Place  /  Map

This New York City Map Is Full of Dutch Secrets

When Broadway was a broad way and Wall Street was a wall.

Four hundred years ago, the Dutch established the colony of New Amsterdam on the southern tip of the island of Mannahatta. A map of the settlement circa 1660, known as the Castello Plan, offers a birds-eye view of a thriving community of about 1,500 people. There are houses, businesses, extensive gardens, windmills, piers, and boats bobbing along the rocky coast. Near the southern end of the island stands Fort Amsterdam flying the flag of the Dutch West India Company. On the western side, a broad way stretches north from the fort toward a wall that crosses the island from east to west.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked these streets,” says author and historian Russell Shorto—and he’s not speaking metaphorically. Follow the map today, and you can find yourself standing in New York City’s Financial District at the place where that broad way—today’s Broadway—and the northern wall—Wall Street—meet. Simply put, the Castello Plan is a map of Manhattan before it was Manhattan. “We’re entering New Amsterdam,” says Shorto.

The details shown on the map have been erased by time, as New Amsterdam became New York City and landfill projects reshaped Manhattan’s shoreline, but the streets, though renamed, remain, among them Broadway; Wall Street; Pearl Street, which then marked the island’s eastern border; and Broad Street, once home to a canal that ran through the center of the settlement almost to the modern-day Exchange Place. The footprint of Fort Amsterdam remains too; today the 20th-century Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House occupies the site.

Close your eyes and you can imagine these blocks as they looked in the mid-17th century. “I always think of it as kind of a little Wild West-looking town, but with Dutch gable houses,” says Shorto, who wrote The Island at the Centre of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America. He points out a house on the map that once stood near the modern-day intersection of Pearl and Whitehall streets. Lenape people came there to trade corn and venison with the settlers. On what is now South William Street, Shorto identifies a modest building where dozens of African people enslaved by the Dutch West India Company lived. “This map has been imprinted in my mind for a long time,” he says.