Old New York comes alive thanks to these Instagram accounts
Instagram is chock-full of photographers capturing visually arresting images of New York City in the here and now. But for those who prefer the city’s past to its present, there are also a bunch of accounts dedicated to curating a veritable treasure trove of historic images of the five boroughs. (And really, who doesn’t love a good vintage photo of New York?) Here, we’ve found 10 of the best accounts for NYC history fanatics, whether you’re into old maps, old buildings, old subway photos, or all of the above. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments.
A photo posted by New-York Historical Society (@nyhistory) on Oct 2, 2016 at 7:51pm PDT
No surprise here: the city’s oldest history museum also maintains a pretty wonderful Instagram account that’s chock-full of gorgeous photos of old New York that come straight from its archives (including the snap above, taken from the Woolworth Building in 1913). It’s also great for sneak peeks at the museum’s current and upcoming exhibits.
A photo posted by NYC URBANISM (@nycurbanism) on Oct 19, 2016 at 2:01pm PDT
Follow this account if you like old maps, vintage photos, and learning things you may not have known about New York’s past. (Such as: apparently Port Authority officers used to zoom through the Lincoln Tunnel in tiny little cars that hugged the walls of the tunnel. Who knew?!)
America’s fifth president, James Monroe (April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831), died here on Prince Street on the border of NoLiTa & SoHo, in the home of his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur. He was the last of the “Founding Fathers” to die and the third president to have died on Independence Day. Originally buried in New York Marble Cemetery in the East Village, his body was re-interred in 1858, to the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond VA. To see this site and learn more about the neighborhood, join us on Saturday October 16 @ 11 a.m. for our SoHo & NoLiTa. Meeting on the southeast corner of Spring & Lafayette Streets. #bigoniontours #jamesmonroe #soho #nolita #americanpresidents #nychistory #walkthecity #walkingtours #foundingfather #americanrevolution #independenceday
A photo posted by Big Onion Walking Tours (@bigoniontours) on Oct 14, 2016 at 6:57am PDT
The Instagram account for Big Onion Walking Tours is less a repository for old photos and more a place to learn the kind of quirky historical facts you’d want to drop at a cocktail party—many of which you’d likely pick up on one of the company’s history-focused walking tours.
A photo posted by The New York Public Library (@nypl) on Oct 13, 2016 at 12:05pm PDT
You’d never be able to comb through all of the treasures in the NYPL’s archives in a lifetime—but luckily, the library’s Instagram account is there to showcase some of those glorious findings, including sketches (like the one above of the Rose Main Reading Room from 1909), photos, letters, and other New York City ephemera.
#TBT: The ornate iron work pops in the #blackandwhite photograph but the #red brick seems more dominant in our present-day image (aside from the overgrown tree). The original photo of these Gramercy Park homes was taken circa the late 1930s.
A photo posted by NYC Department of Records (@nycarchives) on Oct 6, 2016 at 3:05pm PDT
History nerds will find this account—run by the city’s archivists—deeply satisfying. It’s devoted mostly to vintage photos, but we love the #TBT posts, which compare a scene of old New York to its present-day incarnation.
A photo posted by OldNYCPhotos (@oldnycphotos) on Dec 26, 2014 at 3:07pm PST
Old NYC Photos
There’s not much to this account beyond what the name promises—lots of photos of old New York. But what photos they are, showing things like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, circa 1941. It hasn’t been updated in some time, but there’s a fairly healthy archive of images to peruse.
A photo posted by New York Transit Museum (@nytransitmuseum) on Oct 14, 2016 at 11:18am PDT
This one is for the railfans out there: The Transit Museum’s account highlights both the present and past of the city’s subway system, with lots of photos of vintage train cars, old subway advertisements, and stations from back in the day.
