Over the years, longtime Washington Heights resident and grassroots historian Barry S. amassed hundreds of vintage photos of his neighborhood and Inwood— roughly the area from 157th Street to 218th Street in Upper Manhattan. He’d often thought about posting them somewhere public to show the hidden history of Washington Heights. But, with a full-time job, he never found the time. Until COVID, that is. “For me, COVID 19 was a cloud with a silver lining. With all that spare time, I finally put my idea into motion, printed them out, and posted them,” Barry tells Untapped New York.
Today, if you walk up Broadway from 170th Street the toward the northern tip of Manhattan, you won’t notice the ubiquitous old photographs unless you pay close attention. More than 100 of them, printed on regular copy paper, are plastered on lampposts, traffic signal boxes, traffic lights and even (don’t tell) a few postal boxes. The laminated black-and-white photos have been strategically placed in the exact locations where the pictures were taken 70 to 120 years ago, with the oldest dating back to around 1905.
Passers-by can compare the then-and-now side-by-side, and experience humanity’s shocking change. “Believe it or not…” Not so long ago, Washington Heights was a low-rise neighborhood with wide, empty streets, trolley cars, and a small number of automobiles. Some of the postings offer mini-history lessons. For example, the photos near the George Washington Bridge Bus Station memorialize the buildings that were systemically demolished (three square blocks between Pinehurst and Wadsworth Aves) to construct the station that still occupies the space.
Historic photo shows a trolley in front of the Dyckman Farmhouse
Even a mundane street might reveal some hidden history of Washington Heights
The historian collected his photos from various archives, including images from the Museum of the City of New York, and the Works Progress Administration’s 1940s NYC site. Others were gathered from Facebook.
“Another relic of our Washington Heights’ Past, GONE FOREVER” reads this sign.
As with any public postings, many have been ripped down or plastered over since they were put up in spring and summer. Barry makes notes, and when he has free time, he replaces them. “It’s a fascinating way to learn your neighborhood history,” he said, noting he’s not quitting anytime soon.