|Looking north from 42nd Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, around 1863
In the spring of that year, philanthropist Charles Loring Brace wrote an article for the New York Times about the wretched conditions on the hill. The founder of the Children's Aid Society, Brace was a social reformer who is considered the father of the modern foster care movement. His Times piece was written to solicit donations for his industrial schools for impoverished youths.
Below, a lightly edited transcript of the article. (The Times, established in 1851, was then known as the New-York Daily Times).
It is a droll-looking hamlet at the foot of Forty-first and Forty-second Streets near the East River. The houses are little board or mud shanties, scattered around like the wigwams of an Indian village, with most perplexing paths winding among them.
Some are of the primitive block form, with a hole in the roof for a chimney; others are arched, others with a sharp Gothic gable. Occasionally, something entirely new in architectural style will meet you in the shape of a rectangular box with diamond lattice work, which, on nearer approach, you discover to be a railroad car banked in, and made into a house. Some of the better class of cabins have gardens, others are built just on the edge of a quarry. Others are almost undermined by the digging of streets, and must soon be removed. Each house has a retinue of large dogs and goats and pigs; the dogs being usually somewhat overcome with their labors in the streets, dragging ash carts, are at home a peaceable race, only their progeny evincing a quarrelsome disposition. The goat seems always an unhappy animal unless he can somehow find himself on an inclined plane. . .
Pigs and hens are usually found making incursions into the shanties, and capturing and carrying off whatever may lie about under the bed and table. All the inhabitants of these buildings are squatters -- they have found a plot of ground and have built their log cabin on it, to remain until the rightful owner turns them away. When they move, they sell their house to some newcomer for $5 or $10. They are all Irish and German laborers: many working in the quarries nearby, and others, especially the German women, living on the sale of the rags and bones which they and their children gather all the day long through the streets of the city.
The village called Dutch Hill is almost precisely like the poorest Irish villages, and poorer than most German peasant hamlets. What a disappointment it must be for those hard-pressed emigrants who have had a very hard time this winter. The quarrymen have been out of employ for four months, the day-laborers as long, and none of them have anything saved. The women have only found little jobs, as they live too far way from the families who want work. The children have been sent out all over the city, for begging, match-selling, and ash-gathering.
These people have not benefited from the charities of our citizens. Except for the assistance by the Association for the Relief of the Poor and the coal provided by the Almshouse, there would have been horrible cases of starvation on Dutch Hill this winter.
The poor in this quarter say that they are willing to school their children, if they can only get the means to make them comfortable and decent to attend. Our plan for the continuation of the Industrial School is being perfected. A large room has been engaged over a stable on 40th Street near Third Avenue, at $150 rent. It would hold 200 or 250 children. Nearly $200 has been already pledged to the enterprise.
We hope by this school to clothe, feed and educate a large number of the children of these wretched families. The quarter seems to swarm with ragged boys and girls. If we can only have the sufficient funds supplied now, we can relieve a great deal of present poverty, and prevent future poverty. These Industrial Schools have now been fully tested. The public believes in them. We earnestly entreat all those who would aid in educating and assisting the children of the poor to lend a hand now to this infant enterprise.
[signed] C.L.B., Children's Aid Society, Clinton Hall, Astor Place