Five Points, Manhattan

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Five Points intersection painted by George Catlin in 1827. Anthony Street veers off to the left, Orange Street is to the right, and Cross Street runs left to right in the foreground. The dilapidated tenement buildings to the left of Anthony St were torn down in 1832 as far back as Little Water Street, and the vacant, triangular lot that was left became known as "Paradise Square".

Five Points (or The Five Points) was a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York. The neighborhood was generally defined as being bound by Centre Street to the west, the Bowery to the east, Canal Street to the north, and Park Row to the south. The former Five Points is now split between the Civic Center to the west and south, and Chinatown to the east and north.

Five Points gained international notoriety as a disease-ridden, crime-infested slum that existed for well over 70 years.[1]

Name[edit]

The name "Five Points" was derived from the five-pointed intersection created by Orange Street (now Baxter Street) and Cross Street (now Mosco Street); from this intersection Anthony Street (now Worth Street) began and ran in a northwest direction, dividing one of the four corners into two triangular-shaped blocks; thus the fifth "point". To the west of this "point" ran Little Water Street (which no longer exists) north to south, creating a triangular plot which would become known as "Paradise Square", after the buildings standing in the triangle were torn down in 1832.

History[edit]

Collect Pond[edit]

The Collect Pond and Five Points on the topographical map by Egbert Viele. Five Points is where Park Street (formerly Cross Street) intersects with Baxter Street (formerly Orange Street) and Worth Street (formerly Anthony Street).
Treaty of Penn with Indians, by Benjamin West
Main article: Collect Pond

The topography of the area that would become Five Points was a major factor in the progression of the neighborhood from middle class homes built upon reclaimed land to a sprawling, disease-ridden slum within a relatively short period.

The Collect Pond (or Fresh Water Pond) was a body of spring-fed fresh water, occupying approximately 48 acres (194,000 m²) and as deep as 60 feet (18 metres). The pond was located in an inverted U-shaped valley with a linear portion in the north heading northwest to the Hudson River. The eastern and western sections of the valley were separated by a hill the Dutch called Kalk Hoek (Dutch for Chalk Corner), named for the numerous oyster-shell middens left by original inhabitants. The elevation rose in the south, with Pot Bakers Hill dominating the south southwestern shore.

The pond was located in the eastern section of the valley, with Kalck Hoek to the west and Bayard Mount – at 110 feet (34 metres), the tallest hill in Lower Manhattan – to the northeast. A stream flowed north out of the pond and then northwest through a salt marsh (which, after being drained, became "Lispenard Meadows") to the Hudson River, and another stream, known as the Old Wreck Brook or the Old Kil, flowed out from the southeast through Bestevaer Swamp (later Beekman's Swamp), called Bestevaer Kreupelbosch by the Dutch, to the East River.[2] The southwestern shore of the pond was the site of a Native American settlement known as Werpoes. A small band of Canarsie, who were Munsee Peoples – the northernmost division of the Lenape – occupied the site until the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam was established.[3]

The pond was the main source of drinking water and freshwater fish for the City of New York.[4]

Beginning in the early 18th century, various commercial enterprises were built along the pond's shores, in order to use the water. These businesses included Coulthards Brewery, Nicholas Bayard's slaughterhouse on Mulberry Street (which was nicknamed "Slaughterhouse Street"),[5] numerous tanneries on the southeastern shore, and the pottery works of German immigrants Johan Willem Crolius and Johan Remmey on Pot Bakers Hill, on the south-southwestern shore.[6]

The contaminated wastewater from these businesses flowed back into the pond, creating a severe pollution problem and environmental health hazard. Pierre Charles L'Enfant proposed cleaning the pond and making it a centerpiece of a recreational park, around which the residential areas of the city could grow. However, his proposal was rejected, and it was decided to fill in the pond. This was done with fill partially obtained from leveling Bayards Mount and Kalck Hoek. The landfill was completed in 1811, and middle-class homes were soon built on the reclaimed land.[7]

The landfill was poorly engineered. The buried vegetation began to release methane gas (a byproduct of decomposition), and the area, still in a natural depression, lacked adequate storm sewers. As a result, the ground gradually subsided. Houses shifted on their foundations, the unpaved streets were often buried in a foot of mud mixed with human and animal excrement, and mosquitos bred in the stagnant pools created by the poor drainage. Most middle and upper class inhabitants fled the area, leaving the neighborhood open to poor immigrants who began arriving in the early 1820s. This influx reached a height in the 1840s, with large numbers of Irish Catholics fleeing the Irish Potato Famine.[8]

