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A Photographic Tour of the New York City in the 1880s

The 1880s was a decade of growth and transformation for New York City. This period saw the city expand its population, develop its infrastructure, and become a cultural and economic powerhouse. The advancements and events of the 1880s played a crucial role in shaping New York City into the metropolis we know today.

New York City’s population continued to grow rapidly during the 1880s. By the end of the decade, the city’s population had surpassed 1.5 million people. Much of this growth was driven by immigration. People from all over the world, particularly from Southern and Eastern Europe, flocked to the city in search of better opportunities.

These immigrants settled in various neighborhoods, often forming communities based on their ethnic backgrounds. The Lower East Side became known for its large Jewish population, while Little Italy emerged as a vibrant Italian community. These neighborhoods were crowded and often had poor living conditions, but they provided a sense of community and cultural identity for the new arrivals.

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Economic Expansion

The 1880s was a period of economic expansion for New York City. The city was a hub of commerce, finance, and industry. Wall Street solidified its status as the financial center of the country, with the New York Stock Exchange playing a crucial role in the economy. Many businesses and financial institutions established their headquarters in the city, driving economic growth.

Manufacturing also thrived during this decade. Factories produced a wide range of goods, from textiles to machinery, providing jobs for thousands of workers. The garment industry, in particular, saw significant growth, with many immigrants finding employment as seamstresses and tailors. These jobs were often low-paying and involved long hours, but they were essential for the city’s economy.

Technological Advancements

The 1880s saw numerous technological advancements that transformed New York City. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of electric lighting. Thomas Edison opened the first power plant in Lower Manhattan in 1882, providing electricity to homes and businesses. This innovation revolutionized the way people lived and worked, making the city safer and more vibrant after dark.

Another important advancement was the expansion of the transportation system. The elevated railway system, or “El,” continued to grow, making it easier for people to travel around the city. The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, was a remarkable engineering feat. The bridge connected Manhattan and Brooklyn, facilitating the movement of people and goods between the two boroughs.

Social Issues and Reforms

The rapid growth and industrialization of New York City in the 1880s brought significant social challenges. Overcrowding, poor living conditions, and poverty were widespread, particularly in immigrant neighborhoods. Many families lived in cramped tenement buildings that lacked proper ventilation, sanitation, and access to clean water.

Social reformers worked tirelessly to address these issues. Organizations like the Tenement House Committee pushed for better housing conditions and public health measures. Activists like Jacob Riis used journalism and photography to document the harsh realities of life in the tenements, raising awareness and advocating for change.

Education also saw improvements during this period. Public schools expanded, providing more children with access to education. Efforts to implement compulsory education laws ensured that children spent time in school rather than working in factories or on the streets. These reforms were crucial in improving the prospects of the city’s youth.

Cultural Flourishing

The 1880s was a vibrant time for culture and the arts in New York City. Theaters, opera houses, and concert halls provided entertainment and cultural enrichment for the city’s residents. Broadway became the heart of the American theater scene, with many new plays and musicals premiering during this decade.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art continued to grow, becoming a major cultural institution. The museum’s collection expanded, providing the public with access to art from around the world. Libraries and literary societies also flourished, promoting literacy and intellectual engagement.

Literature and journalism thrived as well. Newspapers like The New York Times and the New York Herald continued to gain prominence, providing news and information to the city’s residents. These publications played a crucial role in shaping public opinion and keeping people informed about both local and national events.

Crime and Law Enforcement

As New York City grew, so did its challenges with crime and law enforcement. The cityโ€™s rapid expansion and dense population made it a breeding ground for criminal activity. Gangs operated in certain neighborhoods, engaging in various illegal activities.

The New York City Police Department continued to evolve and expand in response to these challenges. Efforts were made to professionalize the force, improve training, and combat corruption. The introduction of modern policing methods helped to maintain order and safety in the city, despite the difficulties posed by its rapid growth.

Political Climate

The political scene in New York City during the 1880s was dynamic and often contentious. Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine, wielded significant influence. Led by figures like Richard Croker, Tammany Hall controlled much of the city’s politics through patronage and manipulation. Despite their controversial methods, they provided vital services to immigrants and the poor, securing their loyalty and votes.

Political reform movements gained momentum during this period. Reformers sought to combat corruption and promote greater accountability in city government. These efforts laid the groundwork for future changes in the political landscape, challenging the dominance of Tammany Hall.

Public Works and Infrastructure

Public works and infrastructure projects were a major focus in the 1880s. The construction of Central Park, which began in the 1850s, continued to enhance the city’s landscape. The park provided a green oasis in the heart of the bustling city, offering residents a place to relax and enjoy nature

Another critical development was the improvement of the city’s water supply. The Croton Aqueduct, completed in 1842, brought fresh water to the city, but continued population growth necessitated further enhancements. Efforts to expand and improve the water supply were essential in promoting public health and preventing disease.

The city also invested in improving its sewage and sanitation systems. As the population grew, so did the need for effective waste management. The creation of a more modern sewer system helped to address the challenges of waste disposal and reduce the spread of disease, making the city a healthier place to live.

#1 View of Downtown Manhattan from Brooklyn Docks with East River Flowing into Harbor, 1880s

#4 Manhattan Suspension Bridge under Construction as Viewed from Brooklyn, 1882

#5 Construction of East River Bridge Approach Ramp, Also Known as Brooklyn Bridge, 1882

#6 Wall Street Ferry Terminal with Ships in Brooklyn Harbor, 1885

#7 Greenwood Cemetery, Uncertain Location in Brooklyn, 1880

#8 Boilers and Iron-Clad Shop Ship in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, 1880

#9 Spring Plowing on Vanderveer Farm in Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1889

#13 Silver Lake at Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, 1880s

#16 Cropsey House in Ft. Hamilton, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 1880s

#19 Bergen-Van Wyck House in Flatlands, Brooklyn, 1880s

#20 Dutch Reformed Church on Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, 1880s

#21 Clarkson House Near St. Pauls in Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1880s

#23 Ditmas House at Paerdegat Bridge, Brooklyn, 1880s

#25 Old Vanderbilt House in Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1880s

#26 Vanderveer Barn on Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn, 1880s

#27 H. Jeremiah Lott House in Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1880s

#28 Old House Backyard in New Utrecht, Brooklyn, 1880s

#29 Van Brunt House on 84th Street, New Utrecht, Brooklyn, 1880s

#34 Dehart-Bergen House on 39th Street, Brooklyn, 1880s

#38 Dehart-Bergen House on 39th Street, Brooklyn, 1880s

#39 Front View of Capt. Cornelius Vanderveer Home in Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1880s

#40 Hugh Garretson’s Property Looking East, Brooklyn, 1880s

#42 Van Burnt House on 85th Street, New Utrecht, Brooklyn, 1880s

#43 F. L. Wyckoff Home on New Lots Road, New Lots, Brooklyn, 1880s

#45 J. Van Nuyse Property on Ocean Ave, Brooklyn, 1880s

#47 The Bank of Staten Island at Richmond Turnpike and Griffin Street, Before Moving to Stapleton, 1887.

#49 Old Railroad Station: William Ross Began to Develop New Dorp as a Commuter Suburb Due to Nearby Station, 1886.

#50 Rossville Post Office, 2574 Arthur Kill Road, closed in 1919, 1880.

#51 Harry Lawrence Horton built homes on Westervelt Avenue, known as Horton’s Row, 1880.

#52 The Old New Dorp SIRT Station, a Landmark Since the 1880s, Prepared for its Move to Richmondtown Restoration Project, 1965.

#53 Thomson’s Saloon, Graniteville House, Morningstar Road and Richmond Avenue, 1886.

#54 St. Vincent’s Hospital (RUMC), formerly W.T. Garner Mansion, became St. Austin’s School, 1880s.

#56 Holtermann’s Bakery and family home, 240 Center Street, 1888.

#57 Staten Island Museum celebrates 140th year, evolving from the Natural Science Association of Staten Island, 1881.

#58 Edgewater Village Hall, served Edgewater (Stapleton) village, 1889.

#59 Alvin Conklin Planing Mill on Richmond Terrace, became Farrell Lumber, 1888.

#61 Harris’s Bathing Slide, South Beach with Hoffman Island, 1880s.

#62 Farrell Lumber in Port Richmond, formerly Alvin Conklin Planing Mill, 1888.

#63 Wood burning Locomotive No.3, St. George to Mariners Harbor, 1886.

#64 Thomson’s Saloon, Graniteville House, Morningstar Road and Richmond Avenue, 1886.

#65 Horse-drawn trolley on Richmond Terrace, New Brighton, 1880.

#66 Bechtel Brewery on Van Duzer Street, largest on the Island, 1890s.

#67 Buffalo Bill and Gang Entertained on Staten Island During the Summer of 1886; Legendary Annie Oakley Starred in the Show, 1886.

#68 George Waring, commissioner of Street Cleaning, 1895.

#69 Pavilion Hotel on west side of St. Peter’s Place, now 350 Richmond Terr.

#70 Alice Austen’s photograph of waltzing children at Women’s Club, 1883.

#72 New Dorp Lane, popular racing destination, 1880s.

