Manhattan is not unique in having several streets named for famous war figures and local veterans. Where it differs from other American places, however, is that the veterans honored with Manhattan street names are mostly confined to three conflicts: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and World War I.
That New York City would honor so many figures from the Revolution is not surprising, perhaps, given its central position in several key battles. General George Washington was a national hero, of course, but was closely linked to New York City, where he was inaugurated. Washington’s name has been used widely in Manhattan (and is presently the most common personal street name in the country). Of the other streets named for Revolutionary War veterans, most were named around 1799, at a time when the war was still fresh in the city’s history.
It is not as obvious why the veterans of the War of 1812 are so frequently honored with Manhattan street names, but in historical context it becomes clear. The war was the young nation’s first major international conflict after independence and rekindled animosity toward the British. As had happened after the Revolution, the city sought to remove from the map some of the references to its former subservience to England. Replacing Charlotte Street, named for the bride of King George III, with Pike Street, after General Zebulon Pike who was killed at the Battle of York in 1813, was considered an act of patriotism.
The war also coincided with the adoption in 1811 of the plan that created Manhattan’s numbered street grid. The street commissioners’ plan proposed the elimination of the practice of naming streets for landowners or notable figures, and assigned numbers (and a few letters) instead. At the time, the city already had some numbered north-south streets east of the Bowery. Realizing the confusion that would be caused by duplicate street numbers, the Common Council renamed the old numbered streets in one fell swoop in 1817. They chose new names from among the fallen veterans of the recent war. This would be the last major adoption of war memorial street names for a hundred years.
Over the course of the rest of the 19th Century, Manhattan grew along its ordered grid, which was initially laid out as far north as 155th Street. By the late 19th Century the properties above 155th were beginning to be purchased by developers. Streets were laid out and named, but many existed only on paper into the 20th Century. Freed from the constraints of the grid, streets could once again be named for people and were laid out to conform to the landscape and to earlier settlement. As was the case before 1811, local property owners were a common source for street names. A few streets were named for famous American authors. The numbered street naming system was partially extended and some streets were given placeholder letter names. As areas like Inwood were coalescing in the early 20th Century the nation once again entered into war, and in 1920 several Inwood streets were renamed after young men who had died in battle. The area’s connection to the Revolution was preserved in the names of Fort Washington Avenue and Fort George Hill. The city’s only Civil War general honored with a street name was recognized with Wadsworth Avenue and Wadsworth Terrace. (Generals Sherman and Sheridan are honored with squares.)
In the years between the World Wars, not only had Manhattan become fully developed, but the city grew increasingly reluctant to rename streets. No World War II figures have been recognized with a Manhattan street name.
Below is a list of veterans after whom Manhattan street names were chosen in honor of their service.
- Peter Gansevoort – Fort Gansevoort stood on the Hudson River near present Gansevoort Street, which is named for the fort.
- General Nathanael Greene – Greene Street
- General Horatio Gates – Horatio Street
- The Marquis de Lafayette – Lafayette Street is named for the French general who fought on the side of the Americans.
- General Alexander McDougal – Macdougal Street
- Colonel Robert Magaw – Magaw Place
- General Francis Marion – Marion Street (now Cleveland Place)
- General Hugh Mercer – Mercer Street
- Colonel Alexander Scammel – Scammel Street (now closed)
- General William Thompson – Thompson Street
- General David Wooster – Wooster Street
War of 1812
- William Henry Allen – Allen Street
- General Joseph Bloomfield – Bloomfield Street
- Lt. Col. Joseph Bogart – Bogart Street (now closed)
- Lt. Col. John Chrystie – Chrystie Street
- Stephen Decatur – Decatur Place (now obsolete)
- Lt. Joseph Eldridge – Eldridge Street
- Lt. Col Benjamin Forsyth – Forsyth Street
- Lt. Augustus C. Ludlow – Ludlow Street
- General Zebulon Pike – Pike Street, Pike Slip
- General Philip Sheridan – Sheridan Square
- General William Tecumseh Sherman – Sherman Square
- General James S. Wadsworth – Wadsworth Avenue
- General William J. Worth – Worth Street. Worth was also an officer in the War of 1812.
World War I
- ____ Daniels – Daniels Street (now closed). First name unknown.
- Philip S. Finn – Finn Square
- ____ Henshaw – Henshaw Street. First name unknown.
- William Moylan – Moylan Place (now closed, but the sign still exists).
- General John Pershing – Pershing Square
- ____ Staff - Staff Street. First name unknown.
- Sgt. Alvin C. York – York Avenue