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History of York

History of York

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Situated on the River Ouse, York evolved from Eboracum, a Roman city and military base established at the end of the 1st century AD. York later became a Saxon settlement before falling to Viking invaders from Denmark in 837, when it was called Jorvik.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror built two castles along the River Ouse at York. The one on the east bank was destroyed during a riot in 1190, but its stone replacement, Clifford's Tower, still stands in York.

York Minister was started in the 13th century and is the largest cathedral in Britain and contains a considerable amount of Medieval stained glass.

At the first census in 1801, the population of York was 16,000. It was an important market and commercial centre, with wharves on the River Ouse that connected it to Hull. Economic growth in the city increased rapidly after the arrival of the railways.

The North Midland Railway linked York to Leeds and Derby in 1839. The following year the York & North Midland Railway established a line from London to York. By 1845 the line northward had reached Edinburgh. York was now established as the most important junction on the east coast route to Scotland. In 1842 locomotive and rolling stock workshops were built in the city. Eventually it became the main locomotive works for the North Eastern Railway (moved to Darlington in 1905).

George Hudson, the Lord Mayor of York, became known as the Railway King. By 1844 Hudson's companies controlled 1,016 miles of railway track. In 1847 Hudson was accused of financial irregularities and was removed as chairman of the Midland Railway Company. After Hudson was imprisoned in York Castle for non-payment of debts, Hudson Street in York was renamed Railway Street (reverted to Hudson Street in 1971).

With trains arriving in York from all directions, it was decided in 1873 to build a new station in the city. Finished in 1877, the 13 platform York Station was the largest in the world and is considered to be one of the great buildings of Victorian England.

York is a pleasant and beautiful city. The cathedral is a gothic building. The only deficiency I find at York minster, is the lowness of the great tower, or its want of a fine spire upon it, which, doubtless, was designed by the builders.

No city in England is better furnished with provisions of every kind, nor any so cheap, the river being so navigable, and so near the sea, the merchants here trade directly to what part of the world they will. They import wines from France and Portugal, and timber from Norway. They also bring coal from Newcastle and Sunderland.

Stonewall Riots

The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

Explore the history of the LGBTQ movement in America here. 

The History of New York, Told Through Its Trash

A few years after I moved to New York, in 2016, a friend invited me to a gallery in Chelsea that was showing the original 16-mm. films of the late artist Gordon Matta-Clark. The most memorable piece of the night was a film called “Fresh Kill,” which narrates the death of an old truck. In the opening shot, the vehicle chugs down a marshy road walled in by reeds. Then a more industrial landscape appears: New York’s notorious landfill, Fresh Kills. We see endless trash-strewn fields, edged by giant machines colonies of seagulls standing guard under an elevated highway a factory resting along a large bay.

Eventually, the truck slams head first into the blade of an enormous bulldozer. The bulldozer flips the ruined car and presses it into the ground. Gasoline dribbles, then gushes, out of the tank. Like a bear with salmon, the bulldozer skewers, drags, and tears the truck, which is loaded with other trash onto a trailer, carried farther into the landfill, and interred. The final shots are of pools of water rimmed by garbage and plants, and hot piles of waste tossing off black smoke.

Fresh Kills opened in 1948. When Matta-Clark made the film, in 1972, it received roughly half of the solid waste in the city, and had long been the largest landfill in the world, eventually growing to about twenty-two hundred acres of trash. “Fresh Kills is a dramatic example of consumption gone wild,” the environmental historian Martin V. Melosi writes in his recent book “Fresh Kills: A History of Consuming and Discarding in New York City.” Melosi, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Houston, is the author of “Garbage in the Cities” and “The Sanitary City” you could call him a scholar of waste. His book, which arrives nearly twenty years after Fresh Kills’s closure, can be read as a companion to Matta-Clark’s film. The question, for both, isn’t just where our trash goes but how it shapes and reflects the world it comes from.

“New York City rarely had a day in its history without a waste problem,” Melosi writes. In the late sixteen-fifties, a law banned citizens from tossing “tubs of odor and nastiness” into the streets, but neglected to mention what, exactly, they were supposed to do with their trash. Organized street cleaning wouldn’t appear until about four decades later: in 1702, authorities instructed residents to make piles of dirt in front of their homes each Friday, to be removed by Saturday night. In the nineteenth century, New Yorkers “dumped their trash onto the streets in anticipation of its collection by scavengers,” the historian Catherine McNeur writes in “Taming Manhattan.” “Rotten food such as corn cobs, watermelon rinds, oyster shells and fish heads,” McNeur continues, “joined with dead cats, dogs, rats, and pigs, as well as enormous piles of manure, to create a stench particularly offensive in the heat of the summer.” The population of New York had exploded, as had the items available for consumption.

New York’s main modes of disposal, into the eighteen-nineties, were rendering plants, hog feeding, fill operations, and ocean dumping. Fill operations had the virtue—at least to developers—of creating new real estate in a city bounded by water. “By the nineteenth century,” Melosi writes, “water lots and marsh filling added 137 acres of land to Lower Manhattan.” Streets that once ran along the water—like Water Street, along the East River, or Greenwich Street, along the Hudson—now stand more than five hundred feet from the shore because of fill. But building out the shores also proved problematic, as the new coastline began to jut into shipping lanes. Ocean dumping, while easy and cheap, faced related problems. Not only did it obstruct waterways, defile beaches, and destroy New York’s once-abundant oyster beds, it reduced the depth of the deep-water harbor and threatened New York’s value as a port.

In the twentieth century, incineration became the great hope for the future of waste disposal. In 1919, Mayor John Hylan proposed that a fleet of incinerators be placed throughout the boroughs. When a judge ruled, in 1931, that New York City would need to end its ocean dumping—New Jersey had successfully sued the city over the trash blanketing its beaches—incineration became even more attractive. Consumerism was on the rise, and a flood of mass-produced goods made disposal a priority Melosi notes that, in the ten years after the First World War, the amount of solid waste the city produced rose by seventy per cent. But incinerators were expensive to repair and maintain, and the pollution they produced was particularly unpopular. The tides shifted slightly back in favor of landfills.

Enter Fresh Kills, which consists of a tidal inlet and salt marshes on the western coast of Staten Island. For many mid-century city planners, especially those in New York, any marshland was wasted space. When a landfill was proposed, a supportive Robert Moses argued that it would not only create real estate but eliminate an “unsanitary mosquito breeding swamp” and “provide additions to La Tourette and New Springville . . . Parks.” The dump at Fresh Kills, in Moses’s view, was a humane intervention.

But Moses didn’t see Fresh Kills as a long-term solution. “Fresh Kills’ place in the disposal plans of the city,” Melosi writes, wasn’t originally “defined primarily as a dumpsite but largely in terms of its role as a reclamation project and complement to incineration.” The city was still hanging its hopes on the promise of new, cleaner incineration technology, and Fresh Kills was marketed to Staten Island as a stopgap measure. No one guessed that it would remain open for more than half a century.

Strangely, it was the rise of the environmental movement, in the nineteen-sixties, that helped insure this longevity. The use of plastic, paper, and aluminum was increasing, and the best way to get rid of it seemed to be burying, instead of burning. While Fresh Kills was an environmental disaster, too—it produced methane gas, leaked millions of gallons of leachate into the groundwater, cluttered waterways with split trash, and exuded a miasma of foul odors—the opposition to incineration cemented the landfill’s vital role in the city’s trash system.

Landfilling is cheap, and when a fiscal crisis struck New York in the nineteen-seventies, the city only increased its reliance on Fresh Kills. Locals never wanted the landfill in their backyards, but for the many decades prior to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opening, in 1964, the population was small enough for politicians to ignore. In the nineteen-eighties, the population had grown, and anger over inaction began to brew on Staten Island. Locals hated the smell, and potentially infectious medical waste had been found on barges heading for the landfill. Residents felt their health was at stake and agitated throughout the eighties to have the site closed. Reforms were proposed, consent orders were issued, yet little changed. Fresh Kills remained open.

In 1993, after years of broken promises, the borough voted (roughly sixty-five per cent in favor) to secede from New York City. One major issue was Fresh Kills. The state blocked the secession, but it was difficult to ignore Staten Island’s burgeoning clout and growing population. In the nineties, a Republican triumvirate rode a wave of resentment into office, with much help from Staten Island. Soon, George Pataki was governor, Rudy Giuliani was mayor, and Guy Molinari was Staten Island’s borough president. Playing to their base, they made an agreement to close Fresh Kills by the end of 2001. The decision wasn’t about environmental concerns, and the Department of Sanitation was only alerted shortly before the announcement. “The closure,” Melosi writes, “was ultimately political.”

Giuliani’s solution was to increase the privatization and export of trash, an expensive tactic that raided the city’s coffers and required major cuts to recycling initiatives and social programs. By 1995, New York State was the largest exporter of waste in the country, sending it predominantly to Pennsylvania, as well as eleven other states. This is still the basic arrangement today, though Melosi shows that it’s only a temporary solution, especially as the city fails to meaningfully reduce its waste. (In each year from 2013 to 2017, New York produced more than thirty-two hundred tons of waste.) He recounts the plight, in the nineteen-eighties, of the Mobro 4000, a barge loaded with trash from Long Island and New York City that was rejected in ports all over the planet. Exporting, Melosi argues, runs into the same problem as most disposal methods: no one wants trash in their back yard. As such, Melosi finds, New York’s trash dumps and way stations tend to be built in poor and marginalized communities that lack the political power to fight their placement.

Fresh Kills closed on March 22, 2001, ahead of schedule. But history intervened, and the landfill was reopened on September 12th of that year to receive the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Human remains were scattered among pulverized concrete and twisted pieces of steel the marsh was now a landfill, a crime scene, and a cemetery as well. Yet Melosi renders the gruesome scene with a certain tenderness, chronicling the efforts of the sanitation workers who insisted on treating the grounds as hallowed, and the families who fought to claim the remains of their loved ones. It is the kind of sentiment that makes Melosi’s book important. It is neither a facile broadside about the dangers of consumption nor a simple morality tale it is a bold examination of the way society moves and is moved by its trash.

