even before the use of steam was thought of transport by water seemed far simpler than by land. Washington himself, before the Revolution, realized that if the great natural resources of the continent were to be deflected to the eastern seaboard, and away from the French province of Louisiana, served as it was by the Mississippi valley, some artery of transportation must be found between the region west of the Alleghanies and the Catskills. To him, the preferable route for this artery would lead into the Potomac. With a group of important Virginians, he had projected the building of a great canal between the Ohio and Potomac rivers. The site, which he later chose for the capital city, was thus, in his plan, destined to be near the metropolitan and commercial centre of the eastern coast, the great port of import from Europe and export from America. A fully organized company considered the scheme, surveys were made, capital was promised, and Washington was made president of the corporation for the development of the plan. Haste was desirable since there were already rumours of an important canal projected in northern New York State, to connect the Great Lakes with the Hudson River, though the British possession of Niagara was likely to give the proposed Ohio-Potomac canal a monopoly for some years.
Washington's election as President of the republic meant the relinquishment by him of all private business connections. He resigned from the canal organization, though never ceasing to give it his interest and to urge its construction as a vital step in the development of the country. But without his actual presence at the helm, the movement slowed down and finally was abandoned.
Washington's feeling that the unity of the country depended upon its being closely linked together by great converging highways was shared by other men of his day who, however, differed from him in their choice of location for the important seaport which was necessary as an outlet and a distributing point. As early as 1783 Washington and Governor George Clinton, on a trip to Saratoga Springs and through the Mohawk valley, had considered the feasibility of a canal from Oswego to Albany. Several other suggestions for canals in northern New York State to connect the Great Lakes with the Hudson were made from time to time, but it was not until 1810 that DeWitt Clinton, the great advocate of the Erie Canal, gave a fresh impetus to the movement. From that time until its final completion the sup porters of the project had to fight against the most bitter opposition based both upon incredulity as to the practicability of the canal and doubt of the capacity of the state to furnish the means to complete it.
Begun on July 4, 1817, the work was finished in the autumn of 1825. At ten o'clock in the morning of October 26th of that year the first canal boat, Seneca Chief, left Buffalo with a distinguished group of passengers. The event was announced to the state by the booming of cannon from one end of the canal at Buffalo to New York and back at regularly timed intervals. On the 4th of November, the Seneca Chief arrived at New York.
It was fitting that the city which had both originated and supported the building of the Erie Canal from the beginning should have led in the ceremonies attending its realization. The event was celebrated in New York by extraordinary civic and naval ceremonies and the enthusiasm of the people reached a height seldom if ever attained before or since. The celebration was in two parts, on sea and on land. The grand fleet had arrived before sunrise on November 4th and the day opened to the accompaniment of roaring cannon and pealing bells. The Washington steamed down to welcome the fleet, which was dressed in the brilliant flags appropriate to the occasion. The naval procession filed past the Battery and was saluted by the military on Governor's Island and in the forts at the Narrows. It then joined the U. S. Schooner Porpoise, moored within Sandy Hook, where the ceremony of the wedding of Lake Erie with the Atlantic was to be performed.
A painted keg which had been made for the purpose and filled with water from Lake Erie was emptied into the waters of the Atlantic by Governor Clinton, who delivered a short address. In commingling the waters of the Atlantic with those of our Great Lakes, he said that he was thus commemorating the "wisdom, public spirit, and energy of the people of the State of New York" in establishing navigable communication between these two great bodies of water. Just before the ceremony the resolution was taken to preserve a portion of the water in bottles of American fabric, to enclose these in a handsome box made by Duncan Phyfe from a log of cedarwood brought from Lake Erie, and to send the case to Major-General Lafayette, so recently a visitor to the city. After this impressive ceremony the vessels drew in to shore to witness the great land procession as it passed around the Battery.
