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New-York Historical Society

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 The Rapalje Children, John Durand, 1768. Collection of the New-York Historical Society
The Rapalje Children, John Durand, 1768. Collection of the New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society is an American history museum and library located in New York City at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West in Manhattan, founded in 1804 as New York's first museum. The New-York Historical Society presents exhibitions, public programs, and research that explore the rich history of New York and the nation. The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library has been at its present location since 1908. The granite building was designed by York & Sawyer in a classic Roman Eclectic style. A renovation of the landmark building was completed in November 2011 that made it more open to the public, provided space for an interactive children's museum, and accomplished other changes to enhance access to its collections.

Louise Mirrer has been the president of the Historical Society since 2004. She was previously Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the City University of New York.[1] Beginning in 2005, the museum presented a groundbreaking two-year exhibit on Slavery in New York, its largest theme exhibition in 200 years on a topic which it had never addressed before. It included an art exhibit by artists invited to use museum collections in their works.

The Society generally focuses on the developing city center on Manhattan Island, and the Long Island Historical Society was founded in 1863. It was later renamed as the Brooklyn Historical Society, located in the borough across the East River. This borough was consolidated into the "City of Greater New York" in 1898. The BHS also has materials pertaining to the greater city and its region.

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  • The Creation of "New York Now and Then: A Tribute to George Bradford Brainerd'
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Hello. My name is Jordan Liles and this video is all about going in-depth into the before and after photo comparisons in my short film “New York Then and Now: A Tribute to George Bradford Brainerd (1845-1887)”. I recommend watching the film before watching this behind the scenes video. I also created a shortened trailer-style version called 140 Years of Change in New York that was released in April 2014. The Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection believes that all of George Bradford Brainerd’s surviving 19th century photographs were captured between 1872 and his death in 1887. I shot all of the present day images between July 2013 and April 2014. The first photo shows a view of a Brooklyn street. Trolleys once turned down Hanover Place, the street that’s off camera to the left. Today, that’s the route some city buses take. The camera is positioned just west of the Fulton and Flatbush intersection in Brooklyn, and the camera is looking west. This photo comparison was one of the most difficult ones to shoot. Even though you don’t see cars in the present day photo, this is a very busy street for both cars and city buses. I would only be able to have my camera set up for a few seconds, then I’d have to get out of the way. I’d lose my place at trying to get the perfect angle. Lining up the angles of the curbs and having the street perfectly leveled in the distance was no easy task. I returned to this spot several times on my bicycle, and this was the best I could manage. Note the second floor of the buildings in the top right of the present day photo. Some of those existed more than a century ago. There’s also a brick building that’s off camera to the right that is now empty. It is also very old. Also as a bonus there’s a small alley called Grove Place that’s within a minute walking distance. It’s one of the few accessible dead end alleys left in the city. Moving on to the second photo, this one was shot on Clinton and Baltic somewhat near Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. I dealt with some traffic to get this one too, moving out of the way when cars were coming. George Brainerd looks to have shot this one using one of his detective cameras. He created his own hidden cameras disguised as a suitcase or perhaps a book. This allowed him to capture life without the subjects realizing they’re being photographed. Several others in this video are also shot this way as you will notice. Note the man off to the very left of the photograph holding a small container. Also there are what looks to be two women on the right side walking down the street. A few other things to note are the church steeple, the foreground shadows, the barrels in front of homes and awnings above some windows. I returned to shoot this one in the winter since you weren’t able to see much of the buildings with so many leaves in the spring, summer or fall. This third photo was flipped horizontally when I first found it on the Brooklyn Museum website. I didn’t have a church name or address, so I spent several hours looking through Google Street View and finally found a match. Most of the changes are obvious when you view the video, though my favorite part of the old one is the house to the left of the church that’s no longer there. My guess is that it may have served as the church leader’s house. I shot this one on a Sunday morning, and I had more than a few people eyeing me, though I was able to speak with a few of them and let them know what I was doing. For the fourth photo showing the man shoveling snow and today with the woman walking her dog, I believe I shot this one at Clinton and Kane. I wasn’t able to definitively find out if this is the same angle, though in doing hours of research on this one photo I believed this to be my best guess. The man with the mustache on the right is holding a bundle of papers perhaps. There’s a beautiful church steeple in the background and a man with a top hat walking with at least two others into the distance. Notice that Brainerd, the photographer, captured his photo just as the shoveler began to toss aside some snow. Also note that the people in this shot are in motion, so he was able to instantaneously capture a photograph with minimal blurriness using some of his own inventions. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle regarded him as the “father of instantaneous photography”, so it’s no surprise. For the fifth photo showing people skating on the ice and in present day the man fishing in front of the Lullwater Bridge, this is in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The bridge today says “1889”, so the one you see in Brainerd’s photo from the 19th century was the previous bridge. It’s difficult to see but you can tell that there are quite a large number of people standing on the bridge watching the ice skaters. And off to the right you might have noticed a child with his arms out to each side trying to keep balanced. Here’s a bonus before and after comparison of two present day seasons at the Prospect Park boathouse. And now the sixth photo shows Bow Bridge in Central Park. There used to be more land to walk on over on the right hand side of the photo, but that’s changed over time. One of the most interesting parts of this photo is that you have waterfowl in the same spot no matter the century. In the seventh photo, you can see part of Prospect Park that was recently reopened after the construction of an outdoor ice skating rink. Note the fence in the present day photo which should now be gone. Lincoln’s statue is now just off camera to the left. It’s been moved from Grand Army Plaza to I believe the Concert Grove. Note that the Concert Grove is on the east side of the park and is not where bands perform concerts. That separate place is on the west side. For photo number eight with the men marching from right to left, this spot wasn’t easy to find. The description for the photo on the Brooklyn Museum website says that men are taking a prisoner somewhere, though we aren’t sure who or where. Notice their long shadows in the morning light. I knew that photographer Brainerd had shot many photos around the Borough Hall area of Brooklyn, so in looking at the side of the building I realized that he shot this photo on the east side, pointing north. The way I recognized which side is by studying the buildings in the background on the right side of his photo. That row of buildings seen in the background is now completely gone. There is some grass and stone in its place, plus a larger building further back from the street. I’ll have more on this specific area coming up. Photo nine shows a Chase bank building today, but it used to be Frank Bollinger’s Meat Market. The address is 883 Flatbush Avenue. Notice today the green and yellow pawn shop sign and how it’s a small part of the back of the building. Now look at Brainerd’s photo and you can see that the small shop was once a tobacco store. It’s appears that the small plot of land has been used for small shops for more than a hundred years. Also note in the old photo there’s a church steeple on the right in the far distance. For photo ten, this is just a few steps away from photo number eight that showed men taking a prisoner somewhere. Brainerd and I stood on the steps to capture our photos. This might have been one of the most confusing shots to shoot, but bear with me. There’s a fountain in the middle of the shot that seems to have moved a few feet east between the 19th century and today. If you click this link which is a YouTube annotation, make sure those are on, you can see that the fountain perhaps wasn’t always centered with the building behind it. The row of buildings on the right are the ones that were in the background of the “taking prisoners” photograph. That row of buildings is completely gone today. It has been replaced by the row of trees and the larger building behind that. The two streets in the distance, one in the middle of the shot and one just to the left line up with my new photo. The large word “Daily” on the building in the old photo may have been for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper, which was a phenomenal resource when doing my research. I shot my photo when it snowed. I did this to match the conditions when Brainerd shot his photograph. With all comparisons I wanted to make sure to match up all conditions as best as possible. One very interesting thing to note is that between the time Brainerd shot his photograph and I shot mine, an above ground train was constructed, operated and demolished. If you have YouTube annotations turned on, click the link to see what it once looked like. Photo eleven shows Flatbush Town Hall at 35 Snyder Avenue. We aren’t sure who the two men are in the middle of the photograph, but they are looking at George Brainerd. When I was taking my photo, someone was also eyeing me. A woman was giving me dirty looks for wanting to take a photograph of the building. Have a look at the very top of the steeple and notice that part of it has gone missing. And a flag pole has been removed