Most people who have explored New York’s history a bit have heard of The Great Fire of 1835. One of the most devastating fires in the city’s history, it destroyed nearly 700 buildings (including the New York Stock Exchange) in Lower Manhattan, in an area known as the Financial District today. The devastating fire had a huge impact on the city’s development. City planners changed the laws to make new buildings safer, and 23 of 26 insurers at the time were forced to close due to the huge financial losses.
Located in Lower Manhattan at that time was a now little-known tiny neighborhood called Coenties Slip. It is often seen in drawings or depictions of The Great Fire and was an artificially-created berth for sailing vessels. Old maps reveal what looks like a canal that originates in the East River, where ships and other vessels would load/unload goods and people.
There were several such slips along the East River, but most of them (including Coenties Slip) were replaced by docks. After the Erie Canal was built in 1825, the slip harbored many of the boats that traveled along the new waterway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes of North America. The land was filled in 10 years later, expanding the southern part of Lower Manhattan. Many new buildings were subsequently built in the area, but were destroyed a few months later in The Great Fire of December 1835. Today, Coenties Slip is located about a block away from the East River.
But there’s more to this storied corner of Lower Manhattan, which was partly converted into a pedestrian plaza in 2013. You might recognize the area from vintage photographs depicting elevated train tracks between South Ferry and Hanover Square as they unusually wind through Pearl Street in the Financial District.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Coenties Slip became home to a group of now world-famous American artists. These include Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly and Chryssa. These influential artists lived and worked in the old seaport district, which was a great inspiration for the various mediums in which they worked.