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Imperialism, Colonialism and Cartography
Author(s): Jeffrey C. Stone
Source: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1988), pp. 57-
Published by: The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
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Imperialism, colonialism and cartography

Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB9 2 UF

Revised MS received 9 March, 1987


The centenary of the Berlin conference of 1884-85 was an opportunity for historians to reiterate the view that the
conference was not convened to partition Africa. It follows from the imperial function of the conference that subsequent
colonialism was a short-lived aberration in four centuries of a continuing imperial relationship between Europe and Africa.
The established attributes which differentiate imperialism from colonialism provide a framework for understanding the
cartographic evolution of Africa. The long-standing view of an eighteenth century cartographic reformation of Africa is
challenged. Pre-colonial cartography of Africa is, instead, characterized by methodological continuity, which is still evident
in the cartography of the nineteenth century European explorers, whereas the major discontinuity coincides with the
beginnings of colonial rule. The cartographic requirements for the implementation of colonial rule on the ground are
different from those which foster a more remote imperial relationship. The attributes of imperial cartography are now
reasserting themselves in the post-colonial period.

KEY WORDS: Africa, Reinterpretation of evidence, Cartography, Imperialism, Colonialism, Exploration

Erroneous interpretations of historical events tend


persist, despite the best efforts of historians to rectify
matters. In looking at the origins of colonialism in
Africa, cartographic historians as well as historical
and political geographers seem unaware of the
interpretation which diplomatic historians now place
on a famous nineteenth century meeting. The conse-
quence for cartographic historiography is that a
significant change in the characteristic content of the
evolving cartography of Africa has been overlooked,
whilst the nature and origins of an earlier phase
of change has been misunderstood. If ‘European
pre-eminence in cartography and map-making’ deter-
mined what constitutes Africa, regardless of cultural
history (Mazrui, 1986, p. 101), then the continent’s
cartographic history is no mundane or esoteric

The meeting in question is the fourteen-power
Berlin conference on Africa of 1884-85, whose cen-
tenary was recently marked by at least six academic
conferences. Fierce controversy was aroused by the
announcement of some of these events, which were
erroneously seen as celebrating the anniversary of the
launching of colonial partition (Hargreaves, 1984),
but historians of Africa have long been at pains to
emphasize that the Berlin Conference did not mark

the beginnings of partition (Crowder, 1968; Fage,
1969; Hargreaves, 1974). The Berlin Conference was
convened because collaborative arrangements on
which European states had hitherto relied were begin-
ning to break down (Hargreaves, 1985a). Continued
commercial access to Africa was the common objec-
tive, not control of its territory. What has been
described as ‘the old system of free trade imperialism
in West Africa’ was threatened (Hargreaves, 1985b,
p. 21). Admittedly, the conference proved ineffective
in constraining the champions of partition. The Berlin
provisions proved inadequate, as the devices of
treaty and protectorate were perforce utilized to
obtain control inland, but the recognition of the
Berlin conference as a meeting of imperialists not
colonialists and the identification of the differing attri-
butes of imperialism and colonialism has significance
for our understanding of the cartographic evolution
of Africa, which requires reappraisal.

The term ‘imperialism’ has come to mean the
control of the weak by the rich and powerful, not
necessarily by means of the exercise of direct auth-
ority. It is an appropriate term for the long-standing
relationship between Europe and Africa which the
Berlin Conference was convened to defend, that is
the traditional free-trading system at the coasts of the

Trans. Inst. Br. Geogr. N.S. 13: 57-64 (1988) ISSN: 0020–2754 Printed in Great Britain

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continent. The freedom was for Europeans to compete
for trade, not for Africans to obstruct it (Hargreaves,
1984) and the imperial relationship was essentially
international in character, being based on mutuality
of interests among European powers. The European
international imperialism which was promoted in
Berlin in 1884 is equally evident in the founding of
the International African Association at the Brussels

Geographical Conference in 1876 (Bridges, 1980) and
indeed it is a relationship which can be traced back
through at least four centuries. By contrast, the period
of direct European colonial rule which began never-
theless in the 1890s and which is differentiated by
parochial European nationalism and exclusivity, can
be regarded as an abnormal and brief but influential
interlude in the imperial relationship between Africa
and Europe. The relatively ephemeral nature of
colonialism by contrast with imperialism in Africa is
emphasized by projecting forward to the post-
colonial period, for example to the successive
negotiations of the Lome Conventions between the
EEC and the largely African ACP states. Only tiny
residuals of European colonialism remain in Africa
but the very long standing imperial relationship is
arguably evolving. European imperialism in Africa is
characterized by collaborative internationalism and
historical continuity, whereas colonialism was a
relatively brief assertion of competitive European
nationalism. The difference has great significance
in understanding the cartographic evolution of

Pre-colonial cartography of the interior of Africa
has long been seen as dividing into two distinct
phases, which are of debatable validity and which
obscure the reality of the forces operative. The earlier
phase is characterized by its use of Ptolemaic concep-
tions, particularly for the source of the Nile, and is
epitomized by the eight-sheet map of Africa of 1564
by Gastaldi whose subsequent influence is apparent in
the depictions of Africa by Ortelius (1570), Speed
(1627), Blaeu (1642) and others. Supposedly, the
turning point in the cartography of Africa is located in
the ‘Age of Reason’, in the maps of the French school,
notably De L’Isle (1700) and d’Anville (172 7) (Tooley,
1969). A scientific approach lead to the removal of
many legends and assumptions by the innovators
who achieved marked gains in accuracy and were
famous for their blank spaces (Lane-Poole, 1950;
Klemp, 1968; Tooley, Bricker and Crone, 1976;
Wallis, 1986) which are allegedly indicative of a
scientific attitude of mind. But contemporary wisdom
about the interior of Africa was set aside in favour of

blank spaces as early as 1666 by Vossius (Randles,
1956), while the Ptolemaic tradition of Africa was
itself replete with blank spaces and the use of the
word ‘incognita’.

Sixteenth and seventeenth century cartography
employed such contemporary sources as were avail-
able and made significant changes in the depiction of
Africa (Ouwinga, 1975) in the same way that James
MacQueen (1856) made substantial changes to the
map of Central Africa in the nineteenth century, albeit
with different subject matter and quality of data. Just
as Almeida was critical of previous depictions of
Ethiopia in the seventeenth century (Skelton, 1958),
so eighteenth century cartographers reacted to the
work of their predecessors, given new sources to
hand. There is methodological continuity linking
eighteenth century and both earlier and later

The critical circumstances for methodological con-
tinuity in the mapping of Africa over four centuries by

cartographers from several European countries was
movement of information about Africa within Europe.
Certainly, commercial competition meant that the
navigational information of the Dutch, for example,
remained secret (Ouwinga, 1975). Nevertheless, orig-
inal information about Africa did disseminate within

Europe under the commercial impetus of publication.
Perhaps the most striking example, which challenges
the conception of the eighteenth century French
school as innovatory in its critical attitudes or its
sources, and also demonstrates the manner in which
information disseminated for commercial gain, is the
1665 Portuguese Atlas of Africa by Joao Teixeira
Albemaz II. The atlas was commissioned by a
Frenchman and together with other Portuguese
source material, it was used to transform previous
depictions of the Zambezi basin by Jaillot (1678) a
Frenchman, by Berry (1680) an Englishman and by
Coronelli (1683) a Venetian, in their maps of Africa,
before inspiring De L’Isle and d’Anville (Cortesio
and da Mota, 1960). In the past, the commercial and
strategic divisions within Europe have been stressed
in seeking to comprehend the evolving early car-
tography of Africa, but it is the facility with which
Portuguese information disseminated throughout
Europe in the form of the printed map which is
striking. This is understandable, given the essentially
collaborative nature of European imperialism towards

The pre-colonial cartographic depiction of Africa
represents evolution not transformation. The concept
of an eighteenth century reformation derives from

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Imperialism, colonialism and cartography 59

analysis of form, not process, that is from the external
form of the end product, the change of map content,
as ethnographic descriptions and perspective draw-
ings of hills were removed and as new information
lead to the abandonment of some long-standing
delineations of parts of the interior. It is in any case an
illusion. Those particular changes in content are not
exclusive to the eighteenth century. Furthermore, the
manner in which African maps were compiled in the
eighteenth century was little altered.

The great cartographic watershed for Africa relates
to the replacement of remote imperial influence with
direct colonial authority. In cartographic terms, the
transition is primarily a twentieth century process
which does not properly include the well known
maps of the interior of Africa by eighteenth and
nineteenth century European explorers. There is little
evidence of a direct connection between the explo-
rations of men such as Livingstone, Speke, Grant and
Stanley and the initiation of colonialism. Rather, the
connection is with the ‘unofficial mind’ (Bridges,
1982, p. 18) of imperialism which was located in the
commercial middle class of British society, in service-
men and officials, businessmen and missionary
leaders, and in the membership of the African Associ-
ation which was founded in 1788 and quickly became
involved in the problem of the source, course and
termination of the Niger. The maps themselves were
based on instrumental observation which added a

scientific dimension to the travellers’ records, an
important ‘civilizing’ element in legitimizing the
European penetration, presence and even interference
in Africa in the eyes of the unofficial mind. However,
the unofficial scramble for Africa by the commercial
and service classes was an imperial manifestation
to be differentiated from the subsequent and not
unrelated but more direct intervention by European

An archetypal example of a traveller in the imperi-
alist mould is Alfred Bertrand, a Swiss army captain
who was one of a four-man expedition of exploration
to north-west Rhodesia in 1895. Bertrand was to

become President of the Geographical Society of
Geneva and a Vice-President of the Ninth Inter-

national Geographical Congress in Geneva. He was a
member of ten European geographical societies,
mostly honorary, including the Royal Geographical
Society (Bertrand, 1926). The account of his travels
in north-west Rhodesia was published in French
(Bertrand, 1898) and English and includes the map
compiled by the Royal Geographical Society in
association with the lecture to the Society in 1897 by

the members of the expedition. As a Swiss national,
Bertrand could have had little interest in promoting
colonialism by his native land. As a result of his visit
to the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society station at
Sefula during the expedition, he in fact devoted a great
deal of time and effort throughout the remaining
twenty-seven years of his life to raising financial and
moral support throughout Europe for the Barotseland
and Basutoland missions. The detailed map of ‘The
Kingdom of the Marutse’ in his book (Fig. 1), with its
many scientifically authentic latitudinal observations
inscribed on the map and its primary concern with
physical features (also mission stations) observed by
the travellers, is appropriate to the imperial (as
opposed to colonial) interests which Bertrand pro-
moted throughout Europe so philanthropically and

The cartographic transition from imperialism to
colonialism tends to lag behind the legal transform-
ation. Maps in the imperial mould continued to be
published into the colonial period, for example, maps
depicting the territory under the administration of the
British South Africa Company published by Edward
Stanford between 1895 and 1906. Although these
were compiled with the assistance of a company
who eventually came to govern all of Northern and
Southern Rhodesia, their function is primarily the
prosecution of commercial activities, as shown by the
many descriptive entries on the maps, extolling
the farming and ranching potential of various parts of
the country.

The great change to maps deriving from the col-
onial rather than the imperial function is contempor-
aneous with first efforts to establish administrations

on the ground, usually some short time after the
formal proclamation by the colonial authority. The
maps reflect the needs of the nascent administrative
systems, as is exemplified by the first District Officer
to be stationed in what was then the Balovale District

of northern Rhodesia, who refers to his first long
tour, as ‘trying to make a census of the people and a
map of the country’ (Venning, 1955, p. 55). His map
has none of the instrumentally-derived precision of
the earlier travellers in the region. It is inaccurate
(Stone, 1977) and its subject matter is predominantly
the location of the local populace. It was a functional
administrative tool and an example of a great many
colonial district maps (Stone, 1982) which locate rural
settlement in unprecedented detail.

The usual reason why professional Colonial
Survey Officers frequently did not compile the maps
necessary for the imposition of colonial rule was

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FIGURE 1. Part of ‘The Kingdom of Marutse’ (Bertrand 1898), showing travellers’ routes and instrumental observations, as well as names
of physical features but very little settlement detail

primarily that where they existed, they were fully
employed in the pressing task which also derived
from the imposition of colonial authority but

necessitated a high order of professional expertise,
namely cadastral mapping for the purposes of demar-
cating townships and building plots, roads, railways,

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Imperialism, colonialism and cartography 61

alienated land, reserved land and all of the other

boundaries that were a part of colonial imposition.
The importance of this second type of colonial map
which was a product of the change from imperial to
colonial control, is evident from the necessity for
Colonial Surveys to resort to unsophisticated com-
pilation techniques in publishing early topographic
series (Stone, 1984), sometimes employing the
amateur work of the District Officer (Fig. 2). Overall,
progress on the provision of large scale topographic
map cover in British colonial Africa was slow. The
reason why the Federal Surveys of Rhodesia and
Nyasaland was able to publish such a large number of
large-scale topographic sheets of Northern and
Southern Rhodesia during its short life span from
1956 to 1964, was in part the paucity of coverage
achieved in the previous half century of colonial rule.
However, the association of colonial map making
with cadastral surveys at the expense of topographic
survey, is nowhere better demonstrated than in South
Africa. The method which Potter established in 1657

to record rights in land at the Cape (Fisher, 1984,
p. 58) is still in use today, but the country made
little progress towards the provision of adequate
topographic cover until the reorganization of the
Trigonometrical Survey Office in 1936 (Liebenberg,
1979), long after the end of colonial rule.

A further differentiating factor between imperial-
ism and colonialism which is supported by the carto-
graphic evidence, is the removal of the international
dimension with the imposition of colonial rule. This is
recognized, for example, by McGrath (1976), whose
study of British East Africa specifically excludes the
German contribution to the mapping of its former
territory. The nationalistic parochialism of the colonial
period was carried to its ultimate in the decentralized
administrative system of former British Africa in
which territories were treated as separate and self-
contained units (Jeffries, 1956). In consequence, there
is great variation between the former British territories

as to the amount and type of topographic mapping
which was carried out. For example, an early start on
topographic survey was made in Uganda by compari-
son with Northern Rhodesia, although Uganda is
renowned for the very early Mailo Survey of
Buganda which was an experiment in land settlement
and exemplifies the pre-eminence of cadastral work in
the colonial period. Each European colonial power
went its own way in devising, or not devising, its
own programme of surveys and each British territory
did likewise.

If colonialism was a relatively brief aberration in

the prolonged and otherwise uninterrupted imperial
relationship between Europe and Africa, then suf-
ficient time should have elapsed by now for evidence
of the traits of imperialism to be reasserting
themselves. Debatably, the evidence is present in
the negotiations between the EEC and its African
Associates in the context of the Lome Conventions.

Equally contentiously, there is cartographic evidence
deriving from the former Directorate of Overseas
Surveys (hereafter DOS), a colonial institution in
origin, which had assumed the broader role of an
agency for technical aid to overseas governments. As
McGrath (1983) demonstrates, there is continuity of
purpose in the relationship between DOS and firstly
the then dependencies of the UK, and eventually the
newly independent countries, continuity which was
in part a product of the local autonomy of the former
dependencies. Nevertheless, the changed nature of
the political relationship did bring about change in
the cartographic product, not unrelated to the refor-
mation of British aid policy after the creation of a
Ministry of Overseas Development in 1964. In the
post-independence period, the Directorate has of
course been obliged to take account of UK govern-
ment policy on aid in project selection. It is in this
context that changes in product must be seen, as for
example, in carrying out cadastral survey (once the
hallmark of colonial surveys and now of the surveys
of independent governments), most notably in
support of the scheme to resettle African small
holders on farms purchased from Europeans in the
Highlands of Kenya; or in the formation of the Land
Resources Division of DOS in 1964 to produce a
range of maps related to land use; or the successful
‘joint projects’ of DOS which were specifically
designed as vehicles for technology transfer. Then,
the extensive programmes of large scale topographic
mapping which were mounted by the Directorate
of Commonwealth Surveys (DCS) throughout large
parts of former British Africa in the years preceding
independence may be seen to have their origins in the
gradual reassertion of imperial policy over colonial
policy, to meet the needs of post-war Britain for
reliable sources of primary products in circumstances
of impending political change in Africa. It was this
writer’s experience that the colonial administrator on
the ground had little need of the topographic cover
which latterly became available. The significant
feature is not that one type of map is always to be
associated with colonialism or with imperialism,
(since neither function is static), but that change in
cartographic usage will occur in the transition from

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a W p 0 . . ..

* I

N ? 4 InNI ^MA

wo I

a hl a a *

C So,,- – –

. .. . . .. ………. #..5.i. ………: . . .
.< . . .. . . .. ...... ... . .. .. .. . .. . . . . . .. .. .. .


A6 -” . ..

FIGURE 2. Part of Northern Rhodesia 1:250,000 (Provisional) sheet 5, compiled in the Survey Department, Livingstone in 1928.
Settlement is shown in meticulous detail. Named rivers serve as the locational framework and paths are indicated with little attempt at
planimetric accuracy, which was not necessary for the map to function as a useful administrative tool. The detail derives from manuscript
district maps compiled and built up by successive touring officers, beginning with J. H. Venning in 1907

the one political status to the other by virtue of
differing functions.
Latterly, DOS was devoting a decreasing pro-

portion of its effort in Africa to former British
territories with programmes of work or training
provision for Ethiopia, Liberia, Chad and Madagascar

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Imperialism, colonialism and cartography 63

(Directorate of Overseas Surveys, 1985). Not only
was a more internationalist attitude to Africa

becoming apparent, but with the responsibilities of
the Directorate now transferred to the Ordnance

Survey’s Overseas Surveys Directorate and with
much overseas work to be transferred to the private
sector (McGrath, 1982) we may see commercial firms
perhaps from several European countries working
under Ordnance Survey and Overseas Development
Agency supervision, thus restoring the commercial
and international dimensions of European car-
tography in Africa which were associated with
seventeenth and eighteenth century imperialism.

Recent writing (e.g., Griffiths, 1986; Eicher, 1986)
still does not always accept that the delegates to
the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 ‘were not talking
about partitioning Africa’ (Hargreaves, 1984, p. 17)
and that it was a last-ditch attempt to sustain Europe’s
traditionally internationalist approach of common
access to Africa. Nevertheless, differentiation

between the historical continuity of the imperialist
mercantile ethic which was still on display in Berlin a
century ago and its brief demise in direct colonial rule
provides a framework for challenging long-standing
interpretations of pre-colonial cartographic evolution
and for appreciating the prime characteristics of
colonial surveys. It also provides a stimulus to further
work on colonial cartography, in the form of a
hypothesis which envisages disparate and compara-
tively uncoordinated activity across seven short-
lived spheres of European rule. Although brief, it was
an important phase of map making, since it perforce
provided the bases for both the cadastral and the
topographic surveys of the independent nations of
Africa, who are now restored to a more indirect, if not

imperial relationship with Europe.


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  • Contents
  • p. 57
    p. 58
    p. 59
    p. 60
    p. 61
    p. 62
    p. 63
    p. 64

  • Issue Table of Contents
  • Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1988) pp. 1-128
    Front Matter [pp. 1-3]
    Retail Parks: Spatial and Functional Integration of Retail Units in the Swansea Enterprise Zone [pp. 4-18]
    The Extent of Agricultural Field Drainage in England and Wales, 1971-80 [pp. 19-28]
    Impoundment-Type Bench Terracing with Underground Conduits in Jibal Haraz, Yemen Arab Republic [pp. 29-38]
    The Distribution of Solicitors in England and Wales [pp. 39-56]
    Imperialism, Colonialism and Cartography [pp. 57-64]
    Alternative Interpretations of Man-Induced Shoreline Changes in Rosslare Bay, Southeast Ireland [pp. 65-78]
    Residential Patterns and Processes: A Study of Jews in Three London Boroughs [pp. 79-95]
    The Common Lands of Wales [pp. 96-108]
    James Alfred Steers, 1899-1987 [pp. 109-115]
    Book Reviews
    Review: untitled [pp. 116-118]
    Review: untitled [pp. 118-119]
    Review: untitled [pp. 119-120]
    Review: untitled [pp. 121-123]
    Review: untitled [pp. 123-125]
    Review: untitled [pp. 125-126]
    Review: untitled [pp. 126-128]
    Back Matter


Urbanizing America

Robert G. Barrows

Booth Tarkington, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who achieved
distinction as an author during the first two decades of the twenti-
eth century, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1869. The
medium-sized midwestern city where he grew up often appeared
as the setting in his critically acclaimed fiction. In a series of nov-
els in which he thinly disguised his hometown as a “Midland city,”
Tarkington described “a deteriorating social order caused by ur-
banization and industrialization” and contrasted it, often unfavor-
ably, with the city of his youth. The opening pages of The Turmoil
(1915) set forth his view of the changes late nineteenth-century
urbanization had brought to Indianapolis and, by extension, to other
American cities:

Not quite so long ago as a generation, there was no panting giant
here, no heaving, grimy city; there was but a pleasant big town
of neighborly people who had understanding of one another, be-
ing, on the whole, much of the same type. It was a leisurely and
kindly place-“homelike,” it was called …. The good burghers
were given to jogging comfortably about in phaetons or in sur-
reys for a family drive on Sunday. No one was very rich; few
were very poor; the air was clean. and there was time to live. 1

This rosy view of life in the Hoosier capital during the Gilded Age
is clearly an oversimplification born of nostalgia. But Tarkington’s
lament for a simpler time also reflected a reality that readers of his
generation would have accepted without hesitation-that during the
previous forty or fifty years the nation’s cities had undergone a
profound transformation.


92 T/ze Gilded Age

When the Constitution was ratified in 1788 only about 5 per- ….. ~- §. ;;;’ ;;;’
cent of the residents of the new nation Jived in cities. Today, about ==”” E·- r-Q.l ~ – t:i r-\0 r–. ‘7 {“‘\ “‘ “‘
75 percent of the population lives in places defined as urban. Thus, ~~~:: IMtril”f”ir-i – ~ -Cl., ..::; .:: 2– – C”l- ….. u ~ § u
a central theme of U.S. history has been the transition from a rural,

0.. Q ” ;; Q

agrarian society to one that is highly urbanized. The latter third of ” ~- ” 0 :s g_ .9
._ ‘U ;;: 5 “‘

(..) c
the nineteenth century-years when the interrelated processes of .,.,c..

c O’l”‘:tOOOOO c

~ ~ .g ·;:: [“f’)t’–“>t-::t :2 Cc;, – (‘\ C”l rf’) :2
urbanization, industrialization, and immigration reached high tide- l.,) <:u 1... ...9 I oi c--i ,0 ,.0 ~ ~"' ~ :u b ~ :::: llj":j-lr){"f")


~ was a key period in that transition. Horace Greeley’s 1850s dictum Cl.,..::; .:: l “” a· §o
that young men should consider seeking their fortunes in the ex- ‘”

‘” 0 0

pansive West grew more urgent as he observed developments in ~

… tl,l- i5 “‘ “‘ the East during and after the Civil War. “We cannot all live in cit- ~ ti .:2 -~ r:–ll”lr- ci ci
~~~”::;: I C”i c:i rr} 0 “‘ “‘ ies,” the New York editor wrote in 1867, “yet nearly all seem deter- ~ ~ .:: ~

(“\ [“I”) C”l C’l

“‘ “‘ – -mined to do so.”2 0.. ” ”
Decennial census statistics demonstrate these demographic


~ ~

~ ~ -” “” ~ changes in a variety of ways. The first, and most obvious, change ~ ;::: E

is the growth in the number and percentage of persons who lived in §E
C”l C””l 00 0\ [“f’) ] ~ ~ ] 0~~-,tO – ~

~ ~ OOt”‘-t-\01.0

.::: .s
~ urban areas (see Table 5.1). In 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, ~”” •C.. c ti == r 0\ C”l -::t 0\ c

the nation’s urban population (defined as those living in places of

~ ~
1.0 -q ..q- C”\ (..)

2,500 or more) stood at 6.2 million, just under one-fifth of the to- – ~i: -~::::: ~ ..:::~ ~ tal. By the end of the century 30 million urbanites constituted about ~ ~ oor-r-1-r- ~ ‘:2~ ~ ~'”E oitrioOtrioi ~
two-fifths of the nation’s residents. Thus, in just forty years, the ~;::,


“‘ ~ “‘ ~ ~
~ – ~ number of urban dwellers in the country had almost quintupled, 0..

and their proportion of the total population had doubled. — ~ ~ ~ E i3 “”
~-~::: § r-1.0\Q,……V) ~

This is not to say that the nation’s rural population was not also 0 C”\ on C”l “>:~- M ‘& 0 C”\1.000000

growing. It was-from 25 million in 1860 to nearly 46 million by “‘ tl::~~ trioci>..elcitri ~ ~ ,.., … §- 0 NC”‘M”

was significantly greater during these years than the rate of growth
00 ;;; ~ ,.., ~ .,; “‘ c for rural residents, which is how “urbanization” is defined. Between §::: ~ ” “” ” ~ ~ 1880 and 1890, for example, urban population increased by 56 per- ” ..t:l .2_ ~ t–N0\00 ·~ ;::, ” -~ “‘

~ ~ –

::::> ..9 .:.: 6 -0(‘110\0 ”


-;;: 0

‘” “‘ ~ ‘” Another way of measuring urban growth during the Gilded Age ;::> 0 ,.., 0 ” ~ I ~ c 0 0
is simply to look at the expansion in the number of places that sur- : ”

,., ” u ., u
passed the threshold of 2,500 residents. Even with this rather gen-

.5 vj 5 “7;;’ ”

” = . ·- “‘tl -.:::tOO\Ot”-l.rl -5 ‘” -5 erous definition of “urban,” only about 400 localities could claim = ::::> ~ – :::: ‘

such status at the beginning of the Civil War (see Table 5.2). This
0 – 0.. – 0 ;;:: 0 N ~ 0 0 C’!”lrt’\11′)\0t- 0 0
·= Cl… -;:: ” = ” number grew to 663 during the 1860s, an increase of over two-

~ ~

0 0 0 0

“” ~ “” ~ thirds. While this rate of growth slowed during the next thirty … «i … ;::> ;::> “‘
years, the overall pattern continued. By the end of the century the ,.., ~ 00000 ::i “‘

~ 00000 ::i
.,; ~ \Of’.000\0 .. c–i .,; c 1.0 (‘–. 00 0’1 0 ~

nation recorded some 1,737 “urban places,” an increase since 1860 :::: co co co 00 0\ “- :::: co co 00 00 0’1 “‘ —– J: I ” ………………………… ” :0 :0 … . of a remarkable 343 percent. This growth resulted from both the =- =-~ 0~ ~ =~ “‘- “‘-

94 The Gilded Age

development of older towns and cities and the creation of new ur-
ban places, especially in the West.

Late nineteenth-century urbanization was characterized by the
growth of cities of all sizes, from small county seats to metropoli-
tan giants. Widely remarked upon, then and now, was the growth in
the number of big cities-those with more than 100,000 residents-
that seemed to dominate the age. Only nine such places existed in
the country in 1860. Two decades later the nation had twenty such
cities, and thirty-eight by 1900. By 1880, New York had become
the first U.S. city to claim one million inhabitants.

Smaller cities and towns were also growing. And, in spite of
the economic and cultural importance of places such as New York,
Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans, the smaller cities were in
many ways more representative of the nation’s urban experience.
In 1880 almost eight million Americans lived in urban areas of less
than 100,000, compared to about six million in larger ones. By the
end of the century the small- to medium-sized cities still claimed a
slight majority of the nation’s urban population: about sixteen mil-
lion persons lived in cities smaller than 100,000, fourteen million
in places of 100,000 or more. Between 1860 and 1900 the number
of urban areas in the 10,000-25,000 range grew from 58 to 280,
and the percentage of native-born residents in cities smaller than
25,000 exceeded that of larger ones throughout the late nineteenth

While it is important to understand these broad national trends,
it is equally important to recognize that summary data for the
entire United States obscure significant regional differences (see
Table 5.3). Throughout the late nineteenth century the northeastern
section of the country was by far the most heavily urbanized. In
1860, when about one-fifth of the nation’s total population lived in
urban areas, more than one-third of the residents of the Northeast
did so. By the end of the century the Northeast was two-thirds ur-
ban, the nation as a whole about two-fifths. At the other end of the
spectrum, only about 10 percent of southerners lived in cities on
the eve of secession. That figure almost doubled during the next
forty years but still stood at only 18 percent-less than half the
national figure-at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The North Central and West regions fell between the extremes
of the Northeast and South; the urban percentages of their popula-
tions were in the midteens in 1860 and approached 40 percent by
the close of the Gilded Age. As had been true in the Ohio and Mis-

Urbanizing America 95

sissippi river valleys earlier in the nineteenth century, cities and
towns were “spearheads” in the post-Civil War settlement of the
trans-Mississippi West. That is, as seats of government and centers
of business, transportation, and communication they were integral
parts of the settlement process, not afterthoughts that only devel-
oped once farming, ranching, mining, or logging activities were
well under way.

Table 5.3 Percentage Urban by Region, 1860-


United States
North Central








Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United
States: Colonial TI’mes to 1970. 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1975), 1:22-

States within regions also exhibited substantially different pat-
terns of urbanization. In 1880, for example, the northeastern states
of Rhode Island and Vermont recorded urban populations of 82 and
10 percent, respectively. In the North Central region, twenty years
later, the population of Illinois was 54 percent urban (in part be-
cause of the rapid expansion of Chicago during the late nineteenth
century), but the urban compositions of Illinois’s eastern and west-
ern neighbors at the end of the century were 34 percent (Indiana)
and 26 percent (Iowa). North Dakota, also in the North Central re-
gion, had a population in 1900 that was only 7 percent urban. In
short, the urban population of the United States during the late nine-
teenth century was quite unevenly distributed and in 1900 was still
concentrated in the northeastern quadrant of the country in a band
extending from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River.

Where did these millions of new city dwellers come from? Some
of the population growth resulted from net natural increase-an
excess of births over deaths among those already situated in urban
areas. The bulk of city growth during the late nineteenth century,
however, came from net migration. Urban areas attracted far
more new inhabitants than they lost. Roughly half of these new

96 The Gilded Age

city residents came from rnral areas in the United States, while the
other half were foreign immigrants. In the words of historian
Raymond A. Mohl, “The rapid nrban growth of the period resulted
from a tremendous release of rural population. Most of the new
urbanites came from the American farm and peasant villages of the
old world. “4

Students of American land policy and agricultural history once
argued that the western frontier served as a “safety valve” during
the late nineteenth century, absorbing excess population from the
increasingly crowded cities of the East. Historians now believe that
the reverse of that hypothesis is closer to the truth. The high birth-
rates of rural areas, combined with agricultural mechanization that
reduced the demand for farm workers, led to a surplus of rural popu-
lation. So, too, did farm failures, especially during the depressions
of the mid-1870s and the mid-1890s. As the cultural and economic
disparities between country and city grew wider, and as rural youth
heard that (in the words of a twentieth-century Broadway song)
“everything’s up to date in Kansas City,” many of those without
good prospects at home joined the urban exodus, especially to the
manufacturing cities of the Northeast and Midwest.

African Americans, particularly those from the rnral South,
comprised a numerically small but socially significant component
of that exodus. During the 1870s roughly 68,000 southern blacks
moved to the North, most to urban areas. During the final decade
of the nineteenth century the number of African Americans who
left the South grew to 185,000, a prefiguring of the “Great Migra-
tion” of the World War I decade and thereafter. Between 1870 and
1900 popular destinations in the North were not necessarily the
largest cities. In 1900, for example, blacks constituted less than
2 percent of the population in New York, Cleveland, Detroit, and
Chicago. In contrast, African Americans made up over 9 percent of
the population of Indianapolis in that year, and almost 13 percent
in Evansville, Indiana (the latter situated on the Ohio River and
thus an easily accessible northern destination). It is important to
recognize, however, and it is a point often ignored as historians
focus their attention on the northward migration of southern blacks,
that the urbanization of the African-American population also dra-
matically affected southern cities. Not all rural blacks who aban-
doned the land automatically decamped for the North, especially
not as a first step. Thus, between 1880 and 1900, the African-
American populations of Savannah and Nashville almost doubled.

Urbanizing America 97

In Atlanta the black population more than doubled, growing from
16,000 to 36,000, and the number of black residents in Memphis
increased during the final two decades of the nineteenth century by
235 percent.’

The pushes that impelled some rural Americans to leave the
farm, and the pulls that attracted them to the city, also affected large
numbers of foreigners. “Farmers who left the country for the city,”
observes historian Alan M. Kraut, “were met there by the new im-
migrants. ” 6 Immigration was not, of course, a new phenomenon in
the post-Civil War decades; net immigration to the United States in
the 1840s had been 1.4 million persons, and about 2.6 million had
arrived in the 1850s. What was new in the late nineteenth century
was the increased size of this stream, as well as its origins.

Immigration, which had fallen off slightly during the Civil War
decade, rebounded during the 1870s to the prewar level of2.6 mil-
lion. Then, in the 1880s, a decade of American prosperity and rela-
tive political stability in Europe, some 5 million immigrants came
to the United States, almost twice as many as had arrived in any
previous ten-year period. The numbers declined somewhat but were
still high during the 1890s; in spite of a severe depression in the
middle years of the decade, net immigration was 3.7 million.’

During the 1880s the so-called new immigrants from southern
and eastern Europe (“new” as contrasted with the “old” prewar in-
flux from northern and western Europe) began to appear in notice-
able numbers at American ports of entry. This trend accelerated in
the 1890s and continued on through the first two decades of the
new century. Whereas Germans had constituted 28 percent of all
immigrants to the United States in the 1880s, their proportion fell
to 16 percent in the 1890s and to just 4 percent between 1900 and
1909. Italians, however, increased their proportion of the immi-
grant stream from 5 percent in the 1880s to 16 percent in the 1890s
and 24 percent during the first decade of the twentieth century.
Former residents of Poland, Russia, and Austria-Hungary recorded
equally impressive gains. 8

Not all of these newcomers stayed. Some, especially young
males, were “birds of passage” who followed seasonal patterns of
migration or who stayed for only a few years to acquire a nest egg
before returning to their home villages. Of the millions who did
remain, the great majority settled in urban areas. “By the 1880s,”
observes a careful student of the process, “most immigrants found
that cities offered them more plentiful economic opportunities than

98 The Gilded Age

the countryside …. With few exceptions most newcomers congre-
gated in cities, many never leaving the port city in which they
landed. Unlike earlier immigrants, the latest settlers soon found
that their own skills and preferences, as well as the state of the
[rapidly industrializing] American economy, combined to make
them urban dwellers.”‘ By 1890 the populations of New York and
San Francisco were just over 40 percent foreign born. Interior cit-
ies were affected as well; sizable foreign-born contingents were to
be found in Chicago (41 percent), Cleveland (37 percent), Minne-
apolis (37 percent), and Kansas City (16 percent). 10

Their burgeoning populations, combined with advances in tech-
nology, led to striking spatial changes in American urban areas
during the late nineteenth century. Cities expanded, both horizon-
tally and vertically, in an attempt to accommodate not only their
new residents but also the concomitant increase in commercial and
industrial activity. Between the Civil War and the turn of the cen-
tury the built environment of urban America underwent a radical
transformation. The most important developments in the creation
of what Mohl has called the “new city” were in the areas of trans-
portation and construction.

In the preindustrial city of midcentury “the heaviest users of
streets were not whee], or hoofs, but human feet. … The vast
majority of people walked to their destinations, and it was this form
of transportation that determined the city’s size and shape.” 11 The
“walking city,” as it has been termed, was, by later standards, re-
markably compact, rarely extending much beyond two miles (a half
hour’s walk) from the city’s center. As a consequence, there was
little differentiation of land use. Commercial, residential, govern-
mental, religious, educational, and even industrial structures were
jumbled together. Different types of people were jumbled together,
too. “Limited housing options in the walking city brought a degree
of social integration,” and only “short distances separated rich and
poor, native and immigrant, white and black.” 12

The development most responsible for reshaping the walking
city was probably the postwar spread of the street railway. The con-
cept of urban mass transit did not suddenly appear on the scene in
the late nineteenth century. Most major eastern cities in the ante-
bellum decades had omnibus service (a sort of urban stagecoach
from which the modern word “bus” derives), some early railroads
provided local commuter operations in addition to their long-haul
passenger and freight activities, and a horse-drawn street railway

Urbanizing America 99

began running in New York City as early as the 1830s. This latter
form of transportation spread slowly in the 1840s and 1850s and
then much more rapidly in the years after the Civil War. Whereas
the omnibus had bounced along on rutted or cobblestoned
thoroughfares, the streetcar rolled smoothly on iron rails. In addi-
tion, streetcars required no more horse (or mule) power than omni-
buses, yet they held more passengers and could travel faster (six to
eight miles per hour). By the mid-1880s over five hundred street
railway lines were operating in three hundred American cities, and
they had become the country’s most important form of intraurban

In urban public transit, the horse gradually gave way to other
forms of motive power as the century wore on. Several cities in-
stalled cable cars. These looked much like horsecars but were pro-
pelled by a stationary engine that moved an underground cable to
which the cars could be attached or detached. They were faster,
larger, and more comfortable than horsecars, and they were par-
ticularly suited for hilly cities such as San Francisco or Pittsburgh.
Their disadvantages included high installation and maintenance
costs and frequent breakdowns that idled all the cars operated on a
given cable. Most cable car systems were gradually phased out.

The principal successor to the horsecar was the electrified street-
car. These trolleys (so called because of the moving “troller” that
connected the vehicle with overhead electrical wires) could cover
ten or twelve miles per hour. The new technology spread rapidly
following its introduction in Richmond, Virginia, in 1888. By the
early twentieth century the vast m~ority of urban mass transit mile-
age had been converted to electricity.

These improvements in urban transportation signaled the de-
mise of the compact walking city. As street railway lines extended
out from the city’s center-often to a “destination” site, such as a
lake, amusement park, or cemetery-residential and commercial
development followed. Outlying city wards, as well as areas be-
yond the city limits, experienced rapid population growth. It was a
process that left some late nineteenth-century urban areas with the
appearance of a wagon wheel-a downtown hub with radiating
spokes of settlement. As Howard P. Chudacoff and Judith E. Smith
observe, horsecars and trolleys “spread people into outlying areas,
but because transit owners built track only where it appeared that
settlement would be most dense and because subdividers and
builders located their real estate projects near mass-transit lines,

100 The Gilded Age

Transportation in the New City. Horse~drawn wagons and carriages, an electric trolley
car, and pedestrians congest a cobblestoned street in Philadelphia in 1897. Courtesy Na·
tiona[ Archives

outward expansion proceeded unevenly …. Only slowly did they
fill in the vacant districts between existing fingers of settlement. ” 13

As noted earlier, the social geography of the walking city was
characterized by a mingling of economic classes and ethnic groups.
The most desirable residences were often located very close (the
shortest walk) to the city’s center. Urban mass transit rearranged-
indeed, inverted-that pattern. “The physical growth and expan-
sion of the city,” writes Mob!, “promoted social fragmentation and
differentiation, as people sorted themselves out by class, ethnicity,
and race …. The streetcar encouraged the wealthy and the middle
class to abandon the central district of the city as a place of resi-

Urbanizing America 101

dence. Simultaneously, the urban working class, immigrants, and
the poor began occupying vacated housing in the urban core.” 14

The late nineteenth century was thus a period not just of urban-
ization but also of suburbanization. Rapid population growth
coupled with the expansion of reasonably priced mass transit both
permitted and encouraged residential construction at the constantly
retreating margins of American cities. These areas tended to be
economically and architecturally homogeneous. As Sam Bass
Warner, Jr., observed in his acclaimed book Streetcar Suburbs: The
Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 ( 1962), both homeowners
and speculative builders in Gilded Age Boston “sought safety for
their investment by building dwellings of a type common to the
area …. Even though there were no zoning laws and no mass build-
ers who put up whole communities in a few years, this repetitive
habit of little builders produced an effect somewhat similar to the
modern class-graded residential suburbs.” Paradoxically, Warner
notes, the decentralized and individualized nature oflate nineteenth-
century suburban residential construction led to “great uniformity
of behavior, a kind of regulation without laws.” 15

As the periphery of the city changed, so too did the core.
Whereas the suburbs were differentiated by income and wealth,
central cities developed distinct sections based on specialized eco-
nomic functions. Districts emerged that were known for banking
and finance (New York’s Wall Street, for example), warehousing,
wholesaling, transportation (any union railroad station and its en-
virons), retailing, government, and both legal and illegal entertain-
ment. Downtown land values, now expressed as dollars per frontage
foot along the major thoroughfares, rose sharply as this process
continued, as did the taxes on such property. These developments
soon squeezed out any single-family residences that still existed in
the city’s center.

As increasing numbers of white-collar workers found employ-
ment in the central business district, most cities underwent build-
ing booms to accommodate them. Multistory office buildings began
to dominate the urban skyline. By today’s standards these were not
very tall structures. The weight of brick and masonry construction
had long placed practical limits on building heights; the higher they
went (and the heavier they became), the thicker the lower walls
and foundations needed to be. With a few exceptions, mainly in
New York, most new commercial and office buildings erected in

102 The Gilded Age

the immediate post-Civil War decades did not surpass five or, at
most, ten stories.

New construction technologies permitted central cities to grow
vertically, just as the street railway had permitted urban areas to
expand horizontally for great distances. Use of a load-bearing steel
skeleton sheathed with a light masonry or stone skin-“curtain wall”
construction, as it became known-allowed architects to raise their
sights (and thus their sites). They perfected this technique in Chi-
cago where the ten-story Home Insurance Building (1885) became
the prototype skyscraper. Day-to-day use of the new structures,
which quicldy rose to thirty or forty stories, became practicable
with the concurrent development of high-speed electric elevators
to deliver office workers to the upper floors and central heating
plants to keep them comfortable once they got there. Mostly in the
early twentieth century, but to some extent in the late nineteenth as
well, the skyscraper was “a symbol of increasing concentration,
both of people and of power[,] in the city center.” 16

Residential construction also began to extend upward. As city
populations mushroomed, “vertical space became acceptable and
even necessary for residential as well as business and commercial
purposes. ” 17 Architects and builders thus began to construct multi-
story apartment houses for upper- and middle-class urbanites and
tenement houses for poorer working-class families. The apartments
ranged from large, luxurious structures built of the finest materials
to small wood-frame buildings constructed by speculators seeking
a quick profit.

Tenement houses evolved in antebellum New York and spread
to many other cities during the last third of the nineteenth century.
(Seldom, however, were tenements packed so closely together as
they were in Manhattan. New York’s housing density was by far
the highest in the nation.) 18 While details differed from place to
place, a typical tenement was 25 by 90 feet (with a 10-foot rear
Jot}, stood four to six stories tall, and had four apartments on each
floor. Depending on the number of stories, each building was in-
tended to house sixteen to twenty-four families. Many tenants, how-
ever, sublet their small rooms, some no more than 8 feet wide, to
secure additional income. A single building might thus shelter some
!50 people. Privacy, obviously, did not exist. Disease, not surpris-
ingly, was rampant.

The infamous “dumbbell” tenement (whose name refers to the
shape) featured a narrow air shaft in the center of the building

Urbanizing America 103

The Changing Urban Lnndsc:Jpe. An elevaled railroad train wends its way among the
multistory buildings of New York City, 1894. Courtesy Library of Co11gress

intended to provide light and ventilation. As urban historians
David R. Goldfield and Blaine A. Brownell note, this supposed
amenity was in fact “a real health and safety hazard. The shaft was
a convenient duct for flames to leap from one story to the next and
a garbage dump that reeked with foul odors, especially in the hot
summer months. It was also an excellent echo chamber for noise.” 19

The failure of tenements as a solution for housing the working-
class urban poor became increasingly apparent, especially when
the conditions of New York’s Lower East Side were publicized by
Jacob Riis in his renowned description of How the Other Half Lives
(1890). The New York Tenement House Law of 1901, which estab-
lished more stringent criteria for multifamily dwellings, was a be-
lated response to the tenement crisis, and its provisions were copied
in statutes and ordinances across the country.

Street railways, discussed earlier, were only one part of a com-
plex urban infrastructure that developed during the late nineteenth
century. By 1900, and somewhat earlier in many places, American
cities had become, in Joel A. Tarr’s words, “networked” or “wired,
piped, and tracked.” Following the economic depression of the mid-
1870s, improvements in urban infrastructure advanced steadily.

104 The Gilded Age

These developments went hand in hand with an increase in the qual-
ity and number of civil engineers. Quoting Tarr again: “At the turn
of the century the city was the center of economic activity, and the
construction of urban infrastructure, both public and private, often
attracted the nation’s best engineering talent.” 20

Cities hired such engineers in a quest for, among other things,
safe and reliable systems to provide water and remove sewage. A
typhoid epidemic in Massachusetts during the 1880s prompted the
city of Lawrence to install ~ new type of sand filter to purify its
water. Subsequent improvements in technology and increased un-
derstanding of the nature of waterborne diseases led numerous other
urban areas during the next twenty years to adopt advanced meth-
ods of filtration and purification. Between 1890 and 1920 the num-
ber of waterworks increased from 1,878 to 9,850, and the population
served by filtered water grew from 310,000 to over 17 million be-
tween 1890 and 1914.21

Water treatment arid the extension of water mains throughout
metropolitan areas were followed by calls for sanitary sewers. The
earliest of these merely emptied into a convenient body of water.
(In the case of Chicago, that meant Lake Michigan, from which the
city drew its drinking water.) To avoid fouling their own nests, cit-
ies employed “a new generation of sanitary engineers [who] began
in the eighties to devise filters and to build [sewage] treatment plaots
that incorporated new chemical and biological discoveries.” By the
1890s “saoitary bathrooms aod kitchens with running water became
standard features in new urban homes, and plumbing was installed
in the better dwellings of maoy older districts.” The number of miles
of sewers in use expanded from six thousand in 1890 to almost
twenty-five thousand by 1909. Gas, electric, and telephone service
also came to many American cities during the closing years of the
nineteenth century. Gas was originally used primarily for lighting,
although gas lamps began to be replaced by electric lights in the
eighties. The nation’s forty-eight thousand telephone subscribers
in 1880 grew to eight hundred thousand by the end of the century,
most of them in urban areas. 22

Urbanization and industrialization can exist independently; cit-
ies obviously existed before the machine age, and early factories
were often located in rural areas. In late nineteenth-century America,
however, the processes were closely associated. In the decades fol-
lowing the Civil War the “twin forces of urbanization and industri-
alization now fed upon each other: each reinforced and modified

Urbanizing America 105

the course of the other. Together … cities and their factories trans-
formed the United States from an agricultural debtor nation into a
manufacturing and financial power. ” 23

Urban areas centralized resources that were important for in-
dustrial growth. As hubs of transportation they could most easily
concentrate raw materials and disperse finished products. As cen-
ters of communication they could facilitate the rapid exchange of
information that became increasingly vital as the economy became
more complex. Moreover, as centers of population they provided
pools of both industrial workers and consumers of manufactured

During these years “the factory became a characteristic and ever-
present urban institution.” And as cities grew in size, so did their
workplaces. The Cambria Iron Works in Johnstown, Pennsylvania,
for example, employed about one thousand persons in 1860-a
large force for the time. Twenty years later, however, Cambria Steel
had forty-two hundred workers, and that number grew to almost
ten thousand by 1900. Around the turn of the century the meat-
packing plants that had grown up in Chicago, whose brutal work-
ing conditions soon shocked readers of Upton Sinclair’s novel The
Jungle (1906), employed some thirty thousand people. 24

While urbanization and industrialization grew increasingly in-
tertwined, factories and central business districts gradually became
less closely associated. Just as residences were eventually forced
out of the city center, so too were large manufacturing establish-
ments. The cost of land in the city core, and the requirements of
many industries such as steel and railroad repair for large amounts
of horizontal space, drove factories to the periphery where, as Gold-
field and Brownell put it, “land was cheap and municipal regula-
tions were few.” 25

The result was the development of industrial suburbs, some-
times called “satellite cities.” One of the most famous was Pull-
man, Illinois, a combination railroad-car factory and residential town
established in the 1880s south of Chicago and the site of a violent
strike in 1894. (Readily accessible from Interstate 94, Pullman is
now a National Historic Landmark.) Pittsburgh’s steel industry
moved upriver to Allegheny and Homestead (the latter town the
site of another well-known labor disturbance in the 1890s). The
suburbanization of industry also encouraged residential diffusion.
Factory workers, many of whom could not afford a daily commute
by trolley, often located close to their place of employment. Near

106 The Gilded Age

Indianapolis, for example, the small industrial/residential suburb
of Brightwood was platted in 1872 about two and one-half miles
northeast of the city’s center. Annexed into Indianapolis in 1897,
the suburb-turned-neighborhood continued for many years to serve
as a residential area for the workers in nearby industries.

The complexity of urban life in the late nineteenth century pre-
sented challenges that the municipal governments of the age were
often unable to meet. Cities were creatures of their states, and leg-
islatures were rarely willing to cede control of city charters or to
grant municipalities a significant degree of home rule. Mayors had
little authority, and their terms of office generally were limited to
only one or two years. City councils were often fragmented, with
members focusing attention on their own wards at the expense of
broader municipal concerns. Little wonder that a visiting English-
man reported in the late 1880s that “the government of cities is the
one conspicuous failure of the United States.”26

The vacuum in governmental power and authority was filled
by urban political machines (or, less pejoratively, party organiza-
tions) of which New York’s Tammany Hall is perhaps the best-
known example. Critics then and since have excoriated the machines
and the bosses who ran them for everything from incompetence to
grand larceny. There is ample evidence to support the charges. In
one notorious case, the construction of a courthouse budgeted at
$250,000 cost in excess of $13 million; contractors were instructed
to pad their bills, and the excess payments were returned to the
machine in the form of kickbacks. Less brazenly (but no less costly
to the taxpayers), political bosses engaged in what Tammany dis-
trict leader George Washington Plunkitt called “honest graft”-
profiteering based on, for example, inside knowledge of where
future public improvements were planned. Throughout the late nine-
teenth century there were periodic attempts to “throw the rascals
out”; such efforts, while sometimes successful, were generally short-
lived. Reformers, Plunkitt observed, were “only morning glories”
who had little staying power.”

If the urban political bosses of the Gilded Age have not been
quite rehabilitated by recent scholarship, they have at least been
reevaluated and reassessed. The “functionalist” (as opposed to the
“reformist”) analysis of urban machine politics focuses on the ubiq-
uity and longevity of the institution. How did city bosses maintain
control if their activities were so scandalous? The answer, simply,
is that they responded to the felt needs of many of their constitu-

Urbanizing America 107

ents. As Mohl summarizes this interpretation: “In an age when of-
ficial municipal welfare and social services were wealdy developed
or administered in a bureaucratic or tight-fisted manner, the bosses
and the machines provided very real and important services in the
urban neighborhoods …. They offered a humanizing contact with
a government increasingly perceived as distant and bureaucratic.””

This could be especially important to recent immigrants grap-
pling with the myriad difficulties of acculturation in a strange en-
vironment. Plunkitt proudly described the operation of his system
in New York’s Fifteenth Assembly District:

What tells in holdin’ your grip on your district is to go right down
among the poor families and help them in the different ways they
need help …. If a family is burned out I don’t ask whether they
are Republicans or Democrats, and I don’t refer them to the Char-
ity Organization Society, which would investigate their case in a
month or two and decide they were worthy of help about the time
they are dead from starvation. I just get quarters for them, buy
clothes for them if their clothes were burned up, and fix them up
till they get things runnin’ again. It’s philanthropy, but it’s poli-
tics, too-mighty good politics. Who can tell how many votes
one of these fires bring me? 29

Doing good was not, of course, the sole or even the principal
motivation of the city boss or ward heeler, and the fact that chari-
table activity was sometimes a by-product does not excuse the
bribery, graft, and general malfeasance associated with late
nineteenth-century urban politics. It does, however, help to explain
why the system was not only tolerated but also actively supported
in immigrant and working-class districts. It also explains why,
as Plunkitt observed, “reform administrations never succeed

Some students oflate nineteenth-century city government have
gone beyond the reformist-functionalist dichotomy. As historian Jon
Teaford has written, “Municipal government was no simple dualis-
tic struggle between a citywide party boss with a diamond shirt
stud and malodorous cigar and a good-government reformer with a
Harvard degree and kid gloves.” Teaford himself has focused at-
tention on the activities and successes of various experts-land-
scape architects, civil engineers, and public health and public safety
officials-who turned their departments into “strongholds of ex-
pertise.” Rejecting interpretations of Gilded Age municipal gover-
nance in which “scoundrels have won much greater coverage than

108 The Gilded Age

conscientious officials,” he contends that the evolution of Ameri-
can city government during the years from 1870 to 1900 was in
fact an “unheralded triumph.” “Problems persisted” at the turn of
the century, he admits, “and there were ample grounds for com-
plaint. But in America’s cities, the supply of water was the most
abundant, the street lights were the most brilliant, the parks the
grandest, the libraries the largest, and the public transportation the
fastest of any place in the world.””

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, economist and stat-
istician Adna Ferrin Weber published a pioneering study that ex-
amined the previous one hundred years of urban development.
Weber introduced his book with the observation that “the concen-
tration of population in cities” had been “the most remarkable so-
cial phenomenon” cif the century. Fascinated by the processes of
urbanization and the complexity of modern urban life, he described
the late nineteenth-century city as “the spectroscope of society; it
analyzes and sifts the population, separating and classifying the
diverse elements. The entire progress of civilization is a process of
differentiation, and the city is the greatest differentiator.” His in-
terest in the details of population concentration did not, however,
blind him to the mixed results: “The cities, as the foci of progress,
inevitably contain both good and bad. “32 Reflecting on the positive
and negative developments in their cities since the Civil War, most
urban Americans at the turn of the century would no doubt have
agreed with Weber’s assessment.


1. Booth Tarkington, The Turmoil (New York, 1915), 2, as quoted in Clifton J.
Phillips, Indiana in Transition: The Emergence of an Industrial Commonwealth,
1880-1920 (Indianapolis, 1968), 523-24.

2. Raymond A. Mohl, The New City: Urban America in the Industrial Age,
1860-1920 (Arlington Heights, IL, 1985), 2-3.

3. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colo-
nial Times to 1970, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1975), 1:11-12; Blake McKelvey,
The Urbanization of America, 1860-1915 (New Brunswick, NJ, 1963), 63.

4. Mob!, The New City, 19.
5. Ibid., 21-22; David R. Goldfield and Blaine A. Brownell, Urban America:

A History, 2d ed. (Boston, 1990), 221-26, especially Table 7.2; Darrel Bigham,
We Ask Only a Fair Trial: A History of the Black Community of Evansville, lndi~
ana (Bloomington, IN, 1987), 22; Lawrence H. Larsen, The Rise of the Urban
South (Lexington, KY, 1985), 38.

6. Alan M. Kraut, The Huddled Masses: The Immigrant in American Society,
1880-1921 (Arlington Heights, IL, 1982), 64.

Urbanizing America 109

7. Mohl, The New City, 23.
8. Kraut, The Huddled Masses, 20-21.
9. Ibid., 12, 63.
10. Mohl, The New City, 20.
11. Howard P. Chudacoff and Judith E. Smith, The Evolution of American Ur~

ban Society, 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1994), 79.
12. Mohl, The New City, 28.
13. Chudacoff and Smith, The Evolution of American Urban Society, 85.
14. Mohl, The New City, 37.
15. Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Bos-

ton, 1870-1900 (1962; reprinted., Cambridge, MA, 1978), 76-77, 117.
16. Goldfield and Brownell, Urban America, 273, 300.
17. Mohl, The New City, 49.
18. Robert G. Barrows, “Beyond the Tenement: Patterns of American Urban

Housing, 1870-1930,” Journal of Urban History 9 (August 1983): 395-420.
19. Goldfield and Brownell, Urban America, 249.
20. Joel A. Tarr, “Building the Urban Infrastructure in the Nineteenth Century:

An Introduction,” 61-85, in Infrastructure and Urban Growth in the Nineteenth
Century (Chicago, 1985), 61, 78.

21. McKelvey, The Urbanization of America, 90; Tarr, “Building the Urban
Infrastructure in the Nineteenth Century,” 73.

22. McKelvey, The Urbanization of America, 90-91 (quotations); Goldfield
and Brownell, Urban America, 171-73; Tarr, “Building the Urban Infrastructure
in the Nineteenth Century,” 73.

23. Chudacoff and Smith, The Evolution of American Urban Society, 107.
24. Mohl, The New City, 51, 59; Goldfield and Brownell, Urban America, 187-

25. Goldfield and Brownell, Urban America, 188.
26. James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, 2 vols. (London, 1889}, 1 :608.
27. Alexander B. Callow, Jr., The Tweed Ring (New York, 1965), especially

198-200; idem, ed., The City Boss in America: An Interpretive Reader (New
York, 1976); William L. Riordan, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, paperback ed. (New
York, 1963), 3-6, 17-20.

28. Mob!, The New City, 87.
29. Riordan, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, 27-28.
30. Ibid., 17.
31. Jon C. Teaford, The Unheralded Triumph: City Government in America,

1870-1900 (Baltimore, !984), 7-8, 4, 6.
32. Adna Ferrin Weber, The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century: A

Study in Statistics (1899; reprinted., Ithaca, NY, 1963), I, 442-43.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Barth, Gunther. City People: The Rise of Modem City Culture in
Nineteenth-Century America. New York, 1980.

Buder, Stanley. Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Com-
munity Planning, 1880-1930. New York, 1967.

Callow, Alexander B., Jr., ed. The City Boss in America: An Interpretive
Reader. New York, 1976.






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����:(%(5��$��)���������7KH�JURZWK�RI�FLWLHV�LQ�WKH�QLQHWHHQWK�FHQWXU\��1HZ�Social Scientist

Orientalism and Architectural Culture

Authors(s): Sibel Bozdogan

Source: Social Scientist, Vol. 14, No. 7 (Jul., 1986), pp. 46-58

Published by: Social Scientist

Stable URL:

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Contemporary Descriptions of New York City and Its Public Architecture ca. 1850
Author(s): Ellen W. Kramer
Source: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1968), pp.
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society of Architectural
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Contemporary Descriptions of New York City

and Its Public Architecture ca. 185o


Landmarks Preservation Committee, City of New York

THE decade of the 1840s brought enormous changes to the
city of New York. To most visitors from abroad, the town
of the mid-nineteenth century seemed somewhat provin-

cial, a sprawling city with few public parks, whose monot-

onous grid plan and architecture were in no way comparable

to any of the great European capitals.’ True, it was grow-

ing rapidly: the great exodus from Northern Europe had
begun, following the potato famine of 1845 in Ireland and
the revolutions of 1848. Incredible as it seemed to oldtimers

such as Philip Hone and James Fenimore Cooper,2 the little

town of 6o,ooo souls of 18OO, was by 185o a city of over a
half million inhabitants. To Walt Whitman Broadway rep-

resented the living symbol of America, the “open road”
along which streamed the vast procession of humanity.3
Already over two miles long, it extended from Bowling

Green to Union Square (Fig. I). When Grace Church was
begun in 1843, it stood at the “head” of the street (Fig. 2),
for it was assumed at that time that Broadway would not
extend much above Tenth Street. Now it looked down up-

on a city rushing far beyond it, reaching out into places

where, in Philip Hone’s words, only “a few years since cat-

tle grazed, and orchards dropped their ripened fruits.”4 A

physician from upstate New York picturesquely compared
New York to a boy “who grows so fast that he can’t stop to

tie up his shoes.”5 In general, European visitors, like those

of today, found the city crowded, noisy, dirty, and ugly,
with few redeeming features, while New Yorkers were
frequently characterized as having little interest in anything

other than the making of money.

Nonetheless, New York was rapidly becoming a cosmo-

politan city, with an ever-increasing number of foreign
language newspapers, houses of worship, clubs, and socie-
ties which took a benevolent interest in new arrivals to this

country.6 Delmonico’s, founded in 1828, catered to an in-
creasingly discriminating clientele and was the favorite
meeting place of French and German merchants. The Astor
Place Riot of 1849, the result of a bitter feud between the

American Shakespearean actor, Edwin Forrest, and his Brit-

ish rival, W. C. Macready, is an indication of the passionate

interest of New Yorkers in the theater (Fig. 3). The popu-
larity of musicales, the establishment of the Philharmonic

Society in 1842, and the furor caused by Jenny Lind’s ar- This paper is an adaptation of a section of the author’s unpublished
doctoral dissertation, “The Domestic Architecture of DetlefLienau,
a Conservative Victorian” (Institute of Fine Arts, New York Uni-
versity, 1957), carried out under the supervision of the late Talbot F.
Hamlin and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, to whom this article is dedi-
cated as a token gesture of profound gratitude.

i. E. g., Heinrich Schliemann, Schliemann’s First Visit to America,
185o-1851, ed. Shirley H. Weber (Cambridge, Mass., 1942), P. 23;
F. and T. Pulszky, White, Red, Black; Sketches of American Society
(New York, 1853), I, 59; “B.”, “Erste Eindriicke von New-York,”
[1852], Atlantische Studien. Von Deutschen in Amerika (GO6ttingen,
1853-1857), I, 122-123.
2. Correspondence of ames Fenimore Cooper (New Haven, 1922),

in, 693, 22 Nov. 185o; The Diary qf Philip Hone, 1828-1851, ed. Allan
Nevins, new and enl. ed. (New York, 1936), p. 784, 28 Jan. 1847.
3. See “Sights and Sounds of Broadway,” Brooklyn Evening Star,

20 Feb. 1846, in New York Dissected, eds. Emory Holloway and
Ralph Adimari (New York, 1936), p. 124.

4. Diary, p. 784, 28 Jan. 1847.
5. Joel H. Ross, M.D., What I Saw in New-York (Auburn, N. Y.,

1851), p. 178.
6. Perhaps the best of many German guide books of the period is

George Treu’s Das Buch der Auswanderung … (Bamberg, 1848),
which contains reprints of the informative pamphlets issued by the
Deutsche Gesellschaft und Volksverein, Bekanntmachung der deutschen
Gesellschaft zum Schutze deutscher Auswanderer nach Amerika, pp. 83-

I 18, whose work is described in Christoph Vetter, ZweiJahre in New-
York … (Hof, 1849), pp. 41-45. See also N. Reiss, Excursion a New-
York en 185o (Brussels, 1851); Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New
York City, 1825-1863 (New York, 1949), passim; and Manuals of the
Common Council (Valentine’s Manuals), issued annually by the City of
New York, an excellent source of statistics on foreign societies, news-
papers, etc.


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. 41″

4. ~ 1 ::Am. 00″‘j

4r: ‘Q r ii-i?



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Fig. I. Bird’s-eye view of New York from Union Square, looking
south, 1849 (from Stokes, Iconography, Vol. im, Pl. 135).

rival and her first concert at Castle Garden on i i Septem-

ber I850 (Fig. 4)7 are proof that, while New York could
not compare with London, Paris, or Munich, it was hardly
a cultural wasteland. The way had been prepared for the in-

flux of British and European architects who, with their
American colleagues, were to change the face of the city
in the next decades.8

If we turn to the prints of the period for a picture of the

city, we find them charming, but misleading. Almost with-

out exception, they give to the city a mistaken appearance
of genteel dignity and quiet repose, as though they had been

sketched on a Sunday, with both the houses and the people
freshly scrubbed and on their best behavior. To get the real

r i, :,
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Fig. 2. Grace Church, James Renwick, 1843-1848 (from Owen,
Hints on Public Architecture [1849], between pp. 92-93).

7. Note the cast iron supporting columns.
8. After the wave of arrivals from Britain in the late I820s and
thirties (Richard Upjohn, Frederick Diaper, Joseph C. Wells), the
late forties saw others establish themselves here (Frank Wills, ca.
1847, Calvert Vaux, 185o, Henry Dudley, 1851I,Jacob Wrey Mould,
1853). From Germany came Alexander Saeltzer, 1.842, Henry Fern-
bach, ca. 1848, and Frederick A. Peterson, 1851; Leopold Eidlitz
from Bohemia, ca. 1843, and Detlef Lienau from Schleswig- Holstein,
1848. These were some of the men who were important for the de-
velopment of architecture in New York. It has often been pointed
out that many Germans who immigrated to this country were of
middle class origin who, with their descendants, formed an “intel-
lectual aristocracy” in American cities in contrast to their Irish coun-
terparts of 1846-185o (e.g., John R. Common, Races and Immigrants
in America, new ed. [New York, 1927], P. 48).

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of! 414


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Fig. 3. The Astor Place Riot, 1849 (courtesy New York Public Library, Eno Collection, No. 238).

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Fig. 4. First appearance ofJenny Lind in America at Castle Garden, II Sept. 1850 (courtesy New York Public Library, Eno Collection,
No. 244).

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Fig. 5. Broadway, 185o, with Barnum’s American Museum (left) and the Astor House (right) (courtesy New York Public Library,
Eno Collection, No. 248).

“feel” of New York, we must turn to literature, to the

diarists of the period like Philip Hone and George Temple-
ton Strong, to the impressions of travellers from abroad,
and to writers such as Walt Whitman. John C. Myers’
vivid and still timely description of “the greatest emporium

of the western hemisphere” will serve as our introduction
to New York which he described as:

… a dusty, smoky, noisy, busy, great and animating emporium.
In this mighty metropolis, the stranger from abroad may see


fine buildings, its long streets and handsome places; its dense throng

of inhabitants, the immense shipping and its enormous trade. He
may observe on the one hand, the princely dwelling, the costly
equipage and the splendid appearance; and on the other hand the
squalid hut of poverty, of filth, of extreme misery and degrada-
tion. He may perceive the eddying throngs gathering and whirl-
ing, scattering and hurrying hither and thither, in the activity of
commercial pursuits. He may here become confused by the never-
ending turbulence and commotion, with the hundreds of mingled
notes and noises which are ever rising from the multifarious trades

and occupations of its thousands of inhabitants. And among its.
mingled crowds he may meet Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians, Aus-
trians, Swiss, Germans, Russians, Chinese, Jews, Turks, Africans,
Portugese, English, Southrons and Yankees; all commingling in

the same hour, in the same street, in the same scene…. He here

sees that nothing is fixed, nothing is permanently settled-all is
moving and removing, organizing and disorganizing, building up
and tearing down; the ever active spirit of change seems to pervade
all bodies, all things and all places in this mighty metropolis.9

In his last sentence Myers clearly echoed Walt Whitman:
“He who at some future time shall take upon himself the
office of writing the early history of what is done in Amer-

ica . . . will surely have much cause to mention what may

be called the pull-down-and-build-over again spirit!”‘1
Foreigners were appalled by the traffic in New York. All

agreed that it was quicker to walk than to ride, and that to

cross Broadway at the noon hour was to take one’s life in
one’s hands. In 1846 the engineer John Randel proposed the

9. J[ohn] C. Myers, Sketches on a Tour through the Northern and
Eastern States, the Canadas & Nova Scotia (Harrisonburg, [Va.],

1849), pp. 50-5I.
Io. “Tear Down and Build Over Again,” American Review, ii

(Nov. 1845), 563-538, reprinted in Emory Holloway, The Uncol-
lected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman . . . (Garden City, N. Y.,
1921), I, 92.

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f.~”~d~r “i?”:P: :~?i~

-;?s i~~
D; P~M:?:?~~:z-:i:_a~ P; ?_~; ~ ~? L:r

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i, ?:~

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Fig. 6. Bay of New York from the Battery, 1851 (from Stokes, Iconography, Vol. III, P1. 137-A).



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Fig. 7. Broadway, Bowling Green to Morris Street (from Illuminated Pictorial Directory of Broadway, 1848, No. I, P1. 4, courtesy New York
Public Library, Eno Collection, No. 222).

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construction of an elevated railway as a solution to the re-

curring question of “what to do with Broadway.” A few
years later Genin, the enterprising hatter, put up a bridge

across Broadway,11 from his store to St. Paul’s Chapel, to
take care of the crush below City Hall and Barnum’s Amer-

ican Museum. The New-York Daily Times of 7 September
1853 contains an article entitled “Stray Notes of a South-

erner Adrift,” a remarkable description of the ear-splitting

din of Broadway-the clatter of horses’ hoofs over the
rough pavement, the cries of the vendors, the raucous
swearing-all coming to a shattering climax with the blar-
ing of the band from early morn till evening at Barnum’s
Museum (Fig. 5).

Philip Hone, a former mayor of New York, and George
Templeton Strong, attorney and man-about-town, remem-

bered the days when the Battery had been New York’s
favorite promenade (Fig. 6)12 and lower Broadway a quiet
residential district, lined with neat two- and three-story
red brick houses. By the late forties and early fifties, the
character of lower Broadway had changed completely.13
Figure 7 reproduces one plate from The Illuminated Pictorial

Directory of New-York, published in 1848 to provide, ac-
cording to the editors, “a literal Picture of the Western
Emporium of Commerce in the noon of the 19th Century.”
The illustration bears witness to what Hone described as the

“mania for converting Broadway into a street of shops.”14
In his message to the Common Council on 5 May 1851,

Mayor Kingsland predicted that the area south of City Hall

would very soon be devoted entirely to business.15 Indeed,

the descriptions and prints of New York in the mid-century

indicate that Broadway, as far uptown as Bleecker Street,
was almost entirely a street of shops, warehouses, restau-
rants, hotels, and places of amusement.

This transformation of lower Broadway, a gradually ac-
celerating process, began in earnest in the late thirties. At

