Posts Tagged ‘Donovan Lane’

A squalid lane nicknamed “murderers’ alley”

December 15, 2011

If the Five Points section of Manhattan was the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhood of the mid-1800s, then perhaps Donovan’s Lane was the worst part of Five Points.

Called “Murderers’ Alley,” it was a tiny rookery a few blocks from City Hall that linked Baxter and Pearl Streets, providing an escape route for criminals as well as a resting place for drunks.

“One reporter described Donovan’s Lane as an ‘Arcardia of garbage,’ filled with ‘rambling hovels and Alpine ranges of garbage heaps,'” writes Timothy J. Gilfoyle in A Pickpocket’s Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth Century New York.

“Like other Baxter Street alleys, such as Bandit’s Roost and Bottle Alley, the thoroughfare was more accurately a small, unkempt courtyard behind the teeming, densely packed tenements.”

Inside Donovan’s Lane were opium dens—and mixed race couples, wrote Thomas N. Doutney, a temperance reformer, in his 1883 autobiography:

“Miscegenation held high carnival in Donovan’s Lane; black men and white women cursed and stunk and loafed and brawled and suffered there; the ‘basements’ in some of the old houses in the lane were so vile, that we approached their broken-down doors with our fingers to our nostrils.”

In the late 19th century, social reformers built a wall that cut off Donovan’s Lane, making it a dead end—eventually paved over and de-mapped.

[Above: Baxter Street in 1875, where Donovan’s Lane ran from]