On Monday evening, June 10th, 2013, Marguerite Holloway made a presentation to the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group of her book “Measure of Manhattan”. Holloway is the Director of Science and Environmental Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. “Measure of Manhattan” is the story of the tumultuous career and surprising legacy of John Randel, Jr., cartographer, surveyor and inventor. For anyone who is interested in the New York City street grid, and who probably saw “The Greatest Grid” exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York in 2012, this book is essential. The streets and avenues in our Bloomingdale neighborhood are part of this story. With a little bit of historic license, it can be stated that Randel “created” Morningside Park because his Ninth Avenue couldn’t be extended. And we can thank him for Riverside Drive and Riverside Park because his 12th Avenue was too expensive to make (with all due respect to Frederick Law Olmsted, Calvert Vaux, and Andrew Haswell Green.)
John Randel did much, much more than survey for the Manhattan Street grid. He rendered maps for many other areas, along the Hudson and elsewhere in New York State and was instrumental in the building of some important canals. In addition, he invented things, notably surveying instruments, and his diagrams and maps are works of art. Let’s not leave out his plan for an early elevated railroad in New York City.
Randel’s star will be rising in history and “Measure of Manhattan” by Marguerite Holloway explains why.