The Markets of the City 1891

Nothing would prove more interesting to a large class of visitors to New York, than an early morning stroll through Washington, Gansevoort, Fulton, or some other of the dozen markets of the metropolis. The public market is an ancient institution in New York, and one often alluded to by the writers of the early period. According to Valentine:

" A notable feature of the city at the era now referred to [about 1750,] was the number of public markets in the city. One was situated at the foot of Broad st.;another at Coenties Corner, now Coenties Slip (a name derived from the familiar and traditionary appellation of an owner of property on the 'corner.' This was Mr. Conroet Ten Eyck, one of the early inhabitants, familiarly called 'Coentje.'

Another market was at the foot of Wall st.; another at Burgher's Path, or present Old Slip; another, commonly known as the Fly Market, a name derived from the original name of its locality—the Valley, Vly or Fly—was at the foot of Maiden Lane. In short, at the foot of each street, along the East River shore, was a market. In the centre of the city, also, were several market places. Broad St., from Wall st. to Exchange PI., was a public stand for country wagons. A market was also erected in the center of Broadway, opposite the present Liberty st.

The direction of markets, at present, is in the hands of an officer of the city, whose authority and functions are rather vague, called Superintendent of Markets. The stipulated spaces, or " stalls," in each market are rented, and occupants must conform to published regulations. New buildings have been constructed within a few years for Washington and Fulton, as well as several of the minor markets; but in no case—and especially at Washington and West Washington markets—are these sufficient to hold the business, which spreads more or less over the adjacent streets, yet comes to a certain extent under the Superintendent's supervision and control. A regular system of inspection of meats and vegetables is maintained, and many frauds and abuses have been corrected that had grown up unchecked 'until twenty years or so ago; but this is carried on by the Board of Health, co-operating with the Market Superintendent

Fulton Market is probably the one best known by name outside of the city. It is at the foot of Fulton St., next to Fulton Ferry, and occupies a whole block. Twenty years ago, the original old wooden shed still covered what one might easily believe were the original old market men, and this spot was one of those which no visitor was permitted by his friends to escape seeing. Under the shadowy arcades of the interior, meats, green vegetables, and particularly fish, oysters and clams, were so crowded together, that it was a matter of perpetual wonder that each Stallman knew his own limits, or how to get out and in his choked doorway. Outside, the scene was still more curious. The sidewalk was encumbered by the stands of trinket-sellers, fruit and tobacco venders, and by cupboard-like restaurants, that leaned against the building, and encroached more and more upon the pathway; while all along the curbing, built across the gutters, were queer little boxes, in which oysters, coffee and cakes, and other simple refreshments were cooked and served to customers.

To insinuate oneself sideways into one of these little huts, and have set before you a bowl of stewed oysters, just off the stove, while the pardoned man who served you stood with arms akimbo and retailed the gossip of the moment with hearty good will and a genial admixture of slang, was a Bohemian experience which few old New Yorkers have not indulged. At night, the whole place was
ablaze with gas and those flaring naphtha lamps which cast such a weird, yellow light (together with whiffs of oil-smoke) wherever their rays fall, and was crowded with good-naturedly noisy, and reasonably hungry theatre-goers, getting a midnight luncheon before crossing to Brooklyn.

Now these relics of an ancient time have been swept away, and a handsome new structure, of brick and iron, well lighted and cleanly, has- replaced the old-time market. Nevertheless, one still gets oysters and clams as good as, perhaps better than, those sold anywhere else; but they are eaten in elegant rooms, and are unseasoned by the rude and romantic surroundings that lent gusto to the stews and fries on the curbstone, Lang syne. Fulton Market remains the principal place for the fish trade, which is carried on in a building on the water front, opposite, where the smacks land their cargoes, and which is properly distinguished as Fulton Fish Market.

Within the market itself are several prominent fish dealers, most prominent of whom is Eugene Black-ford, one of the Fish Commissioners of the State, and a scientific student of the creatures lie handles. At his stalls are displayed, early in April of each year, exhibits of living fish and sea-life of all sorts, and' others preserved in ice, which form one of the regular events of the season, and overhead is maintained a laboratory for the study of practical ichthyology and its concomitants, which has done good service, not only to science, but to the practical efforts that are being made by the government to preserve against waste and extermination the resources of these waters in shellfish and food-fishes. Visitors interested in the subject are always welcome at Mr. Blackford's.

