Shocking Sanitary Condition of New York City's Dirty Streets: 1871

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There is much just now in the City to promote an epidemic among the people; and should it once secure a foothold, it will, under the present shockingly filthy condition of the streets carry death and misery into hundreds of families. There seems to be no disposition on the part of the sanitary authorities to improve the condition, or to adopt any measures which might tend toward averting such a calamity as the presence of cholera in this City just now would prove.

We have no outcries about surplus filth for it lies within the purlieus inhabited by the lower half-million of the City's population, who have long since learned the futility of asking benefits with any view of receiving them. It is noticeable that the more respectable and aristocratic quarters of the City are kept decidedly clean, that there may be no grumbling among those who pay heavy taxes. But down among the poor and miserable the condition of things from a similar point of view is simply shocking. A Times reporter has made an extended examination of various quarters of the City, and finds filth in abundance. One prominent feature is a vast collection of decaying and rotten vegetable matter collected at groceries and small variety shops of every kind. This matter gives out a noisome odor. On the western side of the City there is much of this all the way from Washington Market, which with its great accumulation and constantly increasing stock of decaying fruit, is in a terrible state, up to the extreme northern portion of the thickly settled districts. In addition to this there is an accumulation of street filth which is positively alarming.

A large number of the streets are in sad need of repair, and here and there great holes have appeared and in them dirty, stagnant water has stood for months, until the greenish collection on the top has hinted of disease and death. Between Seventh and Eighth avenues, from Sixteenth-street upward, this is particularly noticeable and the domestic habits of a large proportion of the people who live there is of such a character as to augment rather than lessen the provocative to epidemic. In Seventeenth-street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, a large quantity of poultry is running about at will, and lends much aid in keeping up an intensity of filth. In West Twentieth-street there are several deposits of noxious filth in the middle of the street. This street is sadly in need of new paving so much so that the authorities have been compelled to threaten the tax-payers with another job. Nineteenth-street, east of Eighth-avenue is very dirty, not with a collection of dry refuse, but a damp, slimy deposit so detrimental to public health. Below Fourteenth-street, on the west, there is disease-producing accumulations enough to stock half a dozen cities abundantly. West-street, Washington and Greenwich have their complements, and the cross thoroughfares are amply supplied with filth.

A vigorous reform is sadly needed, and that at once, in the matter of removing garbage from the streets. The cartmen who now remove it are very neglectful and careless, and to their laxity may be attributed much of the filth accumulation. The garbage boxes are not fully emptied, and the collections of weeks and months remain at the bottom and send forth such distressing stench as to be almost unbearable. Liquid as well as dry matters are thrown into these receptacles, and from many of them oozes the very quintessence of nastiness.

The lower and eastern part of the City seems to have increased in its wretchedness in this point within the past week or two. Below Canal-street is the fountain-head, and the people who inhabit that section are, so far as their personal habits are concerned, in full keeping with the general condition of that place. All the streets lying within the Sixth, Fourteenth, and a greater portion of those within the Fourth and Seventh Wards, are in a condition which positively beggars description. Mulberry-street is decidedly dangerous to pass through, and it is the principal thoroughfare leading directly from the office of the Sanitary Police. Mott-street and Elizabeth-street are equal to it in filth, and have the appearance of not having been cleaned within the last six months. Many portions of those streets are covered with a slimy kind of dirt which has long lain there.

The residents of the neighborhoods show no disposition to keep matters any better than they are, but unless prompt and energetic measures are at once adopted the City will be struck with a pestilence such as will be long remembered by those who escape its ravages. The City is in a ripe condition for it; if it gets under way its ravages will be fearful.


Website: The History
Article Name: Shocking Sanitary Condition of New York City's Dirty Streets: 1871
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Times Aug 9, 1871. p.5 (1 page)
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