The Greatest Grid


19th-Century Development

East Side

New York first expanded along the East Side. Unlike the West Side’s rugged hills and valleys, the low, flat topography of the East Side invited construction.

As the city opened streets on the East Side, it broke up the old country estates owned by prosperous New York families: the Beekmans, Schermerhorns, Lenoxes, and Rhinelanders. Some heirs unsuccessfully tried to hold the city at bay and maintain the integrity of their ancestral land, while others, such as James Beekman, divided their property into lots and increased their family’s wealth in the real estate market. Read More

The 1830s brought about a residential housing boom in New York, fueled by a nationwide economic expansion from railroads, a local population explosion, and the wealth generated by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. To accommodate this growth, the city began a massive street opening campaign, leading to a burst of uptown residential housing construction. By 1837, when an economic panic ended this period of speculation, the city had opened gridded roads to roughly 52nd Street.

The next boom, from the mid-1840s to the Panic of 1857, brought the border of development further uptown, but it was not until after the Civil War that the city’s eastern limit moved north of 59th Street. In the late 1860s, the Upper East Side underwent tremendous growth when it acquired a patron in City Hall in the form of Boss Tweed.

As the grid filled out, the East Side divided economically. Wealthier residents built mansions to the west, along the area’s parks and landscaped boulevards. Once Central Park was largely finished in the late 1860s, elite New Yorkers built homes along Fifth Avenue. In the 1870s, when the Fourth Avenue railroad was sunk below ground and converted into a landscaped boulevard, Park Avenue, it also became a choice address. Show Less