and there has been some work done on a chimney since the 19th century as well. Photo twelve is a great one showing that George Brainerd was able to watch as the Brooklyn Bridge was constructed over time, just as I was able to see the new One World Trade center tower go up during my five years in New York. Brooklyn Bridge Park didn’t exist in its current form in the 19th century. Note the old ships in the photo as we will see them again coming up in another photo. So after the shot of the Brooklyn Bridge fades to black, we see photo number thirteen. In my photo of present day a mother and child are walking down the street. Notice the boarded up building on the right and the top of the old building above the trees in the middle background. As we dissolve to the 19th century a few things are clear. Trolleys including one that says “Green-wood” which is a beautiful cemetery we’ll see in an upcoming photo, a building that says “Bolles Portraits and Photography” and one in the background that says “The Japanese Store” are all visible. The sign for “The Japanese Store” is how I found out where this is, thanks to an old ad in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives which are available online for free. The camera points toward the intersection of Fulton and Duffield. The man off to the left is said to be a fisherman according to a photo description. Some shadows are long here, letting us know it’s likely early morning or late afternoon. Photo fourteen would not have been easy to find had it not been for all the research I had been doing on all of Brainerd’s work. From my time studying his photographs, I knew that Brainerd liked to shoot around Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. Those bright windows in the background are Borough Hall. In Brainerd’s 19th century photo the man is shoveling coal into a bucket, and everyone is bundled up tight so it looks to be winter. As you can see by the long shadows, this is also early morning or late afternoon. One of the shadows shows Brainerd with his hat on. It’s one of a few glimpses we get of his shadow in his photography. I wonder if he would return after shooting, develop the photograph and see his shadow. Would he be ok with it, or would he think of it as a mistake? “Oh there’s my shadow. I didn’t see that.” Today I know I enjoy seeing it. I considered naming this project “Photographer in the Shadows” or something similarly cool before I was able to find three photos of him. Photo fifteen is one I did not include originally when I released a short video and several images in April 2014. If I panned the camera to the right, you would see Grand Army Plaza. George Brainerd’s job for several years of his life was as a “deputy purveyor”, “civil engineer” and “surveyor”. There are a few terms I found in old books. He wrote a book called, and this title is long so prepare: “The water works of Brooklyn A historical and descriptive account of the construction of the works, and the quantity, quality and cost of the supply”. Probably not the most exciting book, but it was likely a good resource to people at the time. I visited the New York Public Library main branch to research the book. It was an adventure unto itself giving the librarian the locating information for the specific book. They sent the number down many floors underground where someone retrieved it from a massive vault, and it was sent up the mechanical elevator and delivered it to the librarian who delivered it to me. It was not in good condition. It didn’t contain information about his life, but it did give insight into the fact that he was very much involved in the beginning of creating water pipe infrastructure for Brooklyn. This building in Brainerd’s photograph is now gone. There also was once a water tower within Prospect Park, but it is now gone as well. Today this hill is called Mount Prospect Park. In photo sixteen this is Public School Number one in Brooklyn. Today it’s crumbling, though it does have landmark status. The location is at 2274 Church Avenue. Notice the small tower off to the left that served as a bell for school children. And to the right, it appear s that was once a street. It’s now blocked off and partially taken up by a building. The way that I found this one was interesting. In riding around the city on my bicycle and gathering other test shots and photos for the project, I snapped a few photos of a crumbling school. When I returned home I looked on the Brooklyn Museum website and found that George Brainerd shot a photo of the building. It was one of those really cool ”wow” moments during the creation of this project. Photo seventeen is just out to the side of Borough Hall, close to the spot for the taking prisoners photo and the one I shot on the steps of the building with the fountain in the middle. In the present day photo, the street that was once traveled by horse-drawn trolleys is today a pedestrian promenade. Trees to the center left of my photo were once where buildings stood. And the big building to the right that you see in the present day photo wasn’t around in Brainerd’s days. Also notice that the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper sign is different in this one. It says “Oyster Dining” and a few other words. The old trolley in the middle of the photo says “Prospect Park and Flatbush”. There are several other words in these old photos that I can’t quite read, but maybe some of you can figure a few of them out. Photo eighteen is one I’ve used as the main comparison for this project. It’s beautiful composition in Central Park by George Brainerd. It shows