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American Museum of Natural History Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island

16th March 2017

Exploring Lower Manhattan, the Origins of New York, Seaport and a Stroll Through Rustic Brooklyn

St. Paul's Chapel
    Beautiful, bright skies again, but still bitterly cold with an appreciable wind chill factor. But hey, the sun's out so who's complaining.
    I caught a PATH train to the World Trade Centre, and on my way out of that magnificent transport hub I paid a visit to St. Paul's Chapel, New York City's longest standing church. When it first opened in 1766 as an outreach chapel of Trinity Church to better serve its expanding congregation, St. Paul's was a "chapel-of-ease" for those who did not want to walk a few blocks south along unpaved streets to Trinity. A decade later, the Great Fire of 1776 destroyed the first Trinity Church, but St. Paul's survived, thanks to a bucket brigade dousing the building with water.
    It wasn't until 1790 before the second Trinity Church was rebuilt. Meanwhile, many, including George Washington, made St. Paul's their church home. On 30th April 1789, after Washington took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States, he made his way from Federal Hall on Wall Street to St. Paul's Chapel, where he attended services.
St. Paul's Chapel Churchyard with the Oculus
and One World Trade Centre in the Background
    Over the next two centuries, the ministries of St. Paul's expanded along with the city. Community outreach was a primary focus, with services to accommodate the needs of immigrants, working women, and the homeless.
    After 11th September 2001, St. Paul's became a key place of refuge for relief workers for nine months. The chapel was unscathed by the attacks on the World Trade Center, which stood directly across the street. Its intact condition, all window panes and headstones in the adjoining cemetery went untouched, earned St. Paul's the nickname "The Little Chapel That Stood."
    The interior was a light and airy mix of whites and creams, the pews that once stood in the chapel have since been removed in favour of more flexible plastic seating. Today the seats were arranged into two groups facing each other. On one group sat a chamber orchestra, who were playing an eclectic, haunting collection of music. A smattering of spectators sat on the opposite group of seats.
Beware of Falling Ice
    "Who are the orchestra?" I asked a chap sweeping the floor of the chapel. Despite working there, he no idea who they were. I sat and listened for a while, totally enthralled by the beautiful harmonies. Noticing a young woman, who had been singing during some of the arrangements, get up and walk towards the door, I edged myself towards the door.
    "That is a beautiful collection of music being played, and your singing is excellent. Who are the orchestra and what are you playing?" I ventured to ask her.
    "Thank you," said the woman, smiling sweetly. "We are the 'Useful Orchestra', and play all around the city." She went on to tell me about some of the pieces that were being performed, but the titles and composers were new to me, and the information went way over my head. I thanked the woman, and wished her and her colleagues well. I could have sat and listened to them all morning, but I had places to visit.
    I headed down Fulton Street, a busy thoroughfare. Periodically, a pavement was cordoned off, and men guided pedestrians across to the other side of the street for their own safety. Huge slabs of snow and ice were starting to peel off the tops of some buildings. Indeed, this was happening everywhere; low rumbles followed by an almighty crash as an ice bomb exploded on the pavement. I wondered how many folk were injured or killed each year by falling ice.
    I ambled down the street, trying to avoid eye contact with some of the oddballs who were muttering their way through life. The street brought me down to an area known as Seaport. The historic Seaport District, a group of rare 18th and early 19th century buildings from New York's golden age of shipping, is one of Manhattan's oldest neighbourhoods. Comprising 11 blocks and three piers, the area features the English-style "counting houses" that make up Fulton Street's Schermerhorn Row. The houses were built between 1811 and 1812 by a family shipping business on South Street dating from 1728. Today Front Street row is undergoing a significant revitalisation, and the Howard Hughs Corporation is transforming the district's Pier 17 into a massive retail, dining and entertainment complex.
    At the end of Fulton Street I came to a T-junction with a freeway running above it, the East River lying on the other side. Spotting tall masts reaching for the sky, I walked across to take a look at the historic ships: the Ambrose, built in 1907 as a "floating lighthouse", and the Wavertree, an 1885 Liverpool registered, iron, full-rigged ship.
Seaport of Old
    In the early 19th Century, New York was just one among many cities competing for American commerce and trade, but by 1860 the Seaport at South Street was a centre of world trade, linking New York to Europe, the Far East, the Caribbean, South America, and beyond. Manhattan's population exploded from a mere 60,000 to nearly 1 million. South Street became known as "the Street of Ships," its waterfront lined with sailing ships laden with goods from all over the world, creating a forest of masts from the Battery to the Brooklyn Bridge. The sheer volume of these vessels conducting world trade in New York directly fuelled the economic and cultural development of the city. Bursting with the energy of global commerce, entrepreneurs at the Seaport developed better ways to trade.
    Even while the means of shipping evolved through the 19th Century, the humble sailing cargo ship remained the mainstay of global commerce. Wavertree, built in Southampton, circled the globe four times in her career carrying a wide variety of cargoes. She called on New York in 1895, as one of hundreds like her berthed in the city. In 1910, after thirty-five years of sailing, she was caught in a Cape Horn gale that tore down her masts and ended her career as a cargo vessel. She was salvaged and used as a storage barge in South America before being acquired by South Street Seaport Museum in 1968. Sadly, the Wavertree seemed to be off limits to the public today, as was the Ambrose. I would have loved to explore the vessels, but I guess decks laden with ice, and ice falling from spars would have been a safety hazard.
Brooklyn from Seaport      (please use scroll bar)

