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The meaning behind the city's best-known streets

Broome Street stretches from SoHo to the Lower

Broome Street stretches from SoHo to the Lower East Side. (Nancy Borowick) Photo Credit: Broome Street stretches from SoHo to the Lower East Side. (Nancy Borowick)

Two hundred years ago, in 1811, the Legislature approved the Commissioners' Plan, setting up an orderly grid for the development of the city: 12 numbered avenues running north and south and 155 cross-streets going east and west. No circles, no ovals - the rectangle ruled.

Although there have been alterations since then (Central Park was the biggest, in the 1850s), the 1811 grid remains mostly unchanged today. Manhattan borough historian Michael Miscione said that the grid is one of his favorite topics, "because it imposed a vision of the future that developers, property owners and city planners could act on with confidence. ... The gridiron pattern of the plan was important, of course, but so was the fact that the whole layout ... was decreed in advance, not on an ad hoc basis."

Even though most of Manhattan goes by the numbers, there are streets, avenues and squares named to honor people, places and even things. Most of these were named before the grid plan, when dirt roads undulated throughout the southern end of the island.

MEN OF CLOTH

Father Duffy Square

Who it honors: Father Francis Duffy
Location: Times Square

-- Behind the name: The most highly decorated cleric in U.S. Army history, Father Francis Duffy was in the thick of the fighting during World War I. Poet Joyce Kilmer, who sailed across the Atlantic with him, said that every morning, a queue of soldiers "as long as the mess line" would be waiting to have their confessions heard by him. A 1940s movie called "The Fighting 69th" starred Pat O'Brien as Duffy.

-- Fun fact: In 1937, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia dedicated his statue in the square not far from Duffy's last assigned church, Holy Cross on 42nd Street, also known as the "actors' church."

Barclay Street

Who it honors: Henry Barclay
Location: Lower Manhattan

-- Behind the name: Henry Barclay (1712-1764) reached the "pinnacle of Anglican success in America" by becoming the second rector of Trinity Church, an early real-estate giant in New York with its huge land grant from the king of England. Barclay delivered sermons in Dutch, English and Mohawk, and he even translated the Book of Common Prayer into Mohawk.

-- Fun fact: The first rector of the church was William Vesey, who graduated from Harvard in 1693 and has his own street in lower Manhattan named after him.

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MERCHANTS

Broome Street

Who it honors: John Broome
Location: SoHo

-- Behind the name: John Broome became the city's first alderman when the Brits evacuated in 1783. He started the lucrative tea trade between the U.S. and China, importing 2 million pounds of the valuable cargo via packet ship. He became lieutenant governor of New York in 1804.

-- Fun fact: Broome and his family lived "above the store" on Hanover Street.

Isham Street

Who it honors: William Isham
Location: Inwood

-- Behind the name: Wealthy leather merchant William Isham bought his uptown acreage in 1864. Isham Park originally included a mansion on a hill complete with stables and a greenhouse. Mrs. Henry Osborn Taylor, nee Isham, and her aunt, Flora Isham, gave the land for Isham Park to the city in 1912. Too expensive to maintain, the buildings were torn down in the 1940s.

-- Fun fact: You can still see the remains of the Isham glory days - a few benches and a stone terrace - overlooking the Harlem River.

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PUBLIC OFFICIALS

Clinton Street

Who it honors: George Clinton
Location: Lower East Side

-- Behind the name: George Clinton served as vice president from 1805 to 1812 under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He was also the first governor of New York, in office a total of 21 years (from 1777 to 1795 and from 1801 to 1804). He hated the Tories, sent food to the troops at Valley Forge and rode with George Washington in his inauguration parade.

-- Fun fact: George was an uncle of DeWitt Clinton, another (and better-known) governor of New York.

Houston Street

Who it honors: William Houstoun
Location: Lower Manhattan

-- Behind the name: Some think it's named after Sam Houston, a president of the Republic of Texas in the 1830s and '40s. But it really honors William Houstoun, who represented Georgia in the Continental Congress. By marrying Mary Bayard, daughter of Nicholas (a nephew of Peter Stuyvesant), Houstoun had a street carved out for him from his father-in-law's estate.

-- Fun fact: Houstoun is buried in St. Paul's chapel.

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MILITARY MEN

Worth Street

Who it honors: William Jenkins Worth
Location: Lower Manhattan

-- Behind the name: William Jenkins Worth rejected his parents' Quaker pacifism and joined the Army when the War of 1812 broke out. Badly wounded and not expected to live, he survived (though he walked with a limp) and became the commandant of cadets at West Point. In the Mexican-American War, he jumped from the landing craft to shore, becoming the first American to make an amphibious military landing. Worth is buried in across from Madison Square Park.

-- Fun fact: A group of Cuban Freemasons offered Worth $3 million to lead an invasion against the Spanish in Cuba in 1848. He decided to take a pass.
 

Perry Street

Who it honors: Oliver Hazard Perry
Location: Far West Village

-- Behind the name: Oliver Hazard Perry went into naval combat at age 15, and by the time he was 27, he was the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. He and Marine John Heath engaged in a duel on the same field in Weehawken where Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton met. (Perry had slapped Heath during a dispute on a warship.) Heath fired first but missed, and Perry refused to fire back.

-- Fun fact: In 1911, one of Perry's direct descendants, Calbraith Perry Rodgers, became the first person to fly a plane across the U.S.

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WRITERS

Irving Place

Who it honors: Washington Irving
Location: Gramercy

-- Behind the name: Washington Irving is best known for stories including "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." Under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, he wrote a tongue-in-cheek history of New York, which is why people refer to Manhattanites and their basketball team by that Dutchified name.

-- Fun fact: Irving never lived in the Gramercy neighborhood, but on his frequent visits to the city, he stayed with his nephew at 46 E. 21st St.

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FOUNDING FAMILIES

Bethune Street

Who it honors: Joanna Graham Bethune
Location: Far West Village

-- Behind the name: Johanna Graham Bethune and her mom, Isabella, were two of the early 19th-century women to start benevolent associations to help their
poorer "sisters." Johanna was one of the founders of the New York Orphan Asylum.

-- Fun fact: Johanna founded one of New York's first day-care centers.


Find out more For more on the subject, check out Henry Moscow's "The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan's Street Names and Their Origins," a compendium of facts, photos and illustrations.

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