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The Great Port

Edgar W. Foreman and Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. New-York and Environs, from Williamsburgh …. New York, 1848. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection, Eno Collection. Digital ID 54826
This entire region was once called Nieuw Nederland, an aspect of our Dutch heritage and local history that is much forgotten. Better remembered is the settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam, which remains at the heart of the great commercial, international, multicultural City of New York. The founding Dutch investment, settlement, development, and courage are reflected today in a great living port.

Early in its history, the port of New York was an important outlet for the fur trade, but later competition from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston kept a trade balance along the East Coast. The protected East River provided a shelter for early shipping, and the Hudson River piers developed rapidly in the 19th century. The Erie Canal in particular, linking New York to the North American heartland and its agricultural treasure, invigorated the port, which emerged as a major export station for wheat, corn, and other produce.

Shipbuilding activity between the War of 1812 and the Civil War created tens of thousands of jobs, and New York became the largest shipbuilding center in the world. The China trade in tea, silks, opium, porcelains, and other items fed the demand for exotic goods. Hudson River sloops and New York–built clipper ships traveled to Asia and back. When gold was discovered in California, ships transported it to New York.

Today the harbor is criss-crossed by tugboats and ferries, barges and liners, many heading for the newest iteration in trade, the container port. Local shoreline museums, the South Street Seaport, the Baykeeper, and the new Harbor District give hope for renewed knowledge of and relationship with our shoreside environment.


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