first, residences were not altered on the exterior. During the

183os, however, it became common practice, in altering
residences for commercial use, to replace the usual Classic
Revival entranceportico, raised a half-story above the street,

by a glass front with granite piers modelled on the store

type originated by Ithiel Town in his design for the Tappan

Store in Pearl Street (1829). This is illustrated by the houses

on the east side of Broadway above Bowling Green (Fig. 7).
The effect of this revolutionary design upon commercial
architecture, and the rebuilding of entire blocks in the older

business sections of the city, particularly after the Great Fire

(1835), and the spread of the Town formula to other cities

in the United States, was noted by contemporaries.16 Writ-

ers of the period bear witness to the fact that this transfor-

mation was far from orderly. Every visitor to the city
commented upon the disgraceful condition of the streets.
Lady Wortley, who toured the United States in 1849 and

I85o, found our thoroughfares so littered with “piles of
lumber, mounds of brick, pyramids of stones, mountains of

packing-cases, and stacks of goods” that sidewalks were
practically impassable. Of New York itself she wrote that

it “certainly is handsome . . . and yet there is something

about it which gives the impression of a half-finished city.””‘

Nonetheless, every visitor was impressed by what she and
Frederika Bremer, the famous Swedish novelist, called the

“go-ahead” Yankee spirit of New Yorkers who then, as
now, were in such a hurry that the Scottish publisher Wil-
liam Chambers wrote: “American minutes would seem al-

most to be worth English days!”18

II. On the danger to life and limb in New York, see Vetter, Zwei
Jahre, p. 50o; “Easy Chair, “Harper’s New Monthly Magzaine, v (Nov.
1852), 844, etc. For Randel’s elevated railway, see I. N. Phelps Stokes,
The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 (New York, 1915-
1929), Vol. n, pl. 133-A; for Genin’s bridge, see Eno Collection,
No. 287, New York Public Library.

12. As a child, Strong often played in Battery Park, and as a young
man, strolled there almost every day: see The Diary of George Tem-
pleton Strong, 1835-1875, eds. Allan Nevins and M. Halsey Thomas
(New York, 1952), I, 40, 16 Oct. 1936 and passim. I am greatly in-
debted to Mr. Thomas, now at Princeton University, but formerly
the Curator of Columbiana, Columbia University, for access to the
original “Journal” when it was at Columbia. See Kramer, “George
Templeton Strong, Architectural Historian,” (1953), 14 pp., unpub-
lished MS. [on deposit at Avery Library, Columbia University, and
at the New-York Historical Society]. For other delightful prints of
the Battery, see Eno Collection, Nos. 219, 253, etc., New York Pub-
lic Library. On a Sunday the Battery was crowded with children,
sailors, new arrivals to this country, all enjoying the fresh sea breezes
and magnificent view of the harbor: see Myers, Sketches, p. 428; N.
Parker Willis, “Open-Air Musings in the City,” Rural Letters and
Other Records of Thoughts at Leisure (New York, 1849), p. 238.

13. Diary, p. 797, 26 Apr. 1847, p. 933, 3 Feb. 1851, and passim;
Charles H. Haswell, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian of the City of”
New York (181-5-186o) (New York, 1896), p. 461; Charles Astor
Bristed, The Upper Ten Thousand, Sketches of American Society (New
York, 1852), p. I7; Charles A. Dana (ed.), The United States Illus-
trated, in Views of City and Country (New York [preface I854]), I,

14. Diary, p. 913, 30 May 1850.

15. Quoted in Stokes, Iconography, v, 1833, under date.
16. Edwin Williams (ed.), New-York as It Is, in 1833 (New York,

1833), pp. 12-13; Schramke, “Einrichtung und Konstrukzion [sic]
der Waarenmagazine Stadt- und Landhfiuser in den Vereinigten
Staaten von Nord-Amerika, mit besonderer Riicksicht auf die Stadt

und Landschaft New-York,” Allgemeine Bauzeitung, xI (1846), 80-
94, and pls. 19-21; A. J. Bloor, “Annual Address,” [12 Oct. 1876],
Proceedings A.I.A. (1876), p. 19.

17. Lady Emmeline Charlotte Elizabeth [Manners] Stuart Wort-
ley, Travels in the United States …. during 1849 and 185o (London,
1851), I, 2; Ross, What I Saw, p. 178.

18. Wortley, Travels, I, 5; Bremer, letter of 15 Mar. 1850 in
Homes of the New World… (1853), reprinted in America of the Fifties:
Letters ofFrederika Bremer, ed. Adolph B. Benson (New York, 1924),
pp. 92ff.; Chambers, Things as They Are in America (Philadelphia,
Pa., 1854), P. 178.

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‘-m s ; ;

I —

ggy )t~

Fig. 8. Broadway at Exchange Place (from Illuminated Pictorial
Directory of Broadway, 1848, No. I, P1. 6, courtesy New York Public
Library, No. 222).




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Fig. 9. View of Broadway from below Chambers Street, looking
north, with Stewart’s in foreground (from Hoff’s Views of New-
York, 1850, courtesy New York Public Library, Eno Collection,
No. 260).

The building boom of the mid-thirties in New York,
stemmed for a time by the panic of 1837, was resumed in
the forties. By 1845 it had assumed such proportions that it

was commented upon time and again in the press.19 By the
mid-forties, however, the Town formula, so well adapted

to the needs of the thirties, was outmoded. Larger, more

monumental buildings were needed, expressing the ever-

increasing importance of New York as a commercial cen-

ter. The U. S. Bonded Warehouse at Nos. 52-56 Broad-
way, corner of Exchange Place (Fig. 8), erected ca. I846-
1847 in Greek Revival style, was the largest warehouse in

the city, capable of storing $3,000,000 worth of goods.20 It

provides an interesting contrast to the earlier practice of
converting residences for warehousing, as at No. 18 Broad-

way (Fig. 7). A similar comparison may be drawn between
the small three-story Hotel Francois [sic] Espagnol at 57
Broadway, north of Exchange Place and opposite the U. S.

Bonded Warehouse (Fig. 8), and the Delmonico Hotel at
Nos. 19-27 Broadway, corner Morris Street, opposite a
coal yard and converted residences (Fig. 7).

In 1845 A. T. Stewart, quick to sense the temper of the
times, purchased from the Coster Estate land on the south-

east corner of Broadway and Reade Street, the site of Mc-

Comb’s Washington Hall, with the intention of erecting a
dry goods store. Hone prophesied that it would be “spa-
cious and magnificent beyond anything of the kind in the

New World, or in the Old.”21 When it opened on io Sep-
tember 1846, Stewart’s “Marble Palace” drew high praise.
The New-York Herald published a long and enthusiastic ar-
ticle on 18 September which is particularly interesting for

its description of the interior. Four years later, the building
was extended to take in the whole blockfront between

Chambers and Reade Streets and Hone reported on 30 May
1850 that, “with the additions now in progress, this edifice

will be one of the ‘wonders’ of the Western World.”22 Fig-
ure 9 shows Stewart’s as it looked after the i850o-85i ex-

pansion, but before further additions were made in subse-
quent years.23

Of all the buildings on Broadway, to contemporaries
Stewart’s “Marble Palace” seemed best to symbolize the
spirit of the new commercial age. Its unusual height, the use

of gleaming white marble, the fifteen large plate glass win-

dows at street level,24 and its well-organized, though sim-

plified, Italian Renaissance design made it one of the real
turning points in the history of New York’s commercial
architecture, comparable in importance for its period to
Lever House. In an article on New York’s street architec-

19. The Evening Post of 22 June 1844 noted that “for many years
there has not been observed anything like such activity as now pre-
vails in this city” (Stokes, Iconography, v, 1785); see also New York
Herald, 26 Feb. 1845 (Stokes, v, 1789). Cf. Walt Whitman’s article
of Nov. 1845, cited in n. io supra, and statistics on “New Buildings,
1834-1847,” Valentine’s Manuals (New York, 1848), p. 291.

20. Dated by Tax Assessment Records; mentioned in “New York

Daguerreotyped,” Putnam’s Monthly Magazine, I (Apr. 1853), 357.
21. Diary, p. 729, 7 Apr. 1845.
22. Ibid., p. 913, 30 May 1850. See also Cooper’s letter of 19 Sept.

1850 in Correspondence, I1, 587, and Vetter, ZwveiJahr, pp. 96-99.
23. The development of the property is interestingly reflected in

deeds and tax records. For the original appearance of the store, be-
fore its enlargement, see the water color scroll, “Panorama of the
East Side of Broadway,” by William James Pirrson, a young boy of
sixteen or seventeen, ca. I848-ca. 1850, Print Room, New York
Public Library.

24. Hone called them a “most extraordinary, and I think useless
piece of extravagance” (Diary, 1, 722, 10 Sept. 1846).

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ture, which appeared in Harper’s in 1854, the anonymous

writer, almost surely George William Curtis, distinguished

author and editor who was associated with the magazine
for many years, had this to say:

A few years ago, when a man returned from Europe, his eye be-
ing full of the lofty buildings of the Continent, our cities seemed
insignificant and mean…. But the moment Stewart’s fine build-
ing was erected, the difficulty appeared. That tyrannized over the
rest of the street-that was a key-note, a model. There had been
other high buildings, but none so stately and simple. And even
now there is, in its way, no finer street effect than the view of
Stewart’s building seen on a clear, blue, brilliant day, from a point
as low on Broadway as … Trinity Church. It rises out of the sea of
green foliage in the Park, a white marble cliff, sharply drawn
against the sky.

He concluded the article with a sigh of relief that the Greek

temple epoch of architecture had passed, and wrote: “even

we, as we totter up to our Easy Chair, will look up to the
beautiful buildings in Broadway, and not long for Italy and

an Italian beauty, but be gratefully contented for what we

see.”25 Stewart’s, renamed the Sun Building after its pur-
chase in 1917 by the Evening Sun, is still a handsome build-

ing today.
Of Ottavino Gori, the Italian marble cutter whom A. J.

Bloor credited with the design of the building,26 little is
known beyond the fact that he superintended the erection

of the eight marble pillars of the Merchants’ Exchange in
the late 1830s. By 1855, according to the State Census of
that year, his marble “manufactory” at 895 Broadway was

doing a thriving business with fifty-six people in his em-
ploy. As Winston Weisman pointed out in his discussion of
the store, one would imagine that Stewart would have
sought out a well-known architect, rather than a marble

cutter, to design such a large structure. P. B. Wight’s attri-

bution to Gori of only the design of the exterior marble
work and to Snook of the architectural supervision of the

structure27 would be worth investigating further, particu-

larly since the Stewart Store is closely related stylistically to

the Metropolitan Hotel (Fig. 12), designed by the firm of
Trench & Snook.

Stewart’s was one of the few buildings in New York

which achieved a really monumental effect. It was undoubt-

edly the first building in New York to use the Anglo-
Italian palazzo mode on a large scale, a style which had
been popular in Britain since the 1830s.28 Following Arthur
Gilman’s early advocacy of the style in the North American

Review in 1844,29 the Barryesque mode was introduced si-
multaneously in this country byJohn Notman in the Phila-

delphia Atheneum ( 845-1847), so often referred to as the
first exemplar of the type in the United States,30 and in the

Stewart Store in New York. The early application of the
clubhouse mode to commercial architecture at Stewart’s is

quite understandable if one considers the national origins of

Gori and Snook, Italian and English respectively, and, per-
haps even more important, the character of that astute
Scotch-Irishman, Alexander T. Stewart (1803-1876). As
Henry-Russell Hitchcock has pointed out, Barry’s club style

“early came to be accepted as an expression of urban wealth
and power,”3′ a fact which would not have been lost on the
man who, in the course of the next several decades, did his

best to immortalize himself through architectural monu-

Of almost equal importance in contemporary descrip-
tions of New York’s commercial architecture was Joseph
C. Wells’s store for the silk merchants, Bowen & McNamee

(Fig. io) at Nos. 112-114 Broadway. Erected from 1849 to

I850, this store marked, in its way, as distinct an epoch in
the history of commercial architecture in New York as the

Tappan Store, of which it was an offshoot, and Stewart’s
earlier.33 Built of white marble, Bowen & McNamee’s silk

25. “Easy Chair Chats,” Harper’s, Ix (July 1850), 261. See also the
long descriptions in Putnam’s, I (Apr. 1853), 358, and a more critical
evaluation in “The Modern Architecture of New York,” New-York

Quarterly, IV (1855), 118.
26. For the difficult problem of attribution, which Winston

Weisman and I discussed at length, see his pioneering article, “Com-
mercial Palaces of New York: 1845-1875,” Art Bulletin (Dec. 1954),
xxxvI, 288, and n. 18. Bloor’s attribution was later echoed in History
of Architecture and the Building Trades of Greater New York … (New
York, 1899), I, 146, a generally reliable source.

27. P. B. W.[ight], “A Millionaire’s Architectural Investment,”
American Architect, I (1876), 148; see also [John Franklin Sprague],
New York, the Metropolis. . . (New York, 1893), Part ii, p. 34.

28. Initiated by Pugin’s Travellers’ Club (1829-1831), Barry’s
Manchester Athenaeum, and the Reform Club (1838-1840), the
mode was quickly transposed to commercial architecture: see the
Brunswick Building (1841-1842), Liverpool, illustrated in Henry-
Russell Hitchcock, “Victorian Monuments of Commerce,” Architec-
tural Review, cv (Feb. 1949), 62. For a detailed account of Pugin’s
r61e in the creation of the palace style, see Hitchcock’s Early Victorian
Architecture in Britain (New Haven, 1954), I, I62ff.

29. The attribution to Gilman of this unsigned article, ostensibly
a review of Edward Shaw’s Rural Architecture (1843), is generally ac-
cepted. The relevant section (pp. 454-455) is quoted in Weisman,
“Commercial Palaces,” p. 287. One may note, in passing, that the
advocacy of the Barryesque palazzo style was not the only new idea:
see also Gilman’s favorable comments on Boston’s pre-Revolution-
ary architecture (p. 457), important later in the century for the Co-
lonial Revival.

30. Robert C. Smith, John Notinan and the Atheneum Building
(Philadelphia, Pa., 1951), PP. 15-17.

31. Hitchcock, Early Victorian Architecture, I, 175.
32. Junius Henri Browne, The Great Metropolis: A Mirror of New

York . . . (Hartford, 1869), chap. xxxii; Appleton’s Cyclopoedia of
American Biography, v, 681-683.

33. A point made by W. Frothingham, “Stewart and the Dry
Goods Trade of New York,” Continental Monthly, II (Oct. 1862),
530; Bloor, “Annual Address,” p. 19, and Architecture and Building
Trades, I, 147. Henry C. Bowen and Theodore McNamee were two

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house was described as an “Elizabethan palace” presenting

“the most showy and elegant front on Broadway,”34 pro-
viding a contrast to the sober Roman palazzo style of Stew-

art’s. In this building Wells introduced New Yorkers to that

other variant on the palace theme, the gay and picturesque

Venetian type,35 here cleverly combined with Tudor rem-

iniscences. Wells (ca. 1819-I86o) was an English architect,
established here since the late 1830s, and a founder of the
American Institute of Architects:36 he should not be con-

fused with Joseph Morrell Wells (1853-1890) of the firm of
McKim, Mead & White. The marble store created a sensa-

tion. The extensive use of iron was singled out for com-
ment,37 as was its open design and picturesque verticality.
The anonymous author of the interesting and well-illus-
trated series of articles, “New York Daguerreotyped,” pub-

lished in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine from 1853 to 1854,

objected strenuously to this verticalization,38 a feature
which was emphasized by the addition of a sixth story in
1853 and, still later, by a mansard roof. Other less ornate,

but definitely commercial, structures were beginning to ap-

pear on Broadway. The Moffat Building (1847-1848) and
the Arcade Building (1848-1849), the latter a large brown-
stone edifice given architectural distinction by rounding the

corner of the building, 39 a favorite device of English archi-

tects of the I840s, are only two examples of several build-
ings constructed for strictly commercial use in these years.

If special emphasis has been given to the creation of the
commercial palace, it is because these buildings represented
the last word in architectural fashion. This is not surprising,

for the dry goods industry, accounting for more than half

of New York’s trade, enjoyed a unique position within the




Wks ~??-
100 N qE



Fig. io. Bowen & McNamee Store, Joseph C. Wells, 1849-1850
(from The Citizen and Strangers’ Pictorial and Business Directory for
New-York, 1853, ed. Solyman Brown [New York, (1853)], P. 32).

city’s economy. As one writer expressed it, “calico is om-
nipotent, and whole streets melt away at her approach.”40
Far exceeding their English prototypes in cost and splen-
dor,41 these buildings faithfully reflected the reaction in
taste of the new “calico aristocracy” against the simpler

ideas of the previous decades. The special fondness for the
“so-called” Italian style was singled out for particular men-

of the five original owners of the influential magazine, The Independ-
ent; Bowen was its publisher and editor from 1848 until his death in
1896. The date of 1849 to 1850 (cf. Weisman, 1848-1849, “Com-
mercial Palaces,” p. 290) is based on Tax Assessment Records and a
report on “The New Buildings of Broadway,” Evening Post, 22 Sept.
1849, in which the building is described as in the process of erection.

A date of 18 50 appears on the central gable of Fig. Io here, when city
