Reputation of the Five Points:
The reputation of the Five Points was so widespread that when the famous author Charles Dickens visited New York, the chronicler of London's underside wanted to see it for himself.
The Location Provided the Name Five Points:
In the past century the Five Points has essentially disappeared, as streets were redirected and modern office buildings were constructed on what had been a slum known around the world.
Population of the Neighborhood:
While the neighborhood was predominantly Irish in the 1850s, there were also African-Americans, Italians, and various other immigrant groups.
Shocking Conditions Prevailed in the Five Points:
It's hard to know how accurate the lurid descriptions of the neighborhood are, as the writers generally had an agenda and an obvious reason to exaggerate. But accounts of people essentially packed into small spaces and even underground burrows seem so common that they are probably true.
The Old Brewery:
The Old Brewery was torn down in the 1850s, and the site was given over to a mission whose purpose was to try to help neighborhood residents.
Famous New York Gangs Called the Five Points Home:
The notoriety of the Five Points gangs was immortalized in the classic book Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury, which was published in 1928. Asbury's book was the basis of the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York, which portrayed the Five Points (though the film was criticized for many historical inaccuracies).
Charles Dickens Visited the Five Points:
The famed author Charles Dickens had heard about the Five Points, and made a point of visiting when he came to New York City. He was accompanied by two policeman, who took him inside buildings where he saw residents drinking, dancing, and even sleeping in cramped quarters.
His lengthy and colorful description of the scene appeared in his book American Notes. Below are excerpts:
Poverty, wretchedness, and vice, are rife enough where we are going now.
This is the place: these narrow ways, diverging to the right and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth...
Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays...
So far, nearly every house is a low tavern; and on the bar-room walls, are coloured prints of Washington, and Queen Victoria of England, and the American eagle. Among the pigeon-holes that hold the bottles, are pieces of plate-glass and coloured paper, for there is, in some sort, a taste for decoration, even here...
What place is this, to which the squalid street conducts us? A kind of square of leprous houses, some of which are attainable only by crazy wooden stairs without. What lies beyond this tottering flight of steps, that creak beneath our tread? - a miserable room, lighted by one dim candle, and destitute of all comfort, save that which may be hidden in a wretched bed. Beside it, sits a man, his elbows on his knees, his forehead hidden in his hands...
Dickens went on at considerable length describing the horrors of the Five Points, concluding, "all that is loathsome, drooping, and decayed is here."