John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2016 January 26

    A few NYSkiers sat a talk at the Mid-Manhattan library on 2016 
January 25 about the street pattern of Manhattan. North of It was 
presented by Gerard Lpe[[e;. aitjpr pf tje nppl 'City on a grid', 
which he had for signing after the talk. 
    The little auditorium was filled to overflowing in spite of the 
mass of leftover snow and ice from the blizzard that sweeped over the 
city over the preceding weekend. I myself walked to the library from 
work,  carefully pstepping around heaped snow and slippery ice. 
    I arrived at the library at quite 6PM EST but the auditorium was not 
yet open. Elecators to it were not turned on yet. others gathered in 
the library by the elevator for the notice to adcend to the 
auditoriium. Once upstairs, I found, from the next elevator ride, 
NYSkier Steve kaye., who saved a seat for me. The talk started at 6:30 
and would last, with question--ansert, thru 8PM. 
    Because the topic is thoroly explored in Koeppel's book and there 
is an extensive litterature about the street layout on manhattan, I 
discuss here some special features of the pattern.
Manhattan street grid
    North of SoHo and Greenwich village the streets on Manhattan are 
orthogoanl, forming rectangular blocks, This pattern is almost 
perfectly intact from Houston St thru 155th St. North of 155th St the 
pattern gets irregular, altho the street numbers continue to the 
Spuyten Diubil tip of the island.
    At first there is nothing overly remarkable about this 
arrangement, being that a gridiron street layout is a common feature 
in many american cities, specially those west of the Allegheny 
mountains. Philadelphia, for one older East Coast town, has a gridiron 
layout and Washington, built in the late 1790s, has one with an 
overlay of diagonal avenues.
    Houston Street is 'zero street' and the streets, the east-west or 
crosstown roads are serially numbered without interruption to 155th 
St. The north-south, or thrutown, toads, are numbered 1st Avenue on 
the East River side of manhattan to 12th Avenue on the Hudson River 
side. Where the island widens, like in Alphabet City and East Village, 
and again in the Upper East Side, 'negative' avenues are lettered A  
east tohe waterfront. The farthest east lettered avenue is avenue D.
    The major anomaly in this grid is Broadway, running along the grid 
until Union Square, then veering diagonal in a crooked path to the 
Upper West Side, thrn aligning again with the grid. Yjos was mpt [art 
pf the palnned pattern, as explained later.
    In this piece all dimensions are rounded to the meter. Of xourse, 
in the older era the colonial measures were employed, such as 'foot' 
and 'mile'. For quick work one foot is 30cm and one mile is 1600m. 

Manhattan Island
    Manhatttan Island stands at the mouth of Hudsonm or North, River 
where it meets New York harbou and Atlantic Ocean. 
    Manhattan was a naturally hilly island, with a spine of high 
ground north-south along it and numerous hills and valleys all 
over.Today most of the relief is leveled but the names are preserved 
in the various 'Hill' and 'Heights' districts here and there over the 
idalnd. There is one major 'Valley' a deep one that couldn't 
reasonably be filled in. The west end of 125th St sits in the floor of 
manhattan Valley, where it veers norhtward off of the grid. 
    The island is about 22km long north-south and about 4km wide. 
Manhattan probably will not soon add land to lengthen it but it is 
gettin wider from landfill along the east and west flanks. 
    The longest crosstown street, at the widest section of the island, 
is 14th Street, still intact river to river. 13th St was the longest 
but some long while ago it was cut for a superblock into two shorter 
segments. Broadway is the longest thrutown street, spanning the full 
length of Manhattan from Bowling Green at the south end to Suyuten 
Duyvil at the north end. 
    Waters isolate Manhattan form other land. The Hudson, or North, 
River flanks it on the west separating it from New Jersey. East River 
on the east separates it from Long Island.  New York harbbor on the 
south and Harlem River on the north, separating it from the mainland 
of United States, complete the insulation of Manhattan. 
    None of the rivers' are real rivers but ridal straits feeded by 
both the harbor and, a nit away from Manhattan, Long Island Sound. 
Their waters are salty ike the ocean. 
    At first New York City was just manhattan. Other lands around it 
were occupied by independent towns,and villages. In about 1880 the 
south part of the Bronx, across harlem river, was annexed to the City. 
Brooklyn and Queens, across East River, and Staten Island, across the 
harbor, united into the city in 1898. The five districts are the 
'boros' of he present greater city of new York. 
    New York City asserted domain over the entire waterways around it, 
limited only by the boundary between it and sthe adjoining state of 
new Jersey. For it the frontier of the City is in the mid line of 
Hudson River but for the other waters it's on the farther shore. 

