In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed into New York Harbor. He found an island that the native Lenni Lenape called Manahatta, which means Island of Many Hills. It was covered in pitch pine forest that was filled with wildlife like black bears and wolves and mountain lions! On Manahatta alone there were 55 different ecosystems!
Today, Manhattan is dense with tall buildings, and overrun with pigeons and squirrels. To find out what it looked like 400 years ago, Eric Sanderson started the Manahatta project. It's become an even bigger project, called Welikilia—he went from figuring out what Manhattan used to look like, to figuring out what Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island looked like, too. Sanderson took old maps that were made during the Revolutionary War in the 18th century. Using computers, he laid them over existing maps of the city. In this way he was able to figure out where hills and streams and wetlands and salt marshes used to be. Then he used that information to figure out what plants and animals used to live there. If you visit his website, you can see how every block in the city used to look—before we even had cameras!
For this episode, we visited Washington Square Park in Manhattan's West Village. The land is flat now, and covered in paving stones and concrete. Watch and find out what used to be here!
Special thanks to Eric Sanderson for lending his time and expertise.