The Changing Face of New York
So much for blogging while on the trip, but what can I say? I had the choice to spend the evenings working on my blog or to go out into the city to experience the city. Guess which one I picked. While my choice might not have added much to the historical side of the trip, I certainly believe that it gives me a better grasp of the New York experience.
For those who are my Facebook friends, you know that the days of the walking tour of the trip really took their toll on my feet, my neck, and my back. Though it was sore going for a while, I learned quite a bit. As I achingly walked around the city, one theme really began to emerge: the failure of New York to preserve historical sites through the years.
I remember going through the Ellis Island exhibits, becoming a little upset that the vast majority of artifacts were not there. They had been taken away after Hurricane Sandy. While this was frustrating, what became much more frustrating was the number of times we were told what used to be at the different spots on our tour.
One such site was the Stadt Huys Block, which included Stadt Huys, or the Dutch City Hall. This building was built in 1641 and served as the settlement’s city hall even after the English took over the settlement. Due to the limited space in New York and the value of real estate there, people just built over historical sites like this one for centuries.
In fact, there were numerous incidents where we were shown the way things are now in comparison to how things used to be. We would all gather around a very modern street, and the person guiding us would hold up a picture to show how it used to look.
(The painting is Five Points, painted by George Catlin in 1827.)
The list of areas completely built over went on and on through our visit. One of the more shocking areas that was built over was the African Burial Ground that existed during the Dutch settlement all the way through the late 1700s, after the United States became its own independent nation. It was rediscovered in the early 1990s during the construction of office buildings. Since then, it has progressed from its rediscovery to becoming a National Landmark and eventually a National Monument.
Legislation was passed to help protect historical sites in the 1960s (The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966), and New York extended this legislation for their own state in the 1980s (The New York State Historical Preservation Act of 1980). These pieces of legislation helped to preserve and protect historical sites as they were discovered and developed.
One thing I would like to really drive home with students is the importance of preserving sites. It was maybe a little tragic to think how many historical treasures are lost forever. I think one way to really drive this home is to have students think about what has happened in recent history that should be remembered. Interestingly, I think the 9-11 Memorial (which I will probably have to cover later) would be one of those sites that does a good job of ensuring the preservation of an important event in our nation’s history.