A Journey Through Chinatown

Historical Photos

The Neighborhood that was the Five Points (19th century)
go to early 1900s photo page — buy books about the Five Points

Images copyright RK Chin, email to lucky_dog89 AT yahoo.com
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Before the Five Points, there was a little part of Manhattan called the Collect Pond. This underground spring-fed lake was a major source of fresh water for the people of New York, but by the late 1700s, it grew too polluted for use due to the many tanneries, breweries clustered near it, and the use of the pond as a dumping ground by others. The city began draining the Collect starting around 1802 by backfilling it with construction debris, and whatever garbage they could find.

There was a problem though.... people soon realized all that water had nowhere to go as the surrounding low-lying area was already marshland, and occasionally flooded. Because of health concerns (malaria), the city drafted a plan in 1807 to build a canal to drain all the water from the surrounding area, and whatever remained of the pond. The Collect Pond was finally drained by 1811. The recovered waterlogged land, was used to build a massive prison called the Tombs in 1838. The canal itself remained until 1821 when it was covered over, and used as an underground sewer.

This map representing the Collect near the turn of the 18th century was drawn by John Hutchins, 1846

collect map: (b/w) "Our Firemen: a History of New York Fire Department", A.E. Costello, 1887.
collect map: (color) wikipedia File:1846 Broadside of the Collect Pond, New York and Steam Boat ( Five Points ) - Geographicus - CollectPond-hutchings-1846.jpg
"The Memorial History of the City of New-York", James Grant Wilson, 1893, p. 203.
"Building New York's Sewers", Joanne Abel Goldman, 1997, p. 26.
Lt. Bernard Ratzer Map of 1767, redrawn, in "New York", Theodore Roosevelt, 1891, p. 104

The area around the Collect was also home to a large African American community since the 17th century. In 1991, while digging a foundation for a new Federal building, the government discovered the remnants of an African burial ground experts estimate once covered 4-5 acres and containing approximately 10-20 thousand burials. The burial ground is located around City Hall. In 2006, The site was declared a national monument, with a memorial built and dedicated on October 2007.

Yes, there really was a canal at Canal Street. It was built in 1808 to drain the collect pond and the surrounding area of water. In 1821, the canal had gotten to the point of smelling so bad that the city covered it up and turned it into an underground sewer.

This illustration, by G. Gibson, depicts west Canal Street in the 1800s, and is found in the book, "History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress, vol III", 1877.

The caption reads, "It resulted finally in a street one hundred feet wide with a ditch or open canal in its center bordered with shade trees, upon either side of which was a broad drive lined with habitations—and was very naturally called Canal Street."

This illustration in "Leslie's History of the Greater New York", Daniel Van Pelt, 1898, p. 277.

The caption reads, Broadway at Canal Street, 1811

The Canal Street sewer is viewable in this video starting at the 11 minute mark.

Another illustration, by Meeder, and Bonwill, of the Collect Pond from the book, "History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress."

The caption read, "This beautiful pond, occupying the site of the present great gloomy pile of prison buildings known as the Tombs was the scene in the summer of 1796 of the first trail of a steamboat with a screw propeller. It was the invention of John Fitch."

13 September 2008, Collect Pond Park. A sad, derelict park inhabited by homeless and numerous pigeons.

Orange, and Anthony streets were renamed to Baxter, and Worth streets after military leaders in the US-Mexican War. Worth Street was also later widened, and extended to Chatham Square in 1868 (extension not shown on the map). Cross Street was renamed Park Street in the mid 1800s, and renamed Mosco Street in 1982.
Map of the Five Points in the 1800s
*The Five Points intersection.
1The Old Brewery. It was torn down in 1852, and replaced by the Five Points Mission in 1853. The triangle across the street is Paradise Square.
2St. Philips African Episcopal Church, destroyed in the riots of 1834.
3African Society for Mutual Relief.
465 Mott St, location of the first NYC tenement in 1827.
5Chatham Square. Used as a huge open air market up until 1820.
6The Tombs prison, erected 1838.
7Five Points House of Industry, built 1856.
8The Bowery Theatre.
9Cow Bay.
10Mulberry Bend. It was considered one of the worst slums in NYC. The entire block was demolished in 1896 and turned into a park.
11Bottle Alley, and (12) Bandit's Roost were two of the many alleyways inside the Mulberry Bend.
13The Tea Water Pump was a natural spring fed well that supplied much of Manhattan with water up until the end of the 18th century. NYC would be without a reliable water supply until 1842 with the opening of the Croton Aqueduct. Actual construction began immediately after the Great fire of 1835 hit the city.

Pearl Street, Cardinal Hayes Place, and Park Row—the main road from Chinatown to City Hall—has been closed since Sept 2001 and turned into an armed government campus.
Map of present day Chinatown and Civic Center
1Chatham Square/Kimlau Square.
2Columbus Park, built 1897
3Confucius Plaza Apt. complex, built in 1976.
4Criminal Courts Building (NYC)
5NYC Civil, and Municipal Courthouse
6Criminal Courts Jailhouse
7NYC Family Court
8NY State Office Building
9Jacob Javits Federal Building
10NY County Courthouse (NY State Supreme Court)
11US Courthouse (US Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit)
12Metropolitan Correctional Center (Federal prison)
13New Police Headquarters
14US District Court
15African Burial Ground memorial site
16US Court of International Trade

A very serene depiction of the Old Brewery.

