Happy Labor Day

Or Happy Phenomenal Labor Day!

I recently listened to several audiobooks in the car during my travels to work. Their theme was New York History. With the upcoming Labor Day, I have to say that New York has a very long history of “Labor.” In every book I listened to, I couldn’t get over the creative forward-thinking. All carried out with labor.

We look around and see an established state of New York with all its roads, bridges, trains and buildings. We see the renovation of buildings, buildings coming down and buildings being rebuilt. Even repurposed items like the High Line. Sure this all takes labor, but in these times labor is very different with all its safety rules and regulations. All the renovations or newest structures of today are based on the past. The books I read told of stories of the “first” time with very little past to go by.

Streets in Manhattan like Wall Street, Broadway, Beaver Street, Pearl Street, and Bridge Street are part of the street “Grid.” The labor that established the roads from the beginning goes back to New Amsterdam and our Dutch Heritage. The street grid concept was theirs. Wall Street was named for the “Wall” built by the Dutch to keep England out.

Old map of Manhattan & Brooklyn (Wikimedia Commons)

Accomplished families of the Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, and Rensselaers started further back as the following:

• Claes Martenszen van Rosenvelt arrived about 1630-1640-s owned 50 acres which today is Midtown Manhattan
• Jan Aertszoon or Aertson later added to the Dutch “Van der” to create “Van der Bilt when he came to New Netherland as an indentured servant in 1650
• Kiliaen van Rensselaer b 1586 Manor of Rensselaerswyck, now the city of Albany

I learned all this from, “The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto. The book is available here.

When we travel in NYC, the question might come up of which bridge to take. You can be on one bridge and look around at all the other bridges in a row. The Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge and took 14 years to build starting in 1869. To think of not only the amount of labor but the uncharted innovated feat of doing what was never done before with manual labor. This I learned in, “The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge” by David McCullough. Click here to access the book via the library.

Brooklyn Bridge (Wikimedia Commons)

We think of Penn Station as a hub of travel. You can come from many directions, land in Penn Station and go off to another direction. This was not always the case. We know Penn Station is underground in all directions. The Long Island Railroad, Grand Central, and Pennsylvania Railroads weren’t connected well and commuters had to take ferries to connect. The drive to connect disconnected train lines was a goal-driven by huge need. In order to make connections, they had to make underground tunnels that would withstand trains coming through along with their weight. The labor to have this accomplished was enormous.  The original Penn Station was 8 acres of land. A much larger area than today’s Madison Square Garden. I learned that there are still visible parts of the original Penn Station in, “Conquering Gotham: Building Penn Station and Its Tunnels” by Jill Jones. See here to find the book.

Old Penn Station (Wikimedia Commons)

Although Labor Day emphasizes workers and their achievements, which originated as a federal holiday in 1894, maybe we should really give credit to the beginning. What we have today is 100s of years of labor’s triumphs.




Contributed by Joan Wagner, Chief Librarian, Bay Shore

All the books mentioned in the post are available in print format at Touro Libraries.


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