Near the beginning of “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald observes a “valley of ashes” seen out the window of a train travelling from Long Island into the city. When I first read this passage, I assumed it was a hallucinatory metaphor to describe a downtrodden neighborhood. What I didn’t know was that, in Fitzgerald’s time, ashes made up much of New York’s municipal waste. The author was simply describing the Corona Ash Dumps, in Queens, an expansive, constantly smoldering pile of cinder.

Trash makes for an expedient metaphor. For Fitzgerald, the dump represented a subjugated wasteland where nothing grew. For Melosi, waste reveals the still-unresolved dilemmas of unimpeded consumption. But landfills aren’t just a record of what society discarded, they’re a record of what a society considered trash. What constitutes our waste changes, and with it our understanding of the world.

Today, Fresh Kills is no longer a landfill. A more “abstract and theoretical” park, in Melosi’s words, is planned to take over the site, rebranded as the less-hostile “Freshkills.” If completed—it has been in the works since 2008—it will be larger than Central Park. Most of the area is closed to the public, but one can catch sight of it off of New York State Route 440, where enormous and bald hills, dotted with methane-exhaust pipes, loom over the highway. The brown, grassy hills, bordered by small dogwoods and tawny drooping phragmites, are not especially beautiful. Yet when you consider what is contained inside these hulking hills, you might stop to marvel. They are burial mounds, perverse feats of engineering, and, as Melosi writes, “archives of material and memories.” We typically experience trash only at the point of disposal. Here, near yet far, is its final resting place.

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Studying history allows students to explore the question, "how did things come to be the way they are today?" Courses in History apply that question to a wide range of topics, from social inequality and movements for social change, to political developments and military conflict, to concerns about the environment over time. All teach the significance of context in exploring the causes and consequences of past events and developments. In this way, a degree in History will shape how you think for the rest of your life.

Vikings of York

Ragnar Lothbrok, Erik Bloodaxe and Harald Hardrada are a trio of legendary Viking warriors. Towards the end of their careers, each man sailed his longships upriver to Jorvik, or York. Not one of them survived to make the journey home.

The first to die was Ragnar Lothbrok (or Shaggy Breeches). The verdict is still out on whether there really was a historical Ragnar, but the lurid account of his death was enough to put York on the map as far as the Viking Sagas were concerned.

Ragnar’s time was up when he was shipwrecked off the Yorkshire coast and fell into the hands of King Aella of Northumbria. Aella was a full-blooded historical figure whose rule of northern England was attested by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. But he ruled a kingdom that was politically unstable: for several generations, it had suffered from Viking raids, starting back in 793 when the longships swooped down on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) the spiritual powerhouse of Northumbria.

So the king was in no mood to offer hospitality to any stranded Vikings and when Ragnar refused to give his name, Aella threw him into that most unlikely of Yorkshire settings – a pit full of snakes. If we can believe the sagas, this wasn’t Ragnar’s first encounter with a serpent either. Stories have him fighting a dragon as a young man, and surviving only because he boiled his clothing in pitch beforehand. How lucky then that he was still wearing the same protective clothing and King Aelle’s snakes proved powerless against him! But the magic left as soon as Ragnar was stripped of his clothes and the snakes crowded in for the kill. With the venom entering his bloodstream, the dying man then made a terrifying prophecy – that his sons would descend on York to avenge their father’s death.

19th century artist’s impression of the execution of Ragnar Lodbrok

If the saga version of Ragnar’s death is fiction, then the Viking capture of York is undisputed fact. English sources identify an Ingwar as a leader of the “Great Heathen Army”, but it’s the sagas that take us that tantalising step back to Ragnar himself by identifying this Ingwar as one of the sons of Hairy Breeches himself – Ivar the Boneless.

York fell to the Vikings in 866 and King Aella himself died six months later in an unsuccessful attempt to retake the city. The Saga tradition, however, begs to differ and has the Northumbrian King taken alive for the son of Ragnar to torture him to the Viking version of death by a thousand cuts. According to historian Roberta Frank, however, the notorious “blood eagle” is actually a sensationalist misreading of Viking poems gloating on the birds of prey picking over the defeated Aella’s corpse.

In the end, how King Aella died is irrelevant. With the native line of kings gone, the family of Ingwar/Ivar the Boneless ruled York for the next half-century until they too were supplanted by a new King arrived from Scandinavia.

Coin of Erik Bloodaxe

This was Erik Bloodaxe, who had earned his moniker from the ruthless elimination of the four brothers who stood between him and the throne of Norway. The political turmoil in Norway eventually forced Erik to find a new kingdom overseas. Not all historians are convinced that Erik actually washed up in York and, such is the paucity of the sources, it is more than possible that the king of that name striking coins in the 940s was someone other than Bloodaxe. The Sagas, however, were in no doubt and immortalised him sitting in his royal hall in a rain-soaked Jorvik with his wife, the equally ruthless Queen Gunnhild, at his side.

Erik did not have a peaceful time in York. The displaced Ivarrsons were never far away and both Scandinavian rivals were now under threat from a third challenger coming up from the south.

