Much has been written and filmed about Five Points, the notorious downtown neighborhood that was the breeding ground for some of New York’s most violent gangs like The Dead Rabbits and The Bowery Boys. When the ‘hood it comes up in conversation, though, I find that most people don’t know exactly where the real Five Points were…or are. Well, here they are, folks. Right here where Baxter, Park and Worth meet over the south-eastern section of the old Collect Pond.
So what were the factors that made Five Points so frickin’ dangerous and notorious? The short answer…water. Let me shed a little light. Collect Pond was a gorgeous body of water surrounded by rolling hills on the northern reaches of this town when it was settled way back in the 1600′s. It was Manhattan’s main source of water and used as place to swim and sunbathe during the warm months and ice skate during the cold ones.As the city expanded north, businesses like breweries, slaughterhouses and tanneries began to populate the shores of this important little body of water. As they grew, so did the waste they produced and tossed into the pond. By the early 1800′s the levels of human, animal and commercial waste had reached hazardous levels. A solution was needed. There was a proposal to clean it up and turn it into the focal point of a public park for the city’s residents to once again enjoy, but real estate interests won. Imagine that! The pond was filled in with earth from the surrounding hills and, beginning in 1811, upper-middle class houses were built along the newly formed streets. A big problem revealed itself pretty quickly, though. The engineers who managed the process of filling Collect Pond were lousy at their jobs. Houses began to sink and methane gases from decomposing organics and water under this newly formed nabe began to rise. Entire streets would fill with a foot or more of mud while swarms of mosquitos and giant packs of rats found themselves a fantastic place to terrorize the residents.By the 1820′s, the moderately wealthy were getting the hell out of Dodge and the just-off-the-boat and dirt-poor immigrants were moving in to this creature-infested bog. It was a perfect combination of damp and steamy filth that acted as the perfect petri dish for some of the most violent and organized crime the city had ever seen. More on that next week on Five Points. Then, Still.