Manhattan Island ca 1883: the map

Manhattan, circa 1883

Manhattan, circa 1883

The first companion map for The Gilded Hour is now up, here.  It is also being folded into the new website for The Gilded Hour (as yet not meant for public consumption, but it will be worth the wait, I believe). Little by little I’ll be adding images, newspaper clippings, links and text (usually marked with a small black circle over my original red marker) and other bits and pieces. There will also be very detailed image maps of specific parts of Manhattan.

There won’t be any spoilers, but there may well be information and/or links to excerpts that show up on the maps.  And maybe even a treasure hunt.

Cooper Union in the 1870s

wash park first uploadThe Cooper Union is a college in Manhattan, established in 1859 for  education  in engineering, the arts and architecture for any candidate, regardless of  race, religion, sex, wealth or social status. Pretty forward thinking for 1859, of course. And even more impressive: from the day  it first opened until 2013 anbody admitted got a full scholarship. The economic downturn put an end to that.[Cooper Union.] 1880

Cooper Institute between 3rd and 4th Ave 1875The Union plays a role in The Gilded Hour, but primarily in the backstory and in a very brief flashback. Two of the primary characters meet as children when their parents attend Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the Cooper Union in October of 1860.

The map (click for the full size) is of a small part of Manhattan in 1880, which happens to contain the Savard residence (marked with a “1”), the Cooper Union, Washington Square Park and a number of other places relevant to the story.  The  photo on the left  is taken looking north from th esmall park behind the Union in about 1875, just before the elevated trains went up on Third and Fourth Avenues. The photo on the right is a little later, and you can see that train passengers had a good view into the classrooms as they sped on by.




census + map = insight

I’ve mentioned that I am very visually oriented, and also (what is probably obvious without me pointing it out again) I have more than a small dose of OCD. Which means I can’t let things go until I’m satisfied.  So the research I do for my novels is painstaking. And also, to me at least, tremendously interesting.

I always find the best possible maps for the location that I’m writing about. For Gilded Hour I found maybe a dozen maps published between 1880 and 1885, but only one of those really suits my purpose, so that while I’ll consult many different maps, one becomes my source map.  The map I’m using was published in 1885, which means that it was most likely compiled over 1883-84.  Manhattan is divided into twenty-four plates (at the top of this post is a small detail from Plate 5, with my annotations).

An example of a supplementary map is the Sanitary Map and Social Chart of the Fourth Ward of the City of New York, which accompanies a detailed report of the living conditions.

chambers-pearl-newbowery Report of the 4th Sanitary Inspection District made to the Council of Hygiene of the Citizen’s Association by E.R. Pulling, M.D., assisted by F. J. Randall. Report of the Council of Hygiene and Public Health of the Citizens’ Association of the New York Upon the Sanitary Condition of the City, second edition. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1866.

This map is far too early for a novel set in 1883, but it is very useful anyway. It helped me understand the real conditions in the tenements by providing actual data.  To be clear, it wasn’t the map so much as the website put together by Peter Baldwin at the University of Connecticut that provided insight. The project is called The Fourth Ward: Life and Death in New York, 1860-70. The website includes high resolution, annotated images of the map itself, as well as the actual report submitted by the Citizens’ Association researchers, also annotated.  Consider this short excerpt:

insalubrious district

click for a full-sized image

The diagram on the opposite page represents an area eighty yards long and fifty yards wide, including the cul-de-sac at the termination of Cliff Street. It illustrates the proximity to crowded habitations of offensive and dangerous nuisances, often observed in the lower part of the city. The diagram presents an accurate ground plan of each tenant-house which it embraces. Within this space are 20 dwellings occupied by 111 families, and having a population of 538 persons. A soap-and-candle factory, a tannery, and five stables, in which are kept not less than 30 horses, are also wholly or partially included within its limits.
A, B, C, D, E, are tenant-houses fronting on Vandewater Street. An alley four feet wide running through C forms the sole communication with the five tenant-houses F, G, H, I, J, which open into the small court R, in which stands their common privy, f, situated within three feet of the hall door of one of the houses, which is constantly pervaded by its noisome odor; c, d, e are privies situated immediately under the windows of houses F, G, H; a, b are privies belonging to the tenant-houses A and B; K, L,M, N, are tenant-houses standing back to back with two of those in the court above mentioned and with three stables to which access is had from Vandewater Street. The position of two stables fronting on Cliff Street will also be observed. The soap-and-candle factory, whose frontage is shown in the cut, is a very extensive one, and its emanations vitiate the atmosphere for a considerable space around.
T, T, T, represent a series of tan vats, in the rear of a leather factory on Frankfort Street, which generally contain a large number of green hides in a very offensive condition. The peculiar stench from this source is usually quite perceptible through the entire area shown in the engraving.
This locality lies on the borders of a former marsh known as “Beekman’s Swamp.” The appearance of every inhabitant of this region indicates a low and vitiated condition of the system, rendering it specially susceptible to adynamic forms of fever, which, during epidemic visitations, have on several occasions spread with terrific rapidity through the entire quarter. Typhus fever has prevailed during the past year to a considerable extent in some of these houses, while small-pox has been rife in the tenant-houses on Vandewater Street. It has been observed that scarlatina is especially malignant and fatal here.

Things get even more interesting when you can look at the census data for a particular street or block in conjunction with a detailed map. I’ll post about that in the next couple days.

back to plot/story

As the basic conflicts that are going to drive book six evolve, I depend on a lot of visual cues to jog my imagination. Some of these are standards I’ve used for all the books (such as a map of the village of Paradise); some are photos of the setting, buildings, plants, animals. I especially like reading newspapers from the right month and year because that really puts me in the right mind to tell the story.

Every book is different than the one before, so I have to make changes and additions to my reference materials. A case in point is the village map.

You may remember that in Queen of Swords Hannah gets a letter from home that describes the changes in the village, all Ethan’s doing. He has recruited people to come and live in Paradise, farmers and craftspeople. And all of them are Quaker, because as Curiosity puts it, there’s not many people in this world would put up with our strange ways, but Quakers might could.

I’m not going to introduce ten or twenty new major characters, but you will see the new residents coming and going. And one family does have a major role to play. So I had to pay special attention to how they would fit into the village — or how they changed it. This involved a lot of mooning over the map, thinking about crops (corn, flax, vegetables), hunting, and the gradual shift in the economy from trade-based to currency based.

Mayfair's house
There are three people in the Mayfair family that will be involved in book six, and that required a lot more thought as well. These are well to do Quakers, very industrious. Mr. Mayfair bought out the trading post when Anna McGarrity died and Jed moved in with his daughter. The Mayfairs built a house like the one they had in Massachusetts and have set up their outbuildings, pastures and fields in a way that reminds Elizabeth of England.

If you click on this map, you’ll get the full size of the Paradise map as it currently exists. Except I’ve thrown in a few red herrings.

Paradise 1824If you think of plotting a novel as if it were conducted on a giant gameboard, you’d add three more markers for these three new characters. And once you’ve got them situated, you watch them move around. I know basically what’s happening with them and who/why they are interacting with, but that I’ll keep to myself.