When Canal Street Was a Canal

Stone Bridge: 1800’s — From “The Old Stone Bridge at Canal-street and Broadway” by Capt. Walker Bicker in The New York April 9, 1886: "Broadway was not paved beyond “the stone bridge” which stood where Canal-street now crosses Broadway. This was a famous resort for us schoolboys. It was considered “out of town”—all north beyond as well as the immediate vicinity was country, post and rail fences dividing the land into different sized parcels. This bridge spanned a small stream which conveyed water from the Collect on the east side of Broadway (where now stands the Tombs) to the west side, where was an extensive meadow covering most of the ground from Broadway to the north River and from Lispenard-street to Spring-street." (image: The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1865)

The Old Stone Bridge at Canal Street and Broadway  (image: The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1865)

Believe it or not, Canal Street was not only once an actual canal, but it was also the northernmost border of New York City. In the early-1800’s, an old stone bridge (pictured above) straddled the border between city and country on Broadway. The land south of the bridge was “the city,” where people lived and worked. Collect Pond, a fresh water reservoir that provided drinking water to citydwellers north of current-day City Hall, fed into the canal that gave Canal Street its name, which in turn emptied out into the Hudson River.

Walker Bicker describes his memories of the bridge and its environs in the early 19th century:

Broadway was not paved beyond “the stone bridge” which stood where Canal-street now crosses Broadway. This was a famous resort for us schoolboys. It was considered “out of town”—all north beyond as well as the immediate vicinity was country, post and rail fences dividing the land into different sized parcels. This bridge spanned a small stream which conveyed water from the Collect on the east side of Broadway (where now stands the Tombs) to the west side, where was an extensive meadow covering most of the ground from Broadway to the north River and from Lispenard-street to Spring-street.

An extensive meadow! If only we had such green space in lower Manhattan today. Even back then, however, New York City was already developing into the future, and this idyll was soon paved over to make way for houses and businesses as the city quickly expanded northward. The Canal, too, was soon paved over, becoming so polluted and smelly that the residents on either side of the waterway cried foul.


%d bloggers like this: