Escape from New York: How Urban Workers Relaxed in the 19th Century City

What did urban workers do for fun in the nineteenth century? With not a lot of money, a grueling work schedule, and only Sundays off, it could be difficult to escape the routines of the city and its toil. In this episode, Marika Plater digs deep into the archives to get at how working-class New Yorkers spent their limited free time, and what this reveals about their attitudes toward nature.

Young men and women, families, congregations, and ethnic associations eagerly partook of the cheaper recreational options open to them, from city parks and pleasure gardens to amusement parks and beer gardens beyond the city limits. In addition members of the working classes took in performances, went on amusement park rides, and played sports.

As the city expanded between 1830 and 1930, these places moved further and further afield, and revelers who had spent their precious dollars on steamboat tickets and railway fares sometimes had to fight to get their money’s worth. Their stories show that wealthy urbanites were not the only people to value nature as an important escape from city life.

Related Collections:

Pennsylvania Railroad Company records
Brandywine Springs Park postcard
Crossing site of the Wilmington and Northern Railroad and Peoples Railway photographs
Delaware Coach Company records
Brandywine Springs : the rise and fall of a Delaware resort / by C.A. Weslager.
Shellpot Park
Amusement, Digital Archives
Hudson River Day Line Brochures, 1934-1958


Banner images: Horse-drawn trolley in New York City, Hagley Digital Archive and Columbia Grafonola advertisement, Hagley Digital Archive

Marika Plater is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Rutgers University.