This section is from the book "Practical Real Estate Methods For Broker, Operator & Owner", by Thirty Experts. Also available from Amazon: Practical Real Estate Methods for Broker, Operator, Owner.
E. A. Cruikshank
What wonderful changes has this city seen, and how it has grown! I can remember when Castle Garden, now the Aquarium, could be reached only by a long bridge, as it was far away from the shore and surrounded by water. Going back to my father's time, there were no Washington or West Streets, and the bowsprits of the ships used to stick over the yard of the house which fronted on Greenwich Street. There were no steamboats then. The only way to reach Brooklyn was by means of a periagua, or small sailing vessel. There was good gunning on Brooklyn Heights, and my father shot many a bird there.
Everything in New York was equally primitive. The only water supply was the old pump on the corner. There were no sewers - only open gutters, and the pigs used to wander down Beaver Lane, now known as Morris Street, acting as scavengers. There were no railroads, telegraphs, telephones, street-cars, bridges. If you wanted some wood cut, the old colored men used to come around with buck and saw and cut it in front of the house. The city was very small, and its court end, where the finest residences were, was in front of the Bowling Green and the Battery and on Broadway and Greenwich Street.
The rear part of the City Hall was finished in an inferior manner to the front, for the reason that it was so far uptown that it was supposed the city never would grow beyond it. The site of the Tombs was a good fishing pond; through Canal Street ran a wide stream that it seemed almost impossible to fill. The country seats and farms lay beyond. To show the marvelous growth of the city, the president of one of the largest downtown banks bought a country place for himself and family (this was before Central Park was thought of) running from, I think, 52d Street to 66th Street, and from Fifth to Fourth Avenues - as Madison Avenue was not in existence - for $40,000, and his friends criticized him and condoled with his family at such a wild and crazy investment of so large an amount of money for such a far-away piece of land. His only answer was, "While I will not derive any benefit from the investment, my grandchildren will." But even he did not realize the wonderful changes that were coming. I offered, not to a grandchild, but one of his children, $1,000,000 for the block front on Fifth Avenue between only two of the streets and only 100 feet deep, and you can figure out what the farm had then become worth.
I myself can remember the old Crystal Palace that stood on the plot now called Bryant Park, between 40th and 42d Streets. On the opposite side of Sixth Avenue stood a row of two-story buildings occupied as stores, and when the Crystal Palace burned down, all the shopkeepers were ruined and the stores stood idle for a long time, for it was so far uptown scarcely anyone ever came there. There was no fire department in those days, but first the bucket brigade, and then the hand engine, with its long arms, easy at first under the excitement, but growing harder every minute, drawing the water out of the few cisterns that were, or if happily close to the shore, tapping the rivers.
But few courts then and justice was quicker! The murderer on the day set for his execution was brought out, his coffin placed on a truck, and he was seated on his coffin, and guarded on either side. The procession passed up Broadway to the gallows, where he was hanged in open sight of all, as a warning to evildoers.
The winters seemed to be colder, not only the East but also the North River was frozen over, and at times so hard and so thick was the ice that a barbecue would be held and an ox roasted on the frozen waters.
How all has changed! Whereas the best real estate agent then would have died of starvation if he had had only his commissions to buy his food and lodging or support his family, now a lucrative business awaits him if he but brings the brains, the honesty and the perseverance which are necessary for success in any other profession. The small three-story or possibly four-story houses are gone, and the eight, ten, twelve, and so on, up to the thirty-story skyscrapers, have taken their places, with elevators, electric lights, filtered and cooled water, etc., with an army of employees, superintendents, engineers, electricians, porters, scrub women and elevator boys. With all the facilities of travel - trolleys, elevated roads, subways, bridges, tunnels - with values changing from hundreds to hundreds of thousands or even millions, with the city constantly expanding, the real estate man versed in his business is the right hand adviser of the rich investor or the vast corporation in regard to the advisability of their investments in real estate, the desirability of their loans on bond and mortgage, the settling of how they may obtain the best returns from the money to be expended or loaned. Gentlemen, you have chosen a profession in which you can be ever learning. If you have already learned somewhat of building, plumbing, electrical work, engineering, architecture, etc., so much the better. You will also find it both pleasant and necessary to watch the growth of the city, the changing of its various lines of business from one quarter to another, the extension of its dwelling facilities, and from the lessons of old New York, forecast the future of the new.