1904 Commerce Street taken from Barrow Street Manhattan -- a history of one New York City street name.
The many details in this image are best viewed large, click this link
or click the "all sizes" button above this image.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
1904 - NYPL digital image collection
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Plus Some Lies About Colonial
Cherry Trees and Green Pines
This 1904 image of Commerce Street is taken from the perspective of Barrow Street (once Reason Street) facing south. Prior to being developed for housing, this part of Commerce Street was a boundary line between the Gomez Farm on the Herring Estate toward the East (to the left of the horse cart) and farmland owned by Trinity Church (to the right of the horse cart), West toward the Hudson. The three buildings at the far right were replaced in 1912 by a single white-brick building that now houses Commerce Restaurant.
The area was never a business district, so why Commerce? Paris, which also has its Rue du Commerce, has the answer. Along with nearby streets named for Art, Science, and Reason, Commerce Street was mapped out in the late 1790s toward the end of the Enlightenment following the French Revolution, when such ideals were to be woven into the fabric of daily city life. It was believed that these types of philosophical principals could be found in individual endeavors more powerful than the church hierarchy or the authority of hereditary aristocracy and could be used to combat tyranny, superstition, ignorance, and poverty. Some 200 years later only Commerce remains.
Art Street was neither straight nor enduring. Parts of Art Street followed what is now Eighth Street north of Washington Square Park toward Astor Place. By 1840 most of Art Street had already been renamed. Science Street, also short-lived, was just above the path of Art Street now Waverly Place.
Reason Street was named as a tribute to Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason,” a text central to these revolutionary thoughts. Paine’s politics remained controversial after his death, and in 1826 the street was renamed for Thomas Barrow, a popular artist.
Cherry Lane is the neighborhood theatre founded in 1924 and, since 2003, an honorary street name (posted on Seventh Avenue). The theatre’s name is just a play on London’s Drury Lane Theatre, so to embellish this simple phonetic association co-founder William Rainey dreamed up an imaginary cherry-tree-lined cow path that passed through the old Gomez Farm. This mischievous publicity stunt was so convincing that many believe Cherry Lane to be the street’s original name. The story is memorialized on a completely inaccurate bronze plaque at the corner of Commerce and Bedford.
While The Cherry Lane might take its name from London, the name Greenwich Village has little to do with England. The area was named in the 1670s when Yellis Mandeville moved from his Long Island settlement and transplanted the name of his old district to his new estate on Manhattan. The Dutch “Greenwijck,” or Pine District, was later anglicized into Greenwich.
Brown Brothers (New York) -- Photographer
Manhattan: Commerce Street - Barrow Street
Photographic views of New York City, 1870's-1970's > Manhattan
Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy
Specific Material Type:
Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s
Digital Image ID:
Digital Record ID:
Digital Record Published:
2-16-2005; updated 10-4-2007