Baxter Street

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Street sign for Baxter Street in Chinatown.

Baxter Street (Chinese: 巴士特街; pinyin: bāshìtè jiē) is a narrow thoroughfare that runs in a north–south direction in the borough of Manhattan in New York City in the United States in North America. It lies between Mulberry Street and Centre Street. It runs through Little Italy and the edge of Chinatown. Today, it runs one-way southbound from Grand Street to Hogan Place, and one-way northbound for its southernmost block from Worth Street to Hogan Place.

Originally named Orange Street, Baxter Street was famous as the primary street to form the notorious Five Points intersection (originally a regular corner of Orange and Cross Streets, and then, Anthony Street, which was later renamed Worth Street, was cut through to the intersection in 1817,[1] bisecting one of the four corners into two, so that the resulting junction consisted of five “points” on a map). The street is named after Lt. Colonel Charles Baxter, a hero of the Mexican War who was killed in Chapultepec in 1849.

History of alignment[edit]

The southern end of Baxter Street, at Worth Street, in the former Five Points (2014).

Previous to the middle of the eighteenth century, the area was still undeveloped. Orange Street is first shown in a 1754 map as a two block street running from the "High Road To Boston" (which later became Chatham St. and finally, Park Row), and ended at a small clearing where the later "bend" in the street would occur, which was at the time along the banks of the unnamed body of "fresh water" later known as the Collect Pond, with its marsh lying to the north. The future "Five Points" intersection was a normal crossing of two streets, Orange and Cross, with Cross Street running from Mott Street (as it always would), to an unmarked "Little Water Street", and then ending at the banks of the pond. Anthony Street (which would complete the "fifth point" and was later renamed Worth Street) did not exist.[2]

By 1797, the alignment north of the bend is shown, running all the way to Prince Street, but this section was called "Mary Street". A walkway had been built next to the street, along the pond and its marsh and running from the bend to almost Hester Street.[3]

In the new century, the street (the whole length by now renamed "Orange Street", and the areas to the west of it built up) was shown beginning in a dead end north of Prince Street.[4] An 1803 plan, however, had it merge with Crosby Street at Houston Street.[5] At Spring Street, Elm Street merged with Orange Street; and at Broome Street, Centre Street merged with Orange Street. The triangle formed by Broome, Orange, and Centre Streets was later the location of the original Centre Market.[citation needed]

By 1850, the current alignment was set in place[6] with Centre Market becoming a full block between Grand and Broome Streets, with the portions of the original street alignment north of Broome being connected only to Centre Street and renamed Marion Place (and is currently known as Cleveland Place, with Elm, now Lafayette St., taking the alignment north of there and extending past the original dead end). The street on the east side of the Market, which was displaced a bit east of where Orange ends at Grand, also had taken on the name Centre Market Place.[citation needed]

On the southern end, Orange Street always ended at Chatham Street. Past there, another street, slightly to the east, named Roosevelt Street, continued to the East River waterfront.[citation needed]

Jacob Riis "Court at No. 24 Baxter St" (1888; a rookery near the Five Points intersection) is an illustration of the squalor of 19th century slums.
Busy commercial street (ca 1890).

Five Points[edit]

The southern end of the street deteriorated into a slum, largely due to the infilling of the Collect Pond, which lowered property values, causing the middle class to move out, and poor immigrants and African Americans to move in.[7] The area, particularly the street, eventually became known for gang violence.[citation needed]

In between, the first bowling alleys also were opened on the street, behind the saloons at Nos. 51 and 63,[8] and the tap dance was created by competing black and Irish dancers at a tavern at 67 Orange.[9]

In 1854, to try to remove some of the stigma the area had taken on already, some of the primary streets were renamed,[10] including Orange Street, which was then named after Charles Baxter, a state legislator who also to fought and died as a lieutenant colonel in the Mexican–American War.[11][12]

Nonetheless, the area, and the street, would maintain its seedy reputation. Gangs included the Baxter Street Dudes, who ran the Grand Duke's Theatre from their headquarters on the street during the 1870s. When various artists and photographers (most notably, Jacob Riis) would capture the scenes of the Five Points intersection and the squalor of the area in the 1870s and '80s, many Baxter Street scenes, including such residences as the "Dens of Death" would be seen.[13]


Later, much of the Five Points area was cleared. The east side, the Mulberry Bend, was turned into the Columbus Park in 1895. The west side of the street, and the entirety of Baxter Street south of Worth Street, was demolished for the Manhattan Civic Center in the 20th century. South of Canal Street, Baxter Street's west side adjoins the rear of the New York City Criminal Court, which is lined with numerous law and bail bond offices; Baxter Street is heavily connected to police and the law, despite having a history rife with crime.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The street's past was portrayed in a play by New York playwright Barbara Kahn, The Ballad of Baxter Street, which premiered in 2005 at Theater for the New City.[15] In the backdoor pilot of the Arthur spinoff Postcards From Buster, Arthur and Buster notice the street sign while walking in Chinatown.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anbinder p.15
  2. ^ Maerschalck, Francis W.; Duyckinck (1755). "A plan of the city of New York from an actual survey, anno Domini, M[D]CC,LV". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 1981. Retrieved 29 Jun 2018.
  3. ^ Taylor, B; Roberts, J. Bernard (1797). "The Taylor-Roberts Map". Internet Archive. Retrieved 29 Jun 2018.
  4. ^ Mitchell, Samuel Augustus. "City Of New York, 1846". David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, Cartography Associates. Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  5. ^ Longworth, David. "(still image: Plan of the City of New York, 1803-05)". Digital Collections, The New York Public Library. Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  6. ^ Koch & Co. "City of New York, 1850". Digital Collections, The New York Public Library. Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  7. ^ Anbinder
  8. ^ Anbinder, p.196
  9. ^ Dickens, Charles (1880). Pictures from Italy, and American Notes for General Circulation. Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Company. pp. 274–75.
  10. ^ Anbinder, p.105
  11. ^ "Col. Charles Baxter's Grave Without Its Promised Monument—Baxter Street Named for Him" (PDF). New York Times. 4 November 1899. Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  12. ^ Richman, Jeff (2012-07-15). "At Long Last". Green-Wood Historian Blog, Green-Wood Cemetery, 15 July 2012. Retrieved from
  13. ^ Riis, Jacob (1902). The Battle with the Slum. New York: Houghton, Mifflin. Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  14. ^ Cameryn Frost. "Experiencing Baxter Street: Then and Now, Reality and Fiction". Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  15. ^ "The Ballad of Baxter Street"


  • Anbinder, Tyler (2001). Five Points: The 19th Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum. New York: The Free Press (Simon & Schuster). ISBN 0-684-85995-5.

External links[edit]