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7 Amazing facts about NYC

New York City is one of the great metropolises of world history, rivaling the cultural and architectural splendor of ancient Rome, medieval Constantinople, Victorian London, and interwar Paris. Yet New York is also ever-changing, leaving behind little evidence of its fascinating Indigenous, Dutch, British colonial, and early American history. These facts explore the centuries-long story of New York and spotlight some of its most amazing modern attributes.

The Indigenous Lenape Called the Area “Manahatta,” or “Hilly Island”

The original inhabitants of the island nestled between the East and Hudson rivers were the Lenape, who referred to their home island as “Manahatta,” meaning “hilly island.” Before the arrival of Europeans, Manahatta was filled with natural resources nestled within an estuary, an area where ocean salt water mixes with river-fed fresh water. The story goes that the Lenape, which means “the people” in their Algonquin-based language, “sold” the island to the Dutch for 60 guilders or around $24. However, because the Lenape had no concept of land ownership, they likely saw the transaction as an opportunity to share the land with the Dutch and not as a purchase price. Today, the history of the Lenape can still be found in various spots throughout the city. Broadway, for example, was actually an old Lenape trade route(renamed “BredeStraat” by the Dutch in the 1620s), and Pearl Street in lower Manhattan is named after the glistening discarded seashells tossed aside by the Lenape so many centuries ago.

It was once called New Orange

When the Dutch controlled the island of Manhattan (1624 to 1664), the city was known as New Amsterdam, until English King Charles II decided he wanted to snatch up New Netherland — of which New Amsterdam was a part — to capitalize on the growing fur trade. However, in 1673 Dutch forces briefly retook the island.

Instead of reverting back to the old name, the Dutch decided on “New Orange,” in honor of William of Orange (Orange was once a medieval principality in the Netherlands, though it is now a part of southern France). Although the English retook the city within a year and reinstated the name “New York,” in a strange twist of fate, William of Orange became king of England following the Glorious Revolution some 15 years later.

Central Park is the world’s most-filmed location

According to a 2022 survey, Central Park is the most-filmed location in the world — and it’s not even close. Having appeared in some 352 films (with the first being Romeo and Juliet in 1908), Central Park was featured in 116 more movies than second-place finisher Bronson Canyon, located in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. It’s worth noting that this number doesn’t even include television shows, which would likely make Central Park even more of an outlier. Despite its glitzy Hollywood treatment (and being flanked by some of the city’s most expensive apartments), Central Park is only the fifth-largest park in New York City, with the largest being Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

The city was our nation’s first capital after the Constitution

Although Washington, D.C., bears the name of the nation’s first President, George Washington actually served the first 16 months of his presidency in New York City. On April 30, 1789, Washington took the oath of office at Federal Hall, and lived at 3 Cherry Street (demolished in 1856) before moving to the Macomb House at 39 Broadway (demolished in 1940). The third presidential mansion was the President’s House (only partially demolished), located in Philadelphia, only a short stroll away from Independence Hall.

Although Washington’s time in New York City was brief, the famous Virginian general accomplished a lot there. While in the city, Washington established revenue sources for the new government; created the State, Treasury, and War departments; and filled the entire Supreme Court.

The Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s longest bridge upon its completion

One of the most stunning aspects of the New York City skyline is the Brooklyn Bridge. Architect John Roebling designed the 1.1-mile-long bridge, but died from tetanus just as the project was beginning construction. His son, Washington, took over the construction, but soon developed decompression disease while working long hours under the river, so construction management fell to his wife, Emily Roebling, who served as an onsite liaison between her husband and the work crews.

After 14 long years, the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, finally threading together the cities of New York and Brooklyn. At that time, it had the longest main span of any bridge in the world. Yet the bridge relinquished the crown only seven years later, following the completion of the Forth Bridge in Scotland. That doesn’t diminish its status as one of the biggest engineering achievements of the 19th century, though; today, the Brooklyn Bridge is designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Many of the city’s skyscrapers have their own zip codes

Because the U.S. Postal Service assigns ZIP codes based on population density and mail volume, many of New York City’s tallest buildings have their own ZIP code. The Empire State Building, for example, is home to more than 1,000 businesses, and has its own ZIP code: 10118. Other buildings with their own ZIP code include 30 Rockefeller Center, the Metlife Building, the Chrysler Building, and 40 or so others located mostly throughout midtown Manhattan. New York isn’t the only city that benefits from this exclusive ZIP code practice: Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Willis Tower in Chicago, and even the White House all have their own ZIP codes.

NYC didn’t become 5 boroughs until 1898

For the majority of the city’s history, the name New York City was synonymous with the island of Manhattan, while today’s boroughs — the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island — were cities (or a patchwork of cities) in their own right. The annexing of the boroughs began in earnest in the late 19th century, with the most populous borough, Brooklyn, putting up the most resistance to consolidation. At the time, Brooklyn was considered the fourth-largest city in the U.S., and Brooklynites created banners, speeches, and even songs in protest of joining Greater New York City. A nonbinding referendum held in December 1894 passed in Brooklyn by the narrowest of margins, with 50.1% in favor of annexation. For some living in the outer boroughs, the subsequent establishment of modern New York City four years later became known as “The Great Mistake of 1898.” However, New York City is almost unimaginable without its boroughs, as Brooklyn’s population swelled the city’s numbers, Queens became the most diverse county in the world, and the Bronx evolved into the epicenter of the hip-hop revolution (not to mention the home of the New York Yankees).

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