Travel Guide for New York City-1885

Welcome! It’s New York 1885

Fast facts

  1. Population: approx. 1,360,800 (this is only Manhattan) Almost  25% of the population was ‘foreign-born’.
  2. Mayor: William R Grace, the first Irish Catholic Mayor.
  3. Governor: 1885 was an election year so Steven Grover Cleveland saw 1885 in, David Bennet Hill saw the year out. 
  4. President: Grover Cleveland (left New York for Washington DC)
  5. In 1885 Manhattan was New York City. Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were separate cities.
  6. Main Newspapers: The New York…Times, Herald, Tribune, World and Sun. And there was stiff competition.
  7. The Statue of Liberty arrived June 17, 1885, but wasn’t dedicated until Oct 28, 1886
  8. The City was already being progressively electrified following the opening of  Edison’s Pearl St Station in 1882.

Though all the sources say it was 1885 this picture is dated November 25, 1884, was it anticipatory promotion?

When you go to visit a new city what do you want to know?

Where to stay, where to eat and what to do. Right? Right

Where to Stay

  •  Astor House Hotel, 200 Fifth Ave.–For the business traveller
  • Sinclair House the corner of Broadway and Fifth–Gentlemen only
  • Grand Central Hotel-acceptable for the whole family, though some may object to its proximity to the theatre district.
19th century New York hotels in 1880

Sinclair house was a decent place for a gentleman to stay. See the advertisement below.

New York City Manhattan 1880's Grand Central Hotel

Notice this hotel is on the European plan.

So what exactly is the European plan?

Well Hotels, lodging houses and vacation rentals would advertise as either American Plan hotels or European plan hotels.

On the American Plan, three meals a day were included in the cost of the room.

On the European plan, no meals were included. Notice in the flyer below that there is a restaurant on the premises for those who wish to dine in.

19th ce Hotel Advertisement, 1880's

This is the sort of flyer that would be printed at William Kerr’s Fine Printery in my Helen’s Season’s series.

There was no shortage of places to stay, there was something for everyone in every imaginable price bracket. If travelling as a family I would look for something on the American plan but if you decide to go out to eat….

where to eat

The inestimable Delmonico’s nicknamed “The Citadel”. Pictured above is the original Restaurant 2 South William Street but by 1885 the Delmonico family had three other restaurants to choose from; 22 Broad St; Corner of Fifth and Twenty-sixth and 112 Broadway.

Most hotels had restaurants. And there were plenty of bakeries and small shops in which to grab a cup of coffee or a quick dinner (lunch).

What to Do

In the 1880’s I would venture to say there was at least the same if not more variety to choose from than today’s offerings.

Take your pick: an educational lecture, light opera, farce, dancing (and dance lessons), there were rooftop garden orchestras, and places to promenade. There were public gardens and private collections open to the public. There was live music on terraces, in restaurants and in theatres.

Operettas were very popular, the best seats will set you back $1.50, 25c for family seating in the gallery.


Visit the National Academy Museum opened in 1825 to encourage art and architecture outside of aristocratic patronage. In the 1880’s it was housed in this building.

New York museum 1880

The National Acadamy Museum circa 1880. Image from The Museum of the City of New York.

Or maybe natural history is more your thing, take stroll down to the American Museum of Natural History

Hand Coloured slide of the American Museum of Natural History, 19th Century New York Museums from the 1880's

Hand Coloured Slide of the Original building built in 1883. From the AMNH archives

Or you could pop by the 15-year-old Metropolitan Museum at its new location in Central Park.

19th century New York Museums in 1880

The Metropolitan Museum of Art moved into this new building in 1880, by 1888 it was already in need of an extension.  Image from the Met

Enjoy your stay in New York City!

Feel free to send 1880’s girl a postcard.

If you love the 1880’s and New York and a satisfying love story check out my new book Helen’s Summer

Purchase it here for Kindle and here for Kobo and here in paperback.


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