This is John Bute Holmes's rare January 1869 cadastral map of Greenwich Village, or more properly the West Village, New York City. Like Holmes' rarest and most desirable work, this is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, specific published maps of the West Village, including the area around and immediately to the south of Washington Square Park. Reference tables in the lower right and left corners reference deeds and other property documents on file with the city Clerk's office.
The Lotting of ManhattanIn the early 19th century most of Manhattan was undeveloped farmlands, the property of wealthy landowners with claims dating to the New York's Dutch 'New Amsterdam' period. The northern two thirds of Manhattan was dotted with farms and sprawling gentlemanly estates, many with great manor houses overlooking the Hudson River. The Commissioner's Plan of 1811, and the 1807 Commission Law, laid the street grid through many of these properties and gave the city the right to claim these lands under eminent domain, providing compensation to the landowners. While this work occurred early in lower Manhattan, central and upper Manhattan were not formally acquired by the city until the mid-19th century.
What Holmes Did and WhyHolmes became fascinated by the early history of Manhattan real estate ownership, recognizing a business opportunity in accurately understanding the history of city land ownership, division, and inheritance. Moreover, Holmes allied himself with the corrupt Tweed administration, assuring himself and his allies even greater wealth and political power from the eminent domain seizure of old Manhattan estates. Holmes created a series of maps, reminiscent of John Randall's 'Farm Maps', overlaid with property data, showing the borders of old estates, and notating the breakup of the lands among various heirs. The complex work of compiling the maps earned Holmes a fortune, with one newspaper suggesting on his death in 1887 that some of his individual maps were worth more than 30,000 USD. There is no complete carto-bibliography of Holmes' maps, but we believe there to be at least 50 maps, possibly more.
Publication History and CensusThis map was laid out and published in January of 1869 by John Bute Holmes. Like most Holmes maps, this map is today exceedingly rare. We are aware of just 3 known examples in private hands and one uncatalogued example at the New York Public Library.
John Bute Holmes (March 31, 1822 - May 21, 1887) was an Irish civil engineer, city surveyor, and mapmaker based in New York City in the middle to latter 19th century. Holmes was described as a 'short, stout man, with curly gray hair, a smooth face, and a short, thick neck.' Holmes' father-in-law supplied funds for him to immigrate to America in 1840 and shortly thereafter, in 1844, he established himself in New York City. He briefly returned to Europe before once again settling in New York City in 1848. Apparently, according to several New York Times articles dating to the 1870s, Holmes was a man of dubious personal and moral character. He was involved in several legal disputes most of which were associated with his outrageous - even by modern standards - womanizing. In 1857 he was convicted of forgery of a marriage document and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor at Sing Sing, of which he served 5 before wealthy associates interceded on his behalf for an early release. Holmes seems to have been married to several different women at the same time and to have had an unfortunate attraction to exceptionally young women - one of whom, 16 year old May Chamberlayne claimed to be his wife and sued him for 50,000 USD. On another occasion he was found guilty of killing Brooklyn policeman David Gourly with whose wife he 'had been intimate.' Another woman, Miss Abrams, who he hired as a housekeeper, was repeatedly attacked by Holmes and ultimately driven to madness and was consigned to Bellevue Hospital, where she died. Although he attempted to flee the country rather than face conviction for 4th degree manslaughter, he was ultimately arrested and served one year in prison. During the American Civil War he ran for Alderman of the First Ward, in New York. Despite his legal issues, Holmes was a man of considerable means, with a personal fortune estimated between 100,000 and 500,000 USD - a significant sum in the late 19th century. Much of his wealth is associated with a series of important cadastral maps produced between 1867 and 1875 while he was employed as a surveyor and civil engineer under the corrupt Tweed regime. When Holmes died of an 'apoplectic fit' there was considerable wrangling over his estate among his 7 heirs and 11 children. The cream of his estate where his maps, some of which were valued at more than 30,000 USD in 1887. Holmes lived on a large farm-estate in Fanwood New Jersey. Learn More...
William V. Smith (1840 - ????) was a New York City surveyor active in the middle to late 19th century. Smith, although quite litigious, is otherwise elusive due to the commonness of his name. He was born in New York, and held the position of City Surveyor with John Bute Holmes in the 1860s and 1870s. He produced several maps in partnership with Homes. In 1886 he was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Works under the notoriously corrupt Rollin M. Squire. Learn More...
Very good. Original linen backing. Some soiling and toning. Minor chipping to margins. Water stain upper right quadrant.