New York City wasn’t always the metropolis it is now. For one thing the city limits of New York City used to be just Manhattan. It wasn’t until 1898 that the five boroughs joined together to become the city it is today. There was also far less people and it was much harder to get around. Getting from Brooklyn to Manhattan is now a common subway ride for most New Yorkers. That ride used to be a dangerous boat ride across the East River. If you could somehow teleport yourself to New York City 175 years ago you would probably have no idea where you were.
Now it is possible to be able to somewhat imagine what Manhattan was like back then thanks to this new interactive map from the Smithsonian. With this map they’ve combined a map of Manhattan from 1836 with a satellite image of the city today and you can see the differences. Back then you can still see the general patterns of the streets and avenues which largely remain the same today. However, there are huge amounts of empty space on the island and it gets emptier the further north you go. Even as far back as 1836 the area we call Harlem today was mostly just vacant land. In fact, it didn’t look like there was much in the way of development north of 42nd street. Seeing how comparatively undeveloped the city was back then makes you really appreciate how far it has come in so short a time. This map is a really cool glimpse into New York’s past and well worth checking out.