the iconic Bethesda Fountain. Everything in this one is fairly self-explanatory. Notice that in striving for perfection in this project I shot my photo at the same time of day Brainerd shot his, showing long shadows in sunset. You can help fund my future photography projects by visiting and purchasing a print of the Central Park transformation. Photo nineteen. If you’ve been watching this entire video you know that I’ve mentioned George Brainerd liked to concentrate many photos around Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. This shows a view from behind the building along Joralemon Street. That’s Bryant & Stratton College in the background in the middle. They have a website, but they don’t still have the same location. That building is now gone. Off to the left is a book binding company sign. This one looks to have possibly been shot in the morning from what we can tell about the shadows. I believe the kids are playing a game in the back of this cart, according to a description on the Brooklyn Museum website. Photo twenty was an adventure to capture. In looking at Brainerd’s photo, I knew it was a view from a cemetery likely in Brooklyn, but I didn’t know anything about Green-Wood Cemetery at the time. In the several Sunday afternoons when I bicycled over to the cemetery, it is now one of my fondest memories from living in New York. The grounds are around the same size as all of Prospect Park, and the landscaping is breathtaking. Green-Wood Cemetery was and still is the place to be buried in New York. Samuel Morse has a really grand monument in the cemetery. He, of course, developed Morse code. That’s just one example of the historical figures who are buried there. I locked my bike at the entrance and walked through the historic entrance. In walking around the grounds looking for the highest view, I was able to find the location. Just for a moment I put my equipment on the ground, looked out and I wanted to enjoy the same view he enjoyed… but I was disappointed! It was summertime I believe and the leaves blocked my view. So I returned in the winter to get the clearest possible conditions. And this was the result. In looking at Brainerd’s photo, you can see the three high points of the entrance off to the left, and there are some ships in the far distance which is one of the coolest parts of this photo. In the photo in present day a tree has grown on the left. Here’s a bonus view of New York just a few steps from where Brainerd shot his photograph. I highly encourage people who live in the city or people coming to visit New York to take an afternoon to walk the grounds of Green-Wood. It’s the most beautiful place in the entire city and the entire time you’re surrounded by grand monuments and amazing history. Visit the cemetery website to watch a promotional video with actor John Turturro. Manhattan’s Canal Street is shown in photo twenty one. I used two clues to match this one up. I noticed a curve in the road in Brainerd’s photograph. I zoomed in on his image a bit to match with the photo I captured. Have a look at the tall, dark building on the right hand side. It still stands today. Canal Street used to be a canal in the early 19th century, though it was covered and completed as a street around the same time. Photo twenty two shows a man walking up a street in Brooklyn with the Brooklyn Bridge behind him. This is on Columbia Heights, also known as Everit Street. Today a building blocks most of the view of the bridge. It’s sunset in Brainerd’s photo since the man’s shadow and shadows of buildings are falling off to the right. Manhattan is off to the left out of view. Photo twenty three is a bonus just like photo fifteen that showed the water building and hill at Mount Prospect Park. I didn’t include this one in the original batch in April 2014. Finding this location was another adventure. I knew it was likely Prospect Park, but getting up high enough to take the photo was going to prove difficult. I wasn’t going to be able to walk into the Brooklyn Public Library and ask for roof access, so I needed to get crafty. I walked up to Mount Prospect Park, looked around and didn’t really see a way to take the photo. Then I saw a piece of fence that had been knocked down. So I walked right over that fence that had been knocked down and walked in more than two feet of snow and I got to the correct place right behind the library. In Brainerd’s photo, the area that would become Grand Army Plaza is off camera to the right. We’re looking west. I snapped this one in winter since leaves would almost completely cover the view at any other time of year. The main focal point when you see the transition from new to old is the middle curve in the street path in the park. Here’s a photo of something I found, up in this dead end area. Someone may have been sleeping up here a few times in the past. Photo twenty four shows New York’s City Hall. The towering Manhattan Municipal Building wasn’t built until between 1907 and 1914, so it doesn’t appear in George Brainerd’s photograph. The very right side Barclay-Vesey Building also doesn’t appear in the old photo as it wasn’t constructed until 1923. Capturing my photo was likely much more difficult than Brainerd in terms of getting access. I asked several security officers if I could step inside to take a photo for a before/after comparison. They were nice and let me step inside just enough to get what I needed. Photo twenty five. Just as George Brainerd was able to watch the Brooklyn Bridge rise, I was able to see One World Trade Center rise. They’re both pictured here in my photo. I’m