Photo by Robert Gambee.
I love the above photograph taken at “Coenties Slip” in lower Manhattan’s East Side—its historic structures resting like a winter memory of days long gone. It is mentioned by name in Chapter 1 of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, which is where I first read about it.*
Coenties Slip was one of the largest of Manhattan’s boat slips. It has pretty much kept its old slanted shape, too. The slip was filled in around 1870. Behind the area, looking toward the island, looms 85 Broad Street, the present NYC home of Goldman Sachs, built in 1983. Its development demolished part of Stone Street, which prompted the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect the original Dutch street layout in lower Manhattan. 85 Broad stands where the seat of Dutch colonial government, the Stadt Huys, or State House, used to be. Archeological remnants of the neighboring Lovelace Tavern can still be seen there.
The name “Coenties” is reminiscent of old Dutch and recalls an early landowner from the 1630s, Conraedt Ten Eyck, a tanner and shoemaker. He was nicknamed “Coentje” (“Coonchy” to the British) and over time this gave the slip it’s name. Ten Eyck Street in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg was also named for him. (Another story has it that the name is a contraction of “Conraedt’s” and “Antje’s”—Conraet Ten Eyck and his wife Antje’s names.)
Read more about the family, here…
A sketch of the now-filled-in slip from Magical City: Intimate Sketches of New York by Vernon Howe Bailey, with accompanying notes by Arthur Bartlett Maurice. At the time of this sketch, the elevated train was in operation.
*The maps below show the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1803 and 1850, respectively. The first map lists the “slips” existing at the time. The second map shows how all but Coenties Slip had been filled in by 1850. Most records point to Coenties Slip being completely filled in by 1870.
Map drawn in 1803 showing the various docks, “slips” and wharves then existing along Manhattan’s shoreline. Look closely and you can see the various indentations along the east side where there were numerous slips and wharves.
Moving along to 1850, we can see that while the “slips” are still shown on the map, by mid-century they had all been filled in, except one: Coenties Slip. You can see on the map the slips were wider than the streets they issued from; indeed, streets often gradually widened as they became “slips”.
Today, Coenties Slip runs southeast from Pearl Street to South Street, covering a distance of two blocks (585.6 feet). The one block portion between Pearl Street and Water Street carries vehicular traffic, while the remaining section is a pedestrian street.
An etching of the yet-to-be-filled-in Coenties Slip done by artist Charles Mielatz around 1890.
Below: a vintage image of the slip, reads “Jeanette Park, Coenties Slip, East River, Looking Toward Brooklyn, Showing the Canal Boat Fleet.” It is difficult to tell whether the water has been replaced by earth in this image.
Although surrounded by skyscrapers, a row of buildings from the 19th century still stands at Coenties Slip along the block that is open to vehicles—and these buildings are in active use by small businesses. The construction of high-rise buildings near these resulted in the removal of the blocks between Water Street and Front Street, and between Front Street and South Street. Part of 55 Water Street and part of the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial now exist on land that was once part of Coenties Slip.
Coenties Alley, formerly City Hall Lane, is an historic pedestrian walkway that leads inland from Coenties Slip. The alley runs south from South William Street to Pearl Street, and is the cut-off for Stone Street’s discontinuity.
In the 17th century, New Amsterdam’s City Hall stood at Coenties Alley on the north side of Pearl Street, just to the north of Coenties Slip.<
Arthur Bartlett Maurice describes Coenties Slip in a 1935 book Magical City: Intimate Sketches of New York by Vernon Howe Bailey, with accompanying notes by Arthur Bartlett Maurice:
“At the head of the Slip, where the Elevated road winds its way along Pearl Street on its way from South Ferry to Hanover Square, stood the Stadt Huys of Dutch days, the first City Hall on Manhattan Island. After the Erie Canal was finished in 1825, the slip, then only a tiny corner of what it is today, harbored many of the canal boats that plied along the new waterway connecting the Atlantic and the Great Lakes. Ten years later the land was filled in, bringing the Slip down to a new water’s edge on South Street. New buildings went up, only to be destroyed within a few months in the great fire of December, 1835.”
*Moby Dick also mentions it in Chapter 1, in a scene where Ishmael is narrating a description of Manhattanites (those living in “your insular city of the Manhattoes”) who are obsessed by the sea:
“Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 1: Loomings)
Sources: Wikipedia; Pinterest; OldNewYork/Wordpress; & Forgotten-NY.com: