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John Bachmann. New York & Environs. New York, 1859. NYPL, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection, Eno Collection. Digital ID ps_prn_647
September 2009 marks 400 years since Henry Hudson sailed into New York Harbor and up the river that now bears his name, almost to what is now Albany, performing detailed reconnaissance of today’s Hudson Valley region. Other explorers passed by the outwardly hidden harbor; they failed to fully recognize the commercial, nautical, strategic, or colonial value of the region. Once these explorers returned to Europe, much of the information they had gathered was presented to mapmakers, whose works were engraved on copper and printed on handmade paper. These maps were then distributed to individuals and coffee-houses (the news outlets of the day), and pored over by dreamers, investors, and potential settlers in the “new land.”

The European powers had been seeking a quick route to Asia and its treasures for centuries, but it was an unexpected treasure that they found on the Atlantic coast—the commercial port of Nieuw Amsterdam. The geography of the area featured a protected year-round harbor in a temperate climate, with access to extraordinary natural resources. This port subsequently evolved into today’s most important international city, New York. Mapping New York’s Shoreline celebrates the Dutch accomplishments in the New York City region, especially along the waterways forming its urban watershed, and the Dutch heritage that remains today in place names decorating the metropolitan region (and in place names honoring Henry Hudson himself), and in our tremendous commercial, political, and social history.

Drawing on The New York Public Library’s collection of Dutch, English, French, and American mapping of the Atlantic coastal regions, this exhibition exemplifies the best early and growing understanding of the “unknown” shores along our neighboring rivers, bays, sounds, and harbors. From maps reflecting Verrazzano’s brief visit, to decorative Dutch charting of the Atlantic and Nieuw Nederland (New Netherland) region, the works illustrate the expanding awareness of trading opportunities. A unit on the Rutgers Farm, an early Dutch brewery and farm situated in the present-day Lower East Side, illustrates the evolution of the metropolitan area from rural landscape to urban region in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibition extends to a 21st-century perspective, including maps and texts highlighting environmental concerns for this harbor and for the river that continuously enriches it. From paper maps to vapor maps, created with state-of-the-art computer technology, this exhibition celebrates New York Harbor on the occasion of the Henry Hudson quadricentennial.

The four circular maps that open the exhibition reflect the world centered around the harbor. Life along the shorelines that feed into the great port has changed greatly over the past 400 years, yet the water-defined environment retains much of its centuries-old patterns. The river, the estuary, the tide, and the harbor persist and thrive.

Alice C. Hudson, retired Chief
The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division

Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Estate of Ronald Eaton
Moehle, City Planner and NYPL Mercator Society member, and by a gift in memory of Larry Slaughter.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz Ispahani and Adam Bartos, Jonathan Altman, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.

The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, 2009. All rights reserved.


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