The early City
The original streets of Manhattan were laid out by the Dutch, covering 
the area bounded by Broadway, Wall Steet, and East River. This pattern 
is now landmarked with no interference permitted by new construction. 
In fact, at least one new skyscraper, a tiny one by Manhattan 
standards, in Nassau St spand two blocks but the interveing Dutch 
strret passes thru it as a pedestrian walk.
qAs the City grew more streets wre set down in an irregular pattern, 
some aligning with the close-by soreline, others continued existing 
streets. At the start of the War for Independence New York extended as 
far north as Fulton Street and City Hall Park. I use, for sanity sake, 
modern names for locations. City Hall Park was then called the 
Commonsm a staple feature of English towns in America.
    There was little residence north of City Hall Park, only the large 
lands used for farming with a few houses and utility buildings here 
and there. These were situated according to local circumstances with 
no regard to coordinate with other structures.
    By the end of the 19th century the city population was about 
60,000, recovering from the horrific loses of the War. Virtually all 
lived in south of City Pall Park.
    It was evident that for the city to grow, it must march upward, 
'ptoen' in modern terms, along the island. It was time to plan a 
rational consisten street scheme for this northward expansion.

The project
    In the late 17990s there wasalready some system of streets on 
Manhattan north of the built-up section. The City owned just about the 
whole island and started to promote development along it. It had a set 
of lots, rectabgular and lined up with the axis of Mahattan. The 
north-south sides aim to azimuth 29-1/2 degree and the east-west side 
aim into 119-1/2 degree. There was no thought of streets as such for 
the land was adverised as country and farm lnad. Landowners could do 
what thry wanted within the lots.
    This land sold slowly for being so 'far' from the built-up area at 
the southern end of Manhattan and by the early 1800s there aeere many 
unsold lots left. They were more or less neglected and no longer 
strongly promoted.
    It was by the start of the 19th century clear that for the city to 
grow it had to expand northward along the island. Remember tha 'New 
York' was only Manhattan, with no jurisdiction across the waters to 
other land. Since the irregular colonial streets were so clumsy, 
congested, and hazardous, there should be some orderly layout of 
streets north of the developed zone of Manhattan.
    A committee was set up by the New Yori State, at the City's 
request, to work up a scheme of streets into which the city could 
expand in an orderly consistent manner. I don't recall a special name 
and koeppel simply called it the 'committee' or commisison.. It ws 
given four years to turn in its report to the city.

The committee
    Koeppel elanorated much about the life and staus of the committee 
members, there being three. I pass over that and move to the taks this 
committee. It had very few criteria to satisfy, the most important 
being that new streets had to be 18m wide at least andshould cover as 
much of the island as practical. 
    The new street pattern will start at what is now Houston St with a 
few exceptions. Greenwich Village, exteniding across Houston St, was 
already built-up and was left out of the plan. Several streets already 
improved in Lower East Side and East Village were also allowed to stay 
in place. Other than that, the new streets overlaid and superceded all 
lot lines not lined up with them. 
    An other most iimportant feature of the committee was that its 
report, what ever it was, is law. Yjere was no public review and 
comment or other level of approval. What the report showed is how the 
City will grow, period.
    As it turned out the committee did almost nothing for the first 
three years. Two members, John Rutherfourd and Gouverneur Morris, were 
wealthy landed new Yorkers who passed up the authroized pay for their 
committee work. They were also busy caring for their own interests, 
including work on the Erie canal. 
    The third, Simeon deWitt. commuted from Albany and disliked the 
City. He put in accounts for reimbursements,  some disputed. For one 
point he sometimes missed the last horse-car ride to Albany on Friday, 
when the sevice shut down for the weekend. He wanted pay for having to 
stay in the city until service resumed on Monday. He did get pay for 
Saturday but not for Sunday, which was counted as the Sabbath, when no 
work was allowed. 
    In January 1811 with only a couple moths left before the April 
1811 deadline for the committee report, the group stormed their work. 
Koeppel didn't quite say so, but it was likely from what I heard that 
the committee saw the existing farm lots and used them as the core of 
their plan. Most of the work, including survey and mapping was done 
for the lots. Maybe this is expalained in Koeppel's book?

It's RutherfUrd!
 ------------ -
    Koeppel gave deep accounts of the three members of the street 
commission, which I skip here. One person, John rtutherfurd does call 
for some discussion. The Rutherfurd family was one of several wealthy 
landed sectors of City life in the Revolutionary era and well into the 
19th century. It had large lands on Manhattan and in northern new 
    One annoying feature of the Rutherfurd name is its revoltingly 
common misspelling. Many places are named 'Rutherford', with an 'o' 
and not a 'u'. The duty papers assigning John to the commission called 
him 'Rutherford'!  As much as the family, including John on the 
committee, protested and corrected the error, it persists up to the 
prpresent day.
    The twon built on his former lands in new Jersey is 'Rutherford'!. 
The street on Manhaatan in his former farm is 'Rutherford' Place! A 
new residence tower near this street is 'the Rutherford'! 

The grand plan
    The commission's report was given to the City Council in March 
1811 and immedaitely beecame law. It consisted of a 2-1/2m long map of 
Manhattan with the new streets and a booklet of notes. From this 
scrawny document would emerge the City of the 19th and later 
centuries. Streets were ddelineated as a rectilineat grid of 
rectangular blocks. There were no diagonal or curved streets. 
    The grid started at Houston St, then far north of the built-up 
part of Manhattan. Streets south of Houston St which were already cut 
were left alone. The plan said nothing about any all-new streets below 
Houston St and many new streets there  didn't mesh into the grid. The 
plan also left alone Greenwich Village and some extraneous streets 
already laid out north of Houston St. 
    From Houston St the patern was a mechanical recatngular grid 
marching clear up the island far north of any substantial permanent 
    It ended at 155th St becasue, as the cmmission believed, the 
terrain north of there was too hilly to live on and it would take many 
centuries[!] before the City would populate up to 155th St.. 
    Koeppel didn't explain but it could be that thr commission trended 
the history of New York. From 1609, when the City was first settled, 
to 1809, within the committee's tenure, spanned 200 years. In that 
time the City spread from Wall St to City Hall Pk. It would in deed 
take an ong time to spread to 155th St, some 15km farther north. 
    The gridiron streets aligned with the older farm lots with the 
warning to the farm owners that a slice of their land will eventually 
be taken to lay down new streets. The east-west streets wre spaced 80m 
apart. The north-south avenues were 280m apart. The avenues, following 
the north-south axis of Manhattan, aimed into azimuth 29-1/2 to 209-
1/2 degree. Streets awere orthoogonal into 119-1/2 to 299-1/2 degree. 
    The steets were numbered 1 thru 155 from south to north. Avenues 
were numbered 1 thru 12 east to west.Where thr island bulgrf out east 
of 1st Av, addtional avenues were mapped,lettered A thru D eastward. 
    The avenues were 30m wide while the streets were 18m wide. One 
benefit of this arrangement was that early in the 1800s growth 
northward creeped along the riverfronts, leaving the inland largely 
vacant. Industry and sihpping were on the shore, with residences 
nearbu. Traffic was mostly corsstown, along the close-spaced streets. 
    Koeppel mentioned that the pattern wasn't completely regular, with 
details in his book. For example the 'alphabet' avenue blocks were 
shorter than the number avenues, of about 240m length. There were also 
minor variations in the spacing of the crosstown streets. These small 
irregularities do not compromise the fundamental gridiron plan. 

