The Viele Map

Created by Egbert L. Viele in 1865, the Sanitary and Topographical Map of the City and Island of New York (aka the Viele map), shows the pre-grid, natural state of the island, including some 500 hills, 88 miles of streams, 21 ponds and 300 springs.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How "Hell's Kitchen" Got its Name (I think)

No neighborhood's name wallows in more obscurity than "Hell's Kitchen." A veritable Thunderdome of the late 1800s, the mostly Irish and German community was notorious for assaulting unwelcome intruders by raining down a storm of bricks, rocks, and paving stones from tenement rooftops with legendary accuracy. It was Gopher territory, a gang known for lurking in cellar stairwells.  It's said that no other gang stepped foot in Gopher territory without permission. 

Most discussions around the origin of the name center on whether "Hell's Kitchen" was first applied to a tenement, a  rookery, a street, or a gang. But why "Hell's Kitchen" at all? When you read the history carefully, and put everything in place--literally--a rather gruesome but hard to ignore fact stares you in the face. I relied heavily on Richard O'Connor's Hell's Kitchen: The Riotous Days of New York's West Side for this entry.

The narrowest, and possibly earliest, description of the neighborhood's boundaries were suggested by Theodore Dreiser in The Color of a Great City. Dreiser writes that when he first arrived in New York City in 1894 "it was a whim of the New York newspapers to dub that region on the West Side which lies between thirty-sixth and forty-first streets and Ninth Avenue and the Hudson River as Hell's Kitchen."   Indeed, this was the dark heart of the greater area that would eventually adopt the name.

Within this area were the most infamous tenements and rookeries (single family homes, often dilapidated wooden shanties, converted to multi-family dwellings). It was an area of destitution infused with whiskey and prostitution; living quarters had names like Battle Row, The Barracks, Sebastopol, and the House of Blazes where, for fun, residents would invite strangers in to drink and then douse them with flammable liquids and set them aflame. During the Draft Riots of 1863, 8th Avenue between 39th and 41st Streets, one block east of Dreiser's description but his exact same north-south boundaries, was blockaded by rioting residents. Within these few blocks were sparked the race riots of 1899 and 1900, a major impetus for the African American move uptown to Harlem.

And, near the northeast corner of 39th Street and 10th Avenue was the eponymous rookery dubbed "Hell's Kitchen."

Here is a picture of the Sebastopol tenement at 40th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.  It was around the corner from the Hell's Kitchen rookery, but across the street from the House of Blazes (that may be its shadow in the street). The picture is said to be circa 1890. Notice the shanties (aka rookeries) nestled in the rock outcropping.
 

The Viele map below (1865, but depicting an earlier terrain), shows the confluence of a number of rivers draining into the Hudson around 42nd Street. Before the grid, 42nd Street was a crosstown road used as a cattle drive to move livestock to slaughterhouses where the UN is today, directly across the island.  The orange section is landfill and the road farthest to the left is 11th Avenue (not 12th).

KEY:
Double red line: The blockaded section of 8th Avenue during the Draft Riots of 1863.
X:  July 20, 1899 incident that sparked a race riot along 10th Avenue.
Y:  August 12, 1900 slaying that sparked a much worse race riot.
(Expect a future post on the African American community's experience and how and why they came to Harlem).



To give you an idea of this area today, here is the same map showing the Port Authority and the Lincoln Tunnel. The Lincoln Tunnel is not a monolithic structure like the P.A., but a complicated network of ramps that go over and under the streets. Relatively few tenements survived its construction. The Jacob Javits Center is located where the the "Lincoln Tunnel" label is positioned. 


So why "Hell's Kitchen?"

First, the theories with the least traction.

1. Hell's Kitchen was named for a tenement on West 54th Street.

Well, there seems to be no further information than just that; and West 54th Street is an outlier, nearly a mile from the center of the original Hell's Kitchen area.

2. Hell's Kitchen was adopted from a similarly violent and depraved quarter of London.

Okay, maybe.

3. Hell's Kitchen is a corruption of Heil's Kitchen, a German lady who ran a restaurant near the docks.

OK, but let's see if there's a more cogent explanation that doesn't require mispronouncing someone's name.

4. The name was bestowed on the area by residents of New Jersey who, seeing the the smoke rising from the vendors' cooking on the waterfront, in combination with the sweltering heat, thought it an appropriate appellation.

Possible, but weak. More likely they thought they came up with the name.