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine and
Our Lady of the Rosary Church
    I walked down South Street, taking in the panorama of Brooklyn across the East River; definitely not competing with the scraping skyline of Manhattan. A swarm of helicopters continuously landed and took off from one of the piers, whizzing lucrative tourists over the Upper Bay for their brief glimpses of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
East Coast Memorial
    The Staten Island Ferry marked the southern tip of Manhattan, brimming with people. Further around was Battery Park. The Battery's strategic primacy at the prow of Manhattan enabled it to serve many dynamic roles in the city's history. Located at the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers, the Dutch settled here in 1623, and the first "battery" of cannons was erected to defend the young city of New Amsterdam. Still a hub for maritime travel today, Battery Park serves as a departure point for many ferries including the Staten Island and Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferries.
Upper Bay from Battery Park      (please use scroll bar)

Castle Clinton
    Over the years, both the land and the fortifications were enlarged. A prominent stone building in the park is Castle Clinton, built in anticipation of the War of 1812. The United States declared War on Great Britain on 12th June 1812. The declaration was the result of long simmering disputes. The central dispute surrounded the impressment of American soldiers by the British. The British attacked the USS Chesapeake and nearly caused a war two years earlier. Additional, disputes continued with Great Britain over the Northwest Territories and the border with Canada. Attempts by Great Britain to impose a blockade on France during the Napoleonic Wars were also a constant source of conflict with the United States.
    During the Battle of Bladensburg on 24th August 1814, the British marched into Washington, D.C., and burned most of the public buildings. President James Madison had to flee into the countryside. The British then turned to attack Baltimore but met stiffer resistance and were forced to retire after the American defence of Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words of the "Star-Spangled Banner."
    The war raged on for several more years until both sides were finally ready to negotiate a peace. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on 24th December 1814, but it took several months for the news to arrive back in the United States. The Battle of New Orleans took place on 8th January 1815, becoming the final major battle of the War of 1812.
    By 1855, successive landfills had enlarged the park to encompass Castle Garden and the structure became America's first immigrant receiving center, welcoming 8.5 million people before the establishment of Ellis Island. The park is also home to many monuments and memorials, dating as far back as 1817 and including the Fort George Memorial, Netherlands Memorial, New York Korean War Veterans Memorial, East Coast Memorial and World Trade Center Sphere among others. The sphere stood in the WTC Plaza as a monument to world peace from 1971 to September 11, 2001.
World Trade Center Sphere
Other Battery Park Memorials
    I tarried for a while around the park, taking photos. The virgin snow beneath my feet no longer crunched, it was so solid that no footprints were left behind.
    Heading up Broadway, I passed the Charging Bull. Today he was surrounded by hundreds of tourists who wanted photos of their entire group in every possible combination around the snorting creature. This curious multi-permutation/combination photo shoot seems to be a favourite of the Japanese.
Charging Bull
    At the junction with Wall Street stood Trinity Church. In 1697, a little over 70 years after the Dutch settled New York as a trading post, Trinity Church was granted a charter by King William III of England. Since then, Trinity has been an integral part of New York City. Today, Trinity Church and St. Paul's Chapel, just a few blocks north, are the cornerstones of Trinity Church Wall Street, a growing and vibrant Episcopal community. The present building is the third on the site, consecrated in 1846 and designed by British-born architect Richard Upjohn in the 19th century Gothic Revival style. The first church was lost in New York's Great Fire of 1776 and the second was demolished in 1839, at Upjohn's suggestion, after heavy snowfall revealed structural problems. The current building is a registered National Historic Landmark.
    The steeple's 12 change-ringing bells are the only set in the United States; they rotate a full 360 degrees, producing a shimmering, cascading sound in a complex combination of changing tonal patterns. They can be heard on Sundays and special occasions.
Trinity Church
George Washington in Front of Federal Hall
    I entered through the decorative bronze doors at the Broadway entrance. I marvelled at the stained glass, some of the oldest in the United States. It is a beautiful church. Strolling around the snow bedecked churchyard I came across graves dating from the 18th century, all serenely peaceful under their white blanket. A chap approached me and asked, "Do you know where Hamilton is?"
    "Sorry, what or who is Hamilton?" was my inadequate answer.
    "It's an important grave," he responded.
    "You'd be better off asking one of the officials inside, they should have records," I advised. The man thanked me and moved on.
