19th Century Lower East Side Sanitation and the Rivington Street Dump [HISTORY]

Posted on: March 13th, 2014 at 11:30 am by

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Museum of the City of New York, Jacob Riis circa 1890

Our rebellious Rivington has even more crazy history! Didja know its eastern terminus was once a dump?

Yep. Back in the 19th century, there was a pier right where Rivington Street met the river (like many roads in lower Manhattan that terminated east and west), and that pier’s name was “60.” It was here that a combination of night soil and horse manure reached its final destination.

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Etymology time!

dump (n.)

“place where refuse is dumped,” 1865, originally of mining operations, from dump (v.). Meaning “any shabby place” is from 1899. Meaning “act of defecating” is from 1942.

This brave gentleman appears to have acclimated to the stench.

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Museum of the City of New York, copyright: Jacob Riis circa 1890

Check out this map showing the Rivington and Stanton piers from G.W. Bromley & Co.’s Atlas (1911).

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Dumps, lumber yards, coal yards, and even a bathhouse. I love you, LES.

In 1873, the Report of Committee on the Affairs of the City interviewed sea captains, manure salesmen, the police department, health officials, cart men, dump workers etc. Each was asked a series of questions scrutinizing the police department’s ability to keep the City clean and sanitary. However, keep in mind that clean and sanitary was all relative during this time.

The Lower East Side was considered one of the most foul places in the Nation, second only to Chicago. Renowned reformer and slum reporter/photographer Jacob Riis (with Jane Addams):

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The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that … – Erik Larson

And that spoke volumes.

Look into any of these houses, everywhere the same piles of rags, of malodorous bones and musty paper all of which the sanitary police flatter themselves they have banished to the dumps and the warehouses!”

— Jacob Riis regarding New York’s Lower East Side.

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Several cart men examined by General Barlow:

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The eventual outcome was the creation of a street cleaning board that would work with the struggling Board of Health (founded in 1805 as a response to a yellow fever outbreak).

By 1888, the piers and bulkheads were dismantled and rebuilt solely for use by ships. And river pirates (piers harbored pirate gangs with names like the Daybreak Boys, the Hook Gang and the Tub of Blood Bunch).

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Daybreak Boys/East River Pirates at Corlear’s Hook

I’m now heading across Rivington to where my great-grandma’s tenement home used to stand (now the Baruch houses) then up and over the FDR to the East River Strait.

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Why? ‘Cause another favorite hobby as an urban historian/explorer is dump digging. One might equate this to playing in the dirt which another might equate to how kids play therefore we deduce that being an urban explorer who gets to dig is like being a big kid. In conclusion, it’s fun.

Think you can handle it? Bring your shovel. One man’s trash…

Contact me at @rebelknow. Let’s play.

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