The most oft repeated theory says that it originated the night that Dutch Fred, a veteran police office, was on patrol with a rookie cop on West 39th street near 10th Avenue (suspiciously close to the rookery of the same name). The two cops were witnessing a small riot and purportedly the rookie said to Dutch Fred, "This place is Hell itself,"  to which the veteran cop replied, "Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen, no less."

Heat as a metaphor for violence.  Not unreasonable. There's no record of when the two officers had their conversation, which probably happened as it would explain the long legs of the story. But did Fred Dutch really coin the term on the spot? Could it be that the veteran cop, provided with the right segue, introduced the rookie cop to a name already in circulation?  Could it then have taken on a life of its own, spreading outside the area with a different meaning than the residents understood it to mean? Let's suppose, regardless of whether Fred Dutch coined the term or not, it means what he implied, a place "hotter than hot."

Kenneth Jackson's indomitable Encyclopedia of New York City (1st ed.) states, "The name Hell's Kitchen was perhaps taken from that of a gang that formed in the area in 1868, or adopted by local police in the 1870s." Fine, but it doesn't add anything to what we already know, a place "hotter than hot."

The Blue Guide (2nd ed.) states the same thing, just a bit differently. "An urban legend, probably apocryphal, suggests that two policemen watching a street fight on a muggy summer night gave the district its name. Said one, 'This neighborhood is hot as hell.' 'Hell is cool,' corrected the other. 'This here's Hell's Kitchen.'"

It was, though, when a New York Times reporter went to the scene of a murder that "Hell's Kitchen" first appeared in print as it referred to this part of town.  In reading the September 22, 1881 piece, it is evident the reporter did not coin the term.

Hell's Kitchen--a most appropriate name--is situated on west thirty-ninth-street between ninth and tenth avenues, on the north side of the street. It is built on a rock which serves as a portion of the floor and side wall in some of the apartments. Vice in its most repulsive form thrives here, despite the efforts of the police to root out the hordes of vagrants, petty thieves, and utterly depraved prostitutes who make the locality their headquarters. Mrs. Livingstone, whose husband is now serving a term in Sing Sing, met the visitors [the reporter and his officer chaperon] to this particular den of infamy. Filthy beyond description, with bleared eyes, bloated face, had a breath that rivaled the odors of the soap factory, Mrs. Livingstone poured forth a volley of blasphemous and obscene epithets....

Soap factory; in essence, a fat rendering plant. Earlier in the piece the author says that The Barracks (around the corner) were "in the midst of a collection of soap factories and fat-boiling establishments, the sickening odor from which is enough to create nausea in the strongest and the healthiest...the entire building was permeated with the nauseating odor from the neighboring soap factories."

When the Hudson River Railroad was laid down some 30 years earlier along 11th avenue in 1851, industries followed: lumberyards, gas companies and slaughterhouses. Slaughterhouses.  O'Connor references Fitz-James O'Brien's apt, rather gruesome, description of the area.
This tract of land is perhaps the most melancholy and mysterious spot in the whole city. The different streets that cross the island pull up, as it were, suddenly on reaching this dreary place, seemingly afraid to trust themselves any further. The buildings that approach nearest to its confines are long, low ranges of fetid slaughter-houses, where on Sundays bloated butcher-boys lounge against the walls; and on week-days one hears through the closed doors the muffled blow, the heavy fall of the oxen within; the groan, and the hard-drawn breath; and then a red, sluggish stream trickles out from under the doorway and flows into the gutter, where hungry dogs wait impatiently to lap it up. The murderous atmosphere, these smells of blood, seem appropriate enough as one approaches this desolate locality.
Of a health inspector's report of the area, O'Connor writes, "He spotted forty-six slaughter-houses, which drained blood and offal into the gutters instead of sewers. Children by the droves splashed in these same gutters."

And, while the soap factories and fat-boiling plants were closest to The Barracks on 38th street, O'Connor says, "By 1859, West Thirty-ninth Street was known as Abattoir Place, and the bawling of cattle being herded to the bludgeons and knives of the butchers, not to mention the special aroma of the stockyards, filled the once sweet and quiet air of Bloomingdale."

Now, look at Abattoir Place with its dozens of slaughterhouses, and its proximity to the rookery dubbed "Hell's Kitchen" (I labeled it "tenement" by mistake). 