This second part of the day's celebration was already under way. The procession had formed under the direction of the Grand Marshal, on the west side of Greenwich Street with its right on Marketfield Street, and by eleven o'clock the line was already in motion.
The greatest land procession which had ever been seen in the city, this parade was arranged in four divisions. Preceded by mounted trumpeters came the Grand Marshal of the day, General Augustus Fleming, with his four aides all mounted, uniformly dressed, wearing white satin collars and rosettes and carrying short white batons tipped with gold. These officials of the day were followed by the Corporation Band.
Following were the four divisions of marchers in whose ranks were represented all of the associations of crafts-
men, tradesmen, and mechanics, the fire department, students, officers of militia, and the Masonic lodges—in all, about seven thousand. Each of the thirty or more sections of the line was headed by a colourful banner painted with elaborate devices which in many cases was followed not only by marchers in ranks, but by large floats. The fire companies, particularly proud of their brilliantly painted engines, marched in high beaver hats and long-tailed broadcloth coats with the engines and implements of their calling tastefully (so the records tell us) decorated with paint, silks, and velvets. Some of the magnificent engines in their gaudy paint were mounted on floats that were covered with rich Brussels carpet!
Due to the nearness of Election Day, the assemblage of armed forces was forbidden, so that the parade represented purely the civic life of the city. The line of march led up Greenwich Street to Canal and Broadway, up Broadway to Broome Street, through Broome to the Bowery, and down the Bowery to Pearl and the Battery. The dazzling line reached the Battery about three o'clock, at which time, the aquatic part of the celebration having been completed, the vessels had drawn in close to shore. The procession passed around the broad walk at the edge of the Battery under the eyes of the notables on shipboard. As the end of the procession passed, the officials of the Corporation of the City disembarked with their invited guests and fell in at the rear, following all the way to the City Hall, where the procession dispersed.
This ended the festivities of the afternoon. In the evening the City Hall was illuminated by thousands of lamps and candles and by a great display of fireworks. The next day the chief guests were entertained on board the steamer Chancellor Livingston, and on Monday, the seventh, the whole series of festivities was concluded at a grand ball given by the officers of the Militia.
In contrasting the two great parades, more than a quarter of a century apart—the one commemorating the death of Washington, the other celebrating a great achievement— we cannot fail to recognize vividly the changes which had occurred in the city during twenty-five years. The different lines of march of the two give some suggestion of the geographical expansion of the town. In the first, the groups of marchers were formed on the basis of social cleavage; in the second, chiefly on a basis of the various lines of human endeavour found in an active commercial community. There is almost a suggestion of labour unions in the closely knit groups of craftsmen and mechanics who rallied behind the banners of their callings. Here is suggested a civic life whose complexity required a definite grouping of its component parts—twenty-five years or more before one group in the parade had been composed of "citizens" and included all those who were not definitely allied with some one of the military, philanthropic, or fraternal organizations. In the celebration of 1825 there is seen a record of the scientific and commercial advance of the years immediately preceding, the shaping of a social structure which has continued to the present day, and the consciousness of unbounded resources in the newly accessible lands to the westward which were now directly connected in a commercial way with all parts of the globe.
The concomitant of this emphasis upon the scientific and commercial aspect of the city's growth was the decided lowering of the standards of taste in things artistic. Nothing more homely, nor at the same time more gaudily brilliant, than the preparations and decorations for the Erie Canal Celebration can be imagined as we compare them with the more distinguished efforts of an earlier generation.
The temporary death-knell of taste in the United States had been tolled, and the interest of the creative minds of the country was swinging away from aesthetic matters to those of scientific and commercial importance which were prescribed by the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Almost one hundred years after this interest seems to be swinging back to a normal position which includes in its scope both science and art, each with its proper emphasis in the sum total of cultural values. And the development of the aesthetic component of this modern culture must find its roots in a time when its standards were still high, its ideals still fine, and the integrity of its craftsmanship still unsullied by mechanical device.
Was this article helpful?