Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Amsteryork. Dutch Treats. New York Streets.

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
In 1609 Hudson found the harbor fine.

It’s been over 400 years since the first wave of Eurotrash washed up on New York’s shores.

The French came for a quickie in 1524 when one of their ships, captained by an Italian---Giovanni da Verrazzano, sailed past the Narrows and thought: This would be a nice place for a bridge.

The Spanish came for a look-see in 1525. Stayed long enough to name the Hudson River –“The San Antonio River” and left with the outgoing tide.

But it was the Dutch who came ashore and founded a permanent colony as a fur trading post. Which is why the next time you see a NYC cop car take a good look at the city seal painted on the door and you’ll see a little watery rodent prominently displayed.

Even though they only ran the place for less than 50 years the Dutch gave New York its New Yorkiness.

You see, New York –the Capital of Capitalism, was founded by a corporation—the Dutch West India Company. They gave us our commercial DNA. The Dutch were more liberal than the other European nations. Nieuw-Nederland was certainly more open than Puritanland up in New England. (I prefer to think of the Puritans as the American Taliban, my apologies to John Walker Lindh.)

It wasn’t as if the Dutch corporation had a mission statement with a politically correct Diversity Program and Green Social Initiative on its website. The Dutch were practical, they’d allow in anyone who could help make them a buck. And so they took in the Jews and the Quakers and Anne Hutchinson’s break away religious group. But being good businessmen they put the last two groups out on the fringes of New Amsterdam, so they could act as canaries in the coal mine when the Injuns went on the warpath. Next time you’re driving on the Hutchinson River Parkway say a prayer for Anne and her followers who were killed in an Indian raid in 1643.

Once the Dutch settled in they began to make the place look like the Old Sod, or more correctly the Old Marshlands. They built dikes, dug canals and erected windmills. Broad Street, in what is now called the Financial District, is broad because it used to be a canal, with little wooden Old Amsterdam style bridges spanning the water. And yes, that’s how Bridge Street got its name. They built a wall at the northern end of the city to keep the English out. Today it’s called Wall Street. They named a wide street that is perpendicular to Wall Street :Breede Weg. And that was anglicized to Broadway. Maiden Lane got its moniker from the Dutch maidens who did their laundry at a brook along a spot the Dutch called Maagde Paatje. It’s no surprise that hints of the Old New Amsterdam still survive in the area of the original settlement, but what of the rest of the city?

One of the main roads out of the settlement lead to Pieter Stuyvesant’s farm. It was called the farm road. "The farm" in Dutch is: De Bouwerij. The Bowery. By the way, Old Pete is buried on the site of his farm at St. Mark’s church at 2nd Ave and 10th street.

Haarlem was an area just outside of Amsterdam and so they thought it’d be cute to have one just like it outside of New Amsterdam. Breuckelen ( broken land full of lakes and marshes )was another town near Utrecht and whammo. Brooklyn was born. And got the sister village of New Utrecht to boot. Not to mention Vlacke bos –Flatbush (translation: flat woodland.)

Tony Soprano had nothing on the Dutch West India Company; they were smart enough to give the Dutch government “a taste” of the spoils and so gave them a huge island and called it: The Island of the States General. Staaten is the Dutch word for State.

Some Dutch leftovers are easy to spot. Spuyten Duyvil (spouting devil) a turbulent piece of water north of Manhattan. Others have been anglicized. There was once a stream near 19th street that flowed to the Hudson. It was shaped like a crooked knife and so the Dutch called it that: Kromme Zee. When the Brits took over they said Kromme Zee-- sounds like Grammercy. And thus Grammercy Park got its name. The Quakers were allowed to live in Queens out in Vlissengen. The Brits said: Vlissengen? Sounds like Flushing.

When the Dutch arrived the first piece of land they took a gander at was an island full of rabbits and so called it Rabbit Island, Konjin island. Today you know it as Coney Island. They named prominent pieces of land jutting into the water “hoeks” One in northern Brooklyn they called Groen Hoek. Green hoek. Today that is known as Greenpoint. One in southern Brooklyn was Red Hoek, easier to spot as Red Hook.

The old Dutch word for a stream or river was “kill”. And so we wind up with places off Staaten Island called Arthur Kill, Kill van Kull and the ominously named Fresh Kills where the wreckage of the world Trade Center was brought. And even further north in the New Netherland colony --the Catskills. The Colony also claimed land in Pennsylvania, which is why Philadelphia has a river called the Schuylkill.

And, of course, Dutch families like the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Gansevoorts,Rensselaers and Schermerhorns have left their name and mark all over New York.

These are just a few of the treats the Dutch have left for us. And while we’re on the subject –in olden days when you wanted to float an IPO, you’d do it in the literal sense. You’d build a ship and make some guilders by sending it off to pick up trade. If you didn’t have enough to build the ship, Dutch bankers in Amsterdam --the Old World’s Financial Capital, would spot you the money but asked for a split of the profits. And thus a Dutch Treat.

My favorite treat left to us by the Dutch is the word for a “step”... stoep.
Next time you’re walking down a New York street and you see a stoop think of how New Amsterdam officially disappeared in 1664 but it still peeks its head out to this very day here in good old New Amsteryork.

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