Photograph: Fritz Haeg
This year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s arrival on what we now call Manhattan–well before the Airtrain–and Dr. Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society has spent a decade researching the island’s natural history to piece together what Hudson found back in 1609.
His resulting Mannahatta Project plots out the few square miles that are today a concrete jungle but which were then home to wolves, songbirds, salamanders and the Lenape people who had hunted, fished and farmed here for centuries. (Those who geek out on technology rather than history will like the interactive map allows you to zoom in on any block to see what might have been there, like snakes–the reptile kind, that is–near today’s Times Square.)
Sanderson also worked with Fritz Haeg of Edible Estates to create a garden on W. 26th Street that features the foods the Lenape grew in their fields and gleaned from the island’s woodlands, meadows and berry patches. That holy trinity of corn, beans and squash will be back next summer; now the garden bears a crop that was just as important in the days before Ziploc bags of leftovers: bluestem grass, used to line in-ground storage pits. There’s also The Story of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan , Sanderson and Haeg’s wonderful short film about the garden and the history of eating on this island we’re lucky enough to call home.