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New York, New York: A Retrospective

Anyone who has visited or lived in New York City can appreciate the vitality of its people, the rich diversity of its culture, the lightning pace of its business, and the passion of its arts. It is a city of lights, a city that never sleeps, and a city that was tragically torn apart by the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Yet even still, New York City became a testimony of the courage and compassion of the American people, as the nation watched its residents band together in restoring its homeland and healing its wounds. The city has in fact been a leader to the country since its earliest foundations. And New York City remains one of the world's most fascinating locales, with a rich history that can be traced back to the sixteenth century. There is simply no place like New York City.

In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian-born navigator sailing for France, arrived at Cape Fear in North Carolina, on an expedition for the French government. He then continued northward, exploring the eastern seaboard of North America as far as Nova Scotia. He made several discoveries during his journey, including New York Bay. Eighty-five years later, in 1609, Henry Hudson, sailing on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, became the second European explorer to sail up the river now bearing his name in 1609. That same year, northern New York was explored and claimed for France by Samuel de Champlain. In 1624, the first permanent Dutch settlement was established at Fort Orange (now Albany). One year later, Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island from the Native Americans for trinkets worth about $24 and founded the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (later renamed New York City). Owned and run by the West India Company, the young colony was protected by paid soldiers. The company also paid farmers and tradesmen to come work in and for the colony. The Dutch, being most interested in making a return on their monetary investments, supported religious freedom as well as open trade. By 1630, the population numbered about 270. Of these, only half were Dutch, since settlers from among the Belgian (Walloons) and French Huguenots, as well as English, were welcomed into the colony. New Amsterdam was eventually surrendered to the English in 1664, at which time the West India Company went bankrupt and their colony was renamed New York.

For a brief period, New York City was the U.S. capital and George Washington was inaugurated there as first President on April 30, 1789. New York's extremely rapid commercial growth may be partly attributed to Governor De Witt Clinton, who pushed through the construction of the Erie Canal (Buffalo to Albany), which was opened in 1825. By the turn of the century, New York represented a "new metropolis" and welcomes hordes of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere. The vast number of ethnic groups congregated in enclaves within New York City. For example, Harlem, established in 1658 by Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant and once home to New York's most wealthy and illustrious families, became a major center for African Americans in the late nineteenth century. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese immigrants threatened by mob violence and rampant discrimination in the West moved to the eastern coast. By 1880, the burgeoning enclave in the Five Points slums on the south east side of New York was home to nearly one thousand Chinese, and Chinatown was born. The influx of immigrants led to the establishment of America's first center for processing arriving immigrants in 1855, on an island off the southwest tip of Manhattan called Castle Garden. It was hoped that a receiving station off the mainland would serve two purposes: to prevent people with contagious diseases from entering the country and help arriving immigrants from the hazards of fraud, robbery and deceit when they first arrived. In 1890, the U.S. government established a temporary processing center for immigrants at the Old Barge Office at the southeast foot of Manhattan near the US Customs House. A small , swampy piece of federally owned property was given to the Treasury Department to build the first federal immigrant receiving station. It was called Ellis Island, and when it opened in 1892, was constructed entirely of wood, three stories high and designed to handle up to 10,000 immigrants a day.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, refugees from war-torn Europe began arriving in New York. Many were remnants of the crumbling French aristocracy, forced to seek refuge abroad from the dreaded guillotine. Among these was a Madamoiselle Evelyn Claudine de Saint-Evremond, who arrived in 1803. Daughter of a noted courtier, wit, and litterateur, and herself a favorite of Marie Antoinette, Evelyn was by all accounts beautiful, vivacious, and well-educated and soon became a society favorite. For reasons never disclosed, however, a planned marriage the following year to John Hamilton, son of the late Alexander Hamilton, was called off at the last minute. Soon after, with support from several highly placed admirers, Evelyn established a salon (which apparently was an elegantly furnished bordello) in a substantial house that still stands at 142 Bond Street, then one of the city's most exclusive residential districts. Evelyn's establishment quickly became known as the most entertaining and discreet of the city's many bordellos, known for its elegant dinners, high-stakes gambling, and witty conversation. When New Yorkers insisted on anglicizing her name to "Eve," Evelyn apparently found the biblical reference highly amusing, and referred to the temptresses in her employ as "my irresistable apples." The young men about town soon referred to their amorous adventures as "having a taste of Eve's Apples." The rest is etymological history, and the city is now often called "The Big Apple."

Despite the horrific events of September 11, 2001, New York City has remained a leader in manufacturing, foreign trade, commercial and financial transactions, book and magazine publishing, and theatrical production. Although the World Trade Center towers will be sorely missed, New York City still boasts a plethora of spectacular attractions. The Brooklyn Bridge, for example, begun in 1870 and opened for traffic in 1883, remains a marvelous example of a suspension bridge. Visitors can view the Statue of Liberty, given to the United States by France in 1886, in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture with the year 1876 in mind for completion, to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. The Empire State Building, built in the 1930s, looming high into the sky, is perhaps one of the most recognizable and awe-inspiring towers in the world. As its history demonstrates, New York City is a place of hope and survival.