Above 155th St
    North of 155th St the island was considered topographicly too 
rugged to inhabit. Streets tjere were evenrually cut thru more 
sympatheticly to the relief, following the contours of hills. 155th St 
is near the root of Manhattan's panhandle, w only a few hundred meters 
wide, with steep vertical relief. 
    For new streets above 155th St, the crosstown roads continued the 
numbering, up to about 215th St at the north tip of the island. The 
streets are spaced and aligned irregularly against the gridiron.  The 
avenues continue northward, with a few supplemental ones, many with 
proper names. These weave along the land contours. 
    With the expected long time, many centuries, thought to take to 
develop the far north,the City got a bonus. Much of the panhandle was 
sequestered into parks to preserve the aspect of colonial New York. 
There are the 1700s Fort Tryon, the last open-surface creek on 
Manhattan, colonial stashes of oyster sheells, and caves where the 
first explorers huddled in. 
    When the City acquired the Bronx, it extended the street numbering 
into it along existing or capriciously bcut streets. The numbering 
goes to about 265th St along the west side of the Bronx. Because the 
streets are irregularly spaced, the numbers do not match across the 
Bronx. Only some of the avenues cross the Harlem River nto the Bronx. 
The others die at the riverfront or contiune as named roads in the 

Open land and parks 
    The commission's plan offered no parks or other open spaces, WITH 
one small eceprion. The belief was that with Manhattan so narrow the 
waterfront is always a short walk or ride away. At the shore all 
needed  light and air was available. 
    The exception was an open field at about 23rd St and 4th Av called 
'the Parade'. This was perhaps a place for local militia or army 
companies to practice marching and to stage public shows.  Broadway, 
extended north from City Hall along the grid, would end there. It was 
never constructed, being supplanted by other later parks. Madison 
Square is the nearest one to the Parade's site. 
    WithIN ten or so years after 1811 parks started sprouting up here 
and there within the mapped blocks. Some were land donated or sold to 
the City specificly for open space. Others were laid out by the City 
itself. In most instances the park boundary lined up with the grid. 
Sometimes the boundary was within a block, in which case new streets 
were laid down around it. 
    Where a park covered several blocks, the interior streets were 
either demapped or easements were left for them. 
    Central Park, the grandest of Manhattan parks, was never part of 
the plan. its territory was to be developed along with all the other 
streets around it. The Park was devised in 1853 when the land it 
occupies was still mostly not inhabited. Any existing  residences were 
oblitterated during Park construction. 

    Besides the horizontal layout of streets, the plan called for a 
general leveling of the terrain. As streets were actually cut thru, 
hills in the way will be cut down and valleys will be filled in. There 
are hills and valleys on Manhattan, all low and shallow, with 
Manhattan Valley as the prime exception. The hills in Central Park for 
instance, were preserved or artificially built. 
    Part of the reason for smoothing out the land was that until 
decades later the only transport method was foot and hoof. Horses and 
mules and oxes can handle only gentle gradients. Steep ones would 
severely impede circulation thru the expanding City. The level land a 
 also speeded up the northward growth, bringing remote parts of the 
island within a couple hours of Lower Manhattan. 

    There was no Broadway in the master plan. It was supposed to 
continue north from lower Manhattan, align to the grid, and terminate 
at 23rd St in the Parade. The road was a well-travelled colonial road 
sometimes called Albany Post Road. It was the main route north from 
the City to towns along the Hudson River to Albany, the state capital. 
    Businesses along Broadway put up a battle to keep the street. In 
the end, Broadway was left alone in it developed sections. It was 
moved in line of the grid in the Upper West Side. 
    Broadway is the only significant deviation from the hard-wired 
street pattern. It forms triangle and rhomboid blocks within the grid, 
giving opportunities for setting down parks . The row of Union Sq, 
Madison Sq, Herald Sq, Times Sq, Columbus Cr, Lincoln-Dante Sq, and 
Sherman-Verdi Sq are today's legacy of keeping Broadway intact. 

