Charles Petzold

My Neighborhood, circa 1849

May 7, 2008
New York, N.Y.

My apartment overlooks Broadway, the longest street in Manhattan, and if I move to one side of my window — and particularly if I hang my head out — I can see Grace Church, on the east side of Broadway between 10th and 11th Streets, right where Broadway curves for its long straight plunge downtown.

Grace Church was built in the 1840s based on a design by James Renwick (1818–1895). Renwick was educated as a structural engineer rather than an architect. A competition was held in 1843 to design a new church; Renwick studied European gothic churches, submitted a design, and won. He later went on to design the Smithsonian Institution Building in Washington DC and St. Patrick's Cathedral.

I recently acquired a book about the street over which I live entitled Broadway: The Grand Canyon of American Business (Broadway Association, 1926), and by "acquired" I mean "found." Sometimes when New Yorkers want to get rid of something, they don't dispose of it properly but instead put it out on the sidewalk in case somebody else might find it of value. That's how I got this book. (One good place to pick up free books is right outside The Strand, located just north of Grace Church. People bring books to The Strand to sell, and when The Strand doesn't want them, the disappointed sellers often just leave them behind. Deirdre recently found a thick book outside The Strand on bread-baking over which she has been poring.)

This book on Broadway has a chapter on Grace Church by the rector at the time, Rev. W. Russell Bowie, and he quotes from an earlier book entitled Grace Church and Old New York by William Rhinelander, who quotes from a diary entry from August 6, 1849 by a girl named Catherine Elizabeth Havens, who lived on the same street I live on today:

Washington Square and Union Square are still neighborhood parks. New York University holds their graduation ceremonies in Washington Square Park, and the Union Square Park hosts a Farmer's Market on its perimeter several days a week.

Of course, these days we can add a tiny bit of research to a serendipitous found book to discover that Catherine Elizabeth Havens' diaries were published as the book Diary of a Little Girl In Old New York (second edition, 1920), and that Google Book Search has two "full view" copies: