By the end of the 19th century, New York Harbor continued to retain its status as the busiest port in the US, and had become one of the busiest in the whole world. The port was lined with shippers and boats, manufacturers who vied to be close to those shippers, and businesses who vied to be close to the manufacturers. The city was thriving and commercial success blossomed. In order to help both the shipping community and the general public make sense of the harbor, David L. Bradley, an editor and proprietor of Maritime Reporter (which was the first illustrated marine paper in the US), decided to put together a directory in 1896.
Bradley’s idea emerged after the piers were renumbered in a way that he defined as “misleading”. His directory would become well known for its “reliability and completeness”. The directory not only kept track of the different lines for vessels, but also the business on the harbor. It was complete with specific diagrams detailing the streets, and included charts of Newark Bay and New York Upper Bay, as well as maps of Hell Gate, Harlem River, Newtown Creek, Atlantic Basin, Erie Basin, and many more. The directory was also adaptable, making changes and publishing new editions when necessary to keep it up to date with the city's growth.
Bradley’s writing also detailed some of the instrumental changes that took place in the Harbor, including a 1896 bill that allotted thousands of dollars to improvements of the harbor including to accommodate “the demands of increased commerce and the enlarged size of vessels.” As this growth was occurring more than a century before pre-google maps, people wanted, and needed to know how to navigate one of the biggest commerce centers in the world, and Bradley’s directory helped them do that.
Passages from the Bradley's Reminiscences:
"When the shoal in Buttermilk Channel is entirely removed, this channel, south and west of the entrance to Atlantic Basin, will be 1,000 feet wide, and the set of the currents will be so direct along the southern margin of Governor's Island that the increased depth of 26 feet will be maintained."
"The yearly vessel traffic through Gowanus Creek has lately become very extensive. In the latter part of June, 1894, the Red Hook Channel was 350 feet wide and 21 feet deep, mean low water, and the Gowanus Creek Channel was 185 to 215 feet wide and 21 feet deep, mean low water, and the Bay Ridge Channel was 375 feet wide and 21 feet deep, mean low water, from 28th Street south to 42nd Street. South Brooklyn. In June last (1885), Gowanus Creek had a depth of 21 feet, mean low- water, between the harbor lines on both sides of the creek to the foot of Percival Street, and Red Hook Channel a width of 400 feet and depth of 21 feet, mean low water; as did also Bay Ridge Channel."
"The River and Harbor bill of 1896 authorizes contracts for $777,700 for the improvement of New York Harbor; the first installment is $60,000. for Bay Ridge, Gowanus Bay, Red Hook and Buttermilk Channel. The work to begin at the South end of Bay Ridge Channel and continue through the others in the order named for a mean low water depth of 26 feet. To meet the demands of increased commerce and the enlarged size of vessels it is provided that piers built between 17th Street and Gowanus Creek and Fort Hamilton, between the pier and bulkhead heads, be of a linear width not exceeding 300 feet."