Walking Mechanics Alley

Posted on: June 3rd, 2010 at 6:12 am by

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Beneath the Manhattan Bridge is a charming spit of land known simply as Mechanics Alley.  With the buzzing clamor of traffic and subway trains high above, this narrow passage is bookended by Madison Street on the south and Henry Street on the north; however, the alley continues unmarked until its termination at Monroe Street.

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Not too long ago, we spent a random Saturday walking this nearly-forgotten, yet extremely photogenic corridor; a corridor that no maps acknowledge, not even the all-knowing Google Maps.

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The history of Mechanics Alley is quite extensive, and Forgotten NY points us to this New York Times article from March 2000.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the term ”mechanic” was loosely applied to a wide range of artisans, builders and craftsmen. New York was one of many American cities to have a Mechanics Row, Alley or Place near the waterfront, usually where ships were built and repaired.

The first shipbuilding yards in Manhattan were established at the foot of Catherine Street in 1728. By the 1790’s the yards covered the waterfront all the way to Corlears Hook, attracting carpenters, smiths, shipwrights, coopers, chandlers, joiners, sail makers and rope makers.

Mechanics Alley appears on maps of the district from the early 1800’s on, but it runs closer to the riverfront, between Cherry and Monroe Streets, while another tiny lane, called Birmingham Alley, runs from Madison to Henry Streets. Presumably, the two alleys were joined at some point. Mechanics Alley disappeared from city maps after the Manhattan Bridge was constructed, almost directly overhead, in 1905.

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