King Eadred, grandson of Alfred the Great, was close enough to cast a long shadow over Northumbria itself. Erik was an obstacle to the unification of England and when he fell victim to the snake pit of Northumbrian politics – ambushed and killed by local rivals in the Pennines in 954 – King Eadred locked the kingdom of York into the new kingdom of England.

A century later, that achievement came under threat. It was exactly 200 years since the fall of York to the Vikings. The year – of course – was 1066.

The city now boasted 15,000 souls, making it the second biggest in England, but that was never going to overawe the next Norwegian King to come to York: the giant and indisputably historical Harald Sigurdsson. In his youth, he had seen the glories of Constantinople, the New Rome. There Harald learned his trade as an officer in the elite Varangian Guard, with the ageing Empress Zoe as one of the female admirers of his oversized physical charms.

Back in Norway, he claimed the throne in 1046 and then spent the next two decades justifying his nickname of Hardrada, or Hard Ruler, of the Norwegians.

When the English throne fell vacant with the death of the childless Edward the Confessor in January 1066, Hardrada was inevitably one of the hard men making a bid for the crown.

Harald – the “thunderbolt of the North” – arrived in the Humber estuary with 300 ships in September 1066. He was planning to take advantage of the uncertain loyalties of the northern elite: an elite who, just twelve months earlier, had been threatening to secede from the English kingdom again. Their beef was with their earl, Tostig Godwinson and the threat to withdraw their loyalty to the crown had been serious enough for Tostig’s most powerful ally to withdraw his support: his own brother Harold, Earl of Wessex.

A few weeks later, Tostig watched from exile as his brother was elected as King Harold II. Licking his wounds, he withdrew to Norway, but now he was back – joined with Hardrada in the invasion of England and the overthrow of his own brother.

As always, control of York was the key to controlling the north. The invasion started well, with the Norwegians defeating the local forces at Fulford on 20 September 1066. The city prepared to submit, and hostages were gathered from across the shire, to be handed over five days later at the traditional assembly point of Stamford Bridge. But instead of hostages, the Norwegians relaxing in the sun were greeted with the cloud of dust that heralded the arrival of a second English army, force-marched up from the south. The day ended with Harold Godwinson fulfilling his promise to give his Norwegian namesake six feet of English ground and no more.

Any chance of reviving the Viking kingdom of York died with Hardrada that September day. He was the last of the great Vikings to come to York.

Tours of historic York
For more information concerning tours of tours of historic York, please follow this link.

New York Academy of History

The New York Academy of History is a not-for-profit organization consisting of people who have distinguished themselves in the practice of New York history. It aims to encourage its study, advocate for its strength, and represent the interests of those who actually work in classrooms, archives, historical societies, libraries, and other venues.

Membership, by invitation only, is limited to persons with a demonstrated record of accomplishment in New York history as authors, archivists, public historians, teachers, librarians, administrators, and similar achievement. We have a distinguished group of approximately 200 people who have been chosen by the Fellows. Residence in the state is not required. This not-for-profit group (5013c), founded in 2007, was incorporated in the State of New York in 2008.

The NYAH hopes to unify the historical community and defend the interests of New York state history. The NYAH recognizes the accomplishments of its members by awarding the Herbert H. Lehman Prize for distinction in scholarship and for distinction in service. It publishes a informal e-newsletter, holds formal and informal meetings, and cosponsors conferences.

New York Academy of History | Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History | Columbia University | 420 W. 118th St. MV 3359 | New York NY 10027

The Immigrant History of the NYC Neighborhood Behind ‘In the Heights’

The setting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights is as central to the musical’s plot as its characters. Home to a vibrant Latino community, Washington Heights, known colloquially as “Little Dominican Republic,” comes alive on stage and on screen, imbuing every scene with an unmistakable, pulsating presence. Situated in the northernmost part of Manhattan, between 155th Street and 195th Street, the neighborhood’s story is one of hardship, prosperity and communal spirit—themes aptly mirrored in the Tony Award–winning musical. The movie adaptation of In the Heights debuts in theaters and on HBO Max this week.

Involved in stage acting from an early age, Miranda says that it was the lack of Latino representation in Broadway and Hollywood that, in part, inspired him to create a work that shined a positive light on Latino immigrants, as opposed to the one-dimensional gang members seen in the classic 1957 musical West Side Story. As someone who grew up in Inwood, the neighborhood next door, that desire to break away from violent stereotypes was personal for Miranda. In the writing stages—he famously wrote the play during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University—he drew from his own life experiences to create something that was “honest,” and he talks about how many of his own life’s most important memories actually took place in Washington Heights, where he still lives today.

By the time Miranda was growing up, the neighborhood had long been considered a refuge for immigrants in search of the American dream. But when it was first developed in the 1800s, it was the area that wealthy New Yorkers called home. Regal estates, like that of famed naturalist John James Audubon, took advantage of the area’s rolling hills and waterfront views. In addition to the neighborhood’s physical beauty, it drew interest for its historical significance, having been the site of Fort Washington, a strategic point of defense in the Continental army’s efforts to protect New York from the British during the Revolutionary War.