Two-way crosstown streets 
    Koeppel was at a loss to explain the choice of today's two-way 
crosstown streets.  He thought at first all the streets were 18m wide 
and that much later certain ones were widened as the City reached 
them. The wider, 30m, streets were in the original plan. 
    They seem to be irregular in spacing, from 9 to 15 blocks. Some 
intersect Broadway near an avenue but since Broadway was not part of 
the plan, this seems to be just a coincidence. Others are no where 
near Broadway, like the two-way streets on the Upper East Side. 
    Koeppel would love to discover how these streets were selected. 

Lexington and Madison Avenues 
    These were variations from the plan in later decades at the 
pressure of real estate interests. Lexington Av was named for the 
Revolutionary battle. Madison Av was named for president Madison. A 
south extension of Lexington Av is Irving Pl, for the writer. 
    With the commission's plan in force, New York stipulated that the 
blocks may not have alleys and lanes thru them. This was a sanitary, 
safety, and fire consideration.  All of the newer streets within the 
blocks are full-width corridors. 
    Today  we could use a few extra avenues but there is probably no 
hope of ever putting them in. Far too much of the existing blocks is 
developed. What did happen is that many walkways were built, mostly in 
the block-thru ground floors of office buildings. These have entrances 
on adjacent crosstown streets and often allow foot traffic to pass 
between them. 
    There are also several footways outdoors, like in Paley Park and 
other 'vest-pocket' parks. These are usually built with an adjacent 
property as a public bonus. The property gets some extra development 
benefits, such as added building  height or tax abatement. thru parks 
and campuses. 
    An opposite feature is to preserve a street when it is within a 
super-block. When two or more blocks are assembled to build a larger 
structure, sometimes the interior street must be left open. The Port 
of Authority bus depot lets 41st St pas thru as a tunnel on the street 
level. It is roofed over by the depot. 

6th and 7th Avenues
    Greenwich Village, already well developed in the early 1800s, was 
left out of the master plan, even tho it straddled Houston St. It 
seemed that it would be left alone for good, as it was for the rest of 
the 19th century.
    In the 1910s the City was building new subway lines, one being the 
7th Av line. It branched off of the then existing red line in Broadway 
north of Times Sq to the south end of 7th Av in Greenwich Village. To 
get the line prolonged into Lower Manhattan, a ruler was placed on a 
city map to connect 7th Av to Varick St. The path was then cut and 
cleared of existing structures. The new street, 7th Av South, clipped 
off triangles and rhomboids of blocks and sheared off building 
protruding into its corridor. 
    In the 1920s the new blue line subway was built. To get from 6th 
Av, starting at Houston St in the grid, to Church St in Lower 
Manhattan, a line was ruled off  connecting the two streets. Again 
buildings were sweeped out for the new street. More triangles and 
rhomboids were clipped off. More buildings were truncated. 
    These new roads devastated the Village. Over the decades as memory 
faded these streets are considered part of the Village charm. The 
triangles and rhomboids are postage-stamp parks, sitting alcoves, 
artwork displays, trees. 
    Yet an other insult to the Village was committed by the new orange 
line in the 1930s. It runs under Houston St east from 6th Av into 
Lower East Side. This line was to pass under East River to Brooklyn 
that was never fully completed. 
    The original Houston St was too narrow for the transit corridor.    
The street was widened along its south side to fit the subway. All 
along Houston St are sheared off buildings and lost lots.  A piece of 
the original street runs west from 6th Av into West Village. 

