Lower Manhattan is deeply rooted in history. Not only is it present in the age of the buildings and the irregular shapes of the streets, but every signpost can transport the city wanderer into the past. Back in the days when Manhattan’s streets were named, rather than numbered (before the 1811 plan for the street grid), the name of a street was tied to the character of its neighborhood, and every name has a story. Some tell tales of war and bloodshed, while others evoke idyllic streams or small furry creatures. Many other street names honor historical figures, but there are also those that have been removed from their commemorative origins by spelling errors, mispronunciation, and deliberate mockery.
1. Barrow Street
Originally, Barrow Street was called Reason Street, in honor of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason (written in 1794). Over time, however, “Reason Street” gradually became “Raisin Street.” This was likely a mispronunciation that resulted from the many accents in New York at the time, but an alternate version of the story holds that the change was a deliberate insult. By the time of his death, Paine had lost his popularity for expressing blasphemous views in the same text the street was named for and he faced derision from the general public.
In 1828, the street was rechristened “Barrow Street” at the request of Trinity Church. Thomas Barrow, for whom the street was named, was an artist and a vestryman at the church. Barrow was well known at the time for his 1807 drawing of the ruins of first Trinity Church after the fire of 1776. This drawing was widely circulated as a print.