Happy Birthday, Manhattan’s Grid

De Witt Clinton (1769-1828) was truly a giant amongst men. After all, his nickname was “Magnus Apollo!” Clinton served New York City as its mayor, then New York State as United States Senator and Governor.

De Witt Clinton, painted by Rembrandt Peale.

He ran for President of the United States in 1812; had he carried Pennsylvania, a swing state that year, he would have won the election. Clinton was also the father of the Erie Canal; it made New York City the world’s trade and financial capital. And, even after his death Clinton was getting things done. When Green-Wood Cemetery was struggling in its early years to attract lot owners, it was De Witt, dead for years, who came to the rescue. Even dead, he was the most revered of New Yorkers, and Green-Wood needed him to attract visitors who might become buyers. So the cemetery arranged with his son, Charles, to dig old De Witt up and bring him to Green-Wood. There, twenty-five years after his death, a spectacular bronze monument, by Henry Kirke Brown, was erected to his memory and his remains were interred.

Even when he was dead, De Witt Clinton could draw the crowds to Green-Wood.

It is the second oldest surviving bronze cast in America.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the announcement of the results of the planning commission appointed by Clinton to lay out the streets of Manhattan. Here’s a wonderful article from the New York Times detailing the importance of this work. So, as you head across Manhattan today, take a look at those streets and avenues, meeting at right angles, and say a little thank you to De Witt Clinton and his commission.

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