Mapping Irregular Settlements in Mid-19th-Century New York City

Gergely Baics, Barnard College
Leah Meisterlin, Columbia University

This paper examines the geography of irregular or self-constructed settlements, derogatively described by contemporaries as shanties, in mid-19th-century Manhattan. The best-known case is Seneca Village (located in today’s Central Park), a Black community whose social, economic, and cultural history has been well-documented by historians. Scholars have also explored recently irregular settlements more generally from a cultural history perspective. What is missing is a spatial history approach, which may be the result of irregular settlements’ impermanent built environment and transient demographics. This paper will integrate a variety of h-GIS sources to map irregular settlements in midcentury Manhattan’s less densely built northern sections. These include the geocoded full-count 1850 census data produced by the project “Mapping Historical New York: A Digital Atlas”; digitized building footprints from the 1857-62 Perris Atlas and from the 1853-56 Central Park Condemnation Maps; the archives of one sanitary district from the 1864 Citizen’s Association Sanitary Report; and the relevant 1855 and 1865 state manuscript census sheets. Leveraging these spatial history sources makes a partial reconstruction of this ephemeral geography of self-constructed housing possible. At the SSHA, we will present the first results of our ongoing efforts towards this goal.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 46. Residential Geographies and Segregation: 19th Century