We’re back with the video series “A City Full of History,” delving into the lesser known aspects of New York City history produced by Untapped Cities contributor Dan Thurber, who runs the YouTube channel Bookworm History. Most recently, we visited Frederick Catherwood’s Panorama in SoHo, one of the most popular entertainments in old New York City! This time we head to Midtown to visit the first and last shot tower in Manhattan, and dive into the unique process for manufacturing lead shot in Old New York!
If you head to the block between 53rd and 54th Streets overlooking the East River, you’ll find a charming little sliver of a park. Behind it stands two high-rise apartment complexes, but if you were here in 1823 you would be looking at one of the most interesting manufacturing centers in New York City: the shot tower belonging to George Youle.
The Brevoort Estate with Youle’s Shot Tower. From ‘Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York – 1866‘ by D.T. Valentine
Manufacturing lead shot, primarily used in ammunition, was even then a fairly simple process, but it did require the construction of a tower built especially for that purpose. In 1821 metal merchant and inventor George Youle decided to get into the manufacturing side of things and began construction of such a tower on his farm, about four miles north of New York City.
Youle Shot Tower – Image from NYPL
Youle’s tower was notable for several reasons. Designed by renowned New York architect John McComb, Jr, it was both the first and last shot tower standing on Manhattan. A prominent landmark to those traveling on the Eastern Post Road, it even found its way into the paintings of Jasper Cropsey and Frederic Church.
‘Youle’s Shot Tower, East River New York’ by Frederic Church (1844-1845) – Image from The Athenaeum