Filthy Condition Of NYC Streets From The Central Park To The Battery: 1877

A horrible state of affairs in the Neighborhood of Five Points.
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The slovenly Work of the Street-Cleaning Bureau

Anyone who has needed the use of eyes during the past week has been made painfully aware of the fact that the streets are dirty. Where the dirt which accumulated during the long Winter, when all cleaning operations on the part of the authorities were suspended, had been moistened by water from escape pipes or by liquid filth emptied from houses, it was converted into mud of disgusting vileness. Where it remained exposed to the sun and wind the moisture was evaporated, and the mass slowly crumbled under the feet of men and horses until it was converted into dust. The high gales of the fortnight past caught up this neglected rubble, the pulverized essence of all manner of City dirt and whirled it away in clouds.

The particles found their way everywhere, flying in at window crevices and doors that were left open but for a moment, and their presence in the air made travel about the streets not only disagreeable, but positively painful. There appears to have been little done by the Street-cleaning Bureau to anticipate and prevent this unpleasant state of affairs. One may travel in almost any direction, away from two or three of the most frequented thoroughfares, and find evidences of the severe neglect which the streets have suffered.

From an examination made yesterday of a large tract of the City, it was plainly apparent that at one time since the Winter broke up there had been a good deal of slovenly work performed with hoes, but there seemed to have been a poor supply of carts to carry off the stacks of filth which had been carelessly huddled together. In the section of the City bounded, say by Fourth and Eighth avenues, Fourteenth and Fifty-ninth streets, where the population is not so dense as it is in other neighborhoods, and where more attention is demanded by the residents from the Street-cleaning Bureau, the dirt is sufficiently abundant to make it impossible to open windows without exposing interiors to damage from dust, but there are few places where the conditions were so bad as to call for special mention. But away from the places where dirt is easily seen, and when seen would be objected to, down in the "slums," and along that wide, remote strip of territory known as the "Far East," the occasional hoes and the semi-occasional cart have scarcely disturbed the mounds of mud and ashes which disfigured the streets throughout the Winter.

That the cart travels a long way behind the hoe and the broom, is well known to persons whose business is situated in the lower part of the City. The street cleaners made their appearance the men of the hoe and broom in considerable strength, on Greenwich and intersecting streets below Chambers, about two weeks ago. They scraped the banks of mud into piles, and some of it, but not much, was carried away somewhere. The greater part was left, and so much of that as was not carried off in clouds of dust by last week's gales, or dumped overboard in the North River in spite of law and the prejudices of G.W.B., still obstructs the street. The aspect of things in the neighborhood known as the Five Points which is a disagreeable part of the City, and one which the Street Cleaning Bureau, in common with many other nice people, prefer to avoid is shameful and conducive to the ill-health, not only of the careless and dirty people who helped to accumulate the dirt, and who may suffer from being compelled to inhale the odors which arise from it but also dangerous to the health and comfort of the whole City. The actual condition of some of the streets examined is described below.

The Down-Town Streets

The surface of Vesey and Barclay streets does not appear to have suffered from brushing recently, as it is coated with a covering of dust and ashes from one to two and three inches in depth. The gutters are choked up here and there with ashes carelessly thrown down upon the sidewalk. In Greenwich, near Vesey, the gutters are littered with market refuse mingled with dust, and all along Greenwich street toward the Battery are heaps of mud and dust which were hoed up a week or more ago, and which, in many instances, have been trampled down again until the rubbish has been spread over the street almost as evenly as if it had been done by a professional "trimmer." A gang of men were at work on Vesey-street, near Washington, digging up a layer of rubbish three or four inches deep, composed of all manner of refuse and street dirt. In Cortlandt-street there were indications that some of the dirt had been recently removed, but between West and Washington streets, on the north side of the street, there was a mound of refuse five or six feet long, three feet high, and about three feet deep. The passer-by did not need to have his attention directed to this muck-heap by a sign, as the odor which arose from it was sufficient to lead his nose and eyes toward it, but it was adorned with a placard announcing "$500 reward for the removal of this pile," while the reverse of the notice was inscribed, "In memory of the Street Cleaning Department."

In Liberty-street, between Washington and West streets, the hoers have evidently, at some not very remote period, made rude excavations, which passing trucks have almost obliterated, and the gutters are filled with alternate heaps of dust and mud and pools of semi-fluid filth. Cedar-street is decked with heaps of the Winter accumulation of mud, which invite the tardy cart. Albany-street has its quota of mud heaps, which have been awaked by the rain and fanned by the winds for a fortnight. Carlisle-street is safely out of the way of ordinary observation, and the dirt lies undisturbed along its sides, in places so thoroughly damming up the gutters that sewage is cut off, and pools of waste water, poisoning the air with their stench send up their odors into the windows and hallways of the neighboring tenement-houses. The condition of the streets below Carlisle in the Battery is better than it has been, as a feeble effort has been made to carry away the heaviest part of the dirt, but they are still in need of vigorous cleaning. Of lower Broadway, Broad, Wall, Nassau, and Fulton streets nothing more can be said but that the wind has pretty well removed the dust which the street-cleaners had neglected to take, and that a great part of it can be found in the hallways of buildings along the streets.

