by Kevin Walsh

The Indian trails and cowpaths that made up lower Manhattan from the mid-1600s are still largely there, but instead of the hilly, pastoral scenes that played along their routes in the early days, today these tiny lanes are dwarfed by immense steel and concrete structures. Every so often though, while digging foundations for yet more of these towering buildings, evidence is found that reminds you that men in tricornered hats and knee breeches, led by an imperious peglegged Dutchman named Peter Stuyvesant, once ruled these streets. A clay pipe, a spoon, a dish, even a stray bone or two will be found. For the most part, though, all we have are the streets.

Just as the Colorado River was once a trickle but over the eons, it built the Grand Canyon, so these old cart paths that once wound through farms now describe the paths of giants.

Liberty Place

Formerly known as Little Green Street, Liberty Place is a short lane that connects Liberty Street and Maiden Lane just west of Nassau Street. It used to be on a steep hill until the 19th Century.

The old Quaker Meeting House and graveyard used to be on the corner of Liberty and Little Green Streets way back in the 18th Century.

Coenties Alley

LEFT: An 1880 view of Coenties Slip and Alley. Note the horse carts, wash hanging on clotheslines, and in the background, the Third Avenue El.

Named for original Dutch landowner Conraet Ten Eyck and his wife Antje, Coenties (Co+Antje) Alley is now just a walkway along a 1970s-vintage shopping mall. It is the companion of Coenties Slip, which was an artificial inlet of the East River that was used to dock sailing ships and was filled in in 1835.

New York’s first City Hall stood at Coenties Alley and Pearl Street (a former name of Coenties Alley is City Hall Lane). Called Stadt Huys (State House) by the Dutch, it was built in 1642.

The elevated train that split further uptown to become the Second and Third Avenue Els made a breathtaking S-curve over Coenties Alley until it was torn down in the middle of the century.

Moore Street

Moore Street, between Paerl and Water north of Whitehall, used to extend a block further to South Street, but half of it was eliminated in the 1970s when the New York Plaza complex was constructed.

Most historians now believe that its name derives from “moor” since it’s near the shoreline where boats were berthed.

Gouverneur Lane

A narrow alley just south of Wall Street between Watwer and South Streets, Gouverneur Lane has nothing to do with Rockefeller, Cuomo or Pataki. It is named for 16th-century French refugee, merchant and political activist Abraham Gouverneur. Gouverneur Slip, further up South Street, as well as Gouverneur Palce and Avenue in the Bronx, are also named for this prominent family in early New York.

Narrow Gouverneur Lane leads to the East River. Tall masted ships were once seen as you looked toward the river.

Gouverneur Lane, like many streets in Lower Manhattan, has been given new black and white street signs sponsored by Heritage Trails of New York.

Edgar Street

The shortest street in Manhattan that’s not a dead-end, two-lane Edgar Street, between Greenwich Street and Trinity Place at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel entrance, is actually rather important in the grand scheme, since it funnels a lot of traffic in lower Manhattan.

When the tunnel entrance took its present route in 1953, Edgar Street was widened and moved thirty feet north of its original location.

Contrary to what the new black sign says about house numbers 1-10, no property fronts on this short street.

Exchange Alley

This slender pathway has undergone great changes and been through a variety of names. Originally named by the Dutch as Tuyn (Tuijn) Street, it was translated by the British as Garden Street, or more rudely transliterated as Tin Pot Alley. It has also been known as Edgars Alley and, rather fancifully, as Oyster Pasty Alley.

Its current name (along with its brother, Exchange Place) comes from the original Merchants Exchange building, completed in 1827, which only lasted eight years before being burned down in the Great Fire of 1835.

Currently, Exchange Alley is dwarfed by 45 Broadway and 1 Exchange Plaza, which flank it. The two buildings were erected in 1983 and 1981 respectively.

Marketfield Street, an L-shaped street running between Beaver and Broad streets, is a direct translation of the Dutch livestock market, Marcktveldt, which was in the vicinity of the present Battery Park between 1638 and 1647.

Marketfield Street

Until 1830 or so, Marketfield Street extended west to the Hudson River, but the section west of Bowling Green was renamed Battery Place.

In the past it has been named Exchange Street, Field Street, Fieldmarket Street and Oblique Road and most infamously, Petticoat Lane, possibly for the prostitutes that frequented it.

