City Streets: What’s In A Name?

Have you ever wondered who or what streets are named after? If someone tells you to hang a left on Gansevoort Street, don’t you, at least for a second, think "where in the hell did that name come from?"

The truth is there are tons interesting stories behind NYC street names. The Street Book by Henry Moscow takes a historical look at many of the Big Apple’s thoroughfares. Here’s a little sampling:

Battery Place
The Namesake: a battery of artillery installed on a platform there in 1693 to protect the city against a French attack that never came.

The site remained a supposed military strongpoint during the War of 1812, having been reinforced by construction in 1807 of the West Battery, which was renamed Castle Clinton in 1815 in honor of Mayor DeWitt Clinton. Battery Park, which Battery Place borders, served as a prison camp for captured Confederates in the Civil War.

Gansevoort Street
The Namesake: Peter Gansevoort, colonel of the 3rd New York Regiment of militia in the Revolutionary War, and later a brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

Gansevoort held off a British siege of Fort Schuyler at what is now Rome, New York and, though short of food and ammunition, spurned generous terms for surrender. His fort flew the first Stars and Stripes to see battle: the flag was contrived of ammunition bags, which were white; a captured British cloak of blue, and bits and pieces of red cloth. Before the street was named for Gansevoort, it was called Great Kiln Street, for a lime kiln sited there.

Gay Street
The Namesake: unknown, but probably for a family named Gay. An R. Gay, who lived in the Bowery, advertised a gelding for sale in a newspaper dated May 11, 1775.

The street runs through the site of a brewery owned by Wouter Van Twiller, the grasping no-goodnick who succeeded Peter Minuit as Governor of New Netherland in 1633. But the name Gay Street first appears officially in the Common Council minutes for April 23, 1827, which record a health inspector’s complaint against a privy belonging to one A.S. Pell, of Gay Street.


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