The Slum[edit]

Mulberry Bend in the Five Points neighborhood (Jacob Riis, c. 1896) looking north from just above Cross Street. The tenements on left were razed to create Mulberry Bend Park (now Columbus Park). The two tenements visible on right, 46 Mulberry Street (c. 1886) in the foreground, and 48-50 Mulberry Street on the Bend, are still there.[note 1]

At Five Points' "height", only certain areas of London's East End vied with it in the western world for sheer population density, disease, infant and child mortality, unemployment, prostitution, violent crime, and other classic ills of the urban destitute. However, it could be considered the original American melting pot, at first consisting primarily of newly emancipated blacks (gradual emancipation led to the end of slavery in New York on July 4, 1827) and Irish, who had a small minority presence in the area since the 1600s.[9] The local politics of "the Old Sixth ward" (The Points' primary municipal voting district), while not free of corruption, set important precedents for the election of Catholics to key offices. Before that time, New York, and America at large, were governed by the Anglo-Protestant founders. Although there were many tensions between the Africans and the Irish, their cohabitation in Five Points was the first large-scale instance of volitional racial integration in American history.[10] In the end, the Five Points African community moved to Manhattan's West Side and to the then-undeveloped north of the island.[11]

Coulthard's Brewery (c. 1792), converted to a tenement known as "The Old Brewery" after Panic of 1837[12]

Five Points is alleged to have sustained the highest murder rate of any slum in the world. According to an old New York urban legend, the Old Brewery, an overcrowded tenement on Cross Street housing 1,000 poor, is said to have had a murder a night for 15 years, until its demolition in 1852.[13][14]

"Almack's" (also known as "Pete Williams's Place"), an African-owned dance hall located at 67 Orange Street in Mulberry Bend (today Baxter Street), just south of its intersection with Bayard Street, was home to a fusion of Irish reels and jigs with the African shuffle.[15][16] This had happened in other parts of the United States in which different ethnic groups merged, this music and dance had spontaneously developed on the street from competition between African and Irish musicians and dancers, spilling into Almack's, where it gave rise in the short term to tap dance (see Master Juba) and in the long term to a music hall genre that was a major precursor to American jazz and rock and roll. This ground is now Columbus Park.

Description in Charles Dickens' 1842 book American Notes for General Circulation

What place is this, to which the squalid street conducts us? A kind of square of leprous houses, some of which are attainable only by crazy wooden stairs without. What lies behind this tottering flight of steps? Let us go on again, and plunge into the Five Points....

This is the place; these narrow ways diverging to the right and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth. Such lives as are led here, bear the same fruit as elsewhere. The coarse and bloated faces at the doors have counterparts at home and all the world over....

Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken forays. Many of these pigs live here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright instead of going on all fours, and why they talk instead of grunting?

—Charles Dickens in American Notes, p. 61

Infectious diseases[edit]

Infectious diseases, such as cholera, tuberculosis, typhus, and yellow fever, had plagued New York City since the Dutch colonial era. The poor sanitary conditions, overcrowded dwellings, and lack of even rudimentary health care made impoverished areas such as Five Points ideal for the development and transmission of these diseases. Several epidemics swept the City of New York in the 18th and 19th centuries, some of which originated in Five Points. In June 1832, an outbreak of cholera in Five Points spread rapidly throughout the crowded, unsanitary dwellings of the neighborhood before spreading to the rest of New York City.[17] Cholera epidemics would break out again in 1849 and 1866.[citation needed] These epidemics were seen by some as resulting from the immorality of the residents of the slum:

"Every day's experience gives us assurance of the safety of the temperate and prudent, who are in circumstances of comfort.... The disease is now, more than before rioting in the haunts of infamy and pollution. A prostitute at 62 Mott Street, who was decking herself before the glass at 1 o'clock yesterday, was carried away in a hearse at half past three o'clock. The broken down constitutions of these miserable creatures, perish almost instantly on the attack.... But the business part of our population, in general, appear to be in perfect health and security."

— "New-York Mercury, July 18, 1832"

Riots[edit]

Anti-abolitionist riots of 1834[edit]

The Anti-abolitionist riots of 1834, also known as the Farren Riots, occurred in New York City over a series of four nights, beginning July 7, 1834. Their deeper origins[18] lay in the combination of nativism and abolitionism among Protestants, who had controlled the city since the American Revolution, and the fear and resentment of blacks among the growing numbers of Irish. In 1827, Great Britain repealed legislation controlling and restricting emigration from Ireland, and 20,000 Irish emigrated. By 1835, more than 30,000 Irish had arrived in New York annually. Among the casualties of the riots was St. Philip's Episcopal Church, a Black church at 122 Centre Street, which was sacked and looted by the mob.

