Prince Street in the 1850s

Prince Street in the 1850s was located in the heart of what is now referred to as the SoHo district of New York City, just south of New York University.  Running east to west for approximately 12 city blocks between the Bowery and McDougal Street, Prince Street sat comfortably across both the 8th and 14th Wards.

Below:  Prince Street runs the entire width of the 8th and 14th Wards, as seen in this 1842 Ward Map of the City of New York.

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “A Map of the city of New York shewing the proposed alteration of the boundaries of the several wards as reported by the Committee on Laws.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 1, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-f10c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

By analyzing the Fire Insurance Maps from the period, one can deduce that the majority of structures on Prince Street in the 1850s consisted of residential and mixed residential dwellings constructed of wood.  These mixed structures were most often a small storefront at ground level with apartments on the upper floors.  Looking at the first image (Fire Insurance Map Plate 24), one can quickly see that this section of Prince Street was dominated by the central location (both physically and culturally) of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Completed in 1815, the church and its surrounding grounds claimed an entire block of Prince Street between Mulberry and Mott Streets.  Located on this very block and crucial to this study, is Hibernian Hall at 42 Prince St, which was the veritable command center for much of the area’s Irish political and militant organization.

Below:  Fire Insurance Plate Map #24, depicting lower half of Prince Street between the Bowery and Crosby Street.

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “[Plate 24: Map bounded by Houston Street, Bowery, Broome Street, Crosby Street.]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 18, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-bf4d-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Below:  Fire Insurance Plate Map #21, depicting upper half of Prince Street, between Crosby and Sullivan Street.

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. (1857 – 1862). [Plate 21: Map bounded by Houston Street, Crosby Street, Broome Street, Broadway, Spring street, Sullivan Street.] Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-bf4a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

By the turn of the twentieth century, this area was the epicenter of one of the most densely populated ethnic melting pots in the world.  At the time in which our study takes place (1850s), the population of the 8th and 14th Wards could claim a population of 34,052 and 24,754 residents respectively. The percentage of Irish born among that population is estimated to be 21% (8th Ward) and 36% (14th Ward).  In fact, by 1855 nearly 60% of all residents of New York City’s 14th ward were of foreign birth. [1]  Combined with the American-born children of Irish parents, the Irish character of Prince Street in the 1850s would have been immediately perceptible.

[1] Table 14 in Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City (NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994), p. 193

1 thought on “Prince Street in the 1850s

  1. CARLTON

    You can t imagine how different Mercer Street was in 1965. No businesses existed, save for Fanelli s, which was a local bar for drunks, and a bodega on Prince Street.

    Reply

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