    I later researched Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, together with James Monroe, Henry Lee, John Marshall and Marquis de Lafayette were some of the Continental Army officers who served George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Of these rising stars, Hamilton overcame the greatest odds, including impoverishment and illegitimacy, in obtaining his position as aide-de-camp to General Washington. For approximately the next twenty years, Hamilton and Washington would work with each other during the Revolutionary War, the framing of the Constitution, and Washington's Presidency of the United States. The period of 1777-1778, however, pivotal to the success of the Continental Army, and ultimately that of the Continental Congress, also was important for Hamilton, for during this time, he rapidly proved his worth on a national basis. He rose to be the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He met his end in a duel with political rival, Aaron Burr, in 1804. So here was an important man in the U.S. history, and I had just shown my total ignorance about him.
Inside Federal Hall
    I enjoyed my moment of quiet in the midst of busy Lower Manhattan, and then headed down Wall Street. Major snow clearing operations involving diggers and trucks were in full force here. At the junction of Wall Street and Broad Street stood the Federal Hall. On 30th April 1789, this corner was awash in people. As a hush settled on the crowd, all eyes fixed on the tall man standing above them on the balcony. He was surrounded by officials of the new government of the U.S. and of the city and state of New York. The man was George Washington, and by now he was a living legend. His journey from Mount Vernon to this balcony had been one long parade, with town after town turning out to greet him with salutes, bands, and elaborate pageantry.
    The building where Washington stood had been built in 1703 for the British royal governor's council and the assembly of New York. This was also New York City Hall, so prisoners were held and trials conducted here. After Britain's imposition of the Stamp Act in 1765, delegates of nine colonies met here to air grievances, declaring "no taxation without representation." In 1775 the revolutionary Provincial Assembly of New York took over use of the building. After the American Revolution this became the nation's capital when in 1785, the Congress under the Articles of Confederation sat here.
    Many months of hard-fought ratifications of the new Constitution filled in the framework with laws and precedents. In addition to the Bill of Rights, Congress passed the Judiciary Act that established the coexistence of state and federal courts and laws. Some important precedents set were the Senate's role in diplomacy, Presidential control of cabinet appointments, and how the President should be addressed. The republic was launched.
New York Stock Exchange
    The statue of George Washington by the balcony looked across to the New York Stock Exchange, which I visited about 30 years earlier. The present building opened in 1903. Behind its Neo-Classical facade lays the heart of the U.S. The exchange has grown from dealing with local businesses to a global enterprise.
    On the opposite corner of this financial crossroads stands the J.P.Morgan Building. J. Pierpoint Morgan Senior, the capitalist's capitalist, known throughout the world of finance, sought out by presidents and potentates, helped bankroll the industrialisation of America. His influence was such that, during the financial Panic of 1907, he orchestrated everything from the rescue of trust companies to the bailout of the New York Stock Exchange.
The Trump Building, 40 Wall St.
    Continuing along Wall Street, my eyes were magnetically drawn to "The Trump Building" at 40 Wall Street. A large pink, granite building towered above me, and I simply could not resist entering - I'd soon find out if I was not welcome. Within a minute of entering I heard the inevitable, "Can I help you sir?"
    I played the naive Brit, "Sorry, I saw the sign outside and I could not resist stepping inside. What goes on here?".
    The stony face on one of the chaps at the desk, as hard and pink as the granite on the exterior of the building, relaxed and slowly melted into a smile, "If I told you, I would not be able to let you leave, sir."
    "What, would Trump interrogate me personally?" I replied.
    He discretely smiled again. "There are just offices and a little retail here," he answered. I didn't need to know more, so I thanked the guy and left. I can't say I would want to meet Mr Trump anyway.
    Between Pearl and Water Streets on Wall Street, a market that auctioned enslaved people of African ancestry was established by a Common Council law on 30th November 1711. This slave market was in use until 1762. Slave owners wanting to hire out their enslaved workers, which included people of Native American ancestry, as day labourers, also had to do so at that location.
    Slavery was introduced to Manhattan in 1626. By the mid-18th century approximately one in five people living in New York City was enslaved and almost half of Manhattan households included at least one slave. Although New York State abolished slavery in 1827, complete abolition came only in 1841.
Views Along South Street
    Wall Street was brought to an abrupt end at South Street. I strolled up it this time, passing a large bar that was holding a private function. The hordes inside sounded as though they were having a whale of a time. A short distance further on I miraculously escaped a thundering avalanche as it poured off a roof.
Walking Over Brooklyn Bridge, Traffic Below      (please use scroll bar)

