Harlem, a well-known neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan, has a rich and sometimes surprising history. This article about the history of Harlem is being brought to you by the workers’ comp lawyers of The Disability Guys, who proudly represent members of the Harlem community. 

Harlem: First A Farming Village 

To the surprise of many, the village of Halem was founded hundreds of years ago, before the United States even existed! 

A street in Harlem near a workers' comp lawyerPrior to Europeans arriving on what would eventually become American shores, the area that is now Harlem was occupied by several Native Ameican tribes who lived a semi-nomadic existence. Then in 1637, three siblings, Henrich, Issac, and Rachel de Forest established a homestead. Over the next several decades, the Dutch population grew and a formal settlement named New Haarlem after a Dutch city was formed in 1660. 

In 1664 the British took control of the area and attempted to rename New Haarlem, dubbing it “Lancaster” but for some reason, the change didn’t stick, however, under British influence the name was shortened to just “Harlem”. 

Harlem slowly grew during the time before the American Revolution. When war broke out, the British used lower Manhattan as a base for troops. In order to control river traffic and several important roadways, George Washington set up fortifications in Harlem, placing pressure on the British. 

On September16th, 1776, the Battle of Harlem Heights took place.  Washington and his troops took on the British Army, ultimately winning General Washington’s first American victory. This victory didn’t last long, however, and the British eventually claimed New York and its surrounding areas. At one point during the Revolutionary War, much of Harlem was burned down although historians disagree about who started the fire. 

After the end of the Revolutionary War, residents spent decades rebuilding Harlem and the grid system of streets was introduced, creating better infrastructure. The area was still largely rural, however. It wasn’t until the railroad was introduced that Harlem began to grow significantly. 

Harlem’s Industrial Boom 

With the railroad running through Harlem, the once farming area quickly turned into an industrial one. The Civil War did little to stop this development and following the war, a huge economic boom took place, with factories being built at a rapid pace. 

This caused a huge increase in population and housing was in high demand. 

After the First World War, Harlem began to see an influx of poor residents and the housing and area began to deteriorate. The Great Depression only made the situation worse and riots broke out. Wealthier residents left the area quickly. 

Harlem remained in a state of poverty for decades until the late 1990’s when extreme gentrification occurred, driven by a change in federal and state organizations fighting crime and a separate push to develop a retail corridor. In fact, property prices rose by 300% during the 1990s. 

Today Harlem continues to grow and prosper and is home to thousands of amazing residents. If you’re considering visiting Harlem or moving there, there are many fun things to do and places to eat.