overview

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

Featured Historic Sites ( 18 )

A
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

B
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

C
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. Learn More

D
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

E
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

F
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

G
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. Learn More

H
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

I
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

J
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. The... Learn More

K
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

L
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. In... Learn More

M
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

N
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

O
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 Studio... Learn More

P
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

Q
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

R
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

Other Curated Themes

7 Sites

Transgender History

25 Sites

Gay-Owned Businesses

17 Sites

Communities of Color

24 Sites

Activism Outside Manhattan

18 Sites

Literary New York

13 Sites

Downtown Arts Scene

21 Sites

City of Immigrants

17 Sites

1970s Lesbian Activism & Community

7 Sites

The Bronx

8 Sites

Brooklyn Heights

7 Sites

Jackson Heights

12 Sites

Staten Island

10 Sites

Why We March

15 Sites

Village Pride Tour

20 Sites

Gay Activists Alliance

13 Sites

The Harlem Renaissance

12 Sites

Jewish New York

23 Sites

Bars & Nightlife

13 Sites

Activism Before Stonewall

22 Sites

Homophobia & Transphobia

43 Sites

Broadway Theater District

11 Sites

Influential Black New Yorkers

13 Sites

Early Community Centers

13 Sites

Lesbian Life Before Stonewall

11 Sites

The AIDS Crisis

25 Sites

LGBT-Named Public Schools

15 Sites

Art & Architecture

10 Sites

National Register Listings

21 Sites

Spotlight on the Theater