Name changes
    Streets in New York are either formally renamed or are given 
parallel names or aliases. In the latter case, both names are in 
circulation. Crosstown streets are almost free of aliases with only a 
few exceptions. 125th St is also King Boulevard, after the 1960s civil 
rights advocate. In other towns with a King Av, St, Py, &c, the 'King' 
name dominates over the road's former name. In Harlem, where 125th St 
is the spine of this Black district, the 'Knig' name is disused. For 
every one this street is still '125th St'. 
    Many avenues, on the other hand, have aliases or full replacement 
names in select reaches. In Harlem, 6th Av north of Central Pk is both 
lenox Av and Malcolm X Bv. 7th Av and 8th Av, both north of the Park, 
are also Powell Bv and Douglass Bv. 
    8th Av adjacent to Central Pk is Central Pk W, Av A and Av B in 
Yorkville are York Av and East End Av. 4th Av north of Union Sq is 
Park Av S and then, at 40th St, plain Park Av. These are only a few 
    One avenue, 6th Av, south of the Park, was in the 1930s renamed 
Avenue of the Americas. Shields of Latin American countries were 
mounted on its lamp poles. In spite of fanatical efforts by the City 
to enforce the new name, this road is for all New Yorkers still '6th 
Av'. Addresses along the avenue are '6th Av' or 'Av of the Americas'. 

Imposing the grid 
    In the early 1800s there still plenty of nEw Yorkers who 
remembered the excesses of colonial rule. The United States was 
starting to exercise itself as a nation of free people. Would the 
committee's street grid be carried forward by some due process of 
democratic public  involvement? Would it be only loosely followed, 
with abundant waivers? Would it be filed away and forgotten? 
    By 1815 people realized that the new street layout was for real. 
New structures were required to line up with the phantom streets and 
lots within the phantom blocks. Enforcement was effectively a regimen 
of decree and dictate from the City. There was little due process way 
to protest the cutting or even staking out of a street and the removal 
of interfering structures. 
     Urban growth proceded along the methods of a dictatorship on the 
scale of any in Europe. Perhaps even 20th century Stalin would be 
envious of New York's sovereign dominion in its treatment of urban 
growth. . 
     The scene as the city spread north was a scattering of buildings 
in open fields all neatly lined up, maybe only one building to a 
future block and spaced several blocks apart. When the street was 
actually cut thru,.any structure still projecting into the way of the 
street was ordered removed. A few were allowed to be bodily moved into 
compliant orientation. Scenes of collapsed older buildings, violating 
the grid pattern, are depicted in 19th century paintings and 

    When property was seized to improve the new street, the landowner 
was compensated. The City paid for the captured land. Of course, the 
land holder argued the purchase price was way too low but he had to 
accept the City's offer. Once in a while a stronger land holder got 
some extra payment by a court adjustment. 
    The City in the following year after the land capture sent a 
revised bill for property tax. It was much higher than previously. The 
reason was that with the new street thru the property, the value of 
the land was much greater and called for a higher tax assessment . The 
capture compensation was a one-shot receipt from the City but the 
property tax was an annual payment to the City. 

Hamilton Grange
    One example of a structure moved away from a new street is 
Hamilton Grange, Alexander Hamilton's farm house in Hamilton Hts. He 
built it in 1802 on a 120,000m2 lot, positioned to overlook the Harlem 
Valley. He lived there only until 1804 when he lost a duel against 
political enemy Aaron Burr. The Hamilton family stayed in the grange 
thru 1832, then sold the farm with the house to real estate interests. 
The land changed hands several times until in 1889 St Luke's church 
bought parcel for a new church.  The church and house had to confirm 
to the new streets of the grid being cut thru  in the 140s and Convent 
    He church was forced to either move the house off of the street or 
lose it. It moved Hamilton Grange, by then in a decayed state, to its 
new lot, squared it onto the new street, and built its church next 
door. Part of the church extended in front of the house. 
    Sometime in the early 20th century the church gave the house to 
the National park Service, who made it a National Historical Site. A 
statue of Hamilton was placed in the front yard. 
    In this condition hamilton Grange stayed, with interim repairs, 
until 2008. The US NPS and NYC parks Dept coordinated a second move of 
hamilton Grange into adjacent St Nicholas Park. There is sits today in 
a rural setting, still overlooking the Harlem Valley. Today the statue 
stands in front of the vacant former site of the grange. 

