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Stone Street

PhotoCredit Trip Advisor - The Real NYC

Stone Street is a tiny cobbled street, a time capsule of New York’s past that sits at the base of the towering skyscrapers of the Financial District in Manhattan. It is home to the oldest buildings in New York City, the last remaining remnants of “New Amsterdam,” the original settlement created by the Dutch West India Company in the 1600s.

Originally known as Brewer Street (or Brouwer Straet in Dutch) Stone Street got its first name in 1632 when the Dutch built North America’s first (but certainly not last) brewery right here in NYC on the newly cobbled street. During the 1700s, the street became known as Duke Street. The area was largely commercial and included neighboring South William and Pearl Street. However, after the Great Fire in 1835, which destroyed more than 700 buildings in downtown New York many of the burnt out original Dutch buildings in the area were rebuilt with quick and simple facades, giving rise to blocks of severe brick and granite buildings that were used mostly by merchants and importers handling products like cotton and tobacco.

By the beginning of the 20th century, as the first generation of downtown skyscrapers demolished many older buildings to make way for a new development in the area, The Real Estate Record and Guide quoted a 1904 account that described the area as “a melancholy street of monotonous warehouses.” Stone, William, and Pearl Street held the last vestiges of any original buildings, but were ignored from the end of the 1800’s until the early 1900’s. In fact, The New York Times mused in 1901 that the crooked streets “remained… only to bewilder modern New Yorkers.”

Right, No. 19 South William Street, built in 1839 and newly renovated. Far left and center, the building and its more picturesque neighbors, Nos. 13-23, in 1906 and today. Credit Far left, Avery Library; center and right, Richard Perry/The New York Times

Amos F. Eno was the first owner in the area to commission a restoration of the original architecture of the area. In 1903 he hired architect C.P.H. Gilbert to rebuild 57 Stone Street in Dutch Colonial Revival architecture. Over time Amos reconstructed many of his other buildings on neighboring William Street in the Dutch revival style, evoking how they would have appeared in their original state in “New Amsterdam.” Gradually other area owners and investors began to follow suit and a rebirth of Dutch renaissance design continued through the end of the 9120’s. Perhaps the pinnacle of the restoration, Block Hall was renovated in 1929 at 21-23 South William Street, with a dazzling half-timbered facade and mansard roof, designed by William Neil Smith as a businessmen’s lunch club. Named after the Dutch explorer Adrian Block, Block Hall had a gym, squash courts, dining rooms, a billiard room, telephones and stock tickers.

During the Great Depression and the decades that followed, the area again fell in to neglect. While Stone Street originally ran from Broad Street to Hanover Square, it was divided into two sections by the construction of the Goldman Sachs building at 85 Broad Street in the 1980s.

PhotoCredit: Amy McDonald

It was only in the mid 1990s that a joint partnership between the Landmarks Commission, the Alliance for Downtown New York, and Stone Street owners began to transform Stone Street from a forgotten back alley into one of FIDI’s liveliest destinations. Restored buildings, granite paving to protect and repair older cobblestones, and period streetlights have brought the area back to a modernized semblance of its original form. It is now home to half a dozen restaurants and cafes, with outdoor tables that have become popular for locals and tourists alike, especially on warm late spring, summer, and even early fall nights.

Today the cluster of historic buildings along Stone, South William, Pearl Streets and Coenties Alley form the Stone Street Historic District. It was officially designated as a historical landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1996 and is now pedestrian-only.

As summer ends and fall begins, take advantage of a few more weeks of balmy evenings and take a stroll on Manhattan’s first street. Other notable landmarks to check out in the area include The India House, located at the Hanover Square end of the street, and the final building to get a rehabilitation in the area, 19 South William Street, which is now home to a buzzing Biergarten that also happens to be on our short list for Oktoberfest 2016 destinations.

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