History of the LES
Photo courtesy of New York Public Library
The Lower East Side of New York City has a rich history. Prior to the American Revolution, a farm owned by James Delancey was located in the present day area of the LES. Today Delancey is remembered in the street name, as are the orchards on his farm with Orchard Street.
Upon arrival to the United States, many immigrants were directed to head towards the Lower East Side. The Lower East Side during its early development had a large German population, and at one time was known as Little Germany (Keindeutschland). The Irish were also early settlers to the area. The area is also known for is ties to Jewish culture, and has also welcomed Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, and other ethnic groups. Once characterized by tenements and pushcarts, Orchard Street gained its flavor more than 200 years ago, as families squeezed into cramped buildings that filled lower Manhattan. Industrious immigrants became the Lower East Side’s first business owners. Selling their wares from potato sacks to thousands of local shoppers, successful business entrepreneurs from around the world soon expanded their inventory and bought pushcarts – and eventually storefronts – to transform Orchard Street into one of the busiest commercial districts in the world, and the neighborhood into a cultural mecca.
Over a century after hardworking immigrant families first crowded the tenements of Orchard Street, visitors from around the world are rediscovering the historic neighborhood and finding new surprises – all the while absorbing the amazing history which characterizes the area. Come explore the historic Lower East Side.
You can learn more about the history of the neighborhood by visiting a variety of our neighborhood anchor cultural institutions. Don’t miss out on tours with:
Learn more on our full page listing of tours.