directories first list the firm at its new address, corroborating other
contemporary sources.
34. Andrews & Co.’s Stranger’s Guide to the City of New York (New
York, 1852), P. 12.
35. The Venetian Sansovinesque mode was introduced to Britain
by Sydney Smirke in his new front for the Carlton Club (1847): see
Hitchcock, Early Victorian Architecture, I, i73.
36. Having established himself as an architect by 1839, when Wells
was first listed in New York directories, he built up a large and varied
practice in the metropolitan area. His best-known work is the First
Presbyterian Church (1844-1846) on Fifth Avenue and Eleventh
Street. He died on shipboard en route to England, according to the
obituary published in the Crayon, vii (Sept. 186o), 270.
37. Noted in “New Buildings,” Evening Post, 22 Sept. 1849.
38. I (February 1853), 129.
39. For the Arcade Building, see Weisman, “New York and the
Problem of the First Skyscraper,”JSAH, xii (Mar. 1953), 16, Fig. 3.

40. Putnam’s, I (Apr. 1853), 358.
41. Cf. Hitchcock, Early Victorian Architecture, Vol. II, fig. xii,

No. I, etc.

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tion, as well as criticism, by several European visitors.42 It

has been pointed out that the flexibility and economy of the

palazzo formula, whereby additional units could be added
at little cost without destroying the visual effect, so well il-

lustrated by successive enlargements to the Stewart Build-
ing, contributed in no small measure to its continued popu-

larity in the ensuing decades.43

It should not be forgotten that these buildings represent-

ed the work of the younger generation of architects, many

of whom were recent arrivals from Europe or Britain. An-

other outstanding palazzo of the time-this example closer
to Venetian early quattrocento palaces than to Roman ex-

amples, with elements borrowed from the Rundbogenstil-
was the Astor Library at 425 Lafayette Street, of which the

central portion (1849-1854) was designed by Alexander
Saeltzer (Fig. II). Saeltzer, a German architect who had es-
tablished himself here in 1842, had won First Prize in the

competition for the Library, held in the spring of 1849;

Renwick won Second Prize. George Templeton Strong
was favorably impressed by the plans, which he examined
at Saeltzer’s office.44 A long description of the Astor Li-
brary, built of brownstone and brick, appeared in Gleason’s

Pictorial (later Ballou’s) of 25 September 1852. After com-

paring the library to the royal palaces of Florence, the cor-

respondent remarked that “no building in the United States

of the character is formed to so large an extent of iron, be-

sides being altogether novel in this country.”45 In both the

Astor Library and the Bowen & McNamee Store, the ex-
tensive use of both cast and wrought iron was of consider-

able importance from a structural point of view, made pos-

sible primarily by the Cooper and Hewitt Iron Works in

Trenton, New Jersey, and perhaps also partially attribut-
able to interest in the work of Bogardus and others.46 In

spite of the fact that Alexander Saeltzer had an important

practice in the I850s in New York, information regarding
him remains distressingly scant.47 The Astor Library was
saved at the last minute from the wrecker’s ball, thanks pri-

marily to the unflagging determination of James G. Van-



14RI Midi, ~ i ~ ,,,,; ,

I tm

lit … … – – ——

7,71ill l It-

I 1TiIi f N I t

sl; n. C, r,

Fig. 11. Astor Library, Alexander Saeltzer, central portion 1849-
1854 (from Putnam’s, II [1853], 13).

Derpool and the Landmarks Preservation Commission of
the City of New York;48 the building is still (1967) under-
going extensive alteration by Giorgio Cavaglieri for use as

the headquarters of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare Festival

The hotels of Broadway always figured prominently in
accounts written by travellers. The plates of the Illuminated

Pictorial Directory of Broadwvay indicate a wide range of ac-
commodations to suit every pocket book, from modest
boarding houses lodged in converted private residences
(Fig. 8), to larger establishments such as Delmonico’s (Fig.
7), a handsome five-story structure erected in 1846 by Fred-

erick Diaper (18 o-19o6).49 The once popular City Hotel,
built in 1792-1794 by John McComb and James Wilson,
was razed in 1849.50 Just below City Hall stood the most

splendid establishment of all-the Astor House (Fig. 5).
42. See post, n. 84.
43. Weisman, “Commercial Palaces,” p. 289. As Vincent Scully
pointed out to me, this is essentially the same principle as the modern
cubical loft repetitive bay system.
44. Diary, I, 356-357, 29 June 1849.
45. III, 200. The correspondent of the Evening Post of 28 Mar. 1854
also commented on the novelty of the construction.
46. Even a superficial attempt to indicate the literature on this
subject would be out of place here. See Turpin C. Bannister’s ex-
haustively researched articles, “Bogardus Revisited: Part I The Iron
Fronts,” and “Bogardus Revisited: Part II The Iron Towers,”
JSAH, xv (Dec. 1956), 12-22, and xvi (Mar. 1957), 11-19.
47. An article on the work of Saeltzer is in preparation. I would
gratefully acknowledge any leads or information, particularly re-
garding his activities in later years.

48. Ada Louise Huxtable’s fine series of articles on the Astor Li-
brary in the New York Times, beginning in 1964, undoubtedly helped
rally public opinion behind the efforts to save the building.
49. Diaper, one of the longest lived and most respected members
of the American Institute of Architects, of which he was a founder,

had served his apprenticeship in England, under Sir Robert Snmirke.
He arrived here in the late 183os and built up a substantial practice,
working in a conservative style. He counted August Belmont and
the Van Rensselaers among his clients.
50. My thanks go to Agnes Gilchrist for information on this and
other buildings by McComb.

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Wi ll
10rir a

Fig. 12. Metropolitan Hotel, Trench & Snook, 1850-1852 (courtesy
New York Public Library, Eno Collection, No. 261).

Built by Isaiah Rogers from 1832 to 1836, two decades later
it was still considered a model of design by the astute critic

of New-York Quarterly and by Walt Whitman, who de-
clared that it was “unsurpassed” among the buildings of
New York “as a specimen of exquisite design and propor-

tion,”51 in spite of the fact that he generally disliked the
derivative connotations of Greek Revival style. A German

visitor called it the “Palais Royal” of New York,52 an apt

phrase since the Astor House was the meeting place of the
Whigs and, for many years, the political hub of the city.
But its glory was short lived. Two new hotels farther up-

town appeared in the early I85os which eclipsed the older
establishment in size, comfort, and luxury.

The Metropolitan Hotel (1850-1852), built by Trench
& Snook on the site of Niblo’s Gardens,53 occupied the en-

tire blockfront on Broadway between Prince and Houston

Streets (Fig. 12). It was steam-heated throughout and cost
the hitherto unheard of sum of $940,000. Described in the

Evening Post of 15 June 185o as under construction, its cor-
respondent remarked on 24 August 1852, shortly before the

official opening on I September, that “our public houses
are beginning to rival those of Europe.” This building, as
well as the St. Nicholas Hotel, its rival, indicates once again

the adaptability of the palazzo style to large building sites.

The introduction of cast iron columns, or piers, at street

level with large plate glass windows for display purposes,

following the example of the dry goods industry, was also
significant for the future. The St. Nicholas, built in marble

in contrast to the brownstone used at the Metropolitan, was

even larger and more luxurious. It opened 6 January 1853
and has been attributed both to Griffith Thomas, and to

John B. Snook, with earlier sources favoring Snook.54 One
of the best contemporary descriptions of the fabulous in-
teriors of the St. Nicholas was writtcn by W. E. Baxter, a
British M.P. who visited New York in 1853; he confessed

that he was completely “bamboozled” by the profusion of

mirrors, gilding, marble, tapestries, velvet, and damask, and

claimed that the embroidery on the mosquito nettings
might be exhibited to royalty.”5 A French visitor, Oscar
Comettant, marvelled at the central heating and the avail-
ability in each room of hot and cold running water at all
hours of the day and night, while an English comedian cn-

joyed telling his audiences that he was afraid to put his
shoes outside his door to be polished for fear that the man-

agement might gild them!56
While most British travellers were favorably impressed

by the city’s two grandest and newest houses of worship,
Richard Upjohn’s Trinity Church (1839-1846) and Grace

51. “The Modern Architecture of New York,” p. 121; “Grand
Buildings of New York City,” 5 June 1857, reprinted in Whitman, I
Sit and Look Out, Editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Times, eds. Emory
Holloway and Vernolian Schwarz (New York, 1932), p. 128.

52. Dr. A. R. Thiimmel, Die Natur und das Leben in den Vereinigten
Staaten … (Erlangen, 1848), p. 167.

53. The Metropolitan, originally called “Niblo’s Hotel,” was
owned by William Niblo, not A. T. Stewart (cf. Weisman, “Com-
mercial Palaces,” p. 291, n. 30), and operated by the Leland Brothers,
who later set up the first chain of hotels in the United States. The at-
tribution to Trench & Snook rests chiefly on The Architectural Iron
Works of the City of New York, Illustrations of Iron Architecture …
(New York, 1865), p. 28, which is corroborated by a reference to
Mr. French [sic] in the Evening Post, 6 June 1850, an error attribut-
able to the penmanship of the period, which is carried over to
Snook’s obituary, American Architect, LXXIV (1904), 41. While Weis-
man felt that Snook alone should be credited with the design, since

Trench may already have left for California, it should be noted that
Trench’s name continued to appear in the city directories and mu-
nicipal records. Best known as the architect of the old Grand Central
Station (1869-1871),John B. Snook (1815-1901) reportedly came
to this country from Britain at the tender age of two. He was one of
the most successful architects of the period. A large number of draw-

ings, as well as other-material, are on deposit at the New-York His-
torical Society-all awaiting study.

54. Weisman’s preference for Snook as the architect (“Commer-
cial Palaces,” p. 291, n. 34), rather than Thomas & Son, was based on
the attribution to Snook in Illustrations of Iron Architecture, p. 28. This

is corroborated by earlier sources: the Morning Courier and New-York
Enquirer of 4 Dec. 1852 states that the hotel was built according to a
novel plan projected by Mr. Haight, the owner, but carried out by
Trench & Snooks [sic], a reference I owe to Alan Hodge, “Early
Boston and New York Hotels,” (unpublished seminar report, Insti-
tute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1955), n. 133. The pam-
phlet issued by the hotel, The St. Nicholas, Its Plan and Arrangenments
(New York, 1856), states that the plans and designs were prepared
by D. H. Haight. Since John Snook was the architect of the R. K.
Haight residence on Fifth Avenue and Fifteenth Street, built ca.
1849, one of the earliest, and easily the handsomest, examples of the
palazzo mode in domestic architecture, the attribution to Trench &
Snook of the design of the St. Nicholas is reasonably sure.

55. W. E. Baxter, America and the Americans (London, 1855), P- 33.

56. L’Aimirique telle qul’elle est … (Paris, 1864), p. 46: Comettant
had published an earlier book, Trois ans aux Etats-Unis, in 1857. The
anecdote is recounted by Russell Lynes in The Tastemakers, Ist ed.
[New York, 1954], p. 86.

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Church (1843-1848) by James Renwick (Fig. 2), visitors
from the Continent were less than enthusiastic. Eugene
Jouve, a Frenchman, commenting on the naivet6 of Amer-
icans who considered Trinity a masterpiece, pointed out
that it actually was a very small church, with a simple spire,

an opinion shared by Horatio Greenough, who referred to
it as “the puny cathedral of Broadway, like an elephant
dwindled to the size of a dog.”57 In two editorials on “Splen-

did Churches” in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of 9 and 30
March 1846, Walt Whitman called Trinity “majestic and
chaste,” but singled out Grace Church for caustic criticism

as a “showy piece of architecture.” The comfortable pews
and exquisite arrangements and details are contrasted with
the “massive simplicity and grandeur” of European religious

structures which “crush the souls of the supplicants … and
are no doubt conducive to make one realize … his own

nothingness compared to God and the universe.” He con-
cluded by saying that “we don’t see how it is possible to
worship there…. There is no religion there. The worst
forms and impulses of humanity, instead of being thrown
aside, are incorporated in everything connected with the

establishment and its proceedings.””8 There can be no doubt
that Whitman’s remarks were intended less as a criticism of

the architecture of the church than of Isaac Brown, the sex-

ton, who once remarked: “The Lenten season is a horribly

dull season, but we manage to make our funerals as enter-

taining as possible.”59

Regarding Grace Church, Philip Hone reported, not
without humor, that “its lofty arches resound with astute

criticisms upon Gothic architecture from fair ladies who have

had the advantages of foreign travel.” Strong, a vestryman

at Trinity, and no friend of James Renwick, wondered
whether “the pipe-cleaners of columns that support the
clerestory will tend to impress the congregation with the
uncertainty of human life and suggest profitable meditation

of the instability of things temporal.”60 His comments re-

flect the thinking of the Ecclesiologists. Both the English
and the American Ecclesiological Societies vigorously at-
tacked tendencies toward display in church architecture and

criticized the current disregard of what they called “reality”

in architecture. To the Ecclesiologists reality meant first,
faithful adherence to the principle of truth to the nature of

the material, an axiom expounded by A. J. Downing and
later by Ruskin, and second, subservience to structural

necessity,61 both unquestioned today. The Evening Post of
8 October 1845 called Grace Church “elegant,” but criti-
cized its “nasty” wooden steeple which “looks like nothing
so much as an embellished paper horn for sugar plums,”
adding that “whoever countenanced . .. its erection should

be decorated with [that] which it [most] nearly resembles
-a paper fool’s cap. It is better to have a ‘Church without

a Bishop’ than a marble edifice with a wooden spire.”62 In

fairness to Renwick, one should note that the spire was
meant to be marble, but that wood was substituted as an

economy measure; the present spire is marble. In any case,

it is evident from critiques such as these that Ecclesiological

57. Jouve, Voyage en Ameirique … (Lyon, 1853), pp. 23-24; see also
Schramke, “Einrichtung und Konstrukzion,” p. 73, who called
Trinity “eine leidliche Kompilazion” (a sorry hodge-podge). For
Greenough, see “American Architecture,” U. S. Magazine and Dem-
ocratic Review (1843), reprinted in Form and Function: Remarks on Art

by Horatio Greenough, ed. Harold A. Small (Berkeley, 1947), p. 53.
58. Reprinted in Whitman, The Gathering of the Forces. Editorials

… by Whitman as Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, eds. Cleveland
Rogers and John Black (New York, 1920), II, 91-93, 93-96.

59. Lloyd Morris, Incredible New York … (New York, I951), p.

6o. Hone, Diary, p. 754, 5 Feb. 1846; Strong, Diary, I, 256, 3 Mar.

61. See the articles in the New-York Ecclesiologist, 1848-1849, based
on lectures given to the society by Frank Wills, an English architect
who had recently established himselfhere: “Reality in Church Archi-
tecture,” I (Apr. 1848), 8-12, a thinly veiled attack on Grace Church,
and two articles on church planning, I (Jan. 1849), 53ff., 73ff. Also,
A Book ofPlansfor Churches and Parishes … (New York, 1853), P. 2 1.
For Downing, see Cottage Residences (New York, 1842), pp. 18-19,
and The Architecture of Country Houses (New York, 1850), pp. 35-36;
Vincent J. Scully, “Romantic Rationalism and the Expression of
Structure in Wood,” Art Bulletin, xxxv (June 1953), 132-133.
George Templeton Strong became a great admirer of Ruskin after
the publication in 1849 of The Seven Lamps of Architecture. See also
the canons of architecture in “The Modern Architecture of New-

York,” p. 121; The Crayon, mn (1856), 272-273.
62. Quoted in Architecture and the Building Trades, I, 129.


Jil i l it


Fig. 13. St. George’s Church, Blesch & Eidlitz, 1846-1848 (from
Putnam’s, II [1853], 245).

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_” ??





Fig. i4. The Free Academy, James Renwick, 1849 (from Valentine’s
Manuals, 1849, opposite p. 224).

principles were widely supported and that any deviation
was considered anathema from a moral, as well as an aes-

thetic and structural, point of view. Putnam’s correspondent

summed it up neatly when he wrote that Grace Church
provides proof that “all that flams is not Flamboyant.”63
Blesch & Eidlitz’ St. George’s Church (1846-1848) at

Stuyvesant Square (Fig. 13), deeply under the influence of
the Rundbogenstil, evoked an enthusiastic response, typically

Ecclesiological in tone, from the same writer, who called

this “the most chastely designed and the most sincerely
built church in New-York-we are not afraid to say in the
United States . . . .”64 George Templeton Strong found the
massiveness and solidity of St. George’s consoling after Ren-

wick’s “pasteboard abominations.”65 Of course, one must
remember that Strong’s critiques of his former classmate at

Columbia College were always colored by his intense dis-
like of the man. After walking to a party with Renwick, he

described him as “that most windy of all the bags of conceit

