Documentation of gay men and lesbians living and socializing in New York City dates back well over 150 years.

By 1859, the renowned poet Walt Whitman became known for his famously homoerotic “Calamus” poems while he was a regular at a bar called Pfaff’s; later in the century, pioneering female photographer Alice Austen captured early images of women embracing and dressed in male drag at her home on Staten Island.

In this curated collection, cultural institutions, residences, and bars reveal a gay community that thrived in pre-20th century New York.

Header Photo caption

“Violet Ward and Friend”, c. 1895. Photo by Alice Austen on the porch of Clear Comfort. Courtesy of the Alice Austen House.

On the Map

Featured Historic Sites (18)

183 Bleecker Street
This building was the location of the Black Rabbit, a club where “fairies” – young men who solicited male patrons – caught the attention of vice squads. It was one... Learn More
122 East 17th Street
Elsie de Wolfe, often credited as America’s first professional interior designer, and Elisabeth Marbury, one of the world’s leading, and pioneering female, theatrical agents and producers, lived together in this... Learn More
67 Bleecker Street
This elegant loft building is the only New York City design of Chicago master architect Louis Sullivan. Evidence suggests the likelihood that Sullivan was a gay man. Credit: Christopher D.... Learn More
160 Bleecker Street
Opened in 1897 as Mills House No. 1, which was intended as a wholesome residential hotel for single, working-class men, this building ironically became desirable for gay men because they... Learn More
500 25th Street
Many LGBT individuals are buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, one of the most beautiful landscapes in America. Here one can visit the gravesites of such famous individuals as Leonard... Learn More
517 East 233rd Street
Woodlawn Cemetery in the northern Bronx is not only a magnificent park-like landscape, but is the final resting place of many notable figures in the history of the United States.... Learn More
City Hall Park
City Hall Park is the earliest known documented gay male cruising area in Manhattan, according to newspaper accounts beginning in the early 1840s. Credit: Beyond My Ken/Wikipedia (cropped), 2012. In... Learn More
Whitehall Street, south of Water/State Streets
Two men are known to have been executed in New Amsterdam in 1646 and 1660 for sexual relations with boys. Sodomy was punishable by death in New York until 1796,... Learn More
St. Nicholas Park
Founding Father Alexander Hamilton lived in this house – which was built for him and his family in 1802 – until his death in 1804, though the house has since been relocated... Learn More
99 Ryerson Street
Walt Whitman and his family lived in this house when the first edition of his epochal first collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, was finished and published in June 1855.... Learn More
647 Broadway
Pfaff’s was a Rathskeller-like beer and wine cellar restaurant in the Coleman House Hotel that was a favorite haunt of the Bohemians of the 1850s, including poet Walt Whitman. Operating... Learn More
Central Park
The Angel of the Waters statue atop the Bethesda Fountain is the 1860s masterpiece of lesbian sculptor Emma Stebbins and was the earliest public artwork by a woman in New York City.... Learn More
2 Hylan Boulevard
Pioneering female photographer Alice Austen grew up in her family's home where she later lived with schoolteacher Gertrude Tate, her partner of 53 years. Austen's work includes early images of... Learn More
1232-1238 Broadway
The Irish poet and dandy Oscar Wilde stayed for a few days at the Grand Hotel while on his expenses-paid tour of America in 1882. This tour earned him fame,... Learn More
881 Seventh Avenue
One of the premiere centers of American musical life and history, Carnegie Hall has continually featured the work and performances of countless LGBT artists since its opening in 1891. See... Learn More
157 Bleecker Street
In the early 1890s, The Slide on Bleecker Street was known as New York’s “worst dive” for its “fairies,” young men who solicited other men. It was closed by the... Learn More
263-267 Henry Street
In 1893, public health nurse and progressive reformer Lillian Wald co-founded the Henry Street Settlement to provide no-cost medical services to poor immigrants living in cramped tenements on the Lower... Learn More
457 Sixth Avenue
This rowhouse near the Jefferson Market police court (now the Jefferson Market Library) was the last residence and office of well-known Tammany politico Murray H. Hall, who today would be... Learn More