The lower part of what is now Maiden Lane is located through what was once a marshy meadow called “Smee’s Vly,” vly being a Dutch word meaning “meadow.” The name was anglicized to “Smith’s Fly.” A market was established there in the early 18th Century near the present intersection of Maiden Lane and Pearl Street. It eventually grew and came to be known as the “Fly Market,” extending from Pearl to the waterfront slip where a ferry to and from Brooklyn landed. Given that the market was primarily for meat and fish, one imagines the name proved to be an apt coincidence.
As might be expected, the presence of crowds at the market also attracted individual entrepreneurs who hawked their items along the busy streets leading to the market. On June 14, 1800, several of the property owners along Front Street near the Fly Market brought a petition before the Common Council complaining the street was “almost continually shut by Market Women, Cookey Boys, Coffee tents, &c.,” injuring their business. The petition asked that the “hucksters,” as they were collectively known, be removed to another part of the market and “that they may be so arranged that the avenue may at all times be open for Carts & Passingers.”
The Council received the petition and referred it to the committee on the Fly Market on June 30, 1800. It is not clear whether immediate action was taken, but in 1803 the market committee recommended that the Mayor direct the market clerk to designate an area in the upper part of the market near Pearl Street for these vendors.
As the illustration from 1816 above seems to indicate, however, Front Street continued to be blocked at times by “market women” selling fruits and vegetables.