and coxcombry that ever dubbed themselves Architect.”

He went on to call him “an infatuated monkey” without
“the slightest trace or germ of feeling for his art…. who
degrades, vulgarizes and pollutes every glorious idea and
form of the successive eras of Christian art that he travesties

and tampers with, as a sacrifice to the stolidity of building

committees and his own love offatjobs and profitable con-
tracts. But he may improve and I hope he will.”66

Renwick, one of the most successful architects of the pe-

riod, was considered a snob and appears to have been uni-

versally disliked. His building for the Free Academy (Fig.
14), later renamed the College of the City of New York,
was opened on 27 January 1849 at the corner of Twenty-
third Street and Fourth [Lexington] Avenue. In 1865 it still

elicited this venomous attack in the New-York Weekly Re-
view of 4 March, interesting also as a reflection of the reac-

tion against the older phase of the Gothic Revival. After
calling the Free Academy “the most hideous building to be
found in this whole city of mongrel manifestations,” the
writer, fortunately anonymous, continued in this vein:

The design or plan of this nondescript caricature was, we under-
stand, one of the masterpieces of that credit to his country, Sir
Cristopher WRenwick, the distinguished architect (?) of Disgrace
Church and of… sundry perpetuations too numerous and too
horrible to mention. Renwick has applied … Yankee genius, to
what was usually been called Gothick architecture; and has suc-
ceeded in patenting a style which could not be better known or
described, than as Gothin. The Free Academy is decidedly in the
Gothin style …”

Until now, no mention has been made of the obviously
important public and civic buildings of New York which
were fully described, usually in glowing terms, in all guide

books to the city and, less enthusiastically, by most visitors.

The structures of which New Yorkers were most proud-
-the City Hall, the Halls of Justice (“The Tombs”), the
Custom House (now the Sub-Treasury Building), and
Third Merchants’ Exchange (Fig. 15)-were all products of
stylistic tendencies of the previous decades. Monumental
though they were, to Europeans they seemed retardataire
and provincial. English visitors, such as Alexander Mackey
and Thomas Grattan, admired the Custom House and the

Exchange, 67 but Charles Dickens, whose view of America

and Americans was somewhat jaundiced, described the
Tombs as “a dismal fronted pile of bastard Egyptian.”68
With the exception of the Astor House and City Hall,
which reminded him of the Trianon, EugeneJouve charac-
terized the public buildings of New York as pretentious and

maladroit in style, adding that “their taste and execution are

enough to make an architect’s hair stand on end.” Another

Frenchman, F. Dizac, stated flatly that there was “not a sin-

gle public building in New York which merits attention.”69

63. 11 (Sept. 1853), 247.
64. Ibid., pp. 247-248. See also Carroll L. V. Meeks, “Romanesque

before Richardson in the United States,” Art Bulletin, xxxv (Mar.
1953), 23, and fig. 2, a modem photograph of St. George’s. Our
Fig. 13 shows the church with tall spires, which were not finished
until 1856; they were dismantled in 1890.
65. Diary, I, 335, 20 Nov. 1848, shortly after the opening of Grace


66. Ibid., I, 292, 16 Apr. 1847.

67. Mackay, The Western World; or, Travels in the United States in
1846-1847, 3rd ed. (London, 185O), I, 84; Sarah M. Maury, An Eng-
lishwoman in America (London, 1848), pp. II9-120o; and Thomas
Colley Grattan, former British consul in Massachusetts, recalling his
impressions of years before, in Civilized America (London, 1859), I,

68. American Notes … , 3rd ed. (London, 1842), I, 199, an opinion
shared by most visitors from the Continent.
69. The passage from Jouve’s Voyage en Amerique (pp. 23-24)

reads: “. .. cathedrales gothiques ou temples grecs d’un gofit et d’une

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I P P:!

r’44 :ii


Fig. I5. Third Merchants’ Exchange, Isaiah Rogers, 1836-1842
(from Belden, New York, Past, Present and Future [1849], opposite
P. 59).

“B.,” the elusive author of one of the most interesting arti-

cles on New York, published in Atlantische Studien, wrote
that, although he had acquired a poor opinion of German
architecture following a trip to Italy, in comparison to
American architecture, it was a “solid masterpiece.”70 A
number of visitors expressed admiration, however, for the

Croton Water Works (1842),71 on the site of the present

Public Library, with whose construction Renwick had been

involved (Fig. 16). Moreover, lest it be construed from this

account that the reactions of Europeans were entirely nega-

tive, it should be noted that all visitors were enchanted by

our domestic architecture: Jouve, for example, could not
understand how Americans, who built such attractive pri-

vate houses, which he described at some length including a


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t 1;: i : i
F ~R1F~II~ I



?i 7
::’\ :

i :s~ir —?:_-
;?rki li~i ~ai tii f



~S, c
rL r -~- ~JILIIC~L- ^I-

Fig. 16. The Croton Reservoir, 1842 (from Henry Collins Brown,
Old New York, unpaged).

special mention of Lafayette Place, committed such “hor-
rors” in their public architecture.72
Both Continental and British visitors looked in vain for

the great vistas, the magnificent avenues of approach which

architects abroad had exploited so dramatically for centur-

ies. Nowhere was this lack more apparent than in Wall

execution a faire dresser les cheveux sur la tete d’un architecte.”

Dizac wrote: “I1 n’y a pas un seul monument public digne d’atten-
tion” (Excursion aux Indes Occidentales et aux Etats-Unis d’Ainrique

.. [1853-1854] [Brive, 18551, p. 47).
70. The phrase reads “solide Kunstwerke” (I, 124).
71. E.g., Myers, Sketches, p. 79; Chambers, Things as They Are,

p. 176. 72. Jouve, Voyage, p. 23.

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: ii

n JiF? VJaltP;”I:

Fig. 17. Wall Street, 1850 (courtesy New York Public Library, Eno Collection, No. 251).

Street. Its general appearance in 1850 (Fig. 17) belied its
reputation, well established by this time, as the financial
capital of the United States-the center of worship of the

“God Mammon” and the “almighty Dollar.”73 The Kll-
ner View, illustrated here, is somewhat misleading: by ex-

aggerating the perspective, the artist has made the street ap-

pear much wider than it actually was. And Alexander
Mackay was not alone in noting the symbolic incongruity
of the site of Trinity Church, at the head of Wall Street, “as

if perpetually to remind the busy throngs that they cannot
serve two masters.”74

The Custom House (1834-1841) by Town & Davis, Ross

and Frazee, and Isaiah Rogers’ Merchants’ Exchange (1i836-
1842), the heart of American finance, dwarfed the other
buildings on the street. Both were considered stylistically

passJ and functionally impractical by critics of the period,

hardly more than a dozen years after their completion. If

we compare the descriptions of these two structures in E.

Porter Belden’s New York, Past, Present, and Future (1849),

the most noteworthy guide book of the mid-century, with

The Stranger’s Guide around New York and its Vicinity (1853),

the change from the usual laudatory tone to a critical one is

immediately discernible.75 In 1853 Putnam’s writer was un-

sparing in his criticism ofthe Classic style on practical grounds.

Of the Merchants’ Exchange, he wrote “there is probably
no building in the world so absurdly inconvenient.” After

comparing the lighting to that of the pyramid of Gizeh, and

the basement to the catacombs of Paris, he summarized by

calling it “the dreariest, least inviting, and most expensive

place of business in the city.”76 In an article on “Great Build-

ings in New York City” published in the Brooklyn Daily
Times of 5 June 1857, Whitman criticized the Custom 73. Terminology used, interestingly enough, by Madame Pulszky

who, with her husband, toured the United States in 1851 and 1852 as
members of the entourage of Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot (Pul-
szky, White, Red, Black, I, 71-72).
74. Western World, I, 86.

75. Belden, New York, pp. 79-81; Stranger’s Guide, pp. 33-34.
76. Putnam’s, I (1853), 135-136; for the Custom House, see pp.


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House as completely inappropriate to its setting, period,
and function and concluded with a discussion of the Crystal

Palace which he considered “an edifice unsurpassed for
beauty and all the other requisites for a perfect edifice.”77

The important banks on the north side of Wall Street,

seen on the right of Figure 17, elbowed one another uncom-

fortably even though they were all relatively small struc-

tures, only two to three stories in height. By the early I85os
their Classical Revival pretensions to architectural beauty

were no longer valid. The description of these banks of the

ancien regime in Putnam’s clearly mirrors the change in taste:

“Doubtless, in their day, these tough granite dowagers
bloomed with grace in the eyes of the young men who now

look down regretfully upon their beards, gray as the struc-

tures they once admired. Yet to our eyes these grim temples

… are matter only for lamentation.” Concluding his de-
scription, the writer likened “these forsaken specimens of

the pseudo-Greek remain with their bulky and ungraceful
leg-like columns, out of place and out of proportion,” to

“a crowd of. . . ballet dancers, who stand shivering and
unregarded after the play and its applauses are over.”78

The rest of the business concerns on the street operated

from high stooped converted residences, as may be seen on
the left of our illustration, or from three- to four-story

buildings of the Ithiel Town type, such as Jones Court
(1829-1830). But a new age was fast approaching. During
the summer of 1849, the century-old stables at 37-43 Wall

Street were replaced by Jauncey Court, a group of seven
brick office buildings, barely visible halfway down the
block.79 Unpretentious and utilitarian in style, they none-
theless were prophetic of the trend toward differentiation of

commercial from domestic architectural types, out of which

our modern office building eventually evolved.
Nor was the new Barryesque palazzo formula long de-

layed in making its appearance on Wall Street. The Bank of

Manhattan (1847-1848), the fourth building from the cor-
ner on the right (Fig. 17), was built of granite, in the old,
rather undistinguished, residential style.80 Other banks, de-

molished in the course of the next few years, were replaced

by buildings more closely related to the new stylistic trends.

The razing of the old Bank of the Republic at the northeast

“T “- -_72 – 2–. — – . ..
_z- –5??7- -.- ~–_:_ i- “?7—- —— – =?)[-2″ ‘. :” ‘ : …. ‘ 7 r<- ?-:-- - ---

-I 21 i:I

Si;: ?

Fig. 18. Bank of the Republic, Hurry & Rogers, 1851-1852 (cour-
tesy New York Public Library, Eno Collection, No. 305 n.).

corner of Broadway and Wall Street, was reported without

regret by Putnam’s correspondent. Of the new bank (Fig.
18), he said: “in architecture as in history, Greece has fallen

a victim to Italy.’81 The Evening Post of 6 May 1851 includ-
ed an unusually long and detailed description of the new
six-story structure designed by the firm of Hurry & Rogers,

stressing the fact that it was to be “in the Italian style of ar-

chitecture … to be ready for occupancy about six months
hence…. the only one of the kind ever erected in this coun-

try.”82 The massive principal entrance at the intersection of

Wall Street and Broadway, and the rounding of the corner,
which the Post found so unusual, was criticized as “over-

done” and “against all constructive principles” by the critic
of the New-York Quarterly four years later in his comments

on this, and other examples of the “American-Italian style.”83

There is no question that the English Barryesque palazzo
tradition for banks and assurance offices, well established as

the dominant mode in Britain by i85O, furnished the in-
spiration for the Bank of the Republic and many other
buildings of the period, as indeed was pointed out by the
German writer, “B.”84 Yet one should also note a persistent

77. I Sit and Look Out, p. 130. For an evaluation of Whitman’s
attitude toward architecture, which appeared after this section of my
dissertation was written, see Charles R. Metzger, “Whitman on Ar-
chitecture,” JSAH, xvi (Mar. 1957), 25-27.
78. I (Feb. 1853), 132.
79. Dated by newspaper sources cited by Stokes under dates of

26 May and 8 Oct. 1849 (Iconography, v, 1822). For a better view, see
New-York Pictorial Business Directory of Wall-street, 185o, P1. Iv, Eno
Collection, No. 230.
8o. Described in Evening Post, ii Feb. 1848 (cited in Stokes, Ico-

nography, v, 1809).

81. I (Feb. 1853), 132.
82. The firm of Hurry & Rogers consisted of William Hurry, long

active in New York, and John Rogers; the partnership apparently
dated from 1850, when the firm was first listed in the directories at
13 Wall Street, Hurry’s address for several years before. Weisman
had tentatively attributed the building to Thomas & Son (“Com-
mercial Palaces,” p. 291, n. 33).
83. “Modern Architecture of New-York,” p. I 16.
84. Cf. corner fenestration with contemporary British examples:
e.g., Sancton Wood’s Queen’s Assurance and Commercial Cham-
bers (1851-1852), London (see Hitchcock, Early Victorian Architec-
ture, Vol. II, fig. xI, No. 15, etc.). The relation of our palazzo mode
to that of the British was pointed out by “B.” (Atlantische Studien, ii,

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emphasis upon vertical elements in the organization of
building facades, mentioned earlier in connection with the
Bowen & McNamee Store, and seen in this example as
well, which differentiates these early examples of commer-

cial architecture, both in New York and Philadelphia, from

their British prototypes. In particular, the division of the

faqade into three clearly separated zones horizontally–a
rusticated base, a middle section with vertically defined
bays, and the roof area-seems to presage the age of Rich-

New York in I850 was a busy bustling city. New York-
ers prided themselves on the fact that Broadway, at least in

their eyes, had begun to rival the great thoroughfares of
Europe. The commercial palaces and mansions of the mer-

chant princes were equated, by all but the most sophisticated,

to the palaces of Italian grandees. New ideas were eagerly
taken up, in architecture as in business. The Classic Revival

was spent. Progressive architects were turning increasingly
to new materials, brownstone, marble, and iron, and to new

building techniques. “Twenty years ago Broadway was a
street of three-story red brick houses.” “Now,” wrote the

editor of Harper’s in 1862, “it is a highway of stone, iron,
and marble buildings. The few older ones that remain are

not even quaint, but simply old fashioned, and unhand-
some.'”86 This, then, was the architectural climate which
architects and travellers from abroad found in New York in

the middle of the nineteenth century-an architecture, like

the city itself, in transition. The eloquent critic of the New-

York Quarterly foresaw the time when “these western shores

will . . . see another Venice arising from her waves, and

New-York will be as celebrated for her triumphs in archi-
tecture as she is now for her unrivalled commerce.”87

183), who discussed at great length the special fondness of New
York architects for the so-called Italian style and its handling: “Be-
sonders beliebt ist jetzt der sogenannte italienische Styl, der aber
nach hiessiger Behandlung nichts weiter als ein geschmackloser
Zopfstyl ist” (ibid., in, 184). “Zopfstyl” is difficult to translate, but its
derogatory connotation is made very clear in the next paragraph,
where the author complains that the Italian style is handled by these
architects as mere surface decoration, without regard to its structural
basis and to general principles of composition. Madame Pulszky also
commented on the introduction of the Anglo-Italian style (Red,
White, Black, I, 49); elsewhere she criticized New York’s architecture

as a chaotic conglomeration of styles and tastes, thrown together as
if by chance (ibid., I, 71).

85. Cf. the Chemical Bank by Thomas & Son, which also fea-
tured a rounded corner entrance (illustrated in Weisman, “Com-
mercial Palaces,” fig. 2, dated 1850o-1851). In contrast to the Bank of

the Republic, however, there is no attempt to organize the faqade
vertically. Since the bank was described as in the course of erection
in the Evening Post, 22 Sept. 1849, a date of 1849-1850 is probably
more correct than 1850-1851.

86. xxiv (Feb. 1862), 409.
87. “The Modern Architecture of New-York,” p. 123.

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  • Contents
  • 264

  • Issue Table of Contents
  • The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1968), pp. 227-312
    Volume Information [pp. 311-312]
    Front Matter
    Modern Architecture-A Memoir [pp. 227-233]
    The Tomb of Ulugh Beg and Abdu Razzaq at Ghazni, A Model for the Taj Mahal [pp. 234-248]
    Robert Adam’s “Mise-en-Scène” of the Human Figure [pp. 249-263]
    Contemporary Descriptions of New York City and Its Public Architecture ca. 1850 [pp. 264-280]
    Richardson and Trinity Church: The Evolution of a Building [pp. 281-298]
    PSFS: A Source for Its Design [pp. 299-302]
    Review: untitled [p. 303]
    Review: untitled [p. 304]
    Review: untitled [pp. 304-305]
    Review: untitled [pp. 305-306]
    Review: untitled [pp. 306-307]
    Review: untitled [pp. 307-308]
    Letters to the Editor [pp. 308-309]
    Back Matter [pp. 310-310]

Creating a Growth Pole: The Industrialization of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1897-1987

Authors(s): Marshall C. Eakin

Source: The Americas, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Apr., 1991), pp. 383-410

Published by: Cambridge University Press

Stable URL:

Accessed: 25-03-2016 19:10 UTC

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