L I T T L E   I T A L Y
N E I G H B O R S   A S S O C I A T I O N   ( L I N A )

t h e   b o w e r y

The Bowery, from the Dutch bouwerij, or farm, began as an Indian trail used by the early Dutch settlers of Manhattan for riding from New Amsterdam, at the southern tip of the island, to New Haarlem, in the north. In 1673, it became the first road in America over which an overland mail carrier passed.

In the eighteenth century the Bowery was a country lane lined with comfortable homes, abundant orchards, and the occasional tavern: the first stretch of road on the long course to Boston. Over the second half of the century, the number of taverns grew quickly. They included the Dog and Duck Tavern, the Duck and Frying Pan Tavern, the Pig and Whistle (at 131 Bowery), the Buck's Horns, the Gotham Inn, the Farmers' Inn, the Bull's Head, and the Upper Bull's Head.

Even back then, the Bowery had several boarding houses. A journalist writing in 1829 recalled:

An indefinite number of years ago I boarded in the Bowery. The accommodations were in those days looked upon as somewhat superior to the common; it being an established rule of the house for not more than six gentlemen to sleep in one room, which to me, a stranger to the customs of New York, appeared in hot summer nights, to be a sufficiency.

In the early nineteenth century -- when numerous butchers were based in the neighborhood and slaughterhouses were located on nearby Christie, Forsyth and Elizabeth Streets -- livestock was frequently herded along the Bowery and hogs ran free, frightening passersby. A satire from the period, said to be based on fact, told "a sad story, most dolefully gory, about a poor Lady in town, who was modestly walking, not gazing or talking, when a monstrous great Pig threw her down." The threat of vicious swine and crazed bovines continued through mid-century; in 1844, an old man was brutally gored by a steer on Hester Street just off the Bowery.

Despite such hazards, the Bowery prospered. Indeed, in the three decades before the Civil War, the street exploded with new theaters, saloons, and circuses, acquiring a glittering reputation. It boasted a long string of popular if rather lowbrow venues, including the Stadt Theater (opened 1853), White's Ethiopian Opera House (opened 1846), the Bowery Theater (opened 1826), and the New Bowery Theater (opened 1859). While members of high society sometimes deigned to attend the Bowery Theater, the local playhouses were better known for their rowdy crowds. German and Irish immigrants predominated.

The upper reaches of the Bowery, near Union Square, were at this time an aristocratic quarter. As the years passed its wealthy inhabitants grew increasingly uncomfortable with the street's roughneck reputation. Finally, in 1849, they arranged it so that the name Bowery was stricken from the stretch between Fourteenth Street and Cooper Square, reducing the street to its present length.