Q: What's Greater Than New York?
A: Greater New York
By Laurie Lewis
On January 1, 1898, New York City was vastly different from what it had been just a day earlier. When the new year dawned, the population more than doubled from the last official census, to 3,350,000 residents. Overnight the area called New York multiplied by a factor of six, from 60 to 360 square miles. The very definition of New York City changed. No longer was it just the island of Manhattan; it was now five boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. These previously separate entities had been consolidated into Greater New York, a feat as monumental as the unification of thirteen colonies to create the United States of America more than a century earlier.
Just as George Washington is known as “the father of our country,” Andrew Haswell Green (1820-1903) is considered “the father of Greater New York.” Few people today may recognize his name, but Green was a major figure in the city in the second half of the nineteenth century. Thanks in large measure to his efforts, New York has Central Park; the two great museums on either side of the park, the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the New York Public Library; and the Bronx Zoo.
When Green first proposed unification in 1868, thirty years before it became a reality, the idea garnered little support. New York (that is, Manhattan) had long been America’s most populous city and the financial capital of the nation. Why should it merge with the surrounding areas, which were sparsely populated and mainly rural? Green maintained that consolidation would make government more efficient. He argued this point again and again until finally others began to believe it too.
The first expansion of New York City beyond New York County borders occurred in 1874, with the annexation of three towns to the north in western Westchester County. This addition nearly doubled the acreage of New York. Twenty years later, eastern portions of Westchester County joined the city. Together, these areas became the borough of the Bronx upon consolidation. It is the only borough that did not match the borders of an existing county.
Like the former Westchester towns, Queens County (which would become the borough of Queens) and Richmond County (Staten Island) consisted mainly of farming communities. Advocates for consolidation saw the logic of uniting the food producers with the food consumers into one great city.
Only Kings County, whose main city was Brooklyn, resembled Manhattan. The population of Brooklyn doubled every decade between 1820 and 1860. Initially Brooklyn grew within its own borders. Later it bought into Green’s idea of unification by annexing other towns in Kings County. At the time of consolidation, Brooklyn was the fourth largest city in the nation.
The need to provide essential services to Brooklyn’s burgeoning population (such as water, which Manhattan had in abundance since the opening of the Croton Aqueduct system in 1842) was a major reason that some residents accepted consolidation. But many others worried that Brooklyn would lose its independence and become subservient to Manhattan. Although the other boroughs voted overwhelmingly for unification, the vote was almost evenly divided in Brooklyn.
With consolidation, New York became the second largest city in the world; only London had more residents. No other American city has ever come close to challenging New York’s title of most populous in the nation.
The Bizarre Death of Andrew Haswell Green
Most people who live into their 80s die of natural causes. But at age 83, Andrew Haswell Green, “the father of Greater New York,” was shot dead in front of his home. The killer, Cornelius Williams, was declared insane and locked away in a hospital.
That much is known for certain. Other details surrounding Green’s killing are murky.
One story is that Green’s murderer was in love with a woman who was in love with an older man named Green, but not this Green. A variation on the theme of mistaken identity contends that the woman’s love interest was not named Green. Another purported motive was that Williams thought Green was protecting or in cahoots with a woman who had been slandering him. Then there is the contention that the insanity defense was a cover-up to avoid having the woman involved, who was black, testify about her liaisons with wealthy white men and thus expose their dalliances—how scandalous in the early 1900s!
Most Take a Walk New York tours cover 1 to 2 miles, last 2 to 2½ hours, and cost $25 per person. Advance registration is required. To register and to learn the meeting place, email the guide (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Please arrive a little before the start time. Tours are cancelled if nobody has registered or if the weather is extreme; if in doubt, call or text Laurie (917-306-2868) or Alan (917-363-4292).
Public Art of Lower Manhattan
You don’t need to go to a museum to see great art. This interactive tour includes some of the most interesting and varied art in New York City. The artworks are as old as the doors of Trinity Church and as new as the SeaGlass Carousel.
Alan gives this tour on Sunday, January 14, at 11 AM. Email him (firstname.lastname@example.org) to reserve your space and to learn the meeting location.
Central Park: Highlights of the Southern Half
In the popular southern half of Central Park, you’ll recognize some of the most filmed and photographed sights in New York, including Strawberry Fields, the Sheep Meadow, and Bethesda Terrace. The park beckons in all kinds of weather. In winter, you clearly see some design elements that are hard to detect in other seasons through the foliage and visiting crowds.
Take a walk through the southern half of Central Park on Monday, January 15, at 1 PM. We’ll cover as much ground as weather permits. Please email the guide (email@example.com) to register and to learn the meeting location.
Lower Washington Heights
Washington Heights is a microcosm of New York, steeped in history from the American Revolution to the assassination of Malcolm X and beyond. Discover the Hamilton connection in northern Manhattan. This vibrant residential neighborhood boasts beautiful brownstones, a brick-lined street with three-story wood-frame homes, and the oldest house in Manhattan.
Join Alan on Saturday, January 20, at 2 PM to take a walk through Lower Washington Heights. Please email him (firstname.lastname@example.org) to reserve your space and to learn the meeting location.
Greenwich Village: In the Footsteps of Writers
Many writers and other creative people have called Greenwich Village home. On this tour, you’ll meander through charming Village streets and peek into hidden cul-de-sacs as you learn where some famous writers—including Edna St. Vincent Millay, e.e. cummings, and Edward Albee—lived. Maybe the Village aura will spark your own creativity!
Laurie gives this tour on Sunday, January 21, at 1 PM. To reserve a place and to learn the meeting location, email her at email@example.com.