Image from NYPL
New York City at the beginning of the nineteenth century was far from being the great metropolis that it is today. Although it was on its way to being the United States’ most populous city with 60,000 people, not much urban life existed north of Houston Street. (And with pigs still roaming the streets as they pleased, the extent of Manhattan’s urbanity was up for debate.)
Admittedly, New York lacked the history of cities like Paris and London, but that didn’t stop proud New Yorkers like Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill from believing New York to be a world class city. Mitchill, a doctor, Columbia College professor, and U.S. senator, didn’t take too kindly to how contemporary writers looked down at his upstart city for not having the cultural sophistication of the great cities of Europe. Intent on proving them wrong, in 1807, Mitchill published what is known as New York City’s first guidebook, “The Picture of New-York, Or The Traveller’s Guide Through the Commercial Metropolis of the United States, By a Gentleman Residing in This City.”
In his 200-page guidebook, Mitchill not only detailed the inner workings of the city government and listed all its markets and benevolent institutions; he made sure to note that New York City was home to several places where locals and visitors could gain cultural enrichment. The city’s elegant gardens, academies, and reading rooms prove that nineteenth-century New York was quite the tourist destination. Here are five of the most notable attractions in New York City’s first guidebook:
1. City Hall Park
Long before the creation of Central Park, when New Yorkers said they were going to “the park,” they were referring to the green space outside of City Hall. With young elm, willow, and catalpa trees, City Hall Park was a “beautiful grove” with the potential to become “an elegant and improving place,” according to Mitchill. Although these days, City Hall Park isn’t usually what New Yorkers refer to when they say /the/ park, it is still a great place for government workers to unwind on their lunch break.