New York

100 Years Ago, People Wanted to ‘Stretch' Manhattan 4 Miles to Create a ‘Super-Greater New York'

What to Know

  • An engineer from New York City wanted to extend Manhattan more than 4 miles into New York Harbor in the 1910s
  • He said the "stretched" island would give more room for people and commerce
  • City officials considered the plan and it was featured on the cover of the New York Times, but ultimately never happened

A century ago, a New York engineer proposed extending Manhattan 4 ½ miles into New York Harbor, a vision described in 1918 as a “magnificent yet entirely practical scheme.”

By the early 20th Century the city was growing rapidly and needed more space for people and commerce. Enter engineer T. Kennard Thomson and his proposal to “stretch” the congested island miles into the harbor.

The plan, first proposed in 1911, was estimated to cost $500 million and projected to take about 10 years to complete. Thomson said the idea would pay for itself with taxes and dock rental fees.

The added land, built by depositing dredged earth into the new zone, would be a half-mile wide and nearly the length of Manhattan south of Central Park. At its tip would be the (relocated) Statue of Liberty. Governors Island would be consumed by Manhattan, images from the New York Public Library show. 

Thomson envisioned the new land having a double-decker subway system, garden-topped buildings connected with walkway arches, tracks for passenger and freight trains, and rows of new docks that could handle huge amounts of cargo. He said it’d be the “main warehouse center of the Super-Greater New York.”

Thomson’s idea would change over the 1910s as he proposed it to Mayor William Gaynor and the now-defunct New York City Board of Estimate.

At one point, Thomson suggested filling in the East River so Manhattan would be connected to Brooklyn and Queens. He also proposed adding to Staten Island and to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Newly built tubes and tunnels would connect them to the boroughs.

In a 1918 article in The World, Thomson said New York would “enter upon an era of material growth which would enable her to outstrip herself and become indeed the Empire City which men of vision have pictured.”

Treasure Trove of Photos Capture a Changing New York City in the 20th Century

In 1921, the idea was featured on the cover of the New York Times. By this point, the plan had gotten even more ambitious: it would extend Manhattan six miles into the harbor. A judge at the time said “there are no formidable legal obstacles to the plan.”

If you hadn’t noticed, it never came to fruition. Although the sliver of reclaimed land known as Battery Park City, completed in 1976, could be called a start.

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