Blank faces
    One odd feature of the new buildings was the finishing of its 
sides. To maximize the use of a building lot, it was usual to fill                   
the entire ground area with the new building. There was no garden, 
driveway, yard. Buildings on adjacent lots abutted each other with no 
space between them. 
    This situation derived from the small size of a standard lot in a 
gridiron block, 67-1/2m by 30m. This may have been adequate for 
construction of the early 19th century but was too small for buildings 
needed by the late century. It was often tough to purchase contingent 
lots to assemble one for a large structure,forcing developers to make 
the most of the one lot they have.
    A side that abutted the lot line was left bare and rough, even if 
it was visible in the open with empty lots around it. Eventually an 
other building will go up on the adjoining lot to cover up this raw 
side. This feature continues thru today. 
    When a building is demolished for replacement, the unfinished 
flanks of its adjacents are again exposed. A walk along 6th and 7th Av 
and Houston St in Greenwich Village reveals numerous instances. 
Uptown, downtown 
    In the beginning the concept of travel on Manhattan was more or 
less free-range, modulated by local topography. For the most part 
growth was along the waterfronts, clustered around industry, shipping, 
utility services. People lived close by for easy commute on foot or 
horse. There was no real notion of 'uptown' and 'downtown' traffic. 
    After the Civil War the City expanded rapidly northward, requiring 
people to live more in the middle of the island and to commute north-
south along it. The direction south,  toward Lower Manhattan, was 
'downtown'. Northward movement away from Lower Manhattan was 'uptown'. 
    Note carefully that these terms are directions of travel and NOT 
locations or districts. Many other towns have a 'downtown' where the 
bigger stores and offices are but there is no such a place on 
Manhattan. In fact, the building up of Manhattan progressed erraticly 
with several nodes or hubs here and there. We have major commercial 
hubs in Greenwich Village, Union Sq, Yorkville, Harlem. Between these 
hubs are low density development with mostly smaller shops and 
    As these districts were connected by the new streets and specially 
by railroads, streetcars, and then els and subways, the concept of 
uptown and downtown was engraved into the New York mind. 
    There is no general term for traveling east or west, like 
'westtown' or some such. We travel 'crosstown' for either direction. 
There is also no general term for north-south travel without stating 
the direction. Perhaps 'thrutown' can be applied? 