Burling slip was yesterday filled with clouds of the blinding particles with which its pavement has all Winter been hidden. Beekman street has a very slovenly appearance, as if the scavengers had made an effort to outdo careless office boys and janitors in spilling ashes and sweepings on the sidewalks, so that the gutters are in many places choked up with rubbish. In Water-street the inevitable ancient dust heap is found, beaten down by wagons and horses, and forced back into the gutters. In Water and Dover streets, under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, there are wide borders of filth along the street, and the gutters of Dover-street are vile all the way to the East River. Roosevelt-street, inhabited by indifferent people, has been scratched with a hoe, but there is an intolerable stench in the slimy gutters, which should be washed out with Croton, or mitigated with disinfectants. Batavia-street is evidently not one of the streets which the Street-cleaning Bureau attend to, for its short length, between Roosevelt and Chambers, is a mass of mucky ashes, garbage, and refuse water, too horrible to contemplate without a qualm.

The length of Henry-street is decorated with dust heaps of an ancient appearance and with a fish-like smell, suggesting the possibility that the thoroughfare has been left out of the street-cleaning map. East Broadway bears traces of work done with the hoe, much of which will have to be done over again, and in some of the densely populated parts the gutters are noisome. Division-street is in much the same condition, except that its gutters, where bad, are fouler than those in East Broadway. Bayard-street is abominably filthy. The men of the hoe have traversed a part of it, but as they approached Mott and Mulberry streets they found the neighborhood disagreeable, and sought other scratching grounds. West of the Bowery the street is filled form curb to curb with execrable filth, in the hollows of which lurk deadly green pools. Children roll unconcernedly in this dirt, and paddle with pleasure in the miniature lakes. The stench arising from them is sickening. Mott-street, between Chatham and Canal, is stacked high with heaps of ashes and all sorts of dirt, which has been beaten hard by children who play upon it.

Wagons, which appear to have stood all Winter where they now stand, are filed under with ashes and garbage. Diabolical odors greet the nostrils of the stranger to these precincts, and the stench which prevails must have a pernicious effect upon the health of the swarms of children who live thereabout. In Mulberry-street may be found the most gigantic heaps of filth which are to be seen anywhere in the City streets. They are so solid and broad in places as to blockade almost completely the street. Ash carts were found here, but they had evidently undertaken to pass through at a remote period, were hopelessly blocked, and then abandoned. All the gutters and ash boxes having been filled, these carts and a number of stranded wagons have been made the excuse for establishing dumping grounds which threaten to become permanent. Mulberry-street, from Park to Bayard, should receive the immediate attention of the authorities.

The East Side Streets

There is a sameness in the appearance of the east side streets, which would be more agreeable to consider if they were all cleaner. The primitive hoe has done its imperfect work along Chrystie, Allen, Orchard, Ludlow, Essex, Suffolk, and Goerck streets, but in many of these streets the work appears to have been done so long that it is nearly undone, and the labor seems to have been expended in vain. Hester-street has a double row of dirt heaps along its entire length, from Bowery to Division street. A few decrepit old men were seen at work in Chrystie-street, who were endeavoring to drag back into shape a range of short hills which they had probably erected a fortnight before, and which had been sadly plowed up. Houston-street is unevenly dirty. In some places some superficial inches of mud have been carted away, but in others the residual of the heavy Winter's frost and snow lies undisturbed. Through avenues A, B, and C there are stacks of dirt bespeaking more half-done work that needs to be done over again, and the avenues are daily filled with clouds of impalpable and all-pervading dust.

Fifth-street has evidently been ignored by the sweepers, while Sixth-street, for some inscrutable reason could it be because it was naturally a cleaner street? has plainly received some attention. Fourteenth street, on the east side is dirty, but its character of a thoroughfare has evidently procured for it a large share of attention between Ninth and Second avenues. The gutters east of First-avenue vie in unsavoriness with any in the City. First and Second avenues, along their entire length, are sadly in need of attention, being only half cleaned for much of the distance, and entirely dirty for the remainder. Many of the cross streets in the upper east side of the City have evidently not been disturbed since the snow and ice of Winter melted away, for in many of them the dirt lies inches deep along the gutters, in some places ground into dust, and in others converted by mixture with refuse water into the vilest of mud. Third-avenue is very dusty, but appears to have received careless attention from time to time, without having been once thoroughly cleaned.

The West Side Streets

Sixth-avenue has been filled every day for more than a week with dense clouds of dust, which were supplied partly from the surface of the avenue and partly from intersecting streets. It needs a thorough sweeping, and many of the streets which cross it will first need the hoe. Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth avenues are all dirty, the dust and mud increasing in depth and intensity of odor as one approaches the North River. Parts of Tenth avenue above Forty-second street emit odors almost as disagreeable as those pervading the dirtiest parts of Baxter and Mulberry streets. In Thirty-seventh, Thirty-eighth, and Thirty-ninth streets, the pavement is in many places hidden beneath old layers of mud and ashes while from Thirty-third to Fourteenth street, off the avenues, there has been some attention given to the removal of dirt. Below Fourteenth-street, the dirt heaps, so numerous on the east side of the City, reappear, looking very much as if they had been forgotten, and were likely to grow moldy with old age. Greenwich-street is clean and dirty in patches; West Tenth-street has a long double row of the ubiquitous dust hills; Canal-street has material upon it to fill the air with dust clouds for a month, and below Canal-street there are several very dirty streets, and not one that is very clean.



Website: The History
Article Name: Filthy Condition of NYC streets From The Central Park to the Battery: 1877
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Times Apr 11, 1877. p. 8 (1 page)
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