Monday, December 23, 2019

The Lost Five Points Mission Building - 63-65 Park Street

from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1868 (copyright expired)
In the 18th century the Collect Pond covered 48 acres and, in spots, was up to 60-feet deep.  What had been a popular place for picnics in the summer and ice skating in the winter became polluted and odorous when tanneries, slaughterhouses and other nearby business dumped their waste here.  Derided at the end of the 18th century as "a very sink and common sewer," it was slowly filled.  By 1813, the entire lake was undetectable.

Among the businesses that had brought on the ruination of Collect Pond was Coulthard's Brewery, erected around 1792.  It faced Paradise Park, the triangular plot bounded by Cross, Anthony and and Little Water Streets steps north of Orange Street.  The complex intersection earned the entire neighborhood the nickname Five Points.

The Coulthardt Brewery, and subsequently the Mission Building, faced the triangular plot.  By 1853 all of the streets creating the five-point intersection had been renamed.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The brewery closed around 1837 and the building was converted to tenement use.  By now the Five Points area was the most infamous slum in the city--known for extreme poverty, crime and vice.  The degraded district was in the cross-hairs of the mission movement in the years before the outbreak of Civil War. 

The Ladies' Home Missionary Society, organized in 1844, was among the earliest to venture into the neighborhood.  In 1850 it opened a Sunday school in a single room on the corner of Cross and Little Water Streets, directly across from the Old Brewery.  In his 1872 Lights and Shadows of New York Life, James McCabe Dabney recalled "This school at once gathered in the ragged and dirty children of the neighborhood, and at first it seemed impossible to do anything with them.  Patience and energy triumphed at last.  The school became a success, and the ladies who had projected it resolved to enlarge it."

Their ambitious plan involved the Old Brewery property across the street.  On March 10, 1852 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "the ladies of the Home Missionary Society held a special meeting on Monday morning, for the purpose of ascertaining how much had so far been contributed toward the purchase of the Old Brewery.  There were reported at this meeting, cash and pledges, $2,790; making the amount thus far received about twelve thousand dollars."  The newspaper was justified in placing the amount in italics.  It would equal about $400,000 today.

The Old Brewery building - Our Police Protectors, 1885, (copyright expired)
The Old Brewery building was purchased for $16,000, according to The New York Herald.   The cost of construction of the double building was set at $33,000--more than $1 million in today's dollars.  By the beginning of 1853 progress was such that on January 27 the cornerstone was laid by Bishop Edmund S. Janes of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Three months later, on June 17, the completed building was dedicated.  The New York Herald announced "There was present a very large attendance, principally ladies, who appeared to take a deep interest in the proceedings."

The dedicatory sermon was given by Rev. Dr. James Floy.  It left no doubt as to the debauched conditions of the district.  He said in part:

The building was erected not only for the purpose of gathering into its chambers the wicked portion of that wicked community...but also for the promotion of the glory of God, that the wicked might be rescued from their degradation.

The New York Herald reported that Floy "knew of no object more worthy of the attention of all Christians than the Ladies Home Mission Society, who raised up a fine building in the midst of a wicked community."

from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The newspaper explained the interior layout.  The western, narrower portion of the structure was used partly for the parsonage of the Missionary Society.  The basement included a "general school room, a primary school room, and two dressing rooms, one for boys and the other for girls."  A two-story chapel with double-height windows occupied part of the first and second floors.  It could accommodate 500 people.  The top two floors were divided into apartments for 20 families, each having two bedrooms.  They would experience an enormous step-up from their previous living conditions.  The Herald remarked "The building is supplied with Croton [i.e. running] water and gas."

As with all missions and orphanages, Thanksgiving and Christmas were the high points of the year for the children and residents.  In 1868 the Five Points Mission served 500 pupils, ranging from 3 to 12 years in age.  A Thanksgiving tradition lost today was the roast pig; but it was not lost on the children that day.

"The tables were bountifully spread with all the customary accessories to a thanksgiving feast," reported the New-York Tribune, "not forgetting that noble bird, the turkey, nor the traditional roast pig, which graced the main table.  The children were orderly and quiet, and their enjoyment of the dinner was so intense that the scene was one calculated to charm the dollars from the pocket of the most uncharitable churl in existence, had he only witnessed it."

Two years later the newspaper noted that the number of needy served had greatly increased.  "About 1,500 were provided with dinner, two-thirds of whom were children belonging to the Mission."  And in 1875 the number had grown again.  The New-York Tribune reported "the whole number who came and went during the afternoon could not have been less than two or three thousand."

Providing for that many required donations of food and money.  The article noted "Charter K. Crooks, of the Bowery, presented a loaf of bread, the size of a tolerably large alligator, being between five and six feet in length, and two and a half feet in width, which was suspended in the middle of the dining-room on an immense tray.  An apparently well-to-do and intelligent-looking pig sat resting in stolid dignity in the center of one of the long rows of tables."

It was around this time that the structure was enlarged.  The 1881 Cyclopaedia of Methodism noted "Within the last few years extensive additions have been made in the mission-house."  They included an extension to the rear that housed additional school rooms, "costing $7,000" and a bequest from J. B. Scholes that paid for the erection of an abutting four-story building to house the office, manager's room and "rooms for the making, storing, and distributing of clothing to the 600 children who attend the schools."

The addition is at left in this stereopticon slide view.  
The article explained how the living spaces were disbursed.  "The tenement-rooms in the mission-house are occupied by widows and their children free of rent--the cleaning of the building being attended to by those women."  

The classes were went beyond those offered in the public schools.  The mission movement knew that the only way to rescure the Five Points residents from a dead-end fate was to give them the tools to earn a living.  The Cyclopaedia of Methodism noted "The sewing-school under the care of the mission has trained many little ones to help themselves by the use of the needle, and has during the past year had an average attendance of 150 children and 30 volunteer teachers."

As the turn of the century approached, the mission and its objectives had greatly increased.  On May 10, 1894 The Evening World explained "The mission was started forty years ago as a shelter for the children of the slums.  The scope of its work has been so broadened that now a new building has become necessary."  The article announced "The Five Points Mission House at 65 Park street is to be torn down and replaced by a handsome eight-story building."

New-York Tribune, September 11, 1894 (copyright expired)
The Five Points Mission Building was demolished that spring and construction begun on its handsome replacement.  The new building would not last long.  On October 2, 1915 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide announced "In continuation of the demolition of buildings to clear the site of the new civic center, the wreckers have reached the Five Points Mission Building, and it is now going the way of the others.  Blocks and acres of buildings, new and old, have been sent to the scrap heap, and now there is a clear vista from City Hall Park to Mulberry Bend Park, through what was once the slums of the city."

Today not even the streets that surrounded the Five Points Mission Building exist; replaced by the massive complex of courts buildings and Columbus Park.

image via Google Maps

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