“Warping” through Queens history with the NYPL Map Warper tool

insurance maps of the borough of queens, vol 2, 1915

Insurance Maps of the Borough of Queens, City of New York, Volume Two, published in 1915 and digitally reproduced on the NYPL Map Warper according to a CC0 1.0 license.

Authored by Maddy Vericker

The NYPL Map Warper is a collection of New York-area maps and atlases that have been digitized and published online under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication license.[1] The coolest thing about the Map Warper tool is that it is also a crowdsourcing project that relies on volunteers to pin old maps to modern satellite maps, a process called georectification.[2]  Exploring the maps that populate the website reveals much about the history of a city that is constantly evolving, and in researching the Sanborn Map Co.’s Insurance Maps of the Borough of Queens, City of New York, Volume Two,[3] these changes are even more apparent.

The borough of Queens has experienced incredible social and economic transformation since the first Dutch settlers founded a village near Flushing Bay in 1636, and rectifying maps from 1915 to the current neighborhoods of western Queens was almost impossible due to massive civic projects, like the construction of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 or La Guardia Airport in 1939.[4] Prior to these advances in city planning, or even the drafting of the Sanborn Map Co.’s fire insurance maps at the turn of the century, Queens was a rural community settled by Dutch and English colonists, centered around Vlissengen (now referred to as “Flushing,” a bustling neighborhood at the end of the 7 train).[5]  What many people don’t know, however, is that Flushing once served as the stage for one of the first major social documents to be drafted in the New World: the Flushing Remonstrance.[6]

insurance maps of the borough of queens, vol 2, 1915 - index

My experience georectifying this atlas with NYPL’s Map Warper tool revealed that Queens has experienced radical transformation since its founding in 1636.

Back in 1656, New Amsterdam Director-General Peter Stuyvesant issued an ordinance prohibiting public religious meetings of practitioners of faiths other than the Dutch Reformed Church, a 180° shift from the religious tolerance of his homeland, the Netherlands.[7] While the English colonists in Vlissengen were protected under a special patent,[8] the target of this religious persecution was the Quakers, whom Stuyvesant found to be weird and threatening to the colony’s socioeconomic health.[9] Despite the threat of punishment, including imprisonment or death, however, the colonists at Vlissengen refused to comply, sympathizing with the Quakers and their desires to practice their religion freely in the colony. Following further retribution from Stuyvesant for assisting local Quakers, 30 men from the Vlissengen area drafted and signed a document in December 1657 calling for religious tolerance and renouncing the laws put in place by Stuyvesant.[10] This document, now over 350 years old, is know as the Flushing Remonstrance. Even though many of the signers of the document were in fact jailed as a result of their actions, including Vlissengen town clerk Edward Hart,[11] their rebellious declaration for religious equality reflects not only the Vincentian mission of helping the disenfranchised but the freedom that defines American culture to this day.


[1]
New York Public Library, “NYPL Map Warper,” 2016, http://maps.nypl.org/warper/.

[2] Matthew Allen Knutzen, “Unbinding the Atlas: Moving the NYPL Map Collection Beyond Digitization,” Journal of Map & Geography Libraries 9, no. 1-2 (2013): 8–24, accessed Mar. 20, 2016, doi:10.1080/15420353.2012.726204.

[3] New York Public Library, “Atlas 134. Vol. 2, 1915.,” 2016, http://maps.nypl.org/warper/layers/1162/.

[4] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s.v., “New York City,” accessed May 8, 2016, http://www.britannica.com/place/New-York-City/.

[5] Edward Robb Ellis, The Epic of New York City: A Narrative History (New York: Old Town Books, 1966), 54.

[6] Glenn Collins, “Precursor of the Constitution Goes on Display in Queens,” The New York Times, Dec. 5, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/nyregion/05remonstrance.html/.

[7] Kenneth T. Jackson, “A Colony With a Conscience,” The New York Times, Dec. 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/27/opinion/27jackson.html/.

[8] James Driscoll, Flushing: 1880- 1935 (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005), 9.

[9] Kenneth T. Jackson, “A Colony With a Conscience,” The New York Times, Dec. 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/27/opinion/27jackson.html/.

[10] Henry D. Waller, History of the Town of Flushing, Long Island, New York, (Harrison, NY: Harbor Hill Books, 1975), 40.

[11] Kenneth T. Jackson, “A Colony With a Conscience,” The New York Times, Dec. 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/27/opinion/27jackson.html/.


Bibliography

Collins, Glenn. “Precursor of the Constitution Goes on Display in Queens.” The New York Times, Dec. 5, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/nyregion/05remonstrance.html/.

Driscoll, James. Flushing: 1880-1935. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005.

Ellis, Edward R. The Epic of New York City: A Narrative History. New York: Old Town Books, 1966.

Insurance Maps of the Borough of Queens, City of New York, Volume Two. New York: Sanborn Map Co., 1915. http://maps.nypl.org/warper/layers/1162/.

Jackson, Kenneth T. “A Colony With a Conscience.” The New York Times, Dec. 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/27/opinion/27jackson.html/.

Knutzen, Matthew Allen. “Unbinding the Atlas: Moving the NYPL Map Collection Beyond Digitization.” Journal of Map & Geography Libraries 9, no. 1-2 (2013): 8–24. Accessed Mar. 20, 2016. doi:10.1080/15420353.2012.726204.

“NYPL Map Warper.” New York Public Library. Last modified 2016. http://maps.nypl.org/warper/.

Waller, Henry D. History of the town of Flushing, Long Island, New York. Harrison, NY: Harbor Hill Books, 1975.

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