Using New York Public Library Digital Humanities Data and Spatial Tools to Explore the 1880 Micro-Geography of Greenwich Village at the City Block and Building Level

Authors: Kurt Schlichting*, Fairfield University
Topics: Historical Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism, Quantitative Methods
Keywords: geospatial methodology, historic GIS, Greenwich Village, Emigrant Savings Bank
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The New York Public Library has undertaken a major effort to create a number of geospatial tools and databases that can be used to study the social structure of Manhattan’s historic immigrant neighborhoods at the city block and building level. The Library’s Map Warper provides digital access to thousands of scanned historic maps of New York City that can be opened in GIS software. Included are detailed Bromley “insurance” maps that include the street address of individual buildings. Historic georeferenced Census data can be linked to the Bromley maps at the city block and individual building level.

The NYPL Immigrant City database includes over 6,400 mortgage records of the Emigrant Savings Bank (ESB) from 1851 to 1923. Founded by the Irish Emigrant Society for the “protection of Irish immigrants,” the ESB archives include individual savings account and mortgage records. The mortgage records include street address of the building, appraised value and the amount of mortgage. The ESB mortgagees for Greenwich Village will be mapped to the city block and building level. Census data (1880, 1900, 1910 & 1920) will be added to determine the socio/economic characteristics of the blocks the ESB invested in.

Major research questions arise. Was ESB mortgage lending for owner-occupied or rental buildings? Were the mortgagees Irish immigrants and ESB depositors? Did real estate investment offer them a path to upward mobility? Or were the loans to real estate speculators who bought tenements to exploit the Irish immigrants’ desperation to find a decent place to live?

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