Walking Tours of New York City neighborhoods focusing on history & architecture. Lead by NYC licensed educator-guides with teaching & academic backgrounds.
Since 1991, Big Onion has been leading award winning walking tours of New York's historic districts and ethnic neighborhoods. All our guides are fully licensed with teaching backgrounds! We lead more than 20 different tours throughout Manhattan & Brooklyn. We offer public "show up" tours year-round. All of our walks are also available for private bookings. Big Onion has been called "The Best in Ne
Operating as usual
Though it did not remain the political capital of U.S. for very long, it was in New York City that the first president of the United States was inaugurated on April 30, 1789. Not unlike the city’s position as the nation’s capital, the actual building from which George Washington swore his oath of office did not long survive this event. The building that had been built as NYC’s second City Hall (and then renamed Federal Hall in 1789 when it became the seat of U.S. government) was demolished in 1812. The building that sits in its place today on the corner of Broad and Wall Street (and now today is known as the Federal Hall National Memorial) was only then built in 1842, as the U.S. Custom House for the Port of New York. In the late 19th century, around the centennial celebrations of the British Evacuation of NYC and then Washington’s Inauguration, the city sought to reconnect the site to its presidential history through John Quincy Adams Ward’s large bronze statue of George Washington. Unveiled in 1883, the statue is elevated above the building’s stairs, so that this representation of the first president sits at the “exact height Washington stood when taking the oath of office on the balcony” on this site at the end of April in 1789.
Come commemorate Washington’s inauguration and learn more about NYC’s role during the American Revolution and Early Republic with us **in person** this Saturday, April 30th @ 1:00 PM on our “Revolutionary New York: Hamilton, Washington & War” walking tour!
IMAGE: Julius Wilcox, “Washn., near steps, with Dec. Day wreath on,” 1892, Julius Wilcox photograph collection, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History @bklynlibrary #1789 #1892
Looking east along Delancey Street, ca. 1904. Throughout its history, the Lower East Side has experienced many changes, transformations, and reinventions. From the farming communities (both affluent and more modest) that dotted the area into the 19th century, to its dense build-up and over-population from the mid-19th into the mid-20th century, into the gentrification of the area over the last half century, the neighborhood has seen many buildings (and communities) come and go. Here we see one such clearance, ca. 1904, as buildings were demolished and Delancey Street widened to make way for the NYC subway.
Come walk the 21st century streets of the LES, examine the neighborhood’s history (and evolution), and learn more about its past as a hub of NYC’s immigrant community (while noshing on delicious food!) with us **in person** this Sunday, April 29th @ 1:00 PM on our “Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour.”
IMAGE: Byron Company, “Skyline of N.Y.,” ca. 1904, @museumofcityny #1904
Wall Street. ca. 1904. It has been a bustling site of activity and trade since the 17th century—and part of NYC since the metropolis’ early days as a Dutch and then a British colony. And, on April 30, 1789, it then saw the inauguration of the first president of the new United States, from the balcony of NYC’s then-city hall (later demolished and then replaced by the columned building at the right in the 1840s).
Delve further in the history of Wall Street, NYC’s financial district, and the city’s colonial past with us **in person** tomorrow, Sunday, April 24th @ 1:00 PM on our “Lower Manhattan: Forging the Historic Metropolis” tour. Or, come commemorate George Washington’s inauguration with us next Saturday, April 30th @ 1:00 PM on our tour of “Revolutionary New York: Hamilton, Washington & War.”
IMAGE: National Art Views Co., “Wall St., N. Y. City,” ca. 1904, @museumofcityny #1904 #1789
Deadly smog over Midtown and Lower Manhattan, 1966.
52 years ago today was the first Earth Day.
Enjoy the blue skies today. While there is still more to do, progress had been made.
The legendary Chelsea Hotel (or Hotel Chelsea) and El Quijote have reopened!
Following more than a decade of scaffolding and renovations, the 1883-85 Queen Anne Revival/Victorian Gothic architectural masterpiece on West 23rd Street has begun to welcome guests again.
At the time of its construction the 12-story Hotel was the tallest building in New York. Located in the center of the late 19th century Theater District, it was initially meant to serve as a hybrid cooperative and rental building for artists to live and work. It became a hotel in 1905.
An incredible array of writers, artists, designers, and musicians have lived or stayed in Hotel Chelsea. It is nearly impossible to list them all! The building was named a NYC Landmark in 1966.
Join us on Saturday at 1 p.m. for our in person Chelsea & the High Line walking tour. We will delve into the history and people of the Chelsea Hotel, and place it in a broader context of the neighborhood. Walk is featured on our homepage.
Some of the most common questions we are asked these days surround the accuracy of the HBO program “The Gilded Age”. People want to know if the series is historically accurate.
Yes and no.
Parts of the wonderfully staged series are very accurate and others are a little squidgy around the edges. For example, the grand limestone mansion of the Russell family is already built prior to the 1871 Grand Central Depot (that Russell builds late in the season). However, it was not until later in that decade that the grand mansions were actually built. In addition, the style of the Russell home was popular later in the period.
Join us on Friday at 1 p.m. for our in person walking tour “The Upper East Side: A Clash of Titans” as we explore the Gilded Age in New York City as it really existed. Tour is featured on our homepage.
Images: The Russell House from the HBO series “The Gilded Age”. Details sampled from the Cooper Hewitt (built 1899-1902) and Lotos Club (built 1900).
The Josiah Fiske Mansion (1875). The Tiffany Mansion (1885).
The City of New York has spent lots of short-term, “bandaid”, money for storm and climate change protection.
These are the weighted, plastic and steel, covers for subway ventilation grates along the avenues of TriBeCa. A sure sign that flooding is expected overnight tonight.
Stay safe neighbors!
Dr. James McCune Smith (April 18, 1813 - November 17, 1865)
Born enslaved in New York City, Smith was enrolled into the New York African Free School No 2 on Mulberry Street at the age of 9. The school educated both free and enslaved Blacks. Smith was a brilliant student and was selected to speak before the famed French revolutionary, Marquis de Lafayette. Following Emancipation in 1827, he graduated and attempted to enroll in an American university. Following his across-the-board denial he was enrolled in Scottish Glasgow University.
Smith trained in quantitive public health, received his medical degree in 1837, and returned to America. The first Black university trained doctor, he opened the first black-owned pharmacy (93 West Broadway) in the nation and served all clients regardless of race. Smith served as the doctor for the Colored Orphans Asylum on 5th Ave & 40th Street. He also lectured and wrote extensively refuting common misconceptions about race and medicine. An active Abolitionist, smith ran a station of the Underground Railroad and was a friend to Frederick Douglass.
Following the 1863 Draft Riots, Smith and many Manhattan Blacks, relocated to Brooklyn. He died of heart failure at the early age of 52 years.
Image: Circa 1860 engraving. From The New-York Historical Society; title page “My Bondage and My Freedom,” Frederick Douglass. 1857. From Smithsonian National Museum of African American History.
Brooklyn Heights in full bloom.
Lovely Second Empire mansion with mansard roof. Must have been spectacular before the removal of the stoop. Flowering magnolia.
Join us tomorrow, Saturday April 16, for our in person Historic Brooklyn Heights walking tour to explore the neighborhood. Limited spaces remain! Tour featured on our home page.
Since 1991, Big Onion has been leading award winning walking tours of New York's historic districts and ethnic neighborhoods. All our guides are fully licensed with teaching backgrounds!
We lead more than 25 different tours throughout Manhattan & Brooklyn. We offer public "show up" tours, every day, year-round. All of our walks are also available for private bookings.
Big Onion has been called "The Best in New York" by New York Magazine (1998). We were named one of the "Best History Tours in the World" by Forbes.com (2010). The Village Voice called us the “Best Place to Take Out-of-Town Guests” (2014). We have been awarded a “Certificate of Excellence” by TripAdvisor annually since 2014 (first year award was granted).
UPDATED APRIL 2019: Big Onion Walking Tours is very proud to expand to the historically & architecturally significant Hudson River Town of Hudson, NY.
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