Dead Rabbits Riot[edit]

Brick-bats, stones and clubs were flying thickly around, and from the windows in all directions, and the men ran wildly about brandishing firearms. Wounded men lay on the sidewalks and were trampled upon. Now the Rabbits would make a combined rush and force their antagonists up Bayard street to the Bowery. Then the fugitives, being reinforced, would turn on their pursuers and compel a retreat to Mulberry, Elizabeth and Baxter streets.

The New York Times, July 6, 1857
Main article: Dead Rabbits Riot

The "Dead Rabbits" was the media's designation for a branch of the "Roach Guards", a violent Irish gang. The Dead Rabbits Riot began when one faction destroyed the headquarters of the Bowery Boys at 26 Bowery, on July 4, 1857. The Bowery Boys retaliated, which led to a large-scale riot which waged back and forth on Bayard Street, between Bowery and Mulberry Street. There would be further rioting on July 5. The Bowery Boys and Dead Rabbits fought again in front of 40 and 42 Bowery Street (original buildings still extant in May 2011), erecting barricades in the street. On July 6, the Bowery Boys fought the Kerryonians (Irishmen from County Kerry) at Anthony and Centre Street. Historian Tyler Anbinder says the "dead rabbits" name "so captured the imagination of New Yorkers that the press continued to use it despite the abundant evidence that no such club or gang existed." Anbinder notes that, "for more than a decade, 'Dead Rabbit' became the standard phrase by which city residents described any scandalously riotous individual or group." [19]

The 1857 Dead Rabbits Riot on Bayard Street, in the Five Points

Taking advantage of the disorganized state of the city's police force, brought about by the conflict between the Municipal and Metropolitan police, the fighting would spiral into widespread looting and damage of property by gangsters and other criminals from all parts of the city. It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 gang members took part in the riots, along with several hundred others who used the disturbance to loot the Bowery area. It was the largest disturbance since the Astor Place Riot in 1849, and the biggest scene of gang violence, unsurpassed until the 1863 draft riots. Order was only restored by the New York State Militia, supported by detachments of city police, under Major-General Charles W. Sandford. Eight people were reported killed, and more than 100 people were seriously injured.[citation needed]

New York City draft riots[edit]

Five Points, a center of interracial life at the time, was notably spared during the New York City draft riots.[20] The riots, which took place from July 13 to July 16, 1863 (known at the time as Draft Week[21]), were a response by those who particularly resented that wealthier men, who could afford to pay a $300 (equivalent to $5,746 in 2015) commutation fee to hire a substitute, and blacks who were not required to register lest they be deemed full citizens, were spared from the draft.

Social reform and renewal[edit]

Various efforts by different charitable organizations and individuals, most Christian themed, attempted to ameliorate the suffering of the poor in Five Points. Padre Felix Varela, a Cuban-born priest, established a Roman Catholic parish—The Church of the Immigrants—later renamed the Church of the Transfiguration, in Five Points in 1827, to minister to the poor Irish Catholics. The parish relocated to the corner of Mott and Cross Street in 1853, when they purchased Zion Protestant Episcopal Church (c.1801) from the Episcopalian congregation.

Bandit's Roost, located in the notorious Mulberry Bend fifty-seven years after "Petition to Have the Five Points Opened," in 1831. Picture by Jacob Riis, 1888.

The first call for clearing the slums of Five Points through wholesale demolition came in 1831 from merchants who maintained businesses in close proximity to the Five Points neighborhood. Slum clearance efforts (promoted in particular by Jacob Riis, author of How the Other Half Lives), succeeded in razing Mulberry Bend, one of the worst sections of the Five Points neighborhood, which was turned into a park designed by Calvert Vaux called Mulberry Bend Park, now called Columbus Park,[22] that opened in 1897.

A major effort was made to clear the Old Brewery, described as "a vast dark cave, a black hole into which every urban nightmare and unspeakable fear could be projected."[9]:67–70 The Old Brewery had formerly been Coulthard's Brewery, the brewery that was on the outskirts of the city less than thirty years earlier. It now sat on Cross Street in growing Manhattan, just south of the Five Points intersection. The brewery became the "Old Brewery" when it was converted into a tenement in 1837. Its lower, high-ceilinged floor and the above two floors were converted into four floors of apartments. The rent was cheap and attracted many low-income tenants, many of them immigrants. The only census taken in 1850 reported 221 people living in 35 apartments, averaging 6.3 persons per apartment.[9]:67–70 There are conflicting accounts of just how many people were packed into the Brewery apartments, but by all accounts it was filled to overcapacity.

