New York City Tours & Sightseeing | M2M Tours – How NYC’s Neighborhoods Got Their Names
How Neighborhoods of Manhattan Got Their Names
For an island of only 24 square miles, Manhattan sure has a lot of neighborhoods. Here’s where the names of New York’s most famous ‘hoods came from.
Hell’s Kitchen: At one time not so long ago, Hell’s Kitchen lived up to the nightmarish implications of its name—and then some—but the actual origins of the name have become something of folklore. One legend involves a seasoned cop and a green cop watching a riot take place in the heart of the neighborhood. The story goes that the young cop remarked, “This place is hell itself!” to which the older cop responded “Hell is a mild climate. This is hell’s kitchen.”
Harlem: Harlem is a modification of the name Harlem, a city in the Netherlands after which this former Dutch village was named.
Greenwich Village: Greenwich comes for the Dutch word “Greenwich” which means “Pine District.”
Chelsea: A quarter century before the American Revolution, retired British Major Thomas Clarke bought 94 acres of land located between what is now 21st and 24th Streets, and from 8th Avenue to the water. He built a home on the property and named it “Chelsea,” after a veterans’ hospital and retirement home for elderly soldiers located in Britain. Chelsea Estate would pass through many more hands over the years, but the name Chelsea hung around long enough to become the official name of the neighborhood.
Times Square: When the New York Times moved its headquarters to then-named Long Acre Square in 1904, publisher/owner Adolph Ochs strongly encouraged Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. to change the name to Times Square.
Tribeca: an acronym for the TRIangle BElow CAnal Street
Soho: an acronym for SOuth of HOuston Street (pronounced “house-ton” NOT “hyus-ton”)
The Garment District: In its heyday, the Garment District serviced all facets of the fashion industry, from design to manufacture to sale. Most of the manufacturing business has since faded away from the area, but its historical contributions live on through the name—and a giant needle and button sculpture on 7th Avenue.
The Meatpacking District: In the late 1800s, New York decided to name two acres of lower Manhattan’s west side after General Peter Gansevoort. This area became a commercial district, known as Gansevoort Market. By 1900, the market would boast more than 250 slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants.
The Financial District (aka Wall Street): Many business insiders and columnists consider NYC the financial capital of the world, with London, England a close second, though other business people reverse the two positions. According to legend, the New York Stock Exchange originated with an meeting by 24 local stockbrokers under a buttonwood tree at #68 Wall Street in what is known as the Buttonwood Agreement.
The Flatiron District: The Flatiron District (named after the wedge-shaped Flatiron Building – the name “Flatiron” derives from its resemblance to a cast-iron clothes iron), Union Square & Gramercy Park – these three bustling, adjoining (and overlapping) areas, mostly on Broadway and Park Avenue South, became the first wave of department stores transforming the lives of New Yorkers in the 1850s.
Union Square: After a short stint as Union Park, the name Union Square was settled on in the 1870s. The square is named for the junction of roads, not the Union (USA, vs the Confederacy), or later gatherings by trade unions that took place there.
Neighborhood names and boundaries are not officially defined. They may vary or change from time to time due to demographic and economic variables. New York is a city of multiple personalities and like Sybil, they can shift on a dime, within the space of one block going from elegant to seedy, from industrial to chic, from ethnic to all-American.