Construction of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, 1930. The original hotel was built on the site of two grand mansions owned by the Astor family. William Waldorf Astor razed one of the mansions, and built the Waldorf Hotel on its site in 1893 (largely to spite his aunt Caroline; he had briefly considered building a stable before deciding on a hotel), and in 1897 his cousin John Jacob Astor IV built the Astoria Hotel right next door. Both structures were designed by Henry J. Hardenburgh (who built several other notable buildings around the city, including the 1884 #Dakota and 1907 #PlazaHotel), and were connected via a narrow passageway known as “Peacock Alley” that could easily be blocked off if the cousins stopped cooperating. The old hotels, which were often styled as the Waldorf=Astoria (the double hyphen emulating the alley), were designed with the utmost creature comforts, including full electricity, telephones in each room, private bathrooms, and, of course, world-class restaurants that could rival the best in New York (this is where the Waldorf Salad was invented). In 1929, the hotels were bought, and demolished to make way for the #EmpireStateBuilding. A new, fully unified hotel was slated to be built over the New York Central Railroad tracks on the former site of a power plant (in 1910, this was the site of a bad gas explosion that wrecked part of the plant and killed 12 people) between 49th and 50th Streets along #ParkAvenue. This hotel was designed by the firm of Schultze and Weaver, who had designed several other notable hotels, such as the #PierreHotel and the #SherryNetherland. It was the largest and tallest hotel in the world when it opened on October 1st, 1931 #NYC #WaldorfAstoria #iconic #landmark#ArtDeco #architecture #onthisday #history #NYChistory #DiscoveringNYC
A photo posted by Discovering NYC’s History (@discovering_nyc) on Oct 1, 2016 at 7:32am PDT
Come for the cool images, but stay for the actual history lesson: Each vintage photo on this Instagram account, run by a New York historian and tour guide, is paired with a caption that offers a bit of backstory on the place or thing depicted.
Measuring 140 feet high, 120 feet in diameter, and weighing 700,00 pounds, the Unisphere has captivated the public since it was erected as the centerpiece of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It was designed by renowned landscape architect Gilmore D. Clark and sits among a grand Beaux-Arts ensemble of pools, fountains, and boulevards built for the earlier New York World’s Fair in 1939-40. The curving structural forms of the armillary sphere represent lines of longitude and latitude and support contoured panels of textured stainless steel representing Earth’s continents. Three steel orbital rings symbolize the first three artificial satellites launched into space–Sputnik 1, Sputnik 2, and Explorer 1–and celebrate the dawning space age of the 1950s and 60s. Since that time, the Unisphere has served as a striking visual reminder of New York’s World’s Fairs and stands as a significant structural landmark in one of the largest public parks in the city. Designated a New York City Landmark in 1995.
A photo posted by LandmarksNYC (@landmarksnyc) on Sep 23, 2016 at 4:25am PDT
This account is devoted to—you guessed it—the many sites throughout New York that have been designated city landmarks by the LPC. The photos aren’t necessarily old, but they do provide digestible bits of information about some of the oldest and most fascinating structures in the five boroughs.
When people around the world think of New York City, they picture certain icons: a yellow cab, Lady Liberty, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. Designed in the Art Deco style by architect William F Lamb, the #EmpireStateBuilding was completed on April 11, 1931. It is 102-stories, and with its antenna spire included, it stands a total of 1,454 feet high. It was the world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years, until the topping of the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 1970. The building’s opening occurred during the Great Depression’s early years and so much of its office space wasn’t initially rented. One of the few tenants who was there, was RCA. Broadcasting began at the Empire State Building in December 1931, when RCA began transmitting experimental television broadcasts from a small antenna on the spire. The building is notably a symbol of #NewYork on film, and made its first iconic appearance in 1933’s King Kong. The lobby of the building is decked out with Art Deco inspired ceiling murals with the planets and stars are depicted as gears, in gold and aluminum leaf. And on the wall above the front desk in the Fifth Avenue lobby is an iconic image depicting the building itself with lights beams radiating from it. In 1955, The American Society of Civil Engineers selects ESB as one of the seven greatest engineering achievements in America’s history, and in 1981 the building was designated a #NYC Landmark. It was noted as a national landmark in 1986. #MonumentalNYC #nychistory #tgif . . . Photograph Information 184.108.40.20689 Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho (1875-1971) Empire State Building. DATE:January 8, 1934 View from the south
A photo posted by Museum of the City of New York (@museumofcityny) on Oct 14, 2016 at 9:34am PDT
Yes, it’s another museum account, but hey—they have the best archives to scour. MCNY tends to focus on the exhibit they have on view, sharing images and other ephemera (like this installation view of its current “Gay Gotham” exhibit). But sometimes, the images are just delightfully random—like this one of the Macy’s Victory Barnyard, which was established during World War II.