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 like this:

  1. The area was originally settled by Dutch farmers in 1636.
  2. The English took over New Holland in 1664
  3. 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.
  4. The Dutch re-took New York in 1673 as part of the Dutch-English war. The English took it back in 1674.
  5. 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 govenor Dongan.
  6. 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 waterfront. (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.)
  7. The property records for New Harlem were either lost or stolen sometime in the early 1700s.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 common lands."
  10. Mention is made of a legal entity known as the "Township of New Harlem" in the laws of New York State until about 1835.
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.


Click on an area to get an enlarged view.


Map of New York showing New Harlem, 1903

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