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Entered at the Post-offlce at New Tork, IT. T., cu aeoond-daet matter.'
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 25, 1890.
>4THE NEW MERCANTILE DISTRICT.!
A Historical Survey.
THE sudden, impulse given to building improvements in the
section of the city that lies in the vicinity of Washington
sfjuare has been generally observed during the past two or three
years. Indeed, it would be difficult to pa.ss through the neighbor¬
hood at the })resent time without observing it. for piles of brick
and lumber blockade the streets at about every turn, and many
new buildings of hij^h architectural pretension-s, in all stages of
construction, are frecjuently visilile. The builders, with their usual
propen.sity for charging en nuissc, seem to have suddenly deter¬
mined to carry the district at all hazards, and though their lines in
some instances are pushed forward to the point of temerity, there
can be little doubt that they will succeed in pulling through.
It is a section of the citv that liii.s had a peculiar history. Enlarged
as 1809 Broadway was opened and planted with Lombardy poplars,
the new fancy of the period, lietween Spring street and Astor
place, then called Art street. At about the same date Canal street
was made intoa magnificent open sewer lOd feet wide, which, with
■its ditch in the centre lined with green trees, looked so much
better, according to the picture books, than the closed sewer of
to-day still known under the same suggestive name.
We are not to supjwse, however, that the green fields had gener¬
ally vanished from the district as early as the year 1809. One of
the Bayard farms still spread ils broad iicics over the surface at
that date, and it is to lie presumed tliat a good many men are still
living who can recall fugitive expeditions lo apple orchards
which they made as urchins nearly two decades Inter.
The day for the expansion of New York did not come
until the completion of the Erie ("anal, at about the close of the
The I'rore.is of Transformation—Looly-intj dmrn Greene Street.
a little it will extend southward as far as Canal street, and north¬
ward to 14th street. On the east it may be generally bounded by
Broadway until we reach the latitude pf Great Jones street, when
it will properly include Lafayette place. Astor place and 4th avenue
to the already defined northem limit. The west side will be well
enough defined when we follow the line of 6th avenue to Carmine
street and the route of the 6th avenue surface road to its intersec¬
tion w^ith Canal street. These are the main boundaries of a dis¬
trict which is unique within itself, and which offers greater variety
and stronger contrasts than any other equally limited section of
It is a very old district as age goes in New York. It is not old,
of course, compared with the section below Chambers'street,
because that was the New York of Diedricb Knickerbocker, and it
was not in its earlier history really called New York but Now
Amsterdam. It is old, nevertheless, so old that most of the bare¬
foot boys who chased butterflies over its green fields when it was
first bisected by streets have become, when still living, very gray-
. haired men clothed in lean and slipperied pantaloons. As long ago
first quarter of the current century, and previous to that
period the Washington square district was rather a projection of
the city surveyor and map makers than a builder's entity. There
was no Washingion square, indeed, until many years later. There
was only a Potter's Field for the burial of the unknown or indigent
dead where the square now displays its broad lawns and towering
trees, the tallest and most luxuriant in the city. Arjund it on
every side were still farms, the farms of the Rhinelanders, Bre-
voorts, and kindred agriculturists who fought stubbornly in some
cases against the pushing folly of the burghers below. In the
view of thejje rural citizens it was no better than lunacy to suppose
that-New York could ever overstep the ditch in (>anal street and
make such an illimitable invasion of the country.
But the'earlier years of the century were full ot events destined
to.have very moihehtbus consequences to the future of the district.
It was as long ago aa the year 1801 when the will bf Robert Rich¬
ard Randall gave the land now lying along Sth street and Clinton
place, 9th street and the soutii side of 10th street, between 4th and 5th
avenues, ten blocks and half blocks in all, to the charitable purpose