By the year 1900, the face of Washington Heights began to change. As affluent families moved their estates south—developing alongside today’s Fifth Avenue and the Upper East Side—Washington Heights became an enclave for immigrants from Europe. The Irish, escaping the Great Potato Famine, settled in the neighborhood after the Lower East Side proved inhospitable. A few decades later, German Jews, fleeing anti-Semitism in the wake of the Nazi regime’s rise to power, arrived in Washington Heights in such numbers that the neighborhood became known as “Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson.” Later, immigrants from Greece, whose population in New York peaked in the 1960s, settled there.

But as these groups gained steadier footing in the city, they began trading in Washington Heights for more attractive real estate, creating the opportunity for a new wave of immigrants, this time from Latin America, to call the area their own. As documented by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, roughly 4,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States, each year, between the years of 1946 and 1956. As Europeans moved out and Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans and soon after, Dominicans, moved in, the neighborhood transformed into a largely Latino barrio, a characteristic that has held on through today.

Locals call Washington Heights "Little Dominican Republic." Pictured here is a scene from the film adaptation of In the Heights. (Macall Polay)

Robert Snyder, a historian at Rutgers University, says that Dominican immigrants made such a deep impact on the area because they were quick to set up hometown associations, political organizations, sporting clubs and restaurants. What was particularly unique about the Dominican community, according to Snyder, was that, with the advent of air travel, they were also able to travel back home, send kids to their grandparents for the summer, and check in on businesses that were still based in the D.R., the Dominican Republic.

“They put one foot in the D.R. and one foot in N.Y.C.,” says Snyder, of the particular proximity that helped Dominicans set up a community whose sounds and smells—the ubiquity of Spanish, the presence of the Dominican flag, the botanicas selling fragrant incenses—were things that Dominicans brought along with them to New York.

Like the Cubans, the Mexicans, and the Puerto Rican immigrants that came before them, the Dominican community of Washington Heights arrived “looking to make their mark,” adds Ramona Hernandez, a sociologist and the director of the City College of New York’s Dominican Studies Institute. It was their determination to resist, combined with their “energy, that desire, that willingness to do whatever it takes to make it to progress,” she says, that lent a type of permanency to the area.

Small residential buildings, capable of housing multiple families within a single apartment, were characteristic of the neighborhood. With five or six floors each, these small buildings reminded Dominicans of the casitas back home, says Hernandez, who explains that those buildings were also what enabled so many Dominicans to actually concentrate in the same place. Upper Manhattan, including Washington Heights, possesses the largest population of Dominicans in all of New York.

As Latinos moved in, though, the conversation around Washington Heights started to change. “Once Latinos begin to move there, something interesting begins to happen,” explains Hernandez. Even though white residents started to leave the Heights for all kinds of reasons, she says, “the perception was that that you have a neighborhood that was in decline. When people leave, they take with them their businesses, what they brought in there. This was the vision you had back in the 󈨊s.”

A 1910 photograph of the Riviera at 156th Street and Riverside Drive (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

History of York - History

Prior to Europeans arriving in New York, the land was inhabited by Native Americans. There were two major groups of Native Americans: the Iroquois and the Algonquian peoples. The Iroquois formed an alliance of tribes called the Five Nations which included the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, and the Seneca. Later the Tuscarora would join and make it the Six Nations. This alliance formed the first democracy in the Americas.

The Empire State Building by Unknown

In 1609, English explorer Henry Hudson found New York Bay and the Hudson River while exploring for the Dutch. The Dutch laid claim to the surrounding land and began to settle the area. They traded with the natives for beaver furs which were popular in Europe at the time for making hats.

The first Dutch settlement was Fort Nassau established in 1614. Soon more settlements were built including Fort Orange in 1624 (which would later become Albany) and Fort Amsterdam in 1625. Fort Amsterdam would become the city of New Amsterdam which would later become New York City. Over the next several years, the Dutch colony continued to grow. People from many countries moved into the area including many from England.

In 1664, an English fleet arrived at New Amsterdam. The English took control of the colony and renamed both the city and the colony New York.

French and Indian War

In 1754, France and England went to war in what is called the French and Indian War. The war lasted until 1763 and a lot of the fighting took place in New York. This was because the French allied with the Algonquian tribes and the English with the Iroquois. In the end, the British won and New York remained an English colony.

When the thirteen colonies decided to rebel against Britain and declare their independence, New York was in the middle of the action. Even before the war, the Sons of Liberty were formed in New York City to protest the Stamp Act. Then, in 1775, one of the first conflicts of the war occurred when Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain boys captured Fort Ticonderoga.

British surrender at the Battle of Saratoga
by John Trumbull

Some of the largest and most important battles of the Revolutionary War took place in New York. The Battle of Long Island was the largest battle of the war. It was fought in 1776 and resulted in the British defeating the Continental Army and gaining control of New York City. However, the turning point of the war took place at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. During this series of battles, General Horatio Gates led the Continental Army to victory resulting in the surrender of the British Army under British General Burgoyne.

On July 26, 1788 New York ratified the new U.S. Constitution and became the 11th state to join the Union. New York City was the nation's capital until 1790. Albany has been the state capital since 1797.

On September 11, 2001 the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history occurred when two hijacked planes were crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The attacks were launched by nineteen members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda. Both buildings collapsed killing nearly 3,000 people.

Skating Rink at Rockefeller Center by Ducksters

Rockefeller Center

From the time the idea came about in 1929 until the completion in 1940, Rockefeller Center created economic prosperity, initiated by John D. Rockefeller, creating a city within a city. From providing jobs for people during the Great Depression, to drawing in hundreds of thousands of people a day, Rockefeller center was always booming. Architects and construction worked together to design and bring to life infrastructure that was never seen before, proving that New York can still prosper in times of despair. With all the opportunity for work that Rockefeller Center provided for economic prosperity in creating thousands of jobs, some of this opportunity had gone to artists who contributed to making Rockefeller Center the cultural center that it remains today.

Located in midtown Manhattan, Rockefeller Center was conceived during a time of economic prosperity, the Roaring Twenties. On October 28 th , 1929, the day before the stock market crash, the architects were assigned by developer John R. Todd to the construction of Rockefeller Center. The two architects were L. Andrew Reinhard and Henry Hofmeister.[1] Their first design was brought about in January of 1930, but a design was not settled on until 1932, by these men. In such a time of despair, high unemployment rates, this construction did not seem to have a bright future, since people did not have money to preliminary rent out parts of the buildings. However, Rockefeller wanted to be able to provide for these people.

At the time that building began on July 22, 1931, the New York economy was terrible. When construction began, 1/3 of the manufacturing firms were out of business and 64% of the construction workers were out of work.[2] The times were hard but the potential failing of Rockefeller Center that the depression framed compared to the success Rockefeller Center could have had during the Roaring Twenties caused some skepticism. However, Rockefeller was able to defy these odds of failing. Once the design was agreed upon in 1932, the construction began. Since this was during the Great Depression, it caused the cost of buildings to be at a new low, along with technological advances from World War I, the number of employees hovered around 40,000-60,000 jobs. [3] The contractors excavated 1.25 million tons of debris, using 88,000 tons of cement, and set 39,000,000 bricks. Contractors also paved a private street, called Rockefeller Plaza. Rockefeller’s project was the “biggest building project ever undertaken by private capital.”[4] This proves that Rockefeller really had the interest of the people in mind during this process, but not only did Rockefeller have this in mind, but he wanted to be able to keep the principles of manhood alive.[5] One of these principles was rooted in the fact that the Great Depression took away from the economic prosperity of man. Therefore, he invested $100,000,000 in Rockefeller Center, and in doing do was able to keep industry flowing for man to be able to provide for himself and his family.

In conjunction with wanting to keep manhood alive, Rockefeller had several motivations for wanting to create Rockefeller Center. In a newspaper article from 1938, these motivations are listed as: wanting to be the “most inspiring example of urban planning that New York has ever seen,” to be able to “demonstrate faith in the country’s future when everything was doing dead wrong, and to provide work in a time of lengthening breadlines.”[6] This development was not just a benefit to Rockefeller, but it was seen as an opportunity to help those in need of jobs, which it did. He wanted to take people out of the life-style that the Great Depression was imposing on the people of breadlines and anguish. Therefore, he took a duty upon himself in order to improve living conditions for those around him. Granted he was looking for return for his investment, but he also did see it as his contribution to the public good. Due to his family line of wealthy from the Oil Industry of his family, he wanted to be able to give back to the people who did not have as much as him.

The skyscraper RCA Building, the tallest in Rockefeller Center, taken April 2005. Wikimedia Commons, no known source.

In the time between 1932 and 1940, 14 buildings had been built, the tallest being the International Building and the RCA Building, which is the center of the all the buildings. The other buildings surrounded include the RCA Building West, the U.S. Rubber Building, the Center Theater, the Eastern Airlines Building, the Time & Life Building, the La Maison Française, the British Empire Building, the Palazzo d’Italia, the International Building North, the Associated Press Building, the Radio City Music Hall, the RKO Building, and the Esso Building. These were all showing all the architectural advancements that were made in a time of economic trouble. Along with the massive buildings, a new form of architecture was designed and created: an underground parking garage. This garage was the first underground parking garage, having six-levels and being able to hold up to 725 cars.[7] Not only was creativity coming about through the architecture, but during the construction the tradition of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree came about in 1931.

With most people being negatively affected by the Great Depression, some of the more fortunate men who were actually able to find jobs, thanks to Rockefeller, brought and decorated a 12-foot Christmas tree. Using paper, tinsel, and tin cans, little was known the impression this would leave on Rockefeller Center. This tradition instituted by the Rockefeller construction workers became so popular over the years that by1966, the trees used have grown to be about six-stories high, and required a lot of work. In 10 days, 24 electricians had to work “to string five miles of wire, 1,200 illuminated plastic balls in red, green, blue, and yellow, and 4,000 clear 7-watt lamps” in order to have a ceremony, an event still very popular and attractive today as the tree shows offs its massive height.[8] This iconic tree is not the only beauty that was created to be seen in Rockefeller Center.

