The amazing interactive map of New York that blends past and present

So how are you supposed to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan? The amazing interactive map of New York that blends past and present to reveal how much the city has changed in the last 200 years



A fascinating new interactive map allows users to block-by-block compare the New York City of 1836 with the bustling modern metropolis that it is today.

Back in 1836, New York was a much simpler construct and a substantially smaller city, with practically everything above 15th Street farmland. Countless iconic landmarks had yet to be built including the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges which would have left many New Yorkers dependant on boats to travel between the two boroughs.

Scroll around some of your favorite spots on these two contrasting maps and see just how substantial the changes are that have taken place over the past almost 200 years.

The map is part of a collection belonging to David Rumsey, who over the past 30 years has collected more than 170,000 maps. This interactive version was first published by Smithsonian.

According to Rumsey, the contrast between the maps isn’t just between how New York has changed but also how far map-making techniques have come

The 1836 map is one of his personal favorites. He has described the map as less functional and more aesthetic, it was once a wall map that would have adorned the walls of someone’s private home or office.

Zooming in to view any part of the 1836 map and it tells the tale of a city in flux. The heavily shaded areas represent the most densely populated portions of the city at the time of the map’s drawing. 

These contrasting maps show just how much has changed in lower Manhattan, in particular there was no Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridges in 1836













Much of what is considered Manhattan today wasn’t yet settled and ‘pretty much everything past 14th St. is country,’ said Rumsey.

In addition to the population shading, the hills of Manhattan are shown by hachures, an antiquated method of showing relief on drawn maps.

‘A lot of the history of Manhattan is the destruction of its hills,’ explained Rumsey. ‘Basically that topography was obliterated, except for Central Park.’

The park wasn’t in the original plan for the city; in 1853, the state of New York empowered the city to acquire more than 700 acres of land under eminent domain to create the expanse.

‘There’s no Central Park yet, and you can see, they’re not planning on the park because the grid is drawn in in very light lines,’ Rumsey explains, hinting at the city’s imminent desire for expansion.

‘Even though the streets haven’t been built yet, they were planning.’

The city may have looked a lot different in the 1830s, but many of the problems that New Yorkers complained about were surprisingly the very same as today – including bad traffic and rising rents.

These contrasting maps show how much of northern Manhattan was still farmland in 1836 rather than the bustling modern metropolis that it is today










Traffic was apparently just as bad in pre-Civil War New York as it is today.
Writer Asa Greene published ‘A Glance at New York’ in 1837 and in it he gives a bracing account of what it was like trying to cross Broadway, packed with ‘omnibuses, coaches, and other vehicles.’
‘To perform the feat with any degree of safety, you must button your coat tight about you, see that your shoes are secure at the heels, settle your hat firmly on your head, look up street and down street, at the self-same moment, to see what carts and carriages are upon you, and then run for your life.’
On the subject of rising rents, Green’s musings will strike a cord with many modern-day New Yorkers.
‘Such an increase in the expense of living, if it do not cause absolute famine… will at least afford such discouragements and obstacles to the dwellers of New York that they will naturally turn their backs upon the city and seek a residence elsewhere.’
Finally, there ever even hipsters back in the 1820s and Green was quite critical of the stylish men then known as dandies.


‘Like other great cities, New York has her share of this class of the biped without feathers… Our present dandies may be divided into three classes, namely chained dandies, switched dandies, and quizzing-glass dandies.’

‘These are so distinguished, as the reader will readily conceive, from those harmless pieces of ornament which they severally wear about their persons or carry in their hands.’

‘Their speech is exceedingly parrot-like, and mostly consists in the use of a single word, which is applied promiscuously to all sorts of articles. They are all “shuperb.’”

The map was drawn by Joseph Colton, who was one of the most prominent map publishers in New York City, with a career spanning three decades from the 1830s to the 1850s.

‘There’s a historian named Stokes who wrote six volumes on the history of Manhattan, and he called this map perhaps one of the most beautiful maps of Manhattan in the 19th century. It’s artistically quite amazing.’ Rumsey told Smithsonian.

Lower Manhattan in 1836 and today: The city may have looked a lot different in the 1830s, but many of the problems that New Yorkers complained about were surprisingly the same as today including bad traffic and rising rents

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