The World’s First Department Stores – Ladies Mile, NYC

During the Gilded Age boom following  the Civil War, the industrial revolution and the early days of mass production made it more affordable for women to maintain their households without having to spend as much time toiling at home. And so, some of the first modern department stores in the world began to open in the area between Union and Madison Squares.   While their husbands were at work and their children at school, wives and mothers could enjoy the brief freedom of being out on the town independently.  The area became known as “Ladies’ Mile”.  A few stores from that era, like Lord and Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman, still operate in the city and beyond.

O'Neil and Company during the heyday of Ladies' Mile

6th Avenue during the heyday of Ladies’ Mile

The subway was planned and constructed during this era, and as a modern, hurried commuter knows all too well, there are an unusual number of stops on the lines traveling through the former Ladies Mile.

The department store buildings that remain are beautifully designed, a few clad in cast-iron. The interiors of many, like the Home Depot on 23rd Street, have been modernized to accommodate modern commerce, and the area is still a major shopping destination.

Stern Brothers - the largest department store of the 19th century, now converted into Home Depot

Stern Brothers – the largest department store of the 19th century, now converted into a Home Depot

Siegel-Cooper; now converted into a Filene's Basement/ TJ Max/ Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Siegel-Cooper; now converted into a Filene’s Basement/ TJ Max/ Bed, Bath, and Beyond

In the early 1900's. Siegel-Cooper surpassed Stern Bros. as the "largest store in the world"

In the early 1900′s. Siegel-Cooper surpassed Stern Bros. as the “largest store in the world”

Ehrich Brothers, now a Burlington Coat Factory and Staples

Ehrich Brothers, now a Burlington Coat Factory and Staples

The O'Neill and Company department store opened in 1887, and was in business until 1907.  Over the next century, the building served a number of purposes, and in 2006, at the height of real estate bubble, the gold domes were restored and the huge complex went residential.  In late 2012, there was a minor structural collapse, which, I imagine, is still being resolved.

The O’Neill and Company department store opened in 1887, and was in business until 1907. Over the next century, the building served a number of purposes, and in 2006, at the height of real estate bubble, the gold domes were restored and the huge complex went residential. In late 2012, there was a minor structural collapse, which, I imagine, is still being resolved.

Hugh O'Neill and the 6th Avenue elevated train.

Hugh O’Neill and the 6th Avenue elevated train.

ladiesmileold10

With the era of the department store came the beginnings of catalogue shopping

As New York entered the 20th century, highrises began to reshape the cityscape.  The area between Union and Madison Squares is a treasure trove of beautifully designed buildings

As New York entered the 20th century, highrises began to reshape the cityscape. The area between Union and Madison Squares is a treasure trove of beautifully designed buildings

Ultimately, the mass transit that had made Ladies’ Mile possible also allowed for development further uptown, and by World War I the neighborhood was in decline.  But not before producing one of the world’s most iconic early skyscrapers -

Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building

There was a darker side to the glory days of Ladies Mile. While middle- and upper- class women enjoyed a new public life, the poorer women of the city suffered in the sweatshops that supplied the products for sale

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

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http://www.createdbymattlogan.com/ MUSIC Classically trained cellist. Attended Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University - degree in Music Composition, and three years of recording arts and audio electrical engineering. Multiple works for chamber groups and orchestra have been produced and performed. Singer-songwriter with rock and folk roots.. Electronica. Today, it's about mashing together all these things into improbable hybrids. Also, a longtime educator of music. PHOTOGRAPHY Unpredictable and in the moment is what I love. Streets, architecture, and people. Ruined places. History. Frozen moments. Great love for imagines wrought by beautiful mystery of film and vintage cheapy cameras. WRITING The vague, ephemeral. The historical - the ghosts behind the veil of time. Delving deeply into the intricacies of our physical and cultural world. Relaying memory and longing. And sometimes the absurd. Life runs deep. Life

Posted on March 4, 2013, in NYC past, NYC present, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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