Day 246

Collect Pond Park

September 1st, 2012

The Parks Department has plans to rehydrate this little downtown plaza that lies within the historical boundaries of Collect Pond, one of the city's primary water sources for more than 150 years. As you may recall, we previously learned about the canal that was built to drain Collect Pond in the early 1800s after it had essentially become an open sewer, polluted beyond hope.

Once emptied, the pond was filled in with dirt from the surrounding hills, including Bayard's Mount, formerly the highest point in lower Manhattan. New homes were built on the site, but the landfill was not well engineered, and poor drainage caused the ground to subside, leaving the area swampy and stagnant. The wealthier residents moved away, poor immigrants flooded in, and the neighborhood became the notorious slum known as Five Points.

We happened upon the current version of the Tombs earlier today; its first incarnation was built atop the former pond in 1838 on a raft-like foundation "imbedded in quicksand". The Prison Association of New York's 1895 annual report delivered a searing condemnation of conditions at the jailhouse:

Such treatment of dogs would be gross cruelty; and when it is considered that the men so treated have not been convicted, and in many instances never are convicted of any crime, and that the prison is only intended to be a place for safe detention and not a place for punishment, no language which can be employed can be too severe in denunciation of such an infamy. The Tombs prison, as it has existed for years past, is a disgrace to the city of New York. It ought to be immediately demolished. It cannot be made decent. It is defective in every modern appliance. It is dark, damp and ill-ventilated.
A new facility, with a much more substantial foundation, was built in 1902 to take its place; remnants of that foundation were recently discovered by workers during construction here at Collect Pond Park.

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