Ca. 1903 street map of Manhattan showing boundaries of New Harlem
This map comes from a book entitled "New Harlem Past and Present:
The Story of an Amazing Civic Wrong Now at Last to be Righted". This
book was written by Carl Horton Pierce, and published in 1903. The
book purports to recount the history of the little town of New Harlem
originally settled by the Dutch at the northern tip of Manhattan
Island. Included in the back cover of the book is the fold-out map I
present below. I know nothing more about the provenence of the map
than that. It is a very nice map in that it shows the names of all
the streets in Manhattan at around the turn of the (last) century.
I can't say I've read the entire book (or even much
of it), but what I have read of it is quite interesting.
The book makes the claim that New Harlem was never legally integrated
into New York City. By way of supporting its claim, the book discusses the
history of the Village of New Harlem; the history goes something
The interesting feature of my little book is that it claims that since
the legal entity "the Township of New Harlem" was never officially
dissolved, it still exists, and moreover title to certain of the lands
in New Harlem still vests in the descendents of the original settlers.
Whether this is true or not, I don't know. A buddy of mine who is an NYC
historian says that if you trace the titles back far enough, you will
find that ownership of land parcels all over NYC is very confusing;
apparently the old records are incomplete and contradictory.
The book is evidently written by somebody with an axe to grind. My
guess is that the writer was looking to cash in by gaining title to
large swaths of Harlem real estate. Remember that when the book was
written the elevated trains were just going in (see "722 Miles"), and
the formerly neglected and fallow lands of Northern Manhattan and the
Bronx all of a sudden became hugely desirable for housing
construction. It was probably his goal to make a land-grab for some
of the newly desirable suburban land made accessable by the subway.
- The area was originally settled by Dutch farmers in 1636.
- The English took over New Holland in 1664
- New Harlem was granted it's first "patent" (i.e. recognition as a
legal entity) in 1666. Apparently, the freeholders and
inhabitants of New Harlem had to buy the patent from the crown in
order to legitimate their land holdings. The patent, therefore,
was a kind of taxation. The patent was called the "First Nicholls
Patent" after the colonial governer who issued it. A second
patent was issued, also in 1666, in order to clear up some
problems associated with the first one.
- The Dutch re-took New York in 1673 as part of the Dutch-English
war. The English took it back in 1674.
- Because of the ownership uncertainties brought about by the taking
and re-taking of New York, as well as a desire to extract more
money from the colonies, the crown again re-issued a patent to the
"freeholders and inhabitants of New Harlem" in March, 1686 through
- In April 1686, Govenor Dongan issued a patent for
the City of New York. This charter for the City of New York
specified that New York owned all the waterways surrounding
Manhattan Island, up to the low tide mark of the surrounding
land. This effectively denied New Harlem use of its own
(This charter also explains why Brooklyn was forced
into eventual consolidation with New York: Brooklyn never
controlled its own waterfront, and was therefore always at the
mercy of New York's shipping industry.)
- The property records for New Harlem were either lost or stolen
sometime in the early 1700s.
- In 1772 and 1775, the New York state legislature passed laws
fixing the boundary
between the city of New York and the Township of Harlem as a line
running (roughly) diagonally from the present 74th St and the
East River to 129th St on the Hudson. This is shown in the map
below as the red boundary line.
- Over time, the various large land holdings belonging to the
original Dutch townspeople of New Harlem were subdivided and sold
off. In 1820, a committee of "Trustees of the Township of New
Harlem" was appointed to administer the proceeds from the sale of
the various public lands which were part of New Harlem. The book
says, cryptically, "The Act of 1820 appoints trustees for the
freeholders and inhabitants of Harlem seized in fee simple of the
- Mention is made of a legal entity known as the "Township of New
Harlem" in the laws of New York State until about 1835.
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