Not only was New York able to work against the Great Depression, but New Yorker’s were also still able to be innovative, still able to show their creative ability. Alongside the construction workers were artists beginning to make their mark around Rockefeller Center. The amount of artwork coming about was immense and diverse. There were many contributors to the artwork. One of these people was Gaston Lachaise. Known famously for his female nudity work, he switched his style for his touch on Rockefeller. For the RCA Building, he created four-bas reliefs, and on the International Building he created two-bas reliefs. These allegorical works by Lachaise are symbolic of grace and inspiration, both things that Rockefeller was adamant about.[9]

One of the most famous, still standing statutes was made by Paul Manship. This structure is

The famous Rockefeller Tree at the West end of the Plaza. In front of the tree is the Prometheus by Paul Manship. Picture taken myself in the Ice Rink December 2014.

Prometheus at the west end of the sunken plaza, otherwise known as the ice-skating rink. Right next to this statute is where the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is placed every year, glorifying the aesthetic this artwork provides. In front of the statue was placed a fountain. The Prometheus piece became the 4 th most famous piece of sculpture in America.[10] Another sculptor that had a large impact in art was Lew Lawrie. Lawrie has 14 pieces across three blocks in Rockefeller Center. Some of his best known works are Mammoth Bronze Atlas, placed at the International building forecourt, and a 37 foot high statute symbolic at “wisdom” as a god-like figure. This figure holds a draftsman’s compass.[11]

A different kind of art can be seen in glass sculpture. The artist responsible for this style is Attilo Piccirilli, one of Rockefeller’s favorite artist designs. There are two major designs by him, the first being at the Palazzo d’Italia entrance a 10同 “heroic nude figure of a muscled workman digging with a spade,” but this structure possesses a representation of Italian ideology of fascism, which was negatively viewed in America, therefore posing a problem during World War II because the United States was at war with Italy. The second, more widely liked piece with no fascist aspects, “depicts a heroic young man pointing the way for a charging charioteer and his horses.”[12] This was more popular with the people because it represents what New York has always represented, that leadership grows from the youth. Eventually, over time the roles get switched to the younger people as they grow up and create the world for their time. This is also representative of Rockefeller Senior and Junior. John D. Rockefeller Senior, by investing in his oil companies and becoming a billionaire, paved the way to show his son, Junior, how to give back to his community. People during the times would say “Mr. Rockefeller gives visitors dimes visitors give him dollars.” [13] Even though this was a mistake, confusing the two generations, it is still applicable because Senior would give people he met dimes, just to share his wealth. Now, to give back, by being able to create jobs and in turn create Rockefeller Center, Junior worked hard to create it and attracted people who now could afford to come out and see the great Center. He was the symbolism of a building foundation in order for the people of New York to get back on their feet to help strengthen the economy, even though it seems that he was given back more.

The art in Rockefeller is not just around for aesthetic pleasure, but it also has a purpose. The four phases that the art is meant to show are: historical background, progress in physical matters, intellectual and spiritual advances, and progress of people as a whole.[14] In addition to sculpture, murals became another form of popular art to represent these ideals. In the South and North corridors of the RCA Building, some of these ideals can be found in murals. One artist is Frank Brandwyn, who painted four murals in these corridors. His murals show men labor, man being master of the tool and the machine, and “mechanizing labor.”[15] These murals show the progress of physical matters by going from hand tools to machines, therefore this also is representative of the intellectual advances and progress of man. Another mural by him is representative of “Ultimate Destiny”, not to dwell on new lessons to learn but to rely on lessons set by man thousands of years ago by “Sermon on the Mount.”[16] This is pulling in historical background. The second muralist in these corridors is Jose Maria Sert, whose main focus was to show “forces that destroy peace and happiness and preservation of forces which contribute to welfare of mankind.”[17] By showing evolution of machinery, medical science, and abolition of slavery, all four phases are again shown within his work.

In addition to the artwork being attractive, there were also very popular attractions. Just to name a couple, there was the RCA Building rooftop and there is Music Hall. The RCA Building rooftop was an observation roof. When people came they paid five cents to go up to the top, five cents to come back down, and there was also food, drink, and souvenir purchases for the average thousand visitors a day. Not only was this an observatory, there were also gardens decorating rooftops.[18] In addition to the famous rooftop, there is Radio City Music Hall. This became famous for the Rockettes’ performance, Ballerinas, and the Orchestra. [19] The city always had and always will have something to offer to do or to see, showing the values that lie in this city within a city.

The development of Rockefeller Center was a big accomplishment for New York, another milestone on the list of industrial and architectural advancements made by the city. In a time where the entire country was in despair by the Great Depression, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was able to hold strong during that time and create Rockefeller Center, a city within a city. This city has its own cultural values shown through its art scattered around the buildings and city blocks. Not only is there art to represent the culture, there are attractions to attend: shows by the Rockettes, the top of the RCA Building was popular for its time, the tallest building of the fourteen, and has the largest theater and stage with Radio City Music Hall. In a time where there were competitions to build the tallest skyscraper, Rockefeller was able to easily design and construct these buildings along with smaller ones over an eight year period. Rockefeller was successfully able to create faith and inspiration, just like he idealized, in a time of desperation.