The destitution seen throughout the Five Points neighborhood was on display at the Old Brewery, causing the women of the Home Mission to take action. The Home Mission was a Methodist charity group determined to clean up Five Points. The Christian Advocate and Journal reported on the ongoing project and its origin in October 1853: "In a meeting held in Metropolitan Hall, in December 1851, such convincing proof was given of the public interest in this project, that the resolution was passed by the Executive Committee to purchase the Old Brewery. Other appeals were made to the public, and nobly met. That celebrated haunt was purchased, in a few months utterly demolished, and already a noble missionary building occupies its site."[23]

The New Mission House replaced the Old Brewery, under the direction of the Five Points Mission. It provided housing, clothes, food and education as part of the charitable endeavor. The new building had 58 rooms available for living space, twenty-three more than the Old Brewery had offered.

"Petition to Have the Five Points Opened," 1831[note 2]

That the place known as "Five points" has long been notorious... as being the nursery where every species of vice is conceived and matured; that it is infested by a class of the most abandoned and desperate character....

[They] are abridged from enjoying themselves in their sports, from the apprehension... that they may be enticed from the path of rectitude, by being familiarized with vice; and thus advancing step by step, be at last swallowed up in this sink of pollution, this vortex of irremediable infamy....

In conclusion your Committee remark, that this hot–bed of infamy, this modern Sodom, is situated in the very heart of your City, and near the centre of business and of respectable population.... Remove this nucleus—scatter its present population over a larger surface—throw open this part of your city to the enterprise of active and respectable men, and you will have effected much for which good men will be grateful.

—Petition to Have the Five Points Opened," Board of Assistant Aldermen documents (October 24, 1831), Municipal Archives, City of New York.[note 3]

Site[edit]

The site, seen in 2014. Worth Street is in the foreground; Baxter Street, can be seen from the left. Columbus Park is to the right, in the background.

Current use[edit]

The area formerly occupied by Five Points is today covered in part in the west and south by large city, state, and federal administration buildings and courthouses known collectively as Civic Center, Manhattan, plus Columbus Park, Collect Pond Park, Foley Square, and various facilities of the New York City Department of Corrections clustering around lower Centre Street. The corrections facilities are the most direct link to the neighborhood's past, as the infamous Tombs Prison, in which many criminals from Five Points were incarcerated and quite a few executed, stood near the site of the current "City Prison Manhattan" at 125 White Street. The northeastern and eastern portion of Five Points is now part of sprawling Chinatown. Many tenement buildings dating from the late 19th century still line the streets in this area.

The exact location of the former "Five Points" intersection itself is currently the intersection of Worth (formerly Anthony) and Baxter (formerly Orange) Streets. Mosco (formerly Cross) Street no longer extends to that intersection, having been cut off at Columbus Park. The section of Baxter Street south of Worth Street is no longer a street; it is now the location of the New York City Supreme Court. Little Water Street also no longer exists, either.

Maps[edit]

The physical layout of the Five Points intersection changed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In popular culture[edit]

Films[edit]

Gangs of New York[edit]

Main article: Gangs of New York
Gangs of New York set built at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, Italy

Gangs of New York (2002) is a historical film set in the mid-19th century, in the Five Points district of New York City. The film, directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan, was inspired by Herbert Asbury's nonfiction book, The Gangs of New York (1928). It was made at Cinecittà, Rome, distributed by Miramax Films, and nominated for numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The film begins in 1846 and quickly jumps to 1862. The two principal issues of the era in New York were Irish immigration to the city and the Federal government's execution of the ongoing Civil War.

The story follows gang leader William "the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), a character primarily based on William Poole, in his roles as crime boss and political kingmaker under the helm of "Boss" Tweed (Jim Broadbent). The film culminates in a violent confrontation between Cutting and his mob, on one side, and the protagonist Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his immigrant allies, on the other, which coincides with the New York City draft riots of 1863.

Other films[edit]

  • In the film The Sting, mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) is known to come from Five Points; as part of the plan to gain Lonnegan's confidence, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) claims to be from the same neighborhood.

Manga[edit]

  • The Japanese manga Green Blood (グリーン ブラッド gurīn buraddo), by Kakizaki Masaumi, takes place in Five Points and the surrounding Sixth District after the end of the Civil War and at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The main plot revolves around the gangs and debauchery of the area around that time, showing just how bad it was during the heyday of Five Points.