New Amsterdam’s first French Huguenot church was built on the narrow lane in 1688 between what is now Whitehall and Broadway. This part of Marketfield Street is no longer there; it was eliminated by the construction of the NYC Produce Exchange between 1882 and 1884 by prolific NYC architect George Post

Mill Lane

One of the shortest streets in New York City, Mill Lane cannot claim an address or even a lamppost. The red awnings at the far end of the street belong to Delmonico’s Restaurant, which fronts an unusual triangle of streets: Beaver, William and South William. Delmonico’s has occupied the site since 1891.

Mill Lane, between Stone and South William Streets, is one of over a dozen streets in the five boroughs named for now-vanished mills that used to dot the area. A former name of South William Street is Mill Street. It was first laid out in 1657. Mill Lane used to be known as Ellet’s or Elliott’s Alley until 1664.

In 1628, a mill was built in Dutch New Amsterdam. Peter Stuyvesant ceded the colony to the British at the mill in 1664.

Ryders Alley

Although garbage and dog-dropping strewn, Ryder’s Alley has still proudly kept its paving stones. At the end of the street is the 1888 Excelsior Power Company Building, now coop apartments. The above section of Ryders Alley has been renamed Eden’s Alley (see below).

Another L-shaped lane, running between Fulton and Gold Street, Ryders Alley has also been known as Rudder Street and Eden’s Alley before 1842 when it acquired its present name. No one knows precisely who Ryder was.

Edens Alley

The ‘newest’ alley in the Fulton Fish Market neighborhood is also one of the oldest. In 2001 the section of Ryders Alley facing Gold Street was given back one of its original names, Eden’s Alley. It had that name prior to 1842. The lane is apparently named for a friend of Aaron Burr, Medcef Eden, who had a farm further uptown in the vicinity of where Times Square is today, along a stream flowing along Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway).

Trimble Place

Dominated by the windowless shadow of the AT&T Long Lines Building is Trimble Place, named for George Trimble,who directed New York Hospital. He was honored by having this short street between Duane and Thomas Streets named for him in 1874, two years after his death.

Theatre Alley

The painted sign on a Theatre Alley brick wall was placed there for a movie shoot. There never was a Victoria Theatre on Theatre Alley.

There are no theaters on Theatre Alley at present, but there used to be.

Park Theatre on Chatham Street (now Park Row) opened in 1798 with a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Theatre Alley (originally The Mews) , just east of Park Row between Ann and Beekman Streets, served as the service lane for carriages bringing theatergoers to Park Theatre. But the carriages approaching each other from both sides of the narrow lane created NYC’s first traffic jams ­ causing Theatre Alley to become NYC’s first one way street! Park Theatre lasted until 1848 when it burned down.

RIGHT: A rendering of the Park Theatre as it was in the early 1800s. Engine Company No. 4 of the Fire Department occupied space in the theatre.

In Luc Santé’s book, Low–Life, he offers a description of Park Theatre:

The Park Theater was built on the model of the London stage, with a repertoire that naturally ran heavily to Shakespeare, as well as featuring the work of such successful comic playwrights as Colly Cibber and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It was expensive for its time, with prices up to fifty cents for pit seats and a dollar for boxes. On its boards walked a collection of actors imported and domestic, many of whose names are familiar even now: Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin Forrest, Charles Kean, Ellen Tree, George Frederick Cooke, Thomas S. Hamblin, Tyrone Power (great-grandfather of the movie star), Charlotte Cushman, the Wallacks, Henry and James William, and the Kembles, Fanny and Charles. The Park was not merely the cynosure; for years it had no competition at all. It may have been elite, but it was scarcely exclusive, as the cheaper galley seats filled up every evening with the families of “mechanics” (this was the common term at the time for working men). In those days, and for another couple of decades, “le tout New York” would be literally that.

The alley is literally in the shadow of the bridge, which was built in 1909, in one of the oldest and most mysterious sections of the city.

Mechanics Alley

Down by the Manhattan Bridge, from Henry to just south of Madison, there’s an alley unmentioned on any New York City atlas or map.

Mechanics Alley was most likely already in existence when the great Manhattan Bridge was built alongside it.

The New York Times’ FYI column in March 2000 had this item about Mechanics Alley:

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the term “mechanic” was loosely applied to a wide range of artisans, builders and craftsmen. New York was one of many American cities to have a Mechanics Row, Alley or Place near the waterfront, usually where ships were built and repaired…

Mechanics Alley appears on maps of the district fom the early 1800s on, but it runs closer to the riverfront, between Cherry and Monroe Streets, where another tiny lane, called Birmingham Alley runs from Madison to Henry Streets. Presumably, the two alleys were joined at some point. Mechanics Alley disappeared from city maps after the Manhattan Bridge was constructed, almost directly overhead, in 1905.


As you can see on this map of the 7th Ward drawn prior to the construction of the Manhattan Bridge, though, you see Birmingham Street between Madison and Henry, where Mechanics Alley is now, and a different Mechanics Alley between Cherry and Monroe. The anchorage of the Manhattan Bridge is directly over that spot now. The present Mechanics Alley may be on Birmingham Street’s old roadbed. Map from Pseudo-Intellectualism by David Bellel.

Benson Street, Catherine Lane, Cortlandt Alley

Leading north from Leonard Street, Benson Street is that Manhattan rarity: a true dead end. Traffic can not proceed to Franklin Street from its end though pedestrians can make it.Its name recalls Egbert Benson, New York’s first attorney general, the position held (in October 2000) by Eliot Spitzer.

Catherine Lane, like Catherine Street in the Lower East Side, is named for Catherine Rutgers, the wife of Henry Rutgers who owned a farm in southeast Manhattan in the early to mid 18th Century.

Originally the New York Life Insurance Company building, known for its distinctive clock (out of the picture), dominates the block bordered by Leonard Street, Broadway, Lafayette Street and Catherine Lane. The Clocktower Gallery is open to the public on occasion.

Extending from Franklin Street north to Canal Street east of Broadway, Cortlandt Alley, along with Cortlandt Street a few blocks south is named for the Van Cortlandt family. Dutch soldier Oloff Stevenson Van Cortlandt arrived in New Amsterdam in 1637and the Van Cortlandts became a powerful local family in the ensuing decades, producing landowners and mayors. The city bought the vast Van Cortlandt estate in the Bronx in 1899, turning it into a park.

By the way, Oloff Stevenson Van Cortlandt’s first two names have had Bronx streets named for them as well.

Cardinal Hayes Place

Cardinal Hayes Place runs one block between St. Andrews Church at Duane Street north to Pearl Street. Formerly City Hall Place, it was renamed in 1941 for NYC’s fifth archbishop, later Cardinal, Patrick Hayes…who was born on what became this street in 1867 and died in 1938.

Florence Place

Like Temple Street (below), Florence Place, supposedly on Division Street in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, is apparently a street sign without a street. There’s a parking lot (at left) where the street ought to be.

Henry Moscow reports in the Street Book, however, that the section of Market Street between Division St. and East Broadway was renamed Florence Place in 1913.

Nobody knows who Florence was.

Mosco Street

Mosco Street, formerly Cross, then Park Street, currently runs from Mulberry northeast to Mott in the heart of Chinatown.

In the mid-1800s, Cross Street was at the center of NYC’s most infamous slum…Five Points.

Dragons in the ornamental work above a window on Mulberry near Mosco Street; detail of terra cotta on the Wing Sang Funeral Home at Mosco and Mulberry.

Doyers Street

Doyers Street twists and turns, making two bends between Pell Street and Chatham Square in the heart of Chinatown. It was the original cart path that led to the taven of Henrick Doyer, an 18th Century landowner. It was nicknamed Blood Alley in the 19th and early 20th Century because of the gang wars that took place here.

Centre Market Place

Centre Market Place, between Grand and Broome Streets east of Centre Street, is domianated by the rear end of NYC’s original Police Headquarters (now apartments) and also by John Jovino’s gun store with its distinctive sign. The store has  relocated to 183 Grand Street since these photos were taken.

Temple Street

As diminutive as the previous alleys are, there’s one street in Lower Manhattan that beats them all, and that’s because it’s not even there!Temple Street used to run between Liberty and Cedar Streets west of Broadway, but was eliminated in the 1960s to make way for an urban plaza. A park now occupies the old route of Temple Street.

The DOT dutifully marked the spot where it used to be, until the area was wrecked during the 9/11/01 terrorist massacre.

In the aftermath of 9/11/01, the sign came down.


Low-Life, Luc Santé, Vintage, 1992

The Street Book, Henry Moscow, Hagstrom 1978

As You Pass By, Kenneth Dunshee, Hastings House, 1952


1 comment

Daily What?! What Is the Shortest Street in Manhattan? | Untapped Cities May 7, 2014 - 8:05 am

[…] possibly the shortest street in Manhattan (and indeed Forgotten NY claims it is the shortest), is Edgar Street. The street is located in the Financial District and […]

Comments are closed.