Norbert Figueroa a RoamRight Blog Author

Discovering The Hidden History Of New York City

Discover a different side to New York City with these little known sites perfect for any visitor.

Image source: Flickr - Doc Searls

We all know the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. These places tell a history of New York City we are all somehow familiar with, or will easily get to know of once we visit the Big Apple.

But, did you know that in between those famous sights and historical spots, there are other places that show an equally interesting historical side of New York, but which are hidden from the public, or simply, are not that well-known?

Here I'm going to show you some of the hidden historical sights or the hidden history of some famous places in New York.

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park is one of the best-known parks in the city, but under the beautiful green grass and the glorious fountain hides a history that not many dare to know.

From 1797 to 1826, before this space became a public park, Washington Square Park was a six and half acre plot designated as a potters field, accompanied by several church cemeteries on the eastern side of the expanse. The poor, sick, destitute and the rest of the city's undesirables were buried here. Even after the crypts filled up, people who were considered to be low class or undesirable continued to be interred here, among them, hundreds of members of the African Zion Methodist Church.

In the center of the square stood the gallows, where the guilty were executed until 1820. All executed were also buried here, until the space filled to the capacity of 20,000 bodies.

Then, in 1827 Mayor Philip Hone allowed the city's Seventh Regiment to use the square as a drill field, but the field was so lumpy and the militias artillery so heavy, that sometimes they unearthed crushed coffins and skulls by just passing over them. Eventually, the top layer of bodies was exhumed and reburied elsewhere, grass was planted, paths paved and the beautiful park was born. Hmmm, are there bodies still buried there?

City Hall Station

City Hall Station is one of the most famous abandoned subway stations in New York. Located just below City Hall, this station shows a more beautiful side of New York's subway stations with its delicate skylight, tiled arches and brass fixtures.

This curved station, which opened in 1904, was closed 41 years later when it could no longer accommodate the longer trains built to meet the increasing number of subway riders. But even if the station is not functional these days, you can still get a peek at it by taking a tour or by riding the Downtown 6 train. This train passes through the station, so from inside the subway car you'll see hundreds of graffiti murals along the tunnel just before and after you see the station.

Columbia University Tunnels

This prestigious university has a few of its own legends, and many of them are underground. Columbia University has an extensive tunnel system that connects most of the buildings on campus, but that is not all; the history behind the tunnels is even deeper and more interesting. Some tunnels date back to when Columbia was an insane asylum; while others housed the beginnings of the Manhattan Project - you know, the project that developed the first atomic bomb. Also, in 1968, students took advantage of the tunnels during the student strikes.

Today the tunnels are closed to the public, but students will always act like students, so every now and then they find a way to sneak in.

Track 61

This track takes a high place in the hidden history list of New York. Located right under the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Track 61 was originally used for railway storage for the old New York Central Railroad. But in 1929, the space was converted into a rail station for hotel guests with private train cars.

After reaching the underground space, figures such as General Douglas MacArthur, General John Pershing and even Franklin Delano Roosevelt, took advantage of the hotel's private automobile elevator that could handle their cars and take them to either the lobby or their suites.The truth is that the platform was not originally intended to be used as a station, but its location made it ideal for unobtrusive access to the hotel. It is well known that in 1965, Andy Warhol hosted The Underground Party there, and still to this day, the platform is used occasionally.

Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue Tunnel

The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel was originally built to avoid the delays and accidents resulting from the Long Island Rail Road trains running along city streets. But what's interesting is that the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel is the world's oldest subway tunnel; it was built in 1884, back when tunnels were built with primitive equipment and hand tools.

While this is the oldest subway tunnel in the world, New York City is technically not the world's first city to feature a subway tunnel. The reason for this is that when the tunnel was built, Brooklyn was still a separate city. Today, you can tour the abandoned tunnel and see old artifacts used during its functional years.

Its crazy how much hidden history New York City has.

Which of these facts surprised you the most?

Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.


About the Author

Norbert Figueroa

Norbert Figueroa, a RoamRight Blog Author Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.

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