Kintecoying

The Department of Transportation’s plans to pedestrianize portions of Astor Place have caused quite a stir in the neighborhood, as they have the potential to obliterate the historic street configuration that dates back to the earliest settlements in the city. As mentioned in our letter to DOT, Astor Place follows the path of an old Native American trail that appears on maps of Manhattan at least as early as 1639 ‐ only a decade or so after the Dutch first settled on
the island. In its early days, the trail was used to connect the present‐day Bowery to a trading post on West 14th Street. When John Jacob Astor officially opened Astor Place as a street in 1836, he maintained its connection with Stuyvesant Street, another remnant from Dutch Manhattan. Stuyvesant Street was originally a lane stretching across the holdings that Peter Stuyvesant purchased from the Dutch West India Company in 1651.

1897 map showing the connection between Astor Place & Stuyvesant Street, courtesy New York Public Library

Evan T. Pritchard’s Native New Yorkers sheds some additional light on the role of Astor Place in Native American history. The area that is today Southern New York, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware was inhabited by a group known as the Lenape (“the people”). Referred to as the Delaware by English speaking colonists, the group had a strong presence on Manhattan Island.

Map of Native American tribes around Astor Place, courtesy Lower East Side History Project

Three distinct Lenape groups inhabited the island in the 16th Century: Canarsie, Sapohannikan, and Manhattan. Each of these groups spoke a different language. What we now call Astor Place was the central meeting point of the groups, called Kintecoying (“Crossroads of Three Nations”) where three major trails intersected. In keeping with tradition for meeting places, a large oak or elm tree would most likely have existed at this spot, under which leaders from each group would meet to discuss issues, trade, and play games (including bagettaway, better known as lacrosse). The trail that became Stuyvesant Street and Astor Place ran from Shempoes Village (near the present day intersection of Stuyvesant Street and Second Avenue), west to Kintecoying. The Native American connections continued as the city developed and John Jacob Astor, the area’s namesake, amassed a great fortune trading furs with the Lenape.

The streets around Astor Place represent an important remaining vestige of this historic trail. If you’d like to aid in our efforts to see this history clearly and permanently demarkated in DOT’s plan, please mail a letter to the Public Design Commission. Or read all about our preservation work in the East Village.

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Brian
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Brian Blazak is a research intern at GVSHP

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One comment on “Kintecoying
  1. Brian Ellen Horan says:

    Brian,
    I hope D.O.T will not be so clumsy as to eradicate the history at the junction of Astor Place.

    Your great post on Astor Place with the old maps is wonderful. I first heard Evan Pritchard speak at GVSHP years ago, and was mesmerized by his descriptions of the Lenape Trails in Manhattan, particularly the ‘traffic circle’ at Astor Place, where trails from across the nation converged. He remarked how the cube sits there almost as a ghostly placeholder.

    I was so intrigued that I incorporated Pritchard’s description in my book, 31 Bond Street a novel talking place in Noho, based on the Bond Street murder of 1857. There is a Native American character who is swept into the murder investigation and the lawyer muses from his office at Astor and BWay:

    “From the window, Clinton saw the man on the street below, heading through Astor Place, blending in with the crowd that was scattering in all directions. As a child, he was told that Astor Place was the spot where several Indian highways came together, the center of a web of paths that forked across the continent. At this convergence, a tribe had buried their chief’s heart beside an acorn, and an oak grew with twinned trunks, with ancestor’s spirits dangling from the boughs like silent totems.”

    More great work from GVSHP!!

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