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Ryan Hemphill’s Look at New York City


Ryan Hemphill is a lifelong NYC resident. This page focuses on everything that Ryan loves about his hometown. Below are some helpful links on New York’s history, where to eat in the city, and where/how you can have fun during your next visit to the city. Over the next few weeks, Ryan plans to update this site with more information, so keep checking in!


Today New York City is one of the United States most famous city. It’s the home of numerous important American landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the Empire State building. The city serves as the heart of US finance. Wall Street takes its name from the location of the New York Stock Exchange, which is the largest stock exchange in the world. NASDAQ is the second largest, and it’s also located in New York. New York City is also famous for the Broadway Theater District, the New York City Subway system, and the numerous education institutions found throughout the area.

The purpose of this overview is to give you a brief introduction to New York City’s storied history. In each section, I will include helpful links in case you want to explore a certain topic further. I will also provide a reading list at the end. I encourage you to explore these other resources so that you can gain a deeper understanding of New York City’s history.

Prehistory and Pre-Colonial

Historians believe that the ancestors to the Iroquois entered the New York area sometime during 800 AD. By the 1400s five different nations made up the Iroquois League. In addition to New York, the League controlled territory in the Great Lakes region near Pennsylvania.

Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier are two European explorers who visited the New York area in the 1500s. Verrazzano visited New York Harbor and Narragansett Bay located near Rhode Island. Cartier explored the Saint Lawrence River— the first ever European to do so.

Colonial Period

The New York area was initially colonized by the Dutch and the British. Henry Hudson, an employee of the Dutch East India Company, entered the Hudson River in 1609. Although the original purpose of his trip was to find a passage to Asia, he helped set up the fur trade and claim the area for the Dutch. Sometime around 1626, the Dutch built Fort Amsterdam in Southern Manhattan. They named the area New Amsterdam, but when the British conquered the area in 1664, they renamed it New York in honor of the Duke of York. To learn more about New York City during this time period, visit this link.

American Revolution

During the Revolutionary War, New York City served as the center of British operations. Many citizens who supported the British made their way to New York. The British held a large number of captured soldiers in ships along the city. On November 25, 1783 (Evacuation Day) the last British troops left New York and George Washington returned to the city. If you are interested in visiting some of the city’s historical sites that are related to the Revolutionary War, here is a list with more information.

Early America

From 1785 to 1790, New York City served as the capital of the new nation. During this period the Bill of Rights was created in the city, and George Washington had his inauguration at Federal Hall located on Wall Street. Today Federal Hall is a national memorial that visitors can tour. Visit the official site here.

Late 19th Century

In the late 19th century the New York City political world was run by Tammany Hall, a political machine that represented Democratic candidates. Tammany Hall was supported by the large number of Irish immigrants who entered the city after the Great Irish Famine. During this period New York became the country’s largest city, started work on Central Park, and opened the Erie Canal. The Draft Riots of 1863 were a result of tensions related to the Civil War. Widespread immigration continued throughout this period and into the 20th century. (If you have watched the film Gangs of New York, you have seen a depiction of the riots.) The Statue of Liberty was erected in 1886 on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. It quickly became a symbol of the opportunity that America offered immigrants.

20th Century

New York solidified its status as a financial and cultural behemoth in the early 20th century. It was during this time period that the New York City that people know today really began to take shape. Up until 1898, Brooklyn existed as an independent city. However, that year it officially became a part of New York City along with other areas around Manhattan.  The subway system began to develop during this time period. Many African Americans made their way to New York during the Great Migration. During the Roaring Twenties, the Harlem Renaissance occurred. Although the city suffered during the Great Depression, this period also witnessed the construction of the city’s most famous buildings—including the Chrysler and Empire State buildings.

After WWII

After the end of WWII, American troops returned home eager to work and to learn. The G.I. Bill made it possible for many troops to attend college and learn new skills. The influx of troops also spurred the expansion of housing in areas outside of Manhattan. In the 1950s the United Nations moved to its current location in Manhattan. This time period witnessed the end of many of the city’s manufacturing and port jobs. In the place of manufacturing, the city’s economy began to focus more on services like education, finance, and tourism. During the 1960s the city experienced several race riots like many other US cities. By the 1970s New York had a reputation for being a high-crime city that had fallen on hard times. Take a look at these images to get a sense of what the city looked like during that decade.

The 1980s Until Now

During the 1980s Wall Street regained its strength, and the city became America’s financial capital again. Crime began to decline as well, and the city cleaned up Times Square—transforming it into the tourist destination that it is today. The city attracted more businesses in the 80s and 90s, particularly during the dot-com boom. As a result, the city’s real estate prices increased dramatically. Today the city has the highest cost of living in the country.

On September 11, 2001, the city experienced one of the most traumatic events in its history as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks. However, the attacks were unable to break the city’s spirit. In 2014 the construction of One World Trade Center was completed at the World Trade Center site. Before that on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum was opened at the site of the fallen towers. The building and memorial serve as symbols of New York City’s strength and enduring spirit. Visit this link to learn more about the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Reading List

  • City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York – Tyler Anbinder
  • Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum – Tyler Anbinder
  • Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 – Edwin G. Burrows
  • The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History – Eric Homberger and Alice Hudson
  • New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan – Jill Lepore
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City – Jonathan Mahler
  • Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City – Michelle Nevius and James Nevius
  • Here is New York – E.B. White
  • Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City – Eric Sanderson and Markley Boyer
  • The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America – Russell Shorto

Looking for ideas on what you’ll do when you visit NYC? Take a look below!