Washington Market

Washington Market is far more interesting nowadays than any other in the city. Though the building itself covers only a block (on West St., between Fulton and Vesey), the business long ago overspread these bounds, and now, with more or less distinctness, occupies all the neighboring squares. Vesey, Barclay and Fulton sts., in particular, are protected for several blocks by wooden awnings, under which there runs, in front of the stores, a continuous line of booths, where fruit, vegetables, groceries, hardware, crockery, second-hand clothing, boots, shoes, hats, toys, and almost every imaginable article of cheap traffic is disposed of by men and women vendors, whose voluble rivalry can only be compared to the monkey and parrot house at Central Park, ten times magnified. Washington St., and the other immediate purlieus, are like this or even worse in noise and crowding, all the way from Cortlandt St. to Park Place, where the wholesale and commission merchants in foreign fruits display their tempting cargoes, and the foul air of the dirty streets is made redolent of berries, apples, peaches, oranges, and, at the holiday season, of forests of spruce and pine to be sold for Christmas decoration. The market itself is largely devoted to meat, sold both at wholesale and retail. On a Saturday night the scene is most entertaining.

On the river side of West St., opposite the market proper, there used to be a collection of wooden shanties, arranged along narrow streets, like a Cairene bazar,in which an enormous business in fresh meat, oysters and country fruits by wholesale was done. This was called West Washington Market, and was very picturesque. But it was irregular and finally became unmanageable, whereupon the city cleared it all out, made regular steamboat landings there, and transferred it, under the same name, to a space at the foot of W. 12th st. " Here " says a recent observer, " are the termini of scores of inland transportation lines and the landings of hundreds of vessels engaged in the foreign and domestic fruit and produce trade. The name may also be said to apply to the streets in the neighborhood, which are filled with the stores and offices of the produce and provision commission merchants. In the spring the. Bermuda Islands and the extreme South send all their early fruits and vegetables there; then comes the berry crop; that is followed by the peach crop, and that by potatoes and other late vegetables for winter use. An idea of the extent of this business may be obtained from the fact that from 50,000 to 100,000 baskets of peaches arrive at the market daily during the season, whence a large portion of them are re-shipped to the non-peach-growing regions north and west.*

The Gansevoort Market Wagon Stand

The Gansevoort Market Wagon Stand is another outgrowth of Washington Market. It is an ancient custom that the " truck " gardeners and farmers within driving distance, but particularly those who live on Long Island, shall come to the city every night (but more especially on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) with loads of fresh produce, which is sold from the wagon, not only to dealers but to individual customers. These large and peculiarly constructed wagons, heaped high with green stuff over which a canvas cover is drawn, may be encountered on the ferries evenings, and their drivers try to reach the market long before midnight. Having secured their places, the horses are unhitched and tied to the feed-box, or sent to a stable, and the driver stretches himself on top of his load for a nap until daybreak, when business begins. The accumulation of these wagons in the streets about Washington Market, where they formerly congregated, so blocked the narrow streets, already choked with traffic, that the city arranged a special stand for them, a few years ago, on the site of old Fort Gansevoort, at the foot of Little West I2th st. The space of a block is laid out in ten streets, well lighted and paved, with foot-walks against which the wagons are backed up in long parallel rows. Those who remember the old French market of Quebec will understand this arrangement, but will not find the solemn picturesqueness of Quebec in its metropolitan imitation. Five hundred wagons may stand there, and as many more along adjacent curbings. It is opposite West Washington Market; and the two together are well worth a visit, but this should be made in the early morning, since here, as at other markets, all the hurry of business is over long before noon, except on Saturday night.

The Sixth and Ninth Avenue lines of elevated cars go near to Washington Market (Park Place station); and horse-cars to Christopher or W. I4th st. ferries reach the neighborhood of Gansevoort and W. Washington Market.

Catherine Market

Catherine Market is one of the oldest in the city and half a century ago was of far more importance, and apparently much more picturesque than at present. That was the great oyster, clam and fish market of town; and abounded in small hucksters. In Thomas DeVoe's " Market Assistant," which is really a history of the markets of the city, many interesting details and traditions of this and the others may be found: Essex and Jefferson markets are chiefly known by the police-courts and prisons which occupy rooms in the same, or in attached buildings. The latter Tias a rather fine new building of brick, with terra-cotta trimmings, surmounted by the lofty walls and clock-tower of the adjoining prison, which is close beside the 8th st. station of the Sixth Av. El.  Center Market is a dilapidated affair, distinguished as the best place to buy flowers and living house-plants, which in spring make the dull old building gay and sweet with their colors and perfume. The principal wholesale flower market is the Clinton at the foot of Canal St., N. R., where the wagons of the dealers are drawn up at daylight, and trade goes on briskly for several hours, in the midst of a temporary verdure to which that grim locality is otherwise unaccustomed; but it is probable that a flower-market will be established for a few hours each morning in the plaza of Union sq. It is to be hoped that this proposition may be carried out.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Markets of the City 1891
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Week In New York written by Ernest Ingersoll; Rand McNally & Co. New York 1891
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