26 Incredible Photos Of New York City Before It Became New York City

Published September 8, 2017
Updated January 18, 2019

When America's biggest city was mostly farmland.

Madison Ave Construction
Broadway And Eighth New York
Summer House
Grand Central Undeveloped
26 Incredible Photos Of New York City Before It Became New York City
View Gallery

Before New York City became the shining metropolis that we know today, with its glass and concrete skyscrapers and wide, shop-filled avenues, much of it was quiet farmland. In fact, prior to the mid-1800s, most of the area that would become New York City was all but undeveloped.

Before European colonization, the area we now know as New York was inhabited by a number of Algonquian tribes living in small communities. Then, after the Dutch invaded in 1624 and drove out the Native Americans, the region was known as New Amsterdam and grew to the size of around 8,000 inhabitants.

Next, New Amsterdam was seized by the British during the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1674 and rechristened the colony of New York, after the Duke of York. Due to its role as a major trading port in the region, the colony of New York began to grow in this period.

After the revolutionary war, New York only grew in prominence in what was now the fledgling United States. Nevertheless, the city still remained a largely undeveloped collection of farms, houses, and businesses.

It wasn't until the 1830s and 1840s that New York truly began to build the recognizable foundation of the city that we know today. At that time, wealthy landowners began to move into the city and lobbied for the development of public works like parks and roads.

At the same time, vast numbers of immigrants were flooding into the area. This wave included a vast number of Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine in their country, and many Germans fleeing revolutions in their country. Furthermore, New York became a free state in 1827, causing African-Americans from across the country to flood into New York.

This mass of both laborers and wealthy elites laid the groundwork for the increased development of the city. Thus throughout the latter half of the 19th century, many people lived in farms and shanty towns as, slowly but surely, a major city formed around them.

But this city was not yet a single community. In fact, up until 1898, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx were all separate cities apart from New York.

The images above show how New York looked before it became one, before it was developed, before it grew into the city we now know. From a collection of pastoral towns to a gleaming city on a hill, New York's development is a sight to behold.

Next, check out these 35 photos you won't believe were taken in New York City. Then, have a look at some terrifying photos of the New York subway in the 1980s.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
Cite This Article
Paoletti, Gabe. "26 Incredible Photos Of New York City Before It Became New York City." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 8, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/undeveloped-new-york. Accessed April 24, 2024.