At the  doorstep of the denizens of a rookery called "Hell's Kitchen" was literally a block-long kitchen from Hell, where the sights of butchers in bloody aprons, blood running in the gutters, and the sounds of death permeated the residents' every sense.  What sits right is that the reason no one can pin down the original source of the name is that it was such an obvious depiction of the place that it went, to use a word, viral, among the residents of the immediate area.  Perhaps it was left to Dutch Fred and his partner to spread the name beyond the original borders.

Here is the area today:


Just to be completely thorough, in 1835 Davy Crockett, commenting on the gangs of Five Points (today's boundary between Chinatown and the court district), said, "In my country, when you meet an Irishman, you find a first rate gentleman; but these are worse than savages; they are too mean to swab hell's kitchen."  He was, however, neither referring to the place that is today's Hell's Kitchen, nor bestowing a name on any place.

And finally, just to add to the confusion, I found a reference to Hell's Kitchen in a Letter to the Editor of The New York Times that predates the 1881 article.  Abattoir Place had been in existence for 18 years on 39th Street prior to this citizen's complaint, miles across town, in 1877. (Mostly I'm including this because it is a bit entertaining, and a long time ago...)

Hell's Kitchen
To the Editor of The New York Times:
On ninetieth-street, between Lexington-avenue and Fourth-avenue [today's Park Ave.] are a row of tenement houses and a disreputable whisky [sic] den known as Hell's Kitchen. Undisturbed by the police, the frequenters of this den and the inmates of these houses indulge in almost nightly fights, sometimes in the streets, sometimes within doors, and often in both places at the same time. The noise occasioned by these brawls can be heard, generally, two blocks off, and the blasphemy and vulgarity of these brawlers, both male and female, is shocking in the extreme. On the evening of Thursday, the 26th inst., [sic] the disturbance in and around Hell's Kitchen commenced at 11 o'clock, and lasted until 1 o'clock, when it was stopped, not by the police, but by the weariness of those who took part in it. During this time invalids, aged people, and young children were deprived of sleep, while those who should have protected the peace were--well, no one within the vicinity of the disgraceful row knew where they were. The fact is that these frequent disturbances have become an unbearable nuisance, and, if the police captain of the precinct ornamented with Hell's Kitchen is unable to keep it in order, is it not about time that the Police Commissioners said something to the captain?
CITIZEN
New-York, Friday, July 27, 1877.
 

Just one more strand in the Gordian's Knot of a hunt for the origin of a name.

Sorry for such a gruesome post so near Thanksgiving. Here are some pictures of the area today to take your mind off it...

North side of 39th Street, looking toward 10th Avenue. Part of the Lincoln Tunnel complex of ramps. Somewhere around the yellow wall was where the Hell's Kitchen rookery was located.

Abattoir Place today, further west on the same street, 39th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues.  At the end of the block in the middle are the ventilation shafts for the Lincoln Tunnel.


Approximate site of the Battle Row tenements, just east of the Hell's Kitchen rookery.  It looks like a gallery but it's actually a clothes store...



Approximate site of the Sebasopol tenement.  This building is 405 West 40th Street, and is not the old tenement building. 


The day I went was the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market...






Today's Port Authority looks like a modern day Thunderdome on the cusp of the old...
 








Finally, to show how in the midst of a place with such a dark and nefarious past the greatest good can come, here is the Metro Baptist Church, across from the old Sebastopol and next to the House of Blazes.

This is where Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter stayed in 1985 during the launch Habitat for Humanity.  They spent a week here, and the Secret Service slept on the bottom bunk in the men's dormintory.  It's so incredible because here was where a president changed everything for what could/should be expected of  future former presidents. And the Carters chose housing as their example.  Happy Thanksgiving!



50 comments:

  1. Wonderful stuff here. Thanks so much

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow. I came, I read, I will revisit again soon. Congrats on the photos, too, Rob.
    Paula

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very informative. Thanks for this!-Zoe'

    ReplyDelete
  4. God Bless, the "KITCHEN", great Blog- newyorkcitybartender
    Barry- Rumours Bar 55th 8th ave. Love it

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great Blog Robert, I've always wondered how Hells Kitchen got his name, particularly since I live there.

    ReplyDelete
  6. spent 7 yrs living around... 21st & 7th.
    miss it like hell!

    (Caio - Sao Paulo - SP - Brasil

    ReplyDelete
  7. just amazing although i'm not sure you answered the question, likely because no one really knows the answer! excellent work, thanks! - jack

    ReplyDelete
  8. Bravo, Robert!
    I moved to NYC this year as an international transfer student