“Fine Unity of Theme Discerned in Survey of Art of Many Types at Rockefeller Center.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), Washington, D.C., 1935.

This newspaper article is focused on art, and the different representation in art the four phases. He describes murals that are book representative of the progress of man in different aspects by different artists, for this paper the focus is on Frank Brangwyn and Jose Maria Sert’s murals in the RCA Building.

Flink, John A. “Rockefeller Center.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (January 2016): Research Starters, EBSCOhost(accessed November 17, 2016.)

This entry gives a lot of historical information to provide a basis for the beginnings of Rockefeller Center. It gives the dates and names of the architects and when their designs were agreed upon and proceeded with construction. It also gives the details of the first underground car garage that came with Rockefeller Center.

Nevard, Jacques. “Christmases Past–and Present.” New York Times (1923-Current file), New York, N.Y., 1966.

This newspaper article gives a comparison of the first Christmas tree in 1931 with the tree in 1966 to show the evolution of the tradition. This adds to the attractive aspect of the city, along with adding more aesthetic beauty alongside all the artwork found around Rockefeller Center.

Okrent, Daniel. Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.

This book gives a lot of information on the events leading up, during, and after the construction of Rockefeller Center. Not only does this book give statistics of the unemployment at the start of the construction, but it gives, in great detail, some of the most famous (and not so famous) artwork that can be found around Rockefeller Center. Some of which are still standing today. In addition to the discussion of the artwork at length, there is the detailed account of the RCA observation rooftop.

Robbins, L.H. “OUR “CITY WITHIN A CITY”.” New York Times (1923-Current file), New York, N.Y., 1938.

This article gives the information of the motives surrounding Rockefeller’s overall values in creating Rockefeller Center. To summarize, they all are centered on wanting to be inspiring and provide prosperity to these people suffering by the Great Depression. It gives the figures of how much debris had to be excavated, and how much cement and bricks had to be used. It also tells of paving of Rockefeller Plaza.

“Rockefeller Center is completed as its Creator Pleads for Peace.” New York Times (1923 Current file), New York, N.Y., 1939.

This article gives the reassurance of Rockefeller’s principle to provide opportunity for the people. He calls this opportunity “manhood” and shows how with focusing on this principle, he took it upon himself to provide better conditions for man in the Great Depression – striving for the freedom of man and peace.

[1] John A. Flink, “Rockefeller Center” Salem Press Encyclopedia (January 2016): Research Starters, EBSCOhost(accessed November 17, 2016).

[2] Daniel Okrent, Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (New York: Penguin Group, 2003), 188-189.

[4] Robbins, “Our City Within a City,” 124.

[5] New York Times, “Rockefeller Center is Completed as its Created Pleads for Peace,” The New York Times, November 2, 1939, 1.

[6] L.H. Robbins, “Our City Within a City,” New York Times, February 13, 1938, 124.

[8] Jacques Nevard, “Christmas Past – and Present,” New York Times, November 30, 1966, 49.

[9] Okrent, Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, 291.

[13] Okrent, Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, 353.

[14] The Washington Post, “Fine Unity of Theme Discerned in Survey of Art and Many Types at Rockefeller Center,” The Washing Post, September 22, 1935, G5.

[18] Okrent, Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, 353.


As the new century dawned, then-New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye had the vision to create an organization that would collect and preserve this State’s legal history. It would showcase the New York connection to our founding fathers and their contributions to the U.S. and New York State constitutions and the nation’s developing democracy. It would breathe life into the history of our State’s prominent legal figures, its rich legacy of court cases, and its magnificent courthouses. The Society was thus born, nurtured by a terrific partnership with Albert M. Rosenblatt, then an Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.

Judge Kaye recently reminisced about how, for her, the birth of this idea was linked to the 150th anniversary of the New York State Court of Appeals. She recalled how in 1996, as this important anniversary neared, she gazed at the portraits looking down at her in the courtroom and wanted to know more about each of the judges. She requested a list of her predecessors on the bench, with their dates of service, and was amazed to discover that none existed.

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Calling upon Frances Murray, the ever-resourceful Chief Legal Reference Attorney of the Court of Appeals, to look into this matter, Frances confirmed that the list was nonexistent. One day shortly thereafter, Judge Kaye arrived at her office to find a huge stack of photocopies that Frances had made of the inner front pages of each of the New York Official Reports since 1847. Each contained a record of the then-sitting Court of Appeals Judges for the period of that Report. From these photocopies a complete record of the Judges of the Court of Appeals from 1847 to 1997 was meticulously assembled. This newly minted list was included in a publication for the 150th anniversary celebration. From that incident came the realization that New York State’s court history needed to be preserved, and the idea was planted for the formation of a Society to do just that.

Since that date, the Society has made Chief Judge Kaye’s vision a reality via its various public programs, education projects, films and publications. Through our website we make available the rich library of research that has been collected, as well as the fruits of our many initiatives.


  1. Elmer

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  2. Doukree

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  3. Kyran

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  4. Sanbourne

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