NYC Streets


Some 18th and 19th century maps of New York show linear features labeled ropewalks. These were facilities for the manufacture of rope, an important article of commerce in the days of sail. Ropewalks were normally roofed over to protect them from the weather and sometimes entirely enclosed. The 1797 Taylor-Roberts map, for example, shows a ropewalk on the west side of Baxter Street from Leonard to Hester Streets and another on the east side of Mulberry Street from Bayard to Grand Streets, in each case a distance of nearly a quarter mile. The rope was made by skilled workmen who spent their days walking backwards. Using their fingers, they began by spinning hemp yarn from a coil of combed fiber wrapped around their waists. In subsequent passes, they twisted multiple strands of yarn into rope, and then into various weights of sheet, cable and hawser for use aboard ship. The long walkways were required to assure that the finished product would meet the then-standard cable length of 120 fathoms or 720 feet. Rope-making started to be mechanized in the early 1800s, but a number of ropewalks are still shown on the 1851 Dripps Map of northern Manhattan.

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