The Collect Pond

October 12, 2010

Collect Pond is one of the lost parts of the historic geography of the island of Manhattan. Originally in the 17th and 18th centuries the pond was used as a picnicking location and a spot for ice skating locals. However, by the 19th century industry (mostly tanneries) had transformed the site from a fresh water source into a sewer like dumping ground. To deal with the site the city ordered the adjacent hill (Bunker Hill) to be used to fill the pond. Before the pond could be filled however it had to be drained of the disease ridden water. In order to do this the city had to make a canal for the drainage thus the passage that would become Canal Street was created. After the pond had been filled many townhouses went up in what was at the time a desirable new location known as Paradise Square. However soon after the filling of the pond it became aparent that the land was swampy and in fact the surroiunding buildings began to sink into the still diseased ground. The area then became a slum and with it rose Five Points, the breeding ground for 19th century gangs in New York City. On top of being a hub for most of the crime in New York Five Points was also the home to many cholera outbreaks throughout the century. Conditions would change however, after the 1890 publication of Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives, in which he accounts the deplorable conditions of life in the slums. In 1960 the area was rebuilt to house the major courts in the city. In the short history of the area it went from beautiful picnic ground, to complete slum and settled on hub for the city court system, the history of the area is as dynamic as the geographical history of the island itself.

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