Literature[edit]

  • Solon Robinson's best-selling book Hot Corn: Life Scenes in New York Illustrated (1854) consists of stories about residents of Five Points.
  • Edward Rutherfurd's historical fiction novel New York is set, in part, in Five Points.
  • May the Road Rise up to Meet You by Peter Troy

Television[edit]

  • BBC America's drama television series Copper takes place in the Five Points neighborhood, during the 1860s.
  • In Hell on Wheels, season 3, episode 1, Cullen Bohannon and Elam Ferguson go to Five Points to meet with an Irish labor boss; their intention is to recruit workers for the Union Pacific Railroad. The boss' tactics, the scene's set dressing, and the action demonstrate the squalor and danger of Five Points in 1867. Ultimately, Bohannon tells a reporter - who inquired about rumors that New York Irish labor bosses were conscripting railroad workers, for a fee, and who compared that to indentured servitude - that he didn't much care for the labor bosses he met in New York, and he instead hired laborers directly off the boat, and offered them attractive deals.

Music[edit]

  • Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's song Never Let Go contains the line: "down at the Five Points I stand", to suggest an ad extremis emotional and/or physical state.[24]

Sport[edit]

The New York Cosmos supporters group is called The Five Points.

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Google Maps". google.com. 
  2. ^ Background information: Merchants owning property along the periphery of Five Points petitioned the municipal government in 1829 to demolish the heart of the slum by widening and extending Anthony and Cross Streets.
  3. ^ Columbia University History Online: Petition to Have the Five Points Opened [1]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "The First Slum in America". The New York Times. September 20, 2001. 
  2. ^ Armbruster, Eugene L. (1919, reprinted 2010). The Ferry Road on Long Island. pp. 5–6. ASIN B004IPZE0E.
  3. ^ Pritchard, Evan T. Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York. p. 76.
  4. ^ Solis, Julia. New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City. p. 76.
  5. ^ "Abattoirs.; History of New-York Slaughter-Houses-Interesting and Curious Data. (1866)". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Brian S. Corzilius. "American Craftsman in Clay". corzilius.org. 
  7. ^ Kieran, John. A Natural History of New York. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8232-1086-2.
  8. ^ Delaney, Tim. American Street Gangs. pp. 39, 290. ISBN 978-0-13-305605-1
  9. ^ a b c 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. ISBN 978-0-684-85995-8. 
  10. ^ "Gangs of New York". On Location Tours. 
  11. ^ Timothy J. Gilfoyle (1992). City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790–1920. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 41–. ISBN 978-0-393-31108-2. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Pelletreau, William Smith (1900, reprint 2010). Early New York Houses: With Historical & Genealogical Notes. p. 208. ISBN 1-176-32311-3.
  13. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (August 26, 1990). "The City's Rough Past: Frighteningly Familar [sic]". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  14. ^ Walking Guide to New York.
  15. ^ Asbury, Herbert. Gangs of New York.
  16. ^ Kurlansky, Mark. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. p. 157.
  17. ^ Peters, Stephanie True Peters. Cholera: Curse of the Nineteenth Century. p. 26.
  18. ^ Burrows, Edwin G.; Wallace Mike (1999). "White, Green and Black" of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. pp. 542–562.
  19. ^ Tyler Anbinder, Five Points: the 19th-century New York City neighborhood that invented tap dance, stole elections, and became the world's most notorious slum (2001) pp 285-86.
  20. ^ Harris, Leslie M. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626–1863. 
  21. ^ "The Draft in New York City was perceived by working class men, including the swelling German and Irish immigrant populations as directed as primarily directed at them, while excluding those who could afford to pay $300 to the Federal government. The Draft Riots in New York, July, 1863". google.com. 
  22. ^ "Columbus Park". New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
  23. ^ "The Five Points Mission". Christian Advocate and Journal (1833–1865). 28 (41): 162. October 13, 1853. Retrieved September 6, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Tom Waits". tomwaits.com. 
  25. ^ Lee, Paula Young. Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse. p. 187.
  26. ^ "Chuck' Connors Dies on Bowery; Pneumonia Ends Career of the Famous Chinatown Guide and Inventor of Slang". The New York Times.
  27. ^ "Three Shot Dead in Chinese Theatre; Hip Sing Tongs Fire Upon the On Leong Tongs". The New York Times.
  28. ^ Church of Zion and St. Timothy (Protestant Episcopal)

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°42′52″N 74°00′01″W / 40.71444°N 74.00028°W / 40.71444; -74.00028