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The Bowery 1700

The Bowery was once known as a seedy, dilapidated neighborhood—and rightfully so. Its reputation throughout its history has been spotty, and recent upgrades have marked the first time in over a century that the area attracted visitors. And with all that grit comes a rich and fascinating history. The stories of the Bowery are stories of determination, passion, and changing the world. But before we begin, let’s take a look at what shaped the Bowery through its rocky past to its optimistic future.

The name “Bowery,” in fact, comes from an old Dutch word for farmhouse, “bouwerij,” and is one of New York’s oldest thoroughfares. By the 1700s, the neighborhood slowly transformed into a leisure destination for Manhattanites. The rich and famous started to move in by the 1800s, including Peter Cooper, who we’ll learn more about later on.

Around the middle of the 1800s, the neighborhood started its infamous decline. Brothels, pawn shops, and flophouses moved in. The area was starting to become known as Little Germany, and with that also came beer halls. One of America’s first street gangs, the Bowery Boys, was established. Prostitution was not hard to find. Although immigrant populations changed, the area remained in this state of disrepair through much of the 1900s, earning the reputation as the Skid Row of New York City by the middle of the century.

Finally in the 1970s, the city decided to step in. The area has slowly been revitalized. The New Museum stands as one of the more modern structures, and flophouses have been replaced with luxury residences. The grittiness is still around, but it’s subsiding.

On today’s tour, we’ll look through the history of the Bowery and explore some of its most famous residents, artists, and entrepreneurs. Let’s get started!


1880 Bowery Mission opens
1883 Brooklyn Bridge opens, turning the Bowery into an economic center

Reference Links

link National Register of Historic Places Program: The Bowery Historic District
internal Bowery Slideshow PDF
internal Bowery Wikipedia
internal Bowery Timeline PDF
internal New York Magazine: Down and Out
internal gDoc

Talking Points