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New York City: Before the Concrete Jungle Grew

Hey y’all! I’m Sarah, Jacki’s (Southern) sister-in-law and like Jacki, I love to travel! I absolutely love exploring new places, observing and learning about the people that live there, and going beyond the touristy stops to really experience destinations- though I like to see the touristy locations too! I was so excited when Jacki asked me to be a guest writer for her blog focused on our recent New York City trip, so here it goes…

Sarah and Kevin in NYC

My husband, Kevin, and I live in Katy, Texas with our two beautiful daughters, Charlotte and Madeline. Since having children, we have not been able to travel as often as we used to and my husband knows that is hard for me. (Side note, I teach World Geography and therefore, constantly think about all of the places in the world that I want to go!) Kevin surprised me with a trip to New York City last June and even did most of the planning, which NEVER happens. I always plan our trips and have everything mapped out day by day.

Kevin and I have traveled to many large cities- London, Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, and the list goes on. But we have never gone to New York City together and I had never even been there, despite taking multiple trips to upstate New York to visit my dad’s family. So as soon as we landed, we dropped our luggage off at our hotel and hit the pavement.

New York Skyline

One thing that fascinates me about New York City is that it is such a relatively young city (settled by the Dutch in 1609 and founded as a city in 1624) yet it has grown to become a large, diverse, and economically powerful city. As we explored, I enjoyed thinking about the history of the island and what it must have been like before it became a concrete jungle. Remnants of its history can still be seen around the city, so I thought I would touch on some of that with this post.

Manhattan

Did you know that this name actually comes from a Native American word- mannahatta, which is a Lenape word meaning “island of many hills”. Prior to European colonization, the island had rolling hills with rivers. It is hard to imagine what was once there as the hills were levelled for building and the rivers are now part of an underground water network.

Statue of Liberty, NYC

Battery Park

This is the area of the city that was originally settled by the Dutch in 1609. At the time, the settlement was called New Amsterdam and was a farming community. The location was also prime for trade due to its great harbor. Along the southern tip of the island, you may notice that the roads are much windier than the rest of the city, which started using a grid layout in 1811. As you wander around this area of town, you see very little of what was once there. The city did a poor job of conserving historical locations, although a few old structures remain- just not 1600s old.

Battery Park was named after the Battery that was located at the tip of the island to protect New Amsterdam in the 1600s. However, Castle Clinton- the structure that is located in the park today- was built on a man-made island just off the coast of lower Manhattan between 1808 and 1811. Later, landfill closed the gap between Manhattan Island and the artificial island. Today, Castle Clinton has a small exhibit that shows the growth of the city, which I of course found interesting!

Wall Street

Perhaps one of the most famous streets in the United States, Wall Street is known for its economic importance. However, did you ever stop to think about where its name came from? Wall Street was once the edge of New Amsterdam and there was actually a wall built there to protect the colony. If you look at the road, you will see remnants of pillars that once held the wall up.

NYC Map
Source

Wall Street

Stone Street

As we wandered away from Wall Street, we stumbled upon Stone Street, which was the first paved road in New Amsterdam, paved in 1658. Today, it is a quaint area with restored buildings from the 1800s surrounded by glass sky scrapers. When you are there, you feel that you are in a small European city, rather than one of the busiest cities in the world. It has restaurants and bars with outdoor seating.

Stone Street

St. Paul’s Chapel

St. Paul’s Chapel was built in 1766 and is the oldest remaining church in Manhattan. Interesting fact, when it was built, it was the tallest building in New York City! Looking at it today, it is tiny with skyscrapers towering over it! George Washington attended services at St. Paul’s. More recently, St. Paul’s was a refuge for first responders following 9/11. Inside, there are 2 exhibits, one that shows its history and another that commemorates 9/11… again, nerdy me found those to be interesting!

St Paul's Chapel, NYC

Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village was settled in the mid-1600s as a hamlet north of New Amsterdam. Like lower Manhattan, it’s roads are windy, rather than gridded. I enjoyed wandering the residential streets lined with houses from the 1800s. Many of these houses, which are some of the most expensive in the United States, have been updated over the years, but there were still some that had large doors that would have been entrances for carriages at one point. Walking these streets, you could imagine an era when women wore billowing gowns, men wore suits, and everything was very proper. Since then, Greenwich Village has become an artsy area known for its Bohemian style. Keep an eye open for celebs in this area… my husband spotted a famous face who lives in Greenwich Village.

Greenwich Village, NYC

I could go on and on about historical sites in New York City- the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island (which has a great historical exhibit about migration), St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Central Park, China Town, Little Italy… the list goes on. But I will stop with the history and touch really quick on a few of my favorite places that we visited while there.

Central Park

What an amazingly, beautiful park. When you are there, you forget that you are in the middle of a city. The sounds of the streets fade away and are replaced with wildlife. Make sure you give yourself some time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and meandering trails in the park. As a nature lover, I could have spent a day just wandering Central Park.

Central Park

Central Park, NYC

Top of the Rock

Talk about spectacular views! The top of Rockefeller Center offers amazing views of the Empire State Building and Central Park. Book your tickets online to reserve a time and try to go at sunset! Absolutely amazing!

Top of the Rock, NYC

Pod 39 Rooftop Bar

We met up with some friends who live in New York and they took us to the Pod 39 Rooftop Bar. While it is at the top of a hotel, it does not have a touristy feel to it. Knowing locals always makes traveling fun since they can take you to places off the beaten path. We enjoyed the laid back, yet sophisticated ambiance of this bar. Bonus- it has great views of the city, including One World Tower in the distance.

Pod 39 Rooftop Bar, NYC

There is so much to do in New York City! I haven’t even mentioned Times Square, Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Grand Central Station, or One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. It’s hard to believe that we fit so much into 5 days. But one suggestion… don’t try to do everything in one trip. You will exhaust yourself. We did a lot, but there is still so much to see in New York City, so I know we will go back.

Also, be ready to walk… a lot! The Subway system is good, but we often had to walk a pretty good distance to get to stations. I don’t mind walking and would rather travel above ground so that I can see more. But by the end of each day, I was pretty tired.

We loved New York City! There is so much to do, to see, and the people watching is great! When exploring, don’t forget to think about the history of New York City that allowed it to grow into the amazing city that it is today!

Explore New York City

New York City Guide

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