The Unknown Story Of Broadway Street

Encore: October 19, 2015

What do the Flatiron Building, City Hall, Union Square and Lincoln Center all have in common?

They line one of the longest streets in the world, a storied city jewel in itself: Broadway. But beyond the bright lights of the “Great White Way,” far less is commonly known about the street’s history and evolution from the Native American era.

Tracing more than 13 miles from Lower Manhattan’s Bowling Green to the Bronx, a new book tells the story of Broadway through 200 vintage photographs. MetroFocus host Jenna Flanagan talks to author Michelle Young about, “Broadway,” which tells the lesser-known past of the famous street.

“…To look at the history of Broadway, we have to go way back to the Native American era, when it was originally called the Wickquasgeck trail,” Young said. “It actually ran the entire length of Manhattan, following an original ridge of land.”

Young is also the founder of Untapped Cities, an online community hub and blog that encourages urban exploration. The idea for the book emerged from Young’s blog posts on Untapped Cities, where contributors regularly write about New York’s hidden sites and architecture.

“New York is a place where you can really come across something very miraculous by accident,” she said.

Read an adapted excerpt from “Broadway” below:

Bradford Map Broadway

The Bradford Map, first map of NYC printed within the municipality from 1730. As seen in the book Broadway by Michelle Young

As a thoroughfare, Broadway can be traced back to the Native American Wickquasgeck Trail that was carved through the bush of Mannahatta. It became one of the two main streets formed during the settlement of the Dutch West India Company. Known at the time as de Heere Straat, or “Gentlemen’s Street,” Broadway originated at Fort Amsterdam and followed a natural ridge of land that led northwards through the fields and farms of New Amsterdam. De Heere Straat extended to the wall that protected the Dutch colonists from English encroachment along present-day Wall Street. First constructed as a simple a picket fence in 1653, the wall developed into a twelve-foot fortification. There were only two entry gates, with one situated on de Heere Straat opposite Trinity Church.

Under the English, New Amsterdam was renamed New York, after the Duke of York, brother to King Charles II. Fort Amsterdam, located at the foot of Broadway, was renamed Fort James. The fort and environs became the center of political and social life in the new colony, and it is not surprising that the first meeting to protest the 1765 Stamp Act took place at Burn’s Coffee House on Broadway opposite Bowling Green.

Check back after tonight’s show to watch the full interview.

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