    I picked up Brooklyn Bridge, and joined countless others in making the trip across to Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge looms majestically over New York City's East River, linking the two boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Since 1883, its granite towers and steel cables have offered a safe and scenic passage to millions of commuters and tourists, trains and bicycles, pushcarts and cars. The bridge's construction took 14 years, involved 600 workers and cost $15 million (more than $320 million in today's dollars). At least two dozen people died in the process, including its original designer. Now more than 125 years old, this iconic feature of the New York City skyline still carries roughly 150,000 vehicles and pedestrians every day.
    John Augustus Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge's creator, was a great pioneer in the design of steel suspension bridges. Born in Germany in 1806, he studied industrial engineering in Berlin and at the age of 25 immigrated to western Pennsylvania, where he attempted, unsuccessfully, to make his living as a farmer. He later moved to the state capital in Harrisburg, where he found work as a civil engineer. He promoted the use of wire cable and established a successful wire-cable factory. Meanwhile, he earned a reputation as a designer of suspension bridges. In 1867, on the basis of these achievements, New York legislators approved Roebling's plan for a suspension bridge over the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. It would be the very first steel suspension bridge, boasting the longest span in the world: 1,600 feet from tower to tower. With its unprecedented length and two stately towers, the Brooklyn Bridge was dubbed the "eighth wonder of the world." For several years after its construction, it remained the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere.
    Multi-laned traffic flowed non-stop in both directions below the walkway, on which dozens and dozens of selfies were being taken all the way across this iconic bridge.
Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights      (please use scroll bar)

Brooklyn Heights
    At the far end, I gingerly made my way across the snowy wastes to Brooklyn Heights. Immaculate brownstone buildings and well-tended trees lend Brooklyn Heights an air of stately regality. I strolled along the complete length of the Heights Promenade, soaking up the rustic architecture, waterfront real estate, and breath-taking views of the Manhattan skyline. Across Upper Bay lay Governor's Island, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Fuel barges carved deep furrows as they plied their way up and down East River. The promenade was high up and exposed, bitterly cold in the wind, but well worth the hike.
Imaginative Water Tower
    I walked to the very end, then wandered further on down into Brooklyn as far as Cobble Hill. The name was derived after the conical shaped hill called "Cobleshill" or "Ponkiesbergh". This area was originally settled during the 1640s by Dutch farmers. The hill was used as a fort, known as "Cobble Hill Fort" during the American War of Independence. The British cut off the top of the hill during their occupation, so it could not be used to look down on their headquarters in Brooklyn Heights.
    Corner cafes, cinemas, fire escapes and stoops such is the streetscape in Cobble Hill. Known for its mom-and-pop shops, Italian meat markets, and boutique shopping, Cobble Hill fits in with its Brooklyn neighbours along Smith Street, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill. A little bit trendy and a little bit hip, this neighbourhood preserves an approachable atmosphere in a picturesque New York City setting. I enjoyed trudging up the district's snowy, handsome, residential streets - a pleasant place to live I thought.
A Cobble Hill Street
Brooklyn Borough Hall
    I picked up Court Street and headed into downtown Brooklyn through the usual smattering of fast food outlets, cafes, and chic tailors, grocers, nail bars etc. A TV crew were busy outside the Borough Hall, frozen fingers feeding cables over sharp, icy surfaces.
    I ate in Brooklyn and caught the subway to 34th Street where the buskers were out in force. At 9pm the trains were busy and frequent; I did not have to wait long to get a PATH train to Journal Square.
    On reaching my hotel, out of sheer curiosity I decided to walk straight past it down the hill - how green was the grass on the other side? To my complete surprise, 200m further on I discovered a little India. Virtually every building along Newark Avenue was an Indian restaurant. Looking at the menus though, I had never heard of many of the dishes, perhaps they were all Americanised. I wondered what part of the sub-continent they originated from. Perhaps there could be a hint of spices among this local Indian community.

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American Museum of Natural History Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island
Last updated 1.5.2017