When Upper Fifth Avenue was a shantytown

By the turn of the 20th century, rich New Yorkers had flocked to Fifth Avenue between 59th and 96th Street, making it the wealthiest stretch of the city.

But just a few decades before that, upper Fifth Avenue was a poor man’s land, as depicted in this 1868 painting of Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, by Ralph Blakelock.

“While the gentry of nineteenth-century New York built urban villas on mid-Fifth Avenue, wide open stretches of the boulevard north of 60th Street had been settled by African Americans and German and Irish immigrants,” states the description of the painting on the Museum of the City of New York’s web site.

“These residents operated truck farms and kept goats, chickens, and pigs but were powerless to hold onto their tracts in the face of such politically charged real estate developments as Central Park or, subsequently, the enormous price rises of the residential areas created at its borders.

“As late as 1905, when millionaire Andrew Carnegie erected his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street, his nearest neighbors were living in dwellings like the principal structure depicted in this view.”

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2 Responses to “When Upper Fifth Avenue was a shantytown”

  1. petey Says:

    part of this area (not far away, around 83rd and the line of 7th avenue) was known as Seneca Village, an african-american/irish settlement: http://projects.ilt.columbia.edu/seneca/start.html

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I’ve always heard varying locations for Seneca Village–thanks for the info!

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