The Trip Calculator of Another Time

The Trip Calculator of Another Time

Published: January 19, 2012

BEFORE GIS, before GPS, before Google Earth, there was the milestone. These heavy markers, inscribed with distances to City Hall or other locations, went up in series as early as 1769, and once numbered 40 or 50 in all. About two dozen now survive, mostly in museums. Even at several feet high and weighing 200 pounds, the markers have proved remarkably difficult to track.

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In 1910, a milestone dating to 1741 still stood at 82nd Street and 18th Avenue in Brooklyn. It is now at the Brooklyn Historical Society. New York once had as many as 50 milestones; today most have vanished.

In 1769 the city’s Common Council found it prudent to erect 14 milestones leading away from City Hall (then at Wall and Nassau Streets), up Broadway and over the Kingsbridge crossing of what is now the Harlem River. Alexander Hamilton would have looked for the ninth milestone, near what is now 133rd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, when he was driving downtown from Hamilton Grange, the house he built in 1802 near 143rd Street. This stone stood until the 1990s, reading “1769 9 Miles from N York.”