History of NYC Streets: Why is There a King Street & Prince Street but no Queen or Princess Street in Manhattan?

queen street-1776-new york city-untapped citiesIn this 1776 map, Great Queen Street is shown running diagonally, over modern-day Pearl Street. (via Library of Congress)

At the southern tip of Manhattan, the oldest part, the streets have names which often date back to colonial times. In a book by Don Rogerson entitled Manhattan Street Names Past and Present, he details the etymology of many New York City streets, often back to their Dutch roots. When the English took the city from the Dutch, they translated the old, more practical street names – Broadway for the broadest street, Bridge Street for the street with a bridge–while adding streets named after themselves and some named for royalty. If you look at a map of Lower Manhattan, you will see King Street and Prince Street. Where is Queen Street? Well naturally, there used to be several streets named for the Queen: Little Queen Street (now Cedar Street) and Great Queen Street (now Pearl Street).

1776-historic map of new york-nyc-untapped cities1776 map of Lower Manhattan drawn by Major Holland. (via Library of Congress)

Pearl Street is a special case because it now carries an English translation of its original name from 1660, Paerlstraet, around the time of the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam. The map above shows the street over a century later with its new moniker, Queen Street. Rogerson details that as New York City was the site of many battles in the American Revolution, it was a common for street names to be changed as a memorial for fallen soldiers or winning generals, anything to symbolize the newly severed ties to the crown.

What we now call Pine Street was called King Street on maps dated from 1693 to 1794. There was a second King Street that existed in this period as well. Modern-day William Street between Hanover Square and Wall Street was called King Street on the 1695 Miller Plan, according to the records on Old Streets. Interestingly, however, the name King Street remains until today–albeit as the name of an entirely different street, located one block south of W Houston St. running between Greenwich Street and MacDougal Street.

One block south of where today’s King Street ends is what we call Prince Street. Historically, the name Prince Street is drawn from an English translation (Prince’s Street) from the Dutch original name – Princess Straet. However, that name was used for a stretch of modern-day Beaver Street between Hanover Street and Wall Street prior to 1974. As Jim Henderson, prolific New York City photographer tells us, “Royal street names were abolished after Evacuation Day. King and Prince Streets are outside the urban area of the time. I suspect they received the surnames of later heroes.”

The only place where you can find a Queen or Princess Street in New York City today is Staten Island:

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 11.58.43 AMQueen Street in Staten Island. (via Google Maps)

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 11.58.10 AMPrincess Street in Staten Island. (via Google Maps)

Don Rogerson has a great repertoire of maps he used in compiling his books at his website Manhattan Past. You can also look up the history of any street name at Old Streets. Read  more from our History of NYC Streets series.

 Financial District, history of streets

5 Responses
  1. There actually is a queen street in lower Manhattan, between Madison and cherry streets.

  2. Oddly enough, neither of Staten Island’s “royal” thoroughfares (Queen St in Emerson Hill and Princess St in Mariner’s Harbor) are particularly old. Both streets were not laid out until after the Verrazano Bridge was built in the mid-1960s. And although Staten Island is not officially the Borough of Richmond any longer, the royal title (after the Duke of Richmond) is still seen all over the Island (Richmond Ave, Terrace and Parkway; Richmond Hill Road; Richmondtown; Port Richmond, etc).

    There is, however, a lovely area with an adjoining Staten Island Railway station on the South Shore called Prince’s Bay that is often mistaken as “Princess Bay.”

  3. The present day King Street is not actually a holdover from colonial times, but was named for Rufus King, who was a warden of Trinity Church when the street was ceded by the church to the city in 1808. Many streets that were located on the church’s property were named by the church for prominent members.

  4. When Ireland, the original colony, achieved independence the freed subjects immediately restored the Irish names to the the countries that the oppressors called King’s(Offaly) and Queen’s(Laois). The only such change in NYC was the restoration of Richmond borough’s name to the more suitable Staten Island through the efforts of Paul O’Dwyer then President of the Council. The county name is still the oppressors’ but that would require action by NYS.

    • There was a fair bit of debate in the Common Council over whether to remove the old colonial street names or leave them in place as a historical reminder. The consensus was to remove them, and in 1794 several street names were changed. Perhaps the most pointed of these re-namings was the changing of Crown Street to Liberty Street.

      The council was not unanimous in its feeling that the street names should be changed. One of the members, Nicholas Bayard, was apparently dismayed that the former Prince Street was changed to Rose Street (the name it has today). At the same time Rose Street was named, he named a street that had been laid out on his farm Prince Street. This is the modern Prince Street. It is perhaps more correct to say that it is not named for any particular monarch, but is named after the former street.

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