Catherine Slip Malls
This parkland is named for Catherine Rutgers (1711–1779), wife of Hendrick Rutgers (b. 1712) and mother of Henry Rutgers (1745–1830), for whom Rutgers and Henry Streets in Manhattan and a university in New Jersey are named. Hendrick Rutgers named Catherine Street and Catherine Slip after his wife when this area was part of the Rutgers family estate. Daughter of Johannes De Peyster (1666–1711) and Anna Bancker (1670–1740), Catherine Rutgers gave birth to seven children including Henry, four of whom died young. In Catherine’s time, the surrounding area was home to the city’s elite Dutch mercantile families.
As with much of the land south of Pearl and Cherry Streets, Catherine Slip was originally under water. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, the edges of Manhattan were slowly extended through various landfill projects. A “slip” is a spot for sea vessels to dock, and Catherine Slip was once a port for boats and ferries. In the early 1800s, ferries carried passengers and carriages from Catherine Slip to Brooklyn.
The De Peysters were prominent, wealthy members of New York’s Dutch community. Johannes, Catherine’s father, was appointed mayor in 1698 and served four terms on the Board of Aldermen. Catherine’s uncle, Abraham De Peyster (1657–1728), one of the city’s wealthiest merchants, served as mayor from 1691 to 1693. Abraham also donated the land for the site of the second City Hall, built at Wall and Nassau Streets in 1704.
In 1732, Catherine married Hendrick Rutgers, son of a wealthy merchant and an ensign in one of New York’s six militia companies. Their youngest child Henry fought as a captain in the American army at the Battle of White Plains. Later in life, Henry Rutgers served as an assemblyman. In 1825, the former Queens College in New Jersey changed its name to honor the wealthy landowner, who donated $200 for a bell and a $5,000 endowment for the school. When Rutgers died in 1830, he left a third of his money to charity, but gave nothing to Rutgers College (later Rutgers University).
After his parents’ deaths, Henry remained in the Rutgers family mansion, dividing and leasing out much of the surrounding estate. Merchants and professionals, as well as shipbuilders, artisans, and craftsmen, moved into the area. As the neighborhood’s population increased, the runoff from the Fresh Water Pond to the west began to choke the streets with refuse. City officials filled in Fresh Water Pond in 1808, but problems persisted. Absentee landowners bought artisans’ former homes, subdivided them and packed them with tenants. In the late nineteenth century, works such as Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives exposed the squalid tenement conditions along the Lower East Side. The resulting public outcry prompted the City to acquire and condemn many of the tenements. Today, the area boasts a number of courthouses and City buildings.
The title to the land now known as Catherine Mall was first vested in the City between 1686 and 1730. In the late nineteenth century, it served as a public market under the jurisdiction of the Manhattan Borough President. Workers from the Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era program aimed at reinvigorating the economy, planted London planetrees, installed benches, paved the lots, and reconstructed the park as a central mall space in 1939. Parks has maintained this parkland, officially named Catherine Slip Mall though commonly called Catherine Mall, ever since.