Pre-European Settlement

Human Inhabitants

For thousands of years before Europeans settled in Manhattan, the Lenape people resided throughout the island. The Lenape were a group of organized Native Americans who inhabited places in North American including the Delaware Valley and the Hudson Valley. Because of the wildlife, topography, and proximity to water, Manhattan was a prime spot for settlement of the Lenape. They were the original inhabitants before Hudson came and European settlement began in the 1600s.1 According to the Welikia Project, the nearest Lenape encampment/trails were about 400 meters from the present day Carl Schurz Park area. The Lenape probably used this region on Manhattan for hunting, fishing, and gathering, with an emphasis in gathering specifically in this area. 2

Lenape Indians 3

Mannahatta/Welikia Project

So what did this area in Manhattan look like during 1609? The Mannahatta/Welikia Project is a project that after a decade of research shows us what Manhattan and now the rest of New York City looked like before European Settlement, when the lands were inhabited by the Lenape. Welikia, meaning “my good home” in Lenape, focuses on what the wildlife was like in specific areas of the city. 4

What the Carl Schurz Park area looked like in 1609 according to the Manahatta Project
An aerial view of what the Carl Schurz Park area looks like today according to Google Maps

Aerial Maps 5

Landscape/Geographic Features

As you can see from the pictures, the landscape changed vastly as a section of land that was there in 1609 isn’t there anymore. We believe this is because of the building of the FDR under the Carl Schurz area. One of the main characteristics that led to the Lenape living in Manhattan was the abundance of hillsides that made up the topography of the island. Just like the rest of Manhattan, this area on the upper east side was also made up mostly of hills. Most of the bedrock of this area is Manhattan Schist with a little bit of Inwood Marble. According to the Mannahatta project, the main ecological communities that made up this region is known as appalachian oak – pine forest and oak – tulip tree forest. Both of these communities are characterized as having more trees than shrubs, herbs, or mosses/lichens6


With the amazing amounts of research and new scientific technologies, scientists were able to predict specifically what species of wildlife most probably lived in each region of Manhattan. The wildlife that now resides in Carl Schurz park is different than those that existed in 1609. Back then, the most common mammals in the area were small creatures like mice. The meadow vole, white-footed mouse, and deer mouse were predicted to be the most prevalent but there could have also been smaller amounts of larger mammals like squirrels, raccoons, or deer. The semipalmated plover was the most probable bird to be found in this area along with different types of hawks, ducks, and sandpipers. Turtles, snakes, salamanders, and frogs, were also predicted to be among the wildlife of that area.7

Meadow Vole:

Meadow Vole 8

Semipalmated plover:

Semipalmated Plover 9

Eastern Painted Turtle:

Eastern Painted Turtle 10

Redback Salamander:

Redback Salamander 11


One Response to Pre-European Settlement

  1. Jason Munshi-South says:

    This section is interesting, but my first question is what happened to the coastline!? It seems to have changed dramatically on your aerial images, so that change needs to be addressed.

    The opening paragraph for this page should be edited for clarity, as it is a bit confusing to immediately start talking about the Welikia project. It makes it seem like all of the sudden you are veering on to a different topic.

    The links for the two habitat types are good, but can you tell the readers something interesting about appalachian oak-pine forest and oak-tulip tree forest. Why might these types of forest grow in this specific area in Manhattan?


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