There was much rejoicing among cartography lovers when the New York Public Library’s Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division recently released over 20,000 maps for free use. From Austro-Hungarian empire topography to vintage views of the World’s Fair, there is really something for every atlas aficionado, with new additions continuing to be digitized. Being that this is a New York project, it’s also heavy on maps of the five boroughs, where the development of the metropolis can be traced.
One of the more intriguing items is a geologic map of Manhattan from 1898, showing the geological terrain of the land alongside the 19th century city grid. Included are excerpts depicting geologic sections of areas like 82nd Street and Third Avenue, the layers of granite and limestone beneath Harlem, and the sedimentary composition of Lenox Avenue. There are also the departed or now-hidden waterways like Collect Pond once over where Canal Street is now (named for the canal that drained the pond), and Bellus Pond with its shoreline by Bleecker Street via the Minetta Creek.
Most of us who walk through Manhattan think of it as a kingdom of concrete and glass, but there is still a geological world beneath all the development, which still impacts the parts of the island that get the tallest skyscrapers due to their ground stability, or which basements get flooded by some forgotten brook. As part of the NYPL project, you can use the Map Warper to place any of the digitized documents over Google Earth and see just what is really in the ground beneath your feet beyond the sidewalks and subways.
The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division’s high resolution digitized maps can be found on the NYPL’s Digital Collections page.