speculating but with all of the sailors on all the ships, plus people on the street, I believe this to be the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883. There appears to be a large celebration happening in the photograph and George Brainerd died in 1887. It’s not definite, but it is likely that this is one of the few photographs that captures the grand opening of the bridge. Here’s a bonus photo of a sign just down the street. Cameras weren’t exactly around in the 1600s, but it’s fairly rare to see a place in the country that’s this historic. Photo twenty six shows a small waterfall in Prospect Park. It’s not Binnen Falls. In fact, here’s a present day season to season change of Binnen Falls that I shot in 2013 and 2014. The waterfall that George Brainerd shot is a bit different. I believe it’s near the large music pagoda. If you look closely you can see a bridge in the background of Brainerd’s photograph. This bridge is known as Nethermead Arch, and it was recently restored as part of the Prospect Park Alliance’s comprehensive restoration project. If you want to visit the small waterfall the coordinates to put into Google Maps are on the screen. I was only able to locate this small waterfall by visiting and exploring the park on my own time, and by finding out more about the bridge that I eventually read to be the Nethermead Arch. In photo twenty seven, this is the same location in Central Park as photo eighteen, and it was likely captured on the same afternoon. I believe this to be true because of the shadow similarity. It’s near sunset. Notice that you are unable to see any towering buildings in the late 19th century from inside Central Park. For example, the world’s first ten story building was built between 1884 and 1885 in Chicago. The tallest building in New York City from 1854-1890 was Trinity Church at 79 Broadway, so that kind of gives an idea that before George Brainerd passed away in 1887, the area’s parks were really a true breathing space for the city. And photo twenty eight shows the area we now know as Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Brainerd actually shot his photograph from the opposite side. I took the liberty of mirroring his image for the purpose of my video, and made sure to note this fact on my website. You can view the original image on the Brooklyn Museum website. Here you can see several church steeples in the distance. And if you look close enough, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge. We’re not sure if it’s before or after 1883 when the bridge opened, but that is the bridge in the background. It may be under construction at the time George Brainerd shot his photograph. When I first saw this photo I thought it would be too difficult to reshoot from such a high angle. How did I do it? I’ll keep this one a secret. I’ll give one hint and say I wasn’t on a rooftop, nor was I standing on a hill or flying a toy helicopter to get this photo. I also didn’t hold a long pole high in the sky. Let’s call it magic. I was fairly surprised when I arrived and realized the photo could be taken with relative ease. After the before and after photos, you get to see three photos of George Brainerd. The first shows him enjoying lunch, the second with him in his elaborate study and the third with him on the steps of a building with friends. And in the third photo, there looks to be a piece of his equipment next to him. We aren’t sure who’s taking the photo, but in all of my research I believe he is the man on the right hand side. I extend my thanks to Julie C. Moffat and the Brooklyn Public Library for the first two photos, and the Brooklyn Museum for the third one. And now you see several additional still photos. The first photo shows four men in the Register’s Office in City Hall, shot in 1875. It’s unique in that it was taken indoors by means of artificial light. This was not a common practice in the 1870s, and it shows his early interest in technical experimentation. I’m not sure who the man is with the small case next to the elephants, but it could be a friend with a hidden camera. The third photo here shows a family enjoying the beach on a nice day. The wide monster of a building after that is one of the first post office buildings in New York. Today that’s where City Hall Park resides. A man is selling grapes in the next photo and I like the depth of field with the focus on the foreground. And finally, one photo I’d love to have a before and after comparison of, but I wasn’t about to climb to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge to get up there. I cleaned up some damage to the photo, so for artistic purposes please visit the Brooklyn Museum website to look at the original. The photo shows Brooklyn, and you can see on the left side the American Sugar-Refining Company, better known as the Domino Sugar Refinery. The final photo is one of George Brainerd shot in a portrait studio. I thank the Theta Xi fraternity, one that Brainerd helped found, for access to the photo. This project was made in the memory of George Bradford Brainerd, a pioneer in the field of photography. I decided to go with before and after photography to draw interest to the subject. I hope all of you enjoy his work and my project in dedication to him. You can subscribe to me here on YouTube. You can also find me on Facebook at On Twitter @treein303 and Instagram with the username jordanliles. And visit for more on this project, and to watch my other films including three exploration films. I encourage everyone to explore George Bradford Brainerd’s entire photography collection online.