The Five Points Mission which later replaced the Old Brewery in 1853. from the book, "The Old Brewery, and the New Mission House at the Five Points" p. ii

A Five Points scene, part of a stereoview mounted on cardboard, circa 1875. Stereo cards were like the Viewmasters of that age.

Parked in the foreground is a bakery wagon. Some brooms hang on the wall of a grocer (right).

[ Audio ]

Interview with Tyler Anbinder who wrote a book about the Five Points. All Things Considered, November 7, 2001.

Aerial map of the "Five Points", 1879.
Drawn by Will L. Taylor, this interesting map offers a bird's-eye view of the entire island of Manhattan with many landmarks, elevated railroads, and trolley lines drawn in to aid the tourist.

note: Due to space restrictions, I've only included the Chinatown area here, the rest of the map, you can view here at the Library of Congress.

On this section, you may be able to identify a number of landmarks (Tombs Prison, House of Industry, Bowery Theater, Transfiguration Church, Chinese Delmonico's on "Bell St") plus a large number of "rear tenements" (around the Mulberry Bend.)

The frontispiece from "Sunshine and Shadow", a book depicting the two halves of New York City; one wealthy and orderly, the other poor and rowdy. By Matthew Hale Smith, publ 1869.

The top illustration depicts Alexander T. Stewart's (retailing giant) mansion on Fifth Avenue built in 1869, the bottom illustration of the Old Brewery tenement house at the Five Points.

(left) The "Tombs", Halls of Justice. By John Poppel. (NYPL). (center) The "Tombs", 1890s.
(right) Thebes: Ramesseum. Lantern slide colored by Joseph Hawkes (Brooklyn Museum Archives).

The exotic architecture of the Tombs was designed to strike fear into the hearts of potential criminals. Egyptian Revival architecture was apparently in vogue in the early 19th century as at least seven prisons in the United States were modelled after Egyptian tombs and architecture ("Egypt Land" by Scott Trafton, Duke University Press).

The reputation of the Tombs as a dark, and dreary place was all the more real because the prison was built on top of the old Collect pond; land which remained damp and waterlogged causing the foundations of the building to sink soon after the prison was built. The City replaced the old prison with a newer one in 1902, and a modern one in 1974.

The Five Points House of Industry was another charity setup in the 1850's for children. It replaced a tenement far worse than the Old Brewery located across the street. The House of Industry was built in 1856.

Illustration by S. Reynolds, and found in the book "New York and its Institutions, 1609-1871: A Library of Information, pertaining to the great metropolis, past and present" by Rev. J.F. Richmond, publ. 1872.

September 3, 1862, the Civil War. Experiencing fewer and fewer enrollees there is talk of a draft looming. New York City begins offering an extra $50 in bounty for all volunteers who enlist before a Federal draft is implemented. (source: NYHS)

Despite the extra incentives, the government begins the draft next year. Spurred by what many perceive as economic injustice (those who could not pay their way out of the army vs. those who could) and partially egged on by racism (whites refusing to fight for what they perceive as a black cause) a draft riot ensues; the worst ever in the history of New York.

Homes of the Rioters. Sketch by an unknown artist known only as "JHW". (source: NYHS)

The caption that went with this sketch read, "On the 13th of July not a single thief was left in the Five Points.- Capt. John Jourden, 6th ward Metropolitan Police."

Apparently that meant all the criminals were out looting.

A detailed precinct-by-precinct police account of the unrest is detailed in "The Draft Riots of New York. July 1863. The Metropolitan Police: Their Services During Riot Week." by David M. Barnes, 1863.

Five Points, circa 1880s (source: NYPL)

The same corner, but in a photograph taken several years later as part of a stereoview by GW Pach.

According to maps, this was the north east corner of Orange and Anthony Sts (today's Baxter and Worth Sts).

Five Points, 1865 (source: LOC)

The same corner--focusing in on the tenement house--in a 1865 illustration in Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

The caption that went with this drawing read, "End of the Poor. -- Funeral from a tenement house in Baxter Street, Five Points, New York."

...after the Civil War, along with the institution of anti-immigration legislation, better economic opportunities, the codification of NYC housing law (and other events such as the extension of Worth Street into Chatham Square) the Five Points gradually faded away into memory and legend.

....except for a few holdouts—wooden Five Points tenements, 1890—with theater and musical ads pasted on a wall (lower right) near a store possibly on Worth St.

T.H. McAllister, Manufacturing Opticians glass lantern slide.

A New York Times article, dated Sep 14, 1884, describing the new emerging past time of "slumming".

A "slumming tour" in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (Dec 5, 1885)

Photograph of Peter Stuyvesant's pear tree, planted at the corner of 13th st and 3rd ave in the 1600's (sources differ on planting date, either 1647, 1644, 1664, 1687). The tree survived over 200 years before succumbing to a wagon crash in 1887.

I think the death of this tree symbolized the end to an era transitioning from Old New York, to a new New York of skycrapers, subways, trade unionism, and the incorporation of the 5 boroughs into the City of New York.

go to early 1900s photo page

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