Begijn Gracht. Paerel Straet. Brugh Straet. You may not recognize these Dutch street names of NYC, but these are the names of streets you have likely walked on in Lower Manhattan. 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. These Dutch streets were forever cemented in the makeup of New York City when they became a designated New York City landmark in 1983. While the Dutch 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 to New York – in honor of the royal proprietor the Duke of York, later King James II – the Dutch street names changed as well. Some street names were loosely translated from Dutch to English and some were changed entirely. Here, we traced the evolution of 10 New York City street names from the original Dutch colonial grid and explain how they got the names they have today!
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 name for the street was De Heere Straat which translates to “Gentleman’s Way,” but in the 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!
Remnants of New Amsterdam Tour