Have you ever come across a peculiar street pattern in the city and wondered how it became that way? It’s a topic that’s especially prevalent in the Village, where street development occurred long before the adoption of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811. As many of our readers know, this plan is what formed the famed gridded streets in Manhattan primarily north of the Village.
The haphazard street pattern in the Village is equally well known and, indeed, is one of the first things people associate with the neighborhood. To uncover some of the history behind these off-the-grid streets, we thought we’d start a “Map It!” series here at (the aptly named) Off the Grid. Future posts will also take a look at the streets of Gansevoort Market, the Far West Village, the South Village, NoHo and the East Village.
Let’s begin at Bleecker Street between Christopher and West 10th Streets in the West Village. It’s an interesting starting point considering, as we mentioned in our very first Off-the-Grid post, the Commissioner’s Plan is believed to have been developed in a building on the east side of this stretch of Bleecker.
Oddly enough, that particular building was likely affected by the widening of Bleecker (then known as Herring Street) in 1828, which is visible on the above Bing map. In the process, a number of early 19th century store-and-residential structures were altered or demolished when the new portion of the street cut into the east side of the block. No. 329 (at the northeast corner of Christopher Street) and no. 339 (also known as no. 341) had portions of their facades removed, as noted in the Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report from 1969. No. 339-341, built in 1820 with wood-frame construction had its brick front added; no. 329 had a small portion of its Bleecker Street facade taken down and, at this time, the central arched window and quadrant windows were installed. The other buildings on this block were not affected from the street widening as they had been constructed after the fact. Structures that were demolished had been located around today’s southeast corner at Christopher Street.
When looking at the 1807 map by William Bridges (left), the street pattern before the widening shows that then-Herring Street did not connect at its Christopher Street intersection. Though we do not have documentation, it is likely that the 1828 widening occurred to better accommodate or anticipate increased traffic flow at this crossing.
This map also reveals a number of street names that have since been changed. As mentioned earlier, Bleecker Street was once Herring Street, a name change that occurred sometime after the street widening. Herring took its name from the Herring family whose farm had once sat on 6 1/2 acres of land in the 18th century (a vast portion of present day Washington Square Park was on this land).
To learn more about the naming of Bleecker Street, please read our recent “What’s in a Name” blog post. For a great visual tour of the entirety of Bleecker Street, refer to Forgotten New York’s detailed post.