Lower Manhattan, also known as Downtown Manhattan, is the southernmost part of the island of Manhattan, the main island and center of business and government of the City of New York, which itself originated at the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1624.
Lenape and New Neatherland
The area that would eventually encompass modern day New York City was inhabited by the Lenapepeople. These groups of culturally and linguistically identical Native Americans traditionally spoke an Algonquian language now referred to as Unami.
European settlement began with the founding of a Dutch fur trading post in Lower Manhattan, later called New Amsterdam (Dutch: Nieuw-Amsterdam) in 1626. The first fort was built at the Batteryto protect New Netherland.
Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began. Later, the Dutch West Indies Company imported African slaves to serve as laborers; they helped to build the wall that defended the town against English and Indian attacks. Early directors included Willem Verhulstand Peter Minuit. Willem Kieft became director in 1638 but five years later was embroiled in Kieft’s War against the Native Americans. ThePavonia Massacre, across the Hudson River in present day Jersey City resulted in the death of 80 natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, Algonquian tribes joined forces and nearly defeated the Dutch. Holland sent additional forces to the aid of Kieft, leading to the overwhelming defeat of the Native Americans and a peace treaty on August 29, 1645.
On May 27, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was inaugurated as director general upon his arrival and ruled as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. The colony was granted self-government in 1652, and New Amsterdam was formally incorporated as a city on February 2, 1653.The first mayors (burgemeesters) of New Amsterdam, Arent van Hattem and Martin Cregier, were appointed in that year.
17th and 18th Centuries
In 1664, the English conquered the area and renamed it “New York” after the Duke of York. At that time, African slaves comprised 40% of the small population of the city. Some had achieved freedom under the Dutch and owned 130 acres (53 ha) of farms in the area of present-day Washington Square. The Dutch briefly regained the city in 1673, renaming the city “New Orange”, before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the English for what is now Suriname in November 1674.
The new English rulers of the formerly Dutch New Amsterdam and New Netherland renamed the settlement New York. As the colony grew and prospered, sentiment also grew for greater autonomy. In the context of the Glorious Revolution in England, Jacob Leisler led Leisler’s Rebellion and effectively controlled the city and surrounding areas from 1689–1691, before being arrested and executed.
By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200. By 1703, 42% of households in New York had slaves, a higher percentage than in Philadelphia or Boston.
The 1735 libel trial of John Peter Zenger in the city was a seminal influence on freedom of the press in North America. It would be a standard for the basic articles of freedom in the United States Declaration of Independence.
By the 1740s, with expansion of settlers, 20% of the population of New York were slaves, totaling about 2,500 people. After a series of fires in 1741, the city became panicked that blacks planned to burn the city in a conspiracy with some poor whites. Historians believe their alarm was mostly fabrication and fear, but officials rounded up 31 blacks and 4 whites, who over a period of months were convicted of arson. Of these, the city executed 13 blacks by burning them alive and hanged 4 whites and 18 blacks.
In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by George II of Great Britain as King’s College in Lower Manhattan.
The Stamp Act and other British measures fomented dissent, particularly among Sons of Liberty who maintained a long-running skirmish with locally stationed British troops over Liberty Poles from 1766 to 1776. The Stamp Act Congress met in New York City in 1765 in the first organized resistance to British authority across the colonies. After the major defeat of the Continental Army in the Battle of Long Island, General George Washington withdrew to Manhattan Island, but with the subsequent defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington the island was effectively left to the British. The city became a haven forloyalist refugees, becoming a British stronghold for the entire war. Consequently, the area also became the focal point for Washington’s espionage and intelligence-gatheringthroughout the war.
In 1771, Bear Market was established along the Hudson shore on land donated by Trinity Church, and replaced by Washington Market in 1813.
New York City was greatly damaged twice by fires of suspicious origin during British military rule. The city became the political and military center of operations for the British in North America for the remainder of the war and a haven for Loyalist refugees. Continental Army officer Nathan Hale was hanged in Manhattan for espionage. In addition, the British began to hold the majority of captured American prisoners of war aboard prison ships in Wallabout Bay, across the East River in Brooklyn. More Americans lost their lives from neglect aboard these ships than died in all the battles of the war. British occupation lasted until November 25, 1783. George Washington triumphantly returned to the city that day, as the last British forces left the city.
