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The history of Pier 17 & South Street Seaport

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    Key takeaways

    • The Seaport has been a major part of New York history, from the first European colonization straight through to the present day.
    • New York harbor played a leading role in making the city the largest in the nation and the financial capital of the world.
    • Today you can enjoy shops, restaurants, museums and the Rooftop at Pier 17, a one-of-a-kind music venue.

    The South Street Seaport throughout the years

    The Seaport today is a commercial and entertainment destination known for its shops, fine dining and concerts. But its history extends back almost 400 years, and it has played an important role in the story of New York, from its early roots as New Netherland right up to and including the 2024 summer concert series at Pier 17.

    The port before South Street (1625-1776)

    Before Pier 17, before South Street, and even before a city bore the name New York, a Dutch trading settlement and fort sat on the southern tip of an island the local Wecquaesgeek natives called Manhattoe. The Dutch called this settlement Nieuw Amsterdam and constructed the first port in 1625.

    Pearl Street: Called Parelstraat by the Dutch, this street was built along the eastern shore of Manhattan atop a Lenape shell pile and canoe landing. It was the first main commercial street of New Amsterdam and the home to many businesses related to shipping and trade.

    1674 Treaty of Westmister: After almost a decade of conflict between the Dutch and British in which New Amsterdam changed hands three times, the entire New Netherland colony was surrendered to Great Britain at the conclusion of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, leading to a permanent name change to New York.

    “Warfing out” in the 18th century: Beginning in the 17th century and continuing to the 20th, the lower Manhattan shoreline was expanded through a process called “warfing out.” This led to the creation of Water Street and then Front Street and allowed for deeper harbors to accommodate larger ships, making New York one of the main trade hubs in the New World.

    From the American Revolution to South Street (1776-1800)

    By the time of the American Revolution, New York was one of the largest and most important cities in the colonies. This made it a clear target of Britain’s second major invasion of the rebellious colonies.

    • 1776-83 British occupation: The British decisively defeated Washington’s Continental Army in a series of battles in the summer and fall of 1776, which led to the military occupation of New York City for the remainder of the war.
    • 1784 Empress of China: The Empress of China was the first American ship to trade with China, and it reestablished New York as one of the primary trading hubs in the country.
    • South Street: The “warfing out” of the 18th century continued in the 19th with the creation of South Street around 1800. This quickly became one of the main streets for commerce and trade in the city.

    The Boom Times: South Street in the 19th century

    From the launch of the first regular transatlantic ship routes to the opening of the Fulton Fish Market, the first half of the 1800s truly were the boom times for the South Street Seaport.

    • Schermerhorn Row: In the 1810s and ‘20s, merchant Peter Schermerhorn ordered the construction of a row of red brick buildings on Fulton Street to serve as a center of commerce in the area. They were some of the first multi-use buildings in the country, and many can still be visited today.
    • Fulton Market: Opened in 1822, the Fulton Fish Market became the primary seafood market in the U.S., at one point making up approximately a quarter of all seafood sales in America. The market was one of the longest-running businesses in the city before closing its doors in 2005.
    • 1820s-1880s: This 60-year period saw the South Street Seaport reach the height of success before beginning its long and painful decline. While South Street started the 19th century as a suitable dock for even the largest merchant ships, by the 1880s those ships had grown so large that South Street could no longer accommodate them.

    South Street Seaport in the 20th century

    If the 1880s were the beginning of the end for the South Street wharves, the Great Depression and Postwar years were the conclusion.

    • Closure of most of the South Street wharves: By the 1950s most of the harbor’s merchant trade had moved to the West side and New Jersey, leaving the famous Pier 15, 16, and 17 all but empty.
    • South Street Seaport Museum: Founded in 1967, the South Street Seaport Museum began the process of revitalizing the seaport area, leading to the historic restoration of many buildings and ships, educational programming and more.
    • 1980s revitalization and Pier 17, take 2: By the 1980s the revitalization of the seaport was in full swing, with upgrades to the Fulton Fish Market and Schemerhorn Row and the construction of a large shopping center on Pier 17.

    The 21st Century: The Seaport’s pending 400th birthday

    The southern coast of Manhattan has undergone near constant change in its nearly 400-year history, and the 21st century has proven to be no different.

    Hurricane Sandy’s impact on The Seaport

    • Flooding and damage: In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the area, with a seven-foot storm surge all but destroying the shopping center at Pier 17. Those businesses that were not immediately forced to close saw a large drop in business in the aftermath of the hurricane.
    • New revitalization: The next round of revitalization began almost immediately. The goal was to reimagine the area as a destination for tourists and locals alike.
    • 2018 Pier 17, take 3: The focal point of the new Seaport area was Pier 17, which would house restaurants on its ground floor and a large open-air concert venue on top.

    The Seaport and Pier 17 today

    • The Rooftop at Pier 17: Pier 17’s entertainment destination is a concert venue equipped to accommodate up to 3,500 people for an annual concert series spanning May to October.
    • Commercial renaissance: Nicely complementing Pier 17 is an explosion of shops, television studios, restaurants and fine dining, both in the immediate vicinity of Pier 17 and on nearby Fulton Street.
    • Wavertree and Ambrose ship museums: For all its modern innovations, museums like the fully restored ships Wavertree (built in 1885) and Ambrose (built in 1908) allow visitors to take a trip back to South Street’s seafront roots.

    The Seaport Summer Concert Series

    • Concert Series: Pier 17’s previously mentioned summer concert series kicks off every May, and the lineup for this year has already been released.
    • Grey Goose Terrace and Heineken Silver Zone: For concertgoers looking for the premium music experience, both the Grey Goose Terrace and Heineken Silver Zone offer private access to reserved seating, bars, and more.
    • Chase Sapphire Lounge: The Seaport is also home to a Chase Sapphire Lounge, which offers Sapphire Reserve cardholders numerous perks, including dedicated seating, food and drink options, phone chargers, and more.

    In summary

    From its humble beginnings as a site for Dutch fur trading through the devastation of Hurricane Sandy to its rebirth as a cultural destination for tourists and locals alike, Pier 17 and The Seaport are built right into the foundation of America’s largest city. No visit to the Big Apple would be complete without a stop on South Street.

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