New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
The population of sleepy little Brooklyn had grown to nearly 10,000 in 1823. The Erie Canal, nearing completion upstate, promised future prosperity to all of the towns clustered at the western end of Long Island. Halfway out on the island in the town of Huntington, West Hills housewright Walter Whitman decided to relocate his family, including four-year-old Walt, closer to New York, where the market for houses promised to be strong. It seemed to be a good town for the working man; the Brooklyn Apprentices' Library Association was founded this year. It would become the Brooklyn Institute in 1843, the Brooklyn Museum in 1897.
The island of Manhattan was poised for rapid growth. The financial markets were beginning to recover from a brief panic four years ago, and decided to charge an initiation fee for the first time—a whopping $25. New businesses were springing up all over. The New York Gas Light Company was incorporated, with a 30-year gas-pipe monopoly below Grand Street; its president Samuel Leggett had the first home in the city lit with the new illuminating gas. F. Marquand opened a jewelry store at 166 Broadway, just below Fulton Street. A few blocks up Broadway, A. T. Stewart opened his dry goods store. Far uptown, almost to Grand Street, Joseph W. Duryee opened a lumber yard. And a group of merchants founded the New York Chemical Manufacturing Company. In the future it would switch its focus and become Chemical Bank. Real estate continued to change hands this year. For one thing, land was becoming too valuable to use for dead people, especially poor dead people. The Potter's Field located where Washington Square sits today was closed down in favor of one further uptown. One day that one would also be shut down, to build a reservoir, which would in turn give way to Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. Downtown, at the Battery, the city purchased Fort Clinton. At the other end of town, Archibald Gracie sold his east side mansion to the Foulkes family.
Dining fans could try new restaurants, like the cozy Delmonico's café on William Street. If your leanings were toward performing music, you could join the New York Choral Society or the New York Sacred Musical Society. Both would give concerts next year. Like the theatre? You could take in the new British import (yes, even then), Tom and Jerry; or Life in London which played at the Park Theatre. In November you might take in the musical melodrama Clari, or the Maid of Milan and hear wordsmith John Howard Payne's lyrics to Home, Sweet Home sung. A seat in the gallery would cost you two bits. You could curl up with the latest novel. James Cooper's The Pioneers: or The Sources of the Susquehanna, which introduced readers to a new hero, Natty Bumppo. Female readers could turn to the new Mirror and Ladies' Literary Gazette. To digress for a moment, the gentle sex was not always catered to. A woman attempting to book passage on a packet boat to join her husband in Europe was refused passage, since she would be the only female aboard and “her presence would be inconvenient to the male passengers.”
Sports? In May you could go out to Long Island's race track at Jamaica, and watch a local favorite, the stallion Eclipse, defeat the southern contender, Henry. Just the month before, a group of young men gathered up in the village of Greenwich to play a game that a local newspaper, the National Advertiser, described as “base ball.” Experts can argue that one with the Advertiser. Include me out.
New York State got a new governor, its eighth, on the first day of January, 1823—former Schenectady mayor Joseph Christopher Yates. Within five weeks a new Finger Lakes county had been named for him. It's just as well it happened quickly. He'd only get a single two-year term. The other new county, Wayne, carved out of Ontario and Seneca counties, was named for Revolutionary War general "Mad Anthony" Wayne.
The two new counties would get a rather windy baptism on Easter weekend, at the end of March—a storm with hurricane force winds would blow up from the south and bring heavy snows all the way from Pennsylvania to Maine. But York Staters eat snowstorms for breakfast, spit on their hands, then go out and do what needs doing. And there was a lot that needed doing across the state. Young Millard Fillmore passed his exam and was admitted to the Buffalo bar association. Batavia became a village and got a new tavern, The Eagle. The village on the Genesee was jumping. A new horsecar railroad joined the main business area of Rochester to the downstream river landing. The total value of shipments out of the Genesee River would reach $807,000 by year's end. St. Patrick's, the first Catholic Church in town, was built and construction began on Washington Street for the home of Colonel Nathaniel Rochester. Presbyterians up toward the St. Lawrence, in Cape Vincent, also got a new church. Today it's the United Church. Albany got a Lyceum of Natural History, courtesy of local physician-scientist Theodoric Romeyn Beck. And out on the northern shore of Long Island's Suffolk County a keeper was hired for a new lighthouse to be built at Old Field Point.
But one topic above all else interested just about everyone, all across the state. Canals. The Champlain Canal was completed. New York chartered a Delaware and Hudson Canal down near the Pennsylvania border; a route was explored for a Baltimore-Conewago Canal. The first would be built, the second would not, even with De Witt Clinton endorsing the project. His own “ditch” was nearing completion. It wouldn't reach Buffalo for another two years but Brockport would fill in as western terminus until then. Contracts were signed for engineering work at Tonawanda. And, in November, the canal boat Mary and Hannah arrived in New York City with a cargo of Finger Lakes wheat brought from Seneca Lake by way of the Erie.
Two months earlier a farm boy from near Palmyra named Joseph Smith, was visited by an angel who introduced himself as Moroni and led Smith to a nearby hill he called "Cumorah," where tablets containing the history of the lost tribes of America were buried. The experience inspired the young man to found a religion, and the Mormon Church was born. Two other 1823 upstate men were to find their lives linked to Smith's in the near future, one quite closely. A young lawyer moved from the New York village of Florida to Auburn to become a junior partner to Judge Elijah Miller. He would marry the judge's daughter and his generous father-in-law would give the newlyweds a large brick house he'd had built six years before. If legend is to be believed, a mantle over a fireplace in the front parlor was built by a young apprentice carpenter who was working on the house. That young man was off to Port Byron this year where he would repair furniture and paint canal boats. His name was Brigham Young. The young judge was William H. Seward, future U. S. Secretary of State.
© 2002, David Minor
The Eagles Byte New York City / State Timeline is from David Minor's radio scripts for Simon Pontin's Salmagundy radio program on WXXI-FM (91.5). David can be heard every Saturday morning at 10:15 talking about various aspects of world history.