Five Points, Manhattan

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Five Points (or The Five Points) was a notorious slum centered on the five-cornered intersection of Anthony (now Worth St.), Cross (now Mosco), and Orange (now Baxter) on Manhattan island, New York City, New York, in the United States. Today, only Worth Street and Baxter Street connect because Mosco Street, in Chinatown, has been truncated by Columbus Park. However, the Five Points neighborhood would be located about halfway between Chinatown and the Financial District, at or near the current interection of Baxter Street and Worth Street. The name Five Points derived from the five corners at this intersection, though over time, the intersection sometimes had four or six corners. The tenement buildings that made up the slum extended from current Mulberry Street to Little Water Street (a no longer extant north-south street that ran through southeast of the current corner of Worth Street and Centre Street, through what is now the New York County Courthouse).



The neighborhood took form by about 1820 next to the site of the former Collect Pond, which had been drained because of a severe pollution problem. The landfill job on the Collect was a poor one, and surface seepage to the southeast created swampy, insect-ridden conditions resulting in a precipitous drop in land value. Most middle and upper class inhabitants fled, leaving the neighborhood completely open to the influx of poor immigrants that started in the early 1820s and reached a torrent in the 1840s because of the Irish Potato Famine. It was situated close enough for a walking commute to the large mercantile employers of the day in and around the dockyards at the island’s southern tip, but it was far enough away from the built-up Wall Street area to allow a total remake of character.

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.[citation needed] However, it was 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 newly arrived Irish.

The rough and tumble local politics of “the could Sixth ward” (The Points’ primary municipal voting district), while not free of corruption, set important precedents for the election of non-Anglo-Saxons to key offices. Although the tensions between the African Americans and the Irish were legendary, 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.

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