Mott Street

What was a New York Irish neighborhood really like in the middle of the nineteenth century?  

Mott Street looking south towards Chatham Square (2017). Today, the street occupies the same spatial relationship to the neighborhood for Chinese immigrants as it did for the nineteenth century Irish.




Close to City Hall, busy Chatham Square, and the notorious Five Points, the southern end of Mott Street presents an interesting case study of immigrant life in New York City at mid-century that both challenges and nuances popular stereotypes.  This is a section of the metropolis that Irish, German, Polish, Jewish, Italian and Chinese men and women have called home for two hundred years.

In 1865 these blocks were also part of the Sixth and Seventh Sanitary Inspection Districts. It was reported that Mott Street was “paved with cobble stone” and typically in “a very filthy condition summer and winter” because “domestic garbage … of every kind being thrown into the the streets”; and that “two-thirds of the population is composed of the lowest grade of the laboring poor.”  Nevertheless, Mott Street was one of the better sections of the Ward.  In 1864, for example, there were only 8 cases of typhus fever there compared with 57 on Mulberry Street and 40 on Baxter Street (one and two blocks to the west, respectively).[1]

Mott Street traversed both the heavily Irish 6th and 14th Wards, an important factor in understanding the wide range of economic and social diversity in the neighborhood.  Thus, any portrait of Mott Street is complicated when the neighborhood is studied at the local level. The following pages examine five blocks on lower Mott Street from horizontal and vertical perspectives, using a variety of nineteenth century primary sources that complement a database of nearly two hundred residents who had accounts with the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank in the 1850s and 1860s.    A robust economic, social and demographic portrait emerges for the entire stretch of this section of Mott Street, but among the unique stories that have been uncovered by this research are



Contributors to this Spring 2017 project are Professor Marion R. Casey, Sara Aitken, Peter Gulino, and Erin McGreevy, students in Glucksman Ireland House’s M.A. in Irish and Irish-American Studies program at New York University, and Charlotte Leszinske, a BA/MA candidate in History at New York University.

[1] William F. Thoms, “Report of the Sixth Sanitary Inspection District” in Report of the Council of Hygiene and Public Health of the Citizens’ Association of New York (NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), p. 74.

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