Publication Date

December 1, 2008

Perspectives Section

AHA Annual Meeting

Lower Manhattan, where the winding streets of a 17th-century seaport meet the skyscrapers of a global financial economy, is both the oldest and newest part of New York City. It has witnessed one of the great changes in New York—the transformation of the working waterfront—and one terrible event: the attacks of September 11, 2001.

This walking tour explores both. The commemoration of September 11 has been both spontaneous and contentious. On this walk, you can visit sites with contrasting approaches to the universal and the particular, and to commemoration and depiction.

Allow 90 minutes for Saint Paul’s Chapel, Ground Zero, and the view from the Jersey City waterfront; side trips to South Street or Battery Park will add an extra half hour apiece.

From Columbus Circle, take the A train downtown to the Broadway and Nassau stop. Exit to Fulton Street and Broadway, then walk west to Broadway.

On the west side of Broadway, between Fulton and Vesey streets, is St. Paul’s Chapel (1766). The church was a rest station for workers at the World Trade Center site after the attacks. It is worth visiting for its architecture, its graveyard, and for the exhibit, Unwavering Spirit: Hope and Healing at Ground Zero. Visiting hours are 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday–Saturday and 8 a.m.–4p.m. Sunday (

Immediately west of Saint Paul’s is the World Trade Center site—sometimes called Ground Zero. It is obscured by construction work, but there are ways to look inside. Follow Church Street south, or downtown, until you reach the southern end of Ground Zero at Liberty Street. Turn right and head west.

At 120 Liberty Street is the Tribute WTC Visitor Center ( Its exhibits cover the history of the World Trade Center, the 1993 bombing, and September 11, 2001. It offers audio tours and tours with guides personally connected to the events of September 11. Admission is $10; a combination admission and tour ticket is $15.

On the west wall of 124 Liberty Street, the firehouse of Engine Co. 10 and Ladder Co. 10, is the FDNY Memorial Wall. This bas-relief sculpture is dedicated to the 343 members of the New York City Fire Department and one volunteer firefighter who died on September 11. In the tradition of figurative art, it depicts the day’s events with close attention to firefighters’ names, ranks, equipment, and units.

Across the Hudson, in Jersey City, you can visit contrasting memorials. To get there return to Church Street and walk north toward Fulton Street. Turn west on Vesey and follow signs for the PATH train into the World Trade Center station. Any train will deliver you to your destination, Exchange Place in Jersey City, the first stop outward bound.

At Exchange Place, a focal point for Jersey City’s recent growth as a business center, face Manhattan. Then turn right, and head south along the Hudson River. Within five minutes, you will see four 9/11 memorials. The first, a plaque for “the innocent victims and heroes” who died on September 11, was added to Katyn 1940 by Andrzej Pitynski, a 1991 monument for Polish victims of the Soviet Union. Further on are three more memorials. The largest, Twisted Mangle (2002), made of beams from the World Trade Center, is usually decorated with personal items. To the north is the sculpture Makeshift Memorial (2005) by J. Seward Johnson. Originally, as Double Check, it stood on Broadway and depicted a businessman looking into his briefcase. After it survived the attacks, it was decked with momentos. Johnson made a recasting of the sculpture and attached bronzes of the memorabilia. Closest to the Hudson is a black slab (2002) bearing the names of the Jersey City residents killed in the attacks.

Look across the Hudson, toward the World Trade Center site. You will see parks and a yacht basin, but no piers. That’s because the Manhattan waterfront has been transformed by container shipping.

In the past, ships were loaded and unloaded by teams of longshoremen who moved individual goods with simple tools and backbreaking labor. Since the sixties and seventies, however, maritime industries have embraced container shipping. In this system, goods are loaded into metal containers and huge cranes stack the containers on ships. Cranes later unload the containers, which travel to their destinations on trucks or railroad cars. Teams of longshoremen became redundant.

The Manhattan and Brooklyn piers lacked space for the trucks that are part of the container system. Consequently, the heart of New York’s cargo-handling waterfront moved to facilities in New Jersey at Port Newark and the Elizabeth Marine Terminal.

The Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods where longshoremen lived and worked are becoming sites of recreation, business, and affluent housing. There are losses and gains in this process, and the future of the waterfront is hotly debated.

Still, on September 11, a bravely improvised evacuation took place on the waterfront before you—and further uptown—when approximately 300,000 people were transported from Manhattan to New Jersey in everything from ferries to pleasure boats. Some were ferried to the embankment where you stand.

To return to Manhattan, retrace your trip. As the PATH train pulls into the World Trade Center station, you will get an excellent view of Ground Zero.

From Fulton and Broadway, your starting point, you can return to Columbus Circle on the A train. Or you can walk east on Fulton to the South Street Seaport, which recalls the maritime economy of the 19th century. Or you can walk downtown on Broadway to Battery Park. If you are hungry, you will find fast food places on the way.

The park, which has become something of a memorial garden, is home to three sites relevant to this walk. Fritz Koenig’s metal sculpture best known as The Sphere (1971) stood beneath the twin towers. It survived the attacks and is displayed as a 9/11 memorial near the park’s Broadway entrance. At the far end of the park is Castle Clinton, built for harbor defense but an immigration depot from 1855 to 1890. At the park’s northwest corner is the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial (1991), which depicts three torpedoed merchant seamen on a sinking ship. One calls for help, while another reaches down trying to rescue a fourth mariner who reaches up from the waves. Wait for high tide to see how the story ends.

In Battery Park, you have two options. From the South Ferry Terminal you can catch an uptown Number 1 train back to Columbus Circle. Or, if you want to see more of the waterfront, ride the free Staten Island Ferry round trip. You’ll get a closer look at the Brooklyn piers and glimpse the cranes of the Jersey waterfront. And if you’re fortunate enough to return when the Manhattan skyline is illuminated against the night sky, the view is spectacular.

Further Reading: Phillip Lopate, Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan (Crown, 2004); and Michael Sorkin and Sharon Zukin, eds., After the World Trade Center: Rebuilding New York City (Routledge, 2002).

Robert W. Snyder, a historian, is an associate professor of journalism and American studies at Rutgers-Newark and a member of the Local Arrangements Committee. He kayaks on Upper New York Bay and the Hudson River. He is co-founder of the blog Greater New York, which covers the city and state’s politics, culture, and history.