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.
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.
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 Native Americans. 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. 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 Indians – the northernmost division of the Lenape – occupied the site until the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam was established.
The pond was the main source of drinking water and freshwater fish for the City of New York.
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”), 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 African Americans (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. 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. Prior to that time, New York, and America at large, were governed by the Anglo-Protestant founders. Although there were many tensions between the African Americans and the Irish, their cohabitation in Five Points was the first large-scale instance of volitional racial integration in American history. In the end, the Five Points African American community moved to Manhattan’s West Side and to the then-undeveloped north of the island.
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,6 until its demolition in 1852.
“Almack’s” (also known as “Pete Williams’s Place”), an African American-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. 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 American and Irish American 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.
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?
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. Cholera epidemics would break out again in 1849 and 1866. 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.”
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 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 an African American church at 122 Centre Street, which was sacked and looted by the mob.
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 “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.” Andbinder notes that, “for more than a decade, ‘Dead Rabbit’ became the standard phrase by which city residents described any scandalously riotous individual or group.”
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 hj 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.
Five Points, a center of interracial life at the time, was notably spared during the New York City draft riots. The riots, which took place from July 13 to July 16, 1863 (known at the time as Draft Week), 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, were spared from the draft.
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.
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, 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.”: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.: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.”
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 fifty-eight rooms available for living space, twenty-three more than the Old Brewery had offered.
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.
What was 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 and 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 St. 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 (Anthony) and Baxter (Orange) Streets. Mosco (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 now the location of the New York City Supreme Court, and no longer exists. Little Water Street also no longer exists.
The physical layout of the Five Points intersection changed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
1776 British map showing the Collect Pond (“Fresh Water”), the canals used to drain the adjacent salt marsh and the tanneries on the eastern shore
1800 map with an 1873 street plan overlay the location of future Five Points intersection at lower right of Collect Pond
1831 map showing Five Points within the Sixth Ward
1851 map showing Five Points within the Sixth Ward
1853 map of Five Points intersection showing original street names
2007 map of Five Points’ former area, outlined in blue
Gangs of New York (2002) is an 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.
African Burial Ground on the south shore of the Collect Pond-active until 1792, was the burial ground for New York City’s free blacks and African slaves, located a short distance southwest of future Five Points intersection.
African American slave being burned at the stake after New York Conspiracy of 1741. 17 black men, two white men, and two white women were hanged at the gibbet next to the Powderhouse on the narrow point of land between the Collect Pond and the Little Collect, 13 were burned at the stake a little east on Magazine Street
Edward Mooney House built between 1785 and 1789 by wealthy butcher Edward Mooney on the corner of The Bowery and Pell Street on land seized from James Delancey, a British loyalist during the American Revolutionary War
The Bulls Head Tavern (c. 1755) located approximately at The Bowery and Canal Street served the thriving slaughterhouse and tannery industry, the area was surrounded by holding pens with slaughterhouses along Mulberry Street
A corner building which served as a grocery store and liquor store on Orange Street and Anthony Street at the southwest corner of Mulberry Bend in Five Points (c. 1852)
Five Points brick tenements began replacing older wooden buildings; the southwest corner of Mulberry Bend in Five Points with Orange Street running north
Bottle Alley located in Mulberry Bend just south of Bandit’s Roost. A crime scene photograph used in a murder trial. The X marks location where victim was found.
Rear pre-Civil War Era tenements constructed of wood in Mulberry Bend in the Five Points neighborhood.
Five Points House of Industry at 155 Worth Street in 1893 opposite Paradise Square
Baxter Street Alley, Rag-Picker’s Row” at 59 Baxter Street (c. 1898 Jacob Riis)
Barney Flynn’s Old Tree House a bar in the Edward Mooney House in 1899 showing Chuck Connors
Chinese Theatre 5-7 Doyers Street, scene of multiple murders
Mulberry Street (c.1900) taken from west side of Mulberry north of Bayard Street looking toward Canal Street
New York Halls of Justice known as “The Tombs”
Chinese Tuxedo restaurant at 2 Doyers Street
Church of the Transfiguration (built 1801 as Zion Protestant Episcopal Church bought 1853 by Catholic Archdiocese of New York) on the corner of Mott and Mosco Streets. The parish was founded by Padre Félix Varela y Morales in 1827
The Black Horse Tavern on the corner of Mulberry and Park Street (now Mosco Street), the Church of the Transfiguration is in the background; picture is c.1895-1899
Mugshot of Al Capone-nicknamed “Scarface”, was member of the Five Points Gang along with Lucky Luciano
Coordinates: 40°42′52″N 74°00′01″W / 40.71444°N 74.00028°W / 40.71444; -74.00028