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How Hudson’s Oysters Charted Nyack’s Streets, Wed at 7p

How the Hudson River Estuary’s oyster banks and deep channel determined the locations and street plans of the early Dutch settlements of Nyack and Manhattan” is the subject of The Nyack Library’s next Quadricentennial lecture.  Dr. William B. Ryan of Lamont-Doherty will speak at 7p Wednesday 4/29 at the Nyack Library.

Mapping and sampling of the bottom of the Hudson Estuary from New York Harbor to Troy has revealed oyster banks and natural deep-water channels.  The tops of many of the oyster banks are composed of hard, compacted mud that makes for poor anchorage (allows the dragging of anchors unable to penetrate into and grab on the bottom).  The banks are elongate and generally form ribbons perpendicular to the shore. The gaps between the ribbons are where small rivers and brooks have discharged mud during storms inhibiting the growth of the oysters. Therefore, the early colonists found optimum anchorage between the ribbons, and as a consequence many of the Hudson communities south of the Beacon Bridge were established where ships could obtain the most secure holdings while at anchorage.  Examples will be presented and include the settlements of Phillips Manor, Nyack and Ossining.

The Hudson River had created its deepest natural channel hugging the western shore of Manhattan Island whereas the southern tip of Manhattan was shoal out to and around Governor’s Island. Due to the shallow water in this region the initial Dutch settlers offloaded their ships in the outer harbor by small boats and established an original street plan oriented north and inland. The colonists soon discovered that the close-to-shore deep natural channels on the Hudson and East River sides of Manhattan offered the possibility to bring their deep-draft ships directly to piers. The piers were constructed perpendicular to the natural channels. Traffic of goods from the piers into the island interior used the orientation of the piers for the roads. The chandlers and shipwrights built their homes and shops along these roads. Consequently an exterior street plan evolved that connected at angles with the earlier interior street orientation. The complexity in the patterns of the streets and avenues in Lower Manhattan that often puzzles the tourist was in fact determined by the natural environment of the Hudson estuary and harbor.

The lecture will be illustrated with sonar images of the river bed and historical maps of the evolving settlements.

For a full list of Quad Programs at the library:

For a full list of programs in the Nyacks and vicinity:

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