1916 Redrawing of The Castello Plan, map of 1660 New Amsterdam via Wikimedia Commons
Begijn Gracht. Paerel Straet. Brugh Straet. These are the names of streets you have probably walked on if you’ve been to Lower Manhattan, but today they are called Beaver Street, Pearl Street, and Bridge Street. When Dutch settlers colonized the southern tip of Manhattan and established the colony of New Amsterdam, they created the island’s first street grid. This grid shaped part of the layout of Lower Manhattan as we know it today and has been preserved by the Landmark’s Preservation Commission. While the grid itself has remained largely as it was in the 17th century, when the British took control of New Amsterdam in 1664 and changed the colony’s name New York – in honor of the royal proprietor the Duke of York, later King James II – the street names changed as well. Some names were loosely translated from Dutch to English and some were changed entirely. Here we have traced the evolution of 10 New York City street names from the original Dutch colonial grid to the present!
Broadway is the oldest thoroughfare in New York City and one of the oldest in the country. The street was originally an Indian thoroughfare called Wickquasgeck (Wick-kwas-geck), meaning “birch-bark country” and its route ran through the Bronx and Westchester to the north of present-day Albany. Under Dutch colonial rule, Broadway ran from Fort Amsterdam – the site of the Museum of the American Indian today – to Wall Street at the northern border of the colony. The Dutch named it De Heere Straat which translates to “Gentleman’s Way,” but in common vernacular it was referred to as “brede weg,” or “broad road” since it was the widest street in New Amsterdam. The eventual English translated name became Broadway. Under the British, the name of Fort Amsterdam at the southern end of Broadway was also changed. It became Fort James.
You can walk the original Dutch colonial street grid, starting at the former site of Fort Amsterdam, and physically touch remnants of New York’s colonial history on an upcoming Remnants of Dutch New Amsterdam Walking Tour!