Starting in 1785, the Congress met in New York City under the Articles of Confederation. In 1789, New York City became the first national capital of the United States under the new United States Constitution. The Constitution also created the current Congress of the United States, and its first sitting was at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The first United States Supreme Court sat there. The United States Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified there. George Washington was inaugurated at Federal Hall. New York City remained the capital of the U.S. until 1790, when the role was transferred to Philadelphia.
New York grew as an economic center, first as a result of Alexander Hamilton’s policies and practices as the first Secretary of the Treasuryand, later, with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the North American interior. Immigration resumed after being slowed by wars in Europe, and a new street grid system, the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, expanded to encompass all of Manhattan. Early in the 19th century, landfill was used to expand Lower Manhattan from the natural Hudson shoreline at Greenwich Street to West Street.
In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then an independent city), Manhattan and outlying areas. The corough of Brooklyn incorporated the independent City of Brooklyn, recently joined to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge in Lower Manhattan. Municipal governments contained within the boroughs were abolished, and the county governmental functions, housed in Lower Manhattan after unification, were absorbed by the City or each borough.
Washington Market was located between Barclay and Hubert Streets, and from Greenwich Street to West Street. The area remains one of the few parts of Manhattan where the streetgrid system is largely irregular. Throughout the early decades of the 1900s, the area experienced a construction boom, with major towers such as 40 Wall Street, the American International Building, Woolworth Building, and 20 Exchange Place being erected.
On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village took the lives of 146 garment workers, which would eventually lead to great advancements in the city’s fire department, building codes, and workplace regulations.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication. Interborough Rapid Transit (the first New York City Subway company) began operating in 1904. The area’s demographics stabilized, labor unionization brought new protections and affluence to the working class, the city’s government and infrastructure underwent a dramatic overhaul under Fiorello La Guardia, and his controversial parks commissioner, Robert Moses, ended the blight of many tenement areas, expanded new parks, remade streets, and restricted and reorganized zoning controls, especially in Lower Manhattan.
In the 1950s, a few new buildings were constructed in lower Manhattan, including an 11-story building at 156 William Street in 1955.A 27-story office building at 20 Broad Street, a 12-story building at 80 Pine Street, a 26-story building at 123 William Street, and a few others were built in 1957. By the end of the decade, lower Manhattan had become economically depressed, in comparison with midtown Manhattan, which was booming. David Rockefeller spearheaded widespread urban renewal efforts in lower Manhattan, beginning with construction One Chase Manhattan Plaza, the new headquarters for his bank. He established the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (DLMA) which drew up plans for broader revitalization of lower Manhattan, with the development of a world trade center at the heart of these plans. The original DLMA plans called for the “world trade center” to be built along the East River, between Old Slip and Fulton Street. After negotiations with New Jersey Governor Richard J. Hughes, thePort Authority decided to build the World Trade Center on a site along the Hudson River and the West Side Highway, rather than the East River site.
Through much of its history, the area south of Chambers Street was mainly a commercial district, with a small population of residents—in 1960, it was home to about 4,000.Construction of Battery Park City, on landfill from construction of the World Trade Center, brought many new residents to the area. Gateway Plaza, the first Battery Park City development, was finished in 1983. The project’s centerpiece, the World Financial Center, consists of four luxury highrise towers. By the turn of the century, Battery Park City was mostly completed, with the exception of some ongoing construction on West Street. Around this time, lower Manhattan reached its highest population of business tenants and full-time residents.
When building the World Trade Center, 1.2 million cubic yards (917,000 m³) of material was excavated from the site. Rather than dumping the spoil at sea or in landfills, the fill material was used to expand the Manhattan shoreline across West Street, creating Battery Park City. The result was a 700-foot (210-m) extension into the river, running six blocks or 1,484 feet (452 m), covering 92 acres (37 ha), providing a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) riverfront esplanade and over 30 acres (12 ha) of parks.
In 1968, the Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raidthat took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Since the early twentieth century, Lower Manhattan has been an important center for the arts and leisure activities. Greenwich Village was a locus of bohemian culture from the first decade of the century through the 1980s. Several of the city’s leading jazz clubs are still located in Greenwich Village, which was also one of the primary bases of the American folk music revival of the 1960s. Many art galleries were located in SoHo between the 1970s and early 1990s; today, the downtown Manhattan gallery scene is centered in Chelsea. From the 1960s onward, lower Manhattan has been home to many alternative theater companies, constituting the heart of the Off-Off-Broadwaycommunity. Punk rock and its derivatives emerged in the mid-1970s largely at two venues: CBGB on the Bowery, the western edge of the East Village, and Max’s Kansas City on Park Avenue South. At the same time, the area’s surfeit of reappropriated industrial lofts played an integral role in the development and sustenance of the minimalist composition, free jazz, and disco/electronic dance music subcultures. The area’s many nightclubs and bars—though mostly shorn of the freewheeling iconoclasm, pioneering spirit, and do-it-yourself mentality that characterized the pregentrification era—still draw patrons from throughout the city and the surrounding region. In the early twenty-first century, the Meatpacking District, once the sparsely populated province of after-hours BDSM clubs and transgendered prostitutes, gained a reputation as New York’s trendiest neighborhood.
On September 11, 2001, two of four hijacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the former World Trade Center, and the towers collapsed. The 7 World Trade Center was not struck by a plane, but collapsed because of heavy debris falling from the impacts of planes and the collapse of the Twin Towers. The other buildings of the World Trade Center complex were damaged beyond repair and soon after demolished. The collapse of the Twin Towers caused extensive damage to surrounding buildings and skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan, and resulted in the deaths of 2,606 people, in addition to those on the planes. Since September 11, Lower Manhattan lost much of its economy and office space, but most of Lower Manhattan has been restored. However, many rescue workers and residents of the area developed several life-threatening illnesses and some have already died. The area’s economy has rebounded significantly since then. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has consummated plans to rebuild downtown Manhattan by adding new streets, buildings, and office space. The National September 11 Memorial at the site was opened to the public on September 11, 2011, while the National September 11 Museum was officially inaugurated by President Barack Obama on May 15, 2014. As of the time of its opening in November 2014, the new One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and thefourth-tallest in the world, at 1,776 feet; while other skyscrapers are under construction at the site.
The Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park, formerly known as Liberty Plaza Park, began in the Financial District on September 17, 2011, receiving global attention and spawning the Occupy movement against social and economic inequality worldwide.
On October 29 and 30, 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged portions of Lower Manhattan with record-high storm surge from New York Harbor, severe flooding, and high winds, causingpower outages for hundreds of thousands of Manhattanites and leading to gasoline shortages and disruption of mass transit systems. The storm and its effects have prompted the discussion of constructing seawalls and other coastal barriers around the shorelines of Manhattan and the New York City metropolitan region to minimize the risk of destructive consequences from another such event in the future.
Lower Manhattan has been experiencing a baby boom, well above the overall birth rate in Manhattan, with the area south of Canal Street witnessing 1,086 births in 2010, 12% greater than 2009 and over twice the number born in 2001. The Financial District alone has witnessed growth in its population to approximately 43,000 as of 2014, nearly double the 23,000 recorded at the 2000 Census.
Perhaps Lower Manhattan’s most renowned landmark is now the former World Trade Center site. Before the September 11 attacks, the Twin Towers were iconic of Lower Manhattan’s global significance as a financial center. The new office towers (including One World Trade Center) are expected to restore the Lower Manhattan skyline and give it the title of the third largest central business district in the United States, behind Midtown Manhattan and the Chicago Loop. The 9/11 Memorial has become a popular draw for visitors.
The area contains many historical buildings and sites, including Castle Garden, originally the fort Castle Clinton, Bowling Green, the oldUnited States Customs House, now the National Museum of the American Indian, Federal Hall, where George Washington was inauguratedas the first U.S. President, Fraunces Tavern, New York City Hall, the New York Stock Exchange, renovated original mercantile buildings of the South Street Seaport (and a modern tourist building), the Brooklyn Bridge, South Ferry, embarkation point for the Staten Island Ferryand ferries to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, and Trinity Church. Lower Manhattan is home to some of New York City’s most spectacular skyscrapers, including the Woolworth Building, 40 Wall Street (also known as the Trump Building), the Standard Oil Building at 26 Broadway, and the American International Building.
Among the commercial districts of Lower Manhattan no longer in existence was Radio Row on Cortlandt Street, which was demolished in 1966 to make way for construction of the former World Trade Center.