Old New Amsterdam

I heard the windmills creak in lower Manhattan yesterday.

I walked the streets between Pearl and Broadway, the ones that bear the same names they did when the Dutch settled New Amsterdam. They appear completely different, of course, but their contours are the same. Stone Street, so designated because it was the first thoroughfare paved with cobblestones, now lined with tall buildings but formerly the place of grand mansions and a rather large brewery. Marketfield Street, a few steps away, is now a pestilent alley but used to be a comfortable and elegant place to dwell.

I walked up Broad Street, wide because there used to be a canal running there. It was referred to as The Ditch, and was not paved over until 1676.

The Ditch

So the ghost of New Amsterdam lives on in today’s Manhattan. Having written about people who lived on the streets in The Orphanmaster, I walk around the neighborhood and exclaim over one of my characters, say Blandine Van Couvering, residing in a dwelling house on Pearl Street, and her favorite tavern the Red Lion just across the street. Yes, Pearl street is now a gritty concrete canyon, but I see the past there.  I can imagine the parade grounds that spread out just where Broadway widens at Bowling Green today. I can visualize the Dutch fort where it towered, exactly where the U.S. Customs House stands today.

And always, in the background, that lilting, rhythmic creak, as the windmills grind the local wheatberries to flour.

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Filed under Fiction, History, Jean Zimmerman, The Orphanmaster

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