 Re-enactment of loyalist colonial troops guard the Society building from George Washington's Rebels
Re-enactment of loyalist colonial troops guard the Society building from George Washington's Rebels

The New-York Historical Society holds an extensive collection of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York. It presents deeply researched exhibitions on a variety of topics and periods in American history, such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Slavery in New York, The Hudson River School, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Tiffany designer Clara Driscol, and the history of the Constitution. The Historical Society also offers an extensive range of curriculum-based school programs and teacher resources, provides academic fellowships and organizes public programs for adults to foster lifelong learning and a deep appreciation of history.[2]


 Asher B. Durand, Pastoral Landscape, 1861
Asher B. Durand, Pastoral Landscape, 1861

The New-York Historical Society’s museum is the oldest in New York City and predates the founding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by nearly 70 years. Its art holdings comprise more than 1.6 million works. Among them are a world-class collection of Hudson River School paintings, including major works by Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church; iconic genre and history paintings including works by William Sidney Mount and Eastman Johnson; a vast range of American portraits, including paintings by Rembrandt Peale and Gilbert Stuart; all 435 of John James Audubon's extant preparatory watercolors for The Birds of America;[3] and an encyclopedic collection of more than 800 works documenting the full range of representational sculpture in America from the colonial period to the present day.[4] The Historical Society also holds an important collection of paintings and drawings by marine artist James Bard.[5] The museum holds much of sculptor Elie Nadelman’s legendary American folk art collection, including furniture and household accessories such as lamps, candlesticks, textiles, glass, and ceramic objects, as well as paintings, toys, weathervanes, sculptural woodcarvings, and chalkware.[6] The Historical Society’s holdings in artifacts and decorative arts include George Washington's camp bed from Valley Forge, the desk at which Clement Clarke Moore wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”, one of the world's largest collections of Tiffany lamps and glasswork, and a collection of more than 550 late nineteenth-century American board games.[7]

Its research library contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, atlases, newspapers, broadsides, music sheets, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings. Among its collections are far-ranging materials relating to the founding and early history of the nation including the first documentary evidence of the phrase "United States of America";[8] one of the best collections of 18th-century newspapers in the United States; an outstanding collection of materials documenting slavery and Reconstruction; an exceptional collection of Civil War material, including Ulysses S. Grant’s terms of surrender for Robert E. Lee; collections relating to trials in the United States prior to 1860; American fiction, poetry, and belles-lettres prior to 1850; a broad range of materials relating to the history of the circus; and American travel accounts from the colonial era to the present day.[2][9]

The Society operates a website showing many images from its collection.[10] In 2015 it announced the digitization and posting of over a thousand negatives by photographer Robert L. Bracklow from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[11]

Early history

 Recruiting poster for the First Battalion, New York Mounted Rifles, New-York Historical Society collection
Recruiting poster for the First Battalion, New York Mounted Rifles, New-York Historical Society collection
 11th Street
11th Street

The Historical Society was founded on November 20, 1804, largely through the efforts of John Pintard.[12] He was for some years secretary of the American Academy of Fine Arts, as well as the founder of New York's first savings bank. He was also among the first to agitate for a free school system. The first meeting comprised 11 of the city's most prominent citizens, including Mayor DeWitt Clinton. At the meeting, a committee was selected to draw up a constitution, and by December 10, the Historical Society was officially organized.

According to the Historical Society's first catalogue, printed in 1813, the museum then held 4,265 books, as well as 234 volumes of United States documents, 119 almanacs, 130 titles of newspapers, 134 maps, and 30 miscellaneous views. It had already collected the start of a manuscript collection, several oil portraits and 38 engraved portraits.

The Historical Society suffered under heavy debt during its early decades. In 1809, it organized a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Henry Hudson in New York Harbor. Inspired by the event, the Historical Society petitioned and later obtained an endowment from the New York State Legislature, to be financed by a lottery in 1814. The failure of the lottery resulted in a debt that forced the Society to mortgage some of its books, which were not redeemed until 1823.

The Historical Society and its collections moved frequently during the 19th century. In 1809, the Historical Society and its collections moved to the Government House on Bowling Green. Constructed as a residence for the President of the United States when New York was the temporary capital, the building had been unoccupied since the government's relocation to Philadelphia in 1790. In 1816, the Historical Society moved to the New York Institution, formerly the city almshouse on City Hall Park. In 1857, it moved into the first building constructed specifically for its collections, at the then-fashionable intersection of Second Avenue and 11th Street, where it stayed for the next 50 years. The Historical Society later acquired a collection of Egyptian and Assyrian art, which was eventually transferred to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Present building

Construction for its eighth home began September 10, 1902.[13] The central portion of the present building on Central Park West was completed December 15, 1908,[14] to designs by architects York and Sawyer, who were known for their bank designs. In 1938 that central block was extended and sympathetically completed by the construction of pavilions on either end, with Walker & Gillette as architects. That extension project stands among the last examples of Beaux-Arts architecture completed in the city and in the entire country. The building was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966.[15][16]

 Corn Planter, Seneca war chief, by F. Bratoli, 1796
Corn Planter, Seneca war chief, by F. Bratoli, 1796

Two notable stained glass windows are found in the library on the 2nd floor. The Arrival of Henry Hudson was designed by Mr. Calvert of the Gorham Manufacturing Company. The second is Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, known as the French Huguenot memorial window, in honor of religious refugees to New York. It is inscribed and signed by the artist, Mary E. Tillinghast. The window was underwritten by Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, a philanthropist who was instrumental in commissioning other windows by Tillinghast.

Decline and revival

 Frederick Childe Hassam, Flags on Fifty-Seventh Street, oil on canvas, 1918, in the New-York Historical Society's collection
Frederick Childe Hassam, Flags on Fifty-Seventh Street, oil on canvas, 1918, in the New-York Historical Society's collection

The Historical Society's collection continued to grow throughout the 20th century, but renewed financial woes in the 1970s and 1980s forced the Historical Society to limit access to its collections to professional researchers. In the 1980s, under the leadership of Herbert S. Winokur, Jr., a private equity financier and Enron board member,[17] the Society was forced to use endowment invasion to pay their annual operating costs and cover their salaries, to the point where by 1988, they had only enough money in their endowment to pay for another 18 months of operating expenses.[18][19] Barbara Knowles Debs from Manhattanville College was named interim director of the Historical Society.[20] In the same year hundreds of paintings, decorative art objects, and other artifacts, which were stored in a Manhattan warehouse, were found to be critically deteriorating. Many of the objects were on long-term loan to the museum.[21]

In 1995, grants from the city and state restored public access under the direction of Betsy Gotbaum. Since the late 1990s, the New-York Historical Society has invested significantly in facility and installation upgrades, and conducted fundraising. It has increased its operating budget by 160 percent to enhance and expand its public programs, while maintaining a balanced budget from 1998 to the present. Recent renovations to the Historical Society include new galleries and exhibition spaces, the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture, a state-of-the-art library reading room, and a new facility to house and provide access to the letters and manuscripts of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. In 2005, the Historical Society was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 Costumed troops guard the front hall
Costumed troops guard the front hall

The museum has mounted exhibits on national themes through history in New York. For instance, beginning in 2005 with Slavery and the Making of New York, 1600s – 1827, it mounted the first exhibition ever in New York City on the major but little-known role of slavery in the city's economy and history. During the colonial years, 41% of households had slaves, and much of the city's economy through the Civil War was related to the South and slavery; half of its exports were related to cotton. Devoting the entire first floor to the exhibit, the museum mounted the largest theme exhibit in its 200-year history. It also addressed the strengths of African Americans who resisted slavery and created their own culture, both in New York and the nation.[22] A related part of the exhibit was commissioning 20 new works by invited artists, some of whom used objects from the museum's collections to create new works and installations on this theme. The second exhibition was New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War, 1827–1865, (November 17, 2006 to September 3, 2007), which explored the economy before the war and strong business ties to the South, events related to the war such as the New York City Draft Riots, and other aspects. Southerners visited New York so frequently in the antebellum era that they had favorite hotels.[23]

Under the direction of Louise Mirrer, a three-year, $65 million renovation of the landmark building on Central Park West was completed in 2011 to enhance public access to the institution's resources. On Central Park West, windows were lengthened to form new entrances, with views into the main gallery, and windows were expanded. To establish "a street presence," the society has installed life-size bronze sculptures outside the building — Abraham Lincoln on Central Park West, Frederick Douglass on West 77th Street – national figures with connections to New York.[24]

After reopening, the Historical Society offered a multimedia installation of major themes of American history through stories and figures from New York's past. It also has a new section for an interactive children's history museum.[24]


The Historical Society uses an archaic spelling of the geographic name of "New York". Hyphenating the city's old name was common in the 19th century when the institution was founded, and is still used in this context to provide a unique identity.[25]

New-York Historical Society book prizes

The New-York Historical Society gives three books prizes annually.


See also


  1. ^ "About the President and CEO". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "About the New-York Historical Society". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Museum Collections: Paintings". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  4. ^ "Museum Collections: Sculpture". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  5. ^ Mariner's Museum and Peluso, Anthony J., Jr., The Bard Brothers—Painting America under Steam and Sail, Abrams, New York 1997 ISBN 0-8109-1240-6
  6. ^ "Museum Collections: Decorative Arts". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  7. ^ "Museum Collections: Historical Artifacts". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  8. ^ Touba, Mariam (Nov. 5, 2014) Who Coined the Phrase ‘United States of America’? You May Never Guess From the Stacks, New-York Historical Society Blog. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  9. ^ "Patricia D. Klingenstein Library". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  10. ^ "Digital Collections". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved June 25, 2016. 
  11. ^ "New-York Historical Society, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection". Digital Culture of Metropolitan New York. Retrieved June 25, 2016. 
  12. ^ John Noble Wilford (April 15, 2008). "How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-08-11. Unlike most upper-class residents, John Pintard, the respected civic leader who was the historical society’s founder, remained in the stricken city. 
  13. ^ Vail, R. W. G. (1954). Knickerbocker Birthday. A Sesqui–Centennial History of The New-York Historical Society. 1804–1954. The New-York Historical Society. pp. 173–4. 
  14. ^ Vail, R. W. G. (1954). Knickerbocker Birthday. A Sesqui–Centennial History of The New-York Historical Society. 1804–1954. The New-York Historical Society. pp. 191–2. 
  15. ^ "Advocacy Archive – New-York Historical Society". Landmark West!. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Raskin, Laura (16 June 2011). "NY Historical Society Gets $65 Million Makeover". Architectural Record. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  17. ^ Goldberger, Paul (11 April 1994). "Is There Hope for Historical Society?". The New York Times. 
  18. ^ McGill, Douglas C. (August 28, 1988). "Troubled Museums Try to Master the Fine Art of Survival". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-24. In recent weeks, the New York Historical Society, which for years had used money from its endowment and from a few wealthy trustees and patrons to compensate for growing annual deficits, finally reached ... 
  19. ^ McGill, Douglas C. (November 30, 1988). "Historical Society Reshaping Itself for Survival". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-18. Last January, after many years of using money from the Historical Society's endowment to pay for yearly operating deficits, the trustees determined that the endowment had dwindled to the point where the institution would be bankrupt in 18 months. 
  20. ^ a b c McGill, Douglas C. (August 14, 1988). "Panel Will Seek Rescue For Historical Society". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-24. In addition, Barbara Knowles Debs, an art historian who is known for her financial acumen as president of Manhattanville College from 1975 to 1985, has been named interim director of the Historical Society. She replaces James B. Bell, the director since 1982, who resigned last month after the institution's financial crisis came to light and after The New York Times disclosed that many of the Historical Society's possessions had been rotting in warehouses. 
  21. ^ McGill, Douglas C. (July 10, 1988). "Hundreds of Art Works Damaged By Mildew in Museum Warehouse". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-24. Hundreds of paintings, decorative art objects and artifacts that the New-York Historical Society is storing in a Manhattan warehouse are in such acute stages of deterioration that some may be permanently lost. ... 
  22. ^ "About the Exhibit", Slavery and the Making of New York, New-York Historical Society, accessed 3 May 2012
  23. ^ "About the Exhibit", New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War, 1827–1865 (November 17, 2006 to September 3, 2007), New-York Historical Society, accessed 3 May 2012
  24. ^ a b Pogrebin, Robin (April 11, 2011). "A Bunker of History Begins to Open". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-21. But with a $65 million renovation that is nearing completion, the museum is reaching out to the public with a redesign that tries to be welcoming and to communicate the treasures that lie within a building originally designed by architects who specialized in banks. 
  25. ^ "It Can Hyphen Here: Why the New-York Historical Society Includes a Hyphen". New-York Historical Society Museum & Library. Retrieved 31 March 2017. 
  26. ^ a b "CUNY Administrator to Lead Historical Society". New York Times. March 13, 2004. Retrieved 2014-08-11. The New-York Historical Society named Louise Mirrer, the chief academic officer of the City University of New York, as its new president, succeeding Kenneth T. Jackson, a historian who will return to teaching at Columbia University. 
  27. ^ Susan Saulny (May 5, 2001). "Society Picks Historian For Top Post". New York Times. Retrieved 2017-09-01. Mr. Jackson succeeds Betsy Gotbaum, who has served as the society's president since 1994. 
  28. ^ "Historical Society Names Leader". New York Times. October 2, 1992. Retrieved 2014-08-11. Norman Pearlstine, the former executive editor of The Wall Street Journal, has been named interim president of the New-York Historical Society, the society announced yesterday. Mr. Pearlstine, who has been chairman of the Historical Society since April 1989, is to head a search committee to replace Dr. Barbara Knowles Debs, who retired yesterday after four years as president. Dr. Debs will remain a trustee. 
  29. ^ "Fenwick Beekman, M.D. (1882-1962)". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Robert William Glenrole Vail. "Knickerbocker birthday; a sesqui-centennial history of the New-York Historical Society 1804-1805". Hathi Trust Digital Library. Retrieved 31 March 2017. 

Further reading

External links

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