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16 must-follow Instagram accounts for NYC history lovers

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Old New York comes alive thanks to these Instagram accounts

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Instagram is chock-full of photographers capturing visually arresting images of New York City in the here and now. But for those who prefer the city’s past to its present, there are also a bunch of accounts dedicated to curating a veritable treasure trove of historic images of the five boroughs. (And really, who doesn’t love a good vintage photo of New York?)

Here, we’ve found 16 of the best accounts for NYC history fanatics, whether you’re into old maps, old buildings, old subway photos, or all of the above. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments.


New-York Historical Society

No surprise here: the city’s oldest history museum also maintains a wonderful Instagram account that’s chock-full of old New York ephemera straight from its archives. It’s also great for sneak peeks at the museum’s current and upcoming exhibits.

NYC Urbanism

Follow this account if you like old maps, vintage photos, and learning things you may not have known about New York’s past. (Such as: apparently Port Authority officers used to zoom through the Lincoln Tunnel in tiny little cars that hugged the walls of the tunnel. Who knew?!)

Urban Archive

The folks behind the Urban Archive app, which points users to quirky or fascinating historic tidbits based on their location, also run an Instagram that’s full of photos of old New York. Our favorites: The ones where a vintage street scene is compared to its present-day state.

Big Onion Walking Tours

The Instagram account for Big Onion Walking Tours is less a repository for old photos and more a place to learn the kind of quirky historical facts you’d want to drop at a cocktail party, many of which you’d likely pick up on one of the company’s history-focused walking tours.

New York Public Library

You’d never be able to comb through all of the treasures in the NYPL’s archives in a lifetime—but luckily, the library’s Instagram account is there to showcase some of those glorious findings, including sketches, photos, letters, and maps (see below).

NYPL Maps

If you like the New York Public Library’s account, you’ll almost certainly love NYPL Maps, devoted to all things cartography. The posts aren’t limited solely to maps of New York City, but there are plenty of gems that show key points in the evolution five boroughs.

young_gotham

The bio for Young Gotham’s Insta account notes that it focuses on “New York before 1840,” and indeed, fans of 19th-century architecture will find plenty to love here. But this account is all about context; rather than just showing off old photos, the historic buildings are shown in their current, preserved state.

Retro New York

In contrast to young_gotham, the photos on the Retro New York account are all from the 20th century, and highlight the rapid change that the city has undergone in the past 100 years or so.

New York City: Then and Now

As the name promises, this account is all about the #TBT: vintage photos of New York street scenes are paired with images (taken by real estate agent Kate Walter) of the same scenes in the present-day.

NYC Department of Records

History nerds will find this account, run by the city’s archivists, deeply satisfying. It’s devoted mostly to vintage photos, but we love the #TBT posts, which compare a scene of old New York to its present-day incarnation.

New York Transit Museum Old Vintage New York

This one is for the railfans: The Transit Museum’s account highlights both the present and past of the city’s subway system, with lots of photos of vintage train cars, old subway advertisements, and stations from back in the day.

Old Vintage New York

As Old Vintage New York’s bio puts it, “who said that time machines didn’t exist?” This account is loaded with vivid street scenes of 19th or 20th century New York, and includes captions packed with nifty facts about the people, places, and events of yesteryear.

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Looking south towards High Bridge and the Washington Bridge, 1893. High Bridge, initially known as the Aqueduct Bridge, was built as part of the Croton Aqueduct system and designed by its chief engineer John B. Jervis. When it opened in 1848, it included a pedestrian walkway that became a popular spot for people to visit and parade; closed in the 1970s, the walkway was happily restored and reopened to the public in 2015. Just to the north is the Washington Bridge, first proposed in 1868 by civic leader Andrew Haswell Green (Green significantly advocated for #CentralPark, helped consolidate several libraries into the #NYPL, and championed the creation of Greater New York). A site was chosen in 1876, and fourteen proposals were considered before a design by Charles C. Schneider and Wilhelm Hildenbrand was chosen. The bridge opened to pedestrians in December 1888, and to vehicles in December 1889. This view is particularly interesting, as it shows the rocky coastline of upper #Manhattan, which rises up over two hundred feet to the west. The mud flats were a prime spot for fishing and launching small boats until the channel was widened and deepened by the Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation. As part of these improvements, the #SpuytenDuyvil Ship Canal was built to the north, allowing for a direct connection between the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. In 1894, construction began on the Harlem River Speedway, a 2.3 mile long road that ran along the river from 155th Street to #DyckmanStreet. In its early years, it was a popular spot to race horses, drawing thousands of spectators. People often made a day of it, gathering to watch races before heading to the nearby #FortGeorge Amusement Park (billed as “#Harlem’s Coney Island”) to enjoy refreshments and rides. Motorists were actually prohibited on the Speedway until 1919, and the stretch wasn’t paved until 1922. The right of way was later used for the #HarlemRiverDrive, which opened in 1964 #NYC #Highbridge #WashingtonBridge #engineering #infrastructure #summer #history #NYChistory #DiscoveringNYC

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Discovering NYC

Come for the cool images, but stay for the actual history lesson: Each vintage photo on this Instagram account, run by a New York historian and tour guide, is paired with a caption that offers a bit of backstory on the place or thing depicted.

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You've got to *sea* this *boat*-ful #PhotoOfTheWeek! ⚓️⛴ This photograph comes from the Anthony Costanzo Brooklyn Navy Yard collection (ARC.023). Costanzo was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and served in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. In 1963, he moved to New York City for college, eventually taking a job as a Public Information Officer for the U.S. Department of Navy at the #BrooklynNavyYard. He would remain in this position until 1966 when the Navy decommissioned and closed the yard. . . . . . . The United States government first established the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1801. For the next century and a half, shipyard employees constructed naval vessels. By 1938 it was providing jobs for over 10,000 people. Several historic ships were constructed or launched at the Navy Yard such as The USS Arizona, the USS Missouri, and the USS Antietam. . . . . . . The Anthony Costanzo Brooklyn Navy Yard collection contains materials documenting the last years of the Navy Yard’s existence through 1966. For more information, check out our finding aids and galleries online! . . . . . . Anthony Costanzo, [Brooklyn Navy Yard], circa 1960, v1988.37.118; Brooklyn Historical Society. . . . . . . #POTW #tbt #ThrowbackThursday #BrooklynPhotos #BHSArchives #NoFilter #BrooklynHistory #Navy #NavyYard #Waterfront #shipyard #InTheNavy #AnchorsAweigh

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Brooklyn Historical Society

This one is for the Brooklyn obsessives: The borough’s premier historical institution maintains a swell Insta account with photos, prints, and other ephemera that tell the story of Kings County.

Museum of the City of New York

Yes, it’s another museum account, but hey—they have the best archives to scour. MCNY tends to focus on the exhibit they have on view, sharing images and other ephemera. But sometimes, the images are just delightfully random—like this one of the Macy’s Victory Barnyard, which was established during World War II.

Bowery Boys

Fittingly, one of the best podcasts about New York’s history also has an Instagram account that spotlights vintage New York—both old photos and sites of historic interest throughout the city. (You can see some of those for yourself on the Bowery Boys’ newly launched walking tours.)