#73 West End Hotel in Tottenville, good place for a drink, sold in 1886 to beer baron George Bechtel, 1930s

#74 The Alvin Conklin Planing Mill was located on Richmond Terrace in Port Richmond; it later became Farrell Lumber, circa 1888.

#78 The Rossville Post Office, Located at 2574 Arthur Kill Road, Closed January 31, 1919, Circa 1880.

#79 Bechtel Brewery in Stapleton, largest brewery on the Island, 1890s.

#80 Oceanic Hook & Ladder Fire Company, chartered in 1881, at 4010 Victory Blvd.

#81 Britton’s Ice House, 19th-Century Ice Harvesting Business at Clove Lake, Circa 1880s

#82 Staten Island Athletic Club and Boathouse, New Brighton, 1880s.

#83 Gelatin Silver Photograph of New Brighton, Staten Island by George Bradford Brainerd, 1880s.

#84 North Shore of Staten Island Captured by George Bradford Brainerd, Gelatin Silver Photograph, 1880s.

#85 Dr. Joseph Kinyo#88 Broadway Near Grand Street, 1880

#87 Horse-Drawn Streetcar and Pedestrians at the Intersection of Wall Street and Broadway, 1880

#89 Traffic on Broadway from the Metropolitan Hotel, 1880

#90 Wood-Built Property at 98th Street and Fifth Avenue in East Harlem, Upper Manhattan, 1888

#91 Busy Traffic Scene on Broadway Looking North from Cedar Street, 1880

#92 Customers and Bartender at Steve Brodie’s Bar and Tavern at Hester and Grand Street on the Bowery, 1887

#93 Men Riding Penny-Farthings on the Plaza Near Trinity Church, 1880s

#95 Lord & Taylor Department Store at 20th Street and Broadway, 1883

#96 High-Angle View Looking Up Broadway from the Corner of Canal Street, 1885

#97 Lord & Taylor Department Store at 20th Street and Broadway, 1883

#98 Pianos and Organs in the Saleroom of Horace Waters & Sons on Broadway, 1880

#99 Interior View of Helmbold’s Drug Store Extending from Broadway to Crosby Street, 1885

#100 High-Angle View of Horse-Drawn Traffic on Broadway Near Grand Street, 1885

#101 High-Angle View Looking Up Broadway from the Corner of Canal Street, 1885

#102 Construction Workers Preparing for Laying Pavement in Lower Manhattan, 1885

#103 Carts Outside Storefronts Looking West on South Street, Lower Manhattan, 1885

#104 Passengers Boarding a Steamboat at the Foot of Wall Street, East River, Manhattan, 1889

#105 High Angle View of Slum Dwellings on Eighth Avenue, West Side of Manhattan, 1885

#106 Crowds Gather for Ulysses S. Grant’s Funeral at New York City Hall, 1885

#107 Baker’s Delivery Wagon in the Five Points Neighborhood, Lower Manhattan, 1885

#108 Children Clearing Snow on Third Avenue After the Blizzard, 1888

#109 Trinity Church at Broadway, Wall Street, Lower Broadway, 1880

#112 Castle Garden and Liberty Statue, Manhattan, 1880

#113 Alexandria Firemen, N.Y. Centennial, Union Square, Manhattan, 1889

#114 Washington Monument, Union Square, Manhattan, 1880

#115 Smallpox Hospital, Black Wells Island, Roosevelt Island, Manhattan, 1880

#116 Chatham Street from Broadway, Park Row, Manhattan, 1880

#118 Academy of Design, Twenty-Third Street, Manhattan, 1880

#119 Park Row from Tryon Row, City Hall Park, Times Building, St. Paul’s Church, Manhattan, 1870

#120 Downtown Manhattan Seen from Brooklyn Docks, East River Flowing into New York Harbor, 1880

#122 Beautiful New York, Showing Castle Harbor and Liberty Statue, Manhattan, 1880

#126 Third Avenue El, Running from South Ferry to Grand Central Depot at 42nd Street, Manhattan, 1880

#127 Downtown Manhattan Seen from Brooklyn Docks, East River Flowing into New York Harbor, 1880

#128 Locomotive & One Passenger Car Running on East 42nd Street, Grand Union Hotel in Background, 1880

#129 Tammany Hall, Located on 14th Street between Irving Place and Third Avenue, 1880

#130 Metropolitan Opera House Audience, 1888n’s Laboratory in Marine Hospital, Staten Island: Studying Cholera and Other Diseases, 1887.

Written by Frederick Victor

I've been a history writer for a while. I love to explore historical sites because they connect us to our past. They make us feel like we are part of something much bigger.

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