    This fantastic feature of the gridiron plan was utterly 
inconceivable in the 1800s and Koeppel did not mention it in his talk. 
Litterature about  the attractions of the City do allude to it. 
    For most of the 19th century New York was a low-level city, with 
occupied floors no higher than the fifth or maybe sixth. In the late 
19th century, to cope with the need for ever more floorage, the 
skyscraper was developed.  The first ones were 15-25 stories tall, 
mostly in Lower Manhattan. 
    By the early 20th century 30-40 story towers rised up in the 
midtown districts.  Tall residence towers sprang  up on the east and 
west sides of Central Park. 
    The once-open sky view along the gridiron streets was encroached 
into by the tall towers now maarching along the streets.  The view 
along the streets, specially the narrow crosstown streets, was 
bizarre. Only wedges of sky were exposed, hemmed in by the towers 
along the street. 
    It so happens that the crosstown streets aim into the range of 
azimuths of local sunset in the late spring and mid summer. They also 
points into the sunrise in late autumn and mid  winter. 
    When the Sun sets in the line of the streets, a Stonehenge effect 
occurs. The solar disc nests between the towers at the far end of the 
street! The scene reminds the observer of the solar line-up at the 
Stonehenge monument in the IK. 
    The sunset line-up occurs each year on May 29-31 and again on July 
9-11. The tolerance comes from the relaxed definition of 'sunset' used 
by some astronomers. The dates are +/-+20 days from the summer 
solstice, when the Sun's setting azimuth eqquals that of the 
crosstown street, 229-1/2 degree. 
    Between these two periods the Sun sets to the right of the street. 
For the rest of the year he sets to the left. 
 A A similar apparition occurs for the autumn-winter sunrise. This is 
rarely noticed due to the harsh weather and early hour. 
    Astronomers probably first noticed this show among themselfs in 
the 1950s. It was raised to a routine spectacle after Halley's Comet 
in 1980s. Astronomers gathered in small groups at street corners to 
watch the setting Sun fit nitida mente between the skyscrapers. There 
was no formal call to observe this event. Astronomers often took it in 
spontaneous while on the street in summer. 
    In 2002 an extra issue of Natural History magazine featured 'City 
of Stars' by Dr Neil Tyson. He described several astronomy elements of 
buildings which are little appreciated. One was the Stonehenge sunset, 
illustrated  with Tyson's own photo taken along 34th St. He melded 
'Manhattan' and 'Stonehenge' into a new word 'Manhattanhenge'.  
    So many copies of this issue were handed out for free at the 
American Museum of Natural History that a significant portion of 
cityfolk got one and learned of the Stonehenge sunset event. 
    Since the first next instance after the magazine came out, that 
of May 2003, Manhattanhenge became an insanely spontaneous public 
celebration of the celestial orb. It also spawned  fan clubs and some 
silly cults. 
    By 2006 or so Manhattanhenge was a grand social and civic show for 
the City. Observers pour onto the island from the surrounds, perhaps 
for a day-trip for other cultural activity, to station on one of the 
dozens of suitable streets. 
    There is no official tally of observers. NYSkiers from sampling 
observing reports and dialog with other astronomers estimates at least 
a full myriad of viewers for each of the six sunsets. If all six days 
have clear skies, something like 60,000 people purposely enjoy this 
celestial event! 
    In 2013 the Oxford English Dictionary enrolled 'Manhattanhenge' as 
a fully valid word. Its definition is off the mark but the intent is 

The grid's astronomer
    John Rutherfurd's grandson, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, is a special 
figure for astronomy. He is much underrecognized in the orthodox 
astronomy histories.
    He was both a lawyer and astronomer, with education at Williams 
College in Massachusetts. Aster retiring from law he built an 
observatory on his land near 17th St and 2nd Av, complying with the 
grid of streets. 
    He was a pioneer in astrophotography, inventing perhaps the 
first true astrograph, a telescope with a camera built into the tail 
piece. He specialized in lunar photography and improved stellar 
photography. Rutherfurd was a pioneer in promoting astrometric use of 
photographs. This would replace or supplement eye measurements at the 
telescope and create a permanent unbiased record of the observations. 
    He was among the first astrophysicists in America, inventing the 
grating spectroscope, with a more uniform dispersion of the spectrum 
and a brighter image. He developed spectrography, noticing that star 
spectra arranged into several distinct  kinds. He corresponded with 
Father Secchi in Italy to build the first stellar classification 
    He rose in prominence to be a trustee of Columbia College, now 
University, and donated his astronomy property to it upon his death. 
he was also in the US delegation to the International Meridian 
Conference to establish the global longitude system and international 
date line. . 
    The observatory at Columbia University, with newer equipment, is 
the Rutherfurd -- spelled correctly -- Observatory. Much of his 
original telescope is in the Smithsonian Institution and the 
Rutherfurd Museum near Hackettstown NJ. 

    It is absolutely amazing how so mundane a city fixture as its 
street pattern can have so rich and incredible a story behind it. All 
the more so for the mechanical right-angle streets of manhattan's 
gridiron, seemingly just a sheet of quadrille graph laid on a 
topographic map of the island. What more could there be to the scheme?
    Mr Koeppel's nook is a scholarly piece, he being author of other 
works on American history. The gridiron is also explained in webs and 
print, often with replicas of documents and maps. A crowning newer 
application of the 1811 plan is Manhattanhenge, tying the City to the 
celestial world.