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1851 Edwin Smith Manuscript Survey of Wall Street, New York City

Map Shewing the Property Benefited by Widening Wall Street from Broadway to Nassau Street.

1851 Edwin Smith Manuscript Survey of Wall Street, New York City


Exceptional early manuscript map of the Financial Center of the World - Wall Street!



Map Shewing the Property Benefited by Widening Wall Street from Broadway to Nassau Street.
  1851 (dated)    19 x 39 in (48.26 x 99.06 cm)     1 : 500


A unique once-in-a-lifetime discovery for the New York City collector, this is a one-of-a-kind 1851 manuscript cadastral survey map of New York City's Wall Street between Broadway and Pearl Street – including the site of the New York Stock Exchange and numerous prominent financial houses. Highlighting a fascinating moment in the growth of New York City, this map illustrates the city council's plan to widen Wall Street at its intersection with Broadway. Wall Street at the time narrowed considerably at this critical intersection between major thoroughfares, creating an increasingly problematic bottleneck. Even today, visitors often remark on the narrow and unassuming entrance to the world's primary financial artery – imagine it in 1851, 4 feet narrower and a center not only for banking but also for general commerce! This map, along with a lost companion map, was drawn for a legal battle that ensued between the City of New York and the Bank of the Republic over the city's plan to demolish bank property in order to widen Wall Street.

The map includes the present site of the New York Stock Exchange, and the original offices of numerous important banks and financial institutions including City Bank of New York (modern day Citibank), the Bank of America, the Bank of New York, the Bank of the State of New York, the Bank of Commerce, Union Bank, National Bank, Phoenix Bank, Merchant's Bank, the Bank of the Republic, Sun Mutual Insurance, and Atlantic Mutual Insurance, among others. There are also numerous important private residences noted, most of whose names are unknown today, but were then important New York financers, businessmen, and political figures. Among them, P. Schermerhorn, Henry Parish, R. S. Clark, and W. P. Furniss.

The present map was prepared by City Surveyor Edwin Smith to elucidate a legal dispute between the Bank of the Republic and the Common Council of New York over the proposed street widening of Wall Street. Previously, Wall Street, quite wide at William Street, precipitously narrowed to nearly 1/2 width at its intersection with Broadway. The narrow entrance to Wall Street at Broadway, both major thoroughfares, created a bottleneck that urban planners in City Hall were keen to address given the area's rapidly increasing traffic. In doing so, the city recognized that some privately own properties between Broadway and Nassau would necessarily be sacrificed under eminent domain laws. The owners of those properties naturally disputed the proposed widening.
On the 4th of June, 1851, a resolution was passed by the common council of the city of New-York, providing that Wall-street, on the northerly side, between Broadway and Nassau-streets, should be widened four feet, and that the counsel to the corporation should take the necessary legal measures therefore…
Thus, began an intense legal dispute between the property owners, whose lands would be decreased by 4 feet, and the City of New York. Among the affected property owners were powerful banks and wealthy merchants. In particular, the Bank of the Republic, located here on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street, owned an additional lot the corner of Nassau Street where they had already begun construction of a new building which would need to be demolished in order to accommodate the proposed expansion. The legal dispute escalated over the course of the year, producing two maps. The first, being a map of the property to be taken by the city, was issued on September 17, 1851. The present example, the second map, was issued a few months later on the 27th of October 1851, and is intended to illustrate properties who will benefit from the street widening. Despite several court injunctions, the improvement was ultimately completed, creating the modern Wall Street.

The New York Merchants Exchange, occupying an entire city block, is prominently noted and bears some attention. The Merchants Exchange was a kind of open market where goods could be bought and sold, auctions held, and other business transacted. The upper floors held rental offices, meeting rooms, insurance offices, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Board of Brokers. The current Merchants Exchange building, as seen on this map, was designed in 1842 by Isaiah Rogers. The exchange went defunct sometime in the 1860s and the building became the New York Customs House. Later it was fully redesigned and expanded with additional floors, Corinthian columns, and more. Today this building still stands and has been converted into private luxury condos.

Despite exhaustive search, we have identified no other examples of this map, nor have we been able to identify any examples of the partner map indicating 'property to be taken' subject to eminent domain. Nonetheless, it is probable that several copies of the map were prepared and distributed to the relevant parties. Even so, the map bears no markings or other indications that it may have come from a city collection or been submitted for evidence in court. Although we have no firm provenance, the present example most likely rested in a private lawyer or surveyor's archive until discovered by estate 'pickers' and introduced to the market.

This is a hand drawn manuscript, and our research suggests it is a unique piece, with no other example known. The map was drawn on waxed linen, as was common for many early survey maps, and the format suggests a working copy with a need to be both durable and weatherproof. This is unique once-in-a-lifetime discovery for the New York City collector. The map is jointly owned by Geographicus Rare Antique Maps and Boston Rare Maps.


Edwin Smith (fl. 1831 - 1871) was a New York City based municipal and commercial surveyor active in the middle part of the 19th century. He was appointed to the Office of the City Surveyor in March of 1831. Smith was an extremely active surveyor with a large corpus of work, most of which was not published and survives only in manuscript. Nonetheless, some of Smith's survey work seems to provide the underlying cartography for maps later published by John Bute Holmes (March 31, 1822 - c. 1888), another New York Surveyor and map publisher active around the same time. Holmes was something of a scoundrel, and it is not unlikely that he may have taken credit for Smith's work. Smith maintained offices with George W. Smith (a relative?) at 51 West 24th Street. Most of Smith's surviving work is held in New York City archives, including the New York Historical Society, the archive of the City Clerk's Office, the New York Public Library, and the Museum of the City of New York.


Very good. Some discoloration in the lower left quadrant. Waxed surveyor's linen.


Barbour, O. L, (ed.), Reports of Cases in Low and Equity Determine in the Supreme Court of the State of new York, Vol XVII, pages 617-644
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