Street Beat: Linking Pitt Street to Chatham Square and Park Row

Posted on: January 16th, 2014 at 11:20 am by

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Chatham Street, 19th Century: Courtesy of NYPL

Hi Kids!

Today, I’m going to show you how you can connect a British Earl to Newsies. Hang tight to your wigs and bowlers. I am pleased to introduce William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham and Prime Minister of Great Britain.

This pointy looking fine looking gentleman has three eponymous streets/areas named for him on the Lower East Side: Pitt Street, Chatham Square and Park Row (once known as Chatham Street).

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The Street Book, by Henry Moscow

Chatham Square was an open air market containing horses and goods until about 1820. By the mid-19th century, it became a wanton section of the old Five Points neighborhood containing a plethora of tattoo parlors and skeevy dives. 

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1878, Chatham Square, 3rd Avenue EL

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City of Eros, Timothy J. Gilfoyle writes:

“Along its western edge, the Bowery and Chatham Square were a bourse of sex. The patrician George Templeton Strong claimed that after nightfall, amid the theaters, saloons, dance halls, and cheap lodging houses, the thoroughfare overflowed with ‘members of the whorearchy in most slatternly deshabille.’

“Once elegant eighteenth-century residences like that of the merchant Edward Mooney at 18 Bowery now served as brothels.”

Like everything in New York, the red-light districts change as well. Prohibition, the Depression, a growing Chinatown, and slum clearance all remade Chatham Square into a messy but not sleazy intersection off the Bowery.

The Kimlau Memorial Arch was erected in Chatham Square by the American Legion, Lt. B.R. Kimlau Post 1291 in 1962 to honor United States service members of Chinese ancestry. According to the Parks Department, Second Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau (1918-1944) was a Chinese-American bomber pilot who died while serving in World War II. He moved to the city at the age of fourteen from the city of Concord, Massachusetts.

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Chatham/Kimlau Square

From this memorial square we head down to Park Row, now considered part of the Financial district. It was previously called Chatham Street. During the late 19th century, however, it earned the nickname “Newspaper Row” for its proclivity to attract most of the city’s newspapers (including the New York Times); all the rags wanted a presence close to City Hall.

You may be familiar with Printing House Square, part of Newspaper Row. A statue of Benjamin Franklin stands holding his Pennsylvania Gazette. Were it about what remains, that’s about it. The last remnant of Newspaper Row ’cause these little dudes are gone and while I still read actual newspapers, there aren’t too many of us left.

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Baker & Godwin 1866 Lithograph

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In the late 18th century Eastern Post Road (now the Boston Road and Boston Post Road) became the most important road connecting New York to Albany and New England. It was the mail courier route. Yep, snail mail. Pre-intertubes. Ah, the good ole days.

Early in the 19th century most of the Manhattan portion of this road was suppressed, the Commons became City Hall Park, and the stub then known as Chatham Street was renamed Park Row.

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John B. Homes 1872; bottom right

(Eastern Post Road: Following an earlier Indian trail (Weckquasgeck Road) it diverged from the Bowery Road at what is now Madison Square and ran northeast)

Moving east to Pitt Street:

The 1st Earl of Chatham’s last name. Simple as that.

Most called him William Pitt the Elder or the Right Hounourable Earl of Chatham. Pitt’s family is steeped in British aristocracy, military and politics so why does this man have streets and squares named after him in NYC?

According to Clinton Rossiter, a historian of the American War of Independence:

After war had broken out, he [Pitt] warned that America could not be conquered. Due to his stance, Pitt was very popular amongst the American colonists. In the last decade of the colonial period the ideal of the man of public virtue was made real in the person of William Pitt. The cult of this noblest of Whigs, “the Genius of England and the Comet of his Age,” was well advanced toward idolatry at least five years before the Stamp Act. The greatest of “the great men of England,” the last and noblest of the Romans, was considered the embodiment of virtue, wisdom, patriotism, liberty, and temperance…Pitt, “glorious and immortal,” the “guardian of America,” was the idol of the colonies…A Son of Liberty in Bristol County, Massachusetts paid him the ultimate tribute of identification with English liberty: “Our toast in general is,—Magna Carta, the British Constitution,—PITT and Liberty forever!”

He’s also the namesake of Pittsburgh and Pitt’s family coat of arms is part of the flag of Pittsburgh.

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You know? For a country that fought so hard for independence we sure do keep those British names around. Hello, New YORK.

Just a thought. It’s cool. Anglophiles.

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Walter Rosenblum Child on a Swing, Pitt Street

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Walter Rosenblum Children on Roof, Pitt St., N.Y.

That was fun. We went all the way to Pittsburgh from Chinatown(ish). Is there a Fung Wah bus for that?

See ya’ll next time.

Peace.

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