Early 1600s to Mid-1800s

The map seen here is an 18th century topographical map of Upper Manhattan (N-YHS) overlaid with the streets and avenues of our 21st century grid.


Hover over the icon at left (there are 5 in total) to see an image of what Upper Manhattan would have appeared like at that particular location. Click on the image to enlarge in a new window.

In this early era, Upper Manhattan was hilly and lush; a fertile land that supported large farms. This long island was crisscrossed by Lenape paths that would later become colonial roads. Small villages like Harlem (see more below) dotted the landscape.



126th Street Bus Depot Project Site -

Site of the Harlem African Burial Ground

Overlooking a gentle slope towards the Harlem River, the Village of Harlem was established by the Dutch on indigenous people's sacred land in 1660.  Artifacts recovered in 1885 - which included arrowheads, flakes, and shell heaps - indicated that there was a camp or village in this area utilized for fishing as well as a possible location for river landing and trading. 

The Low Dutch Reformed Church of Harlem (now the Elmendorf Reformed Church) created the quarter acre Harlem African Burial Ground here in the mid-1660's near the church for people of African descent who had built, constructed and maintained the new colony's infrastructure. This burial ground was the first and only African cemetery in Harlem and the only known cemetery of its kind in Upper Manhattan. Even after the British assumed control of Manhattan Island in 1664, free and enslaved Africans continued to be interred here.


The slider below shows the dramatic transformation of Upper Manhattan from a rural landscape replete with natural wonders to an urban streetscape comprised of city blocks and building lots. Note that many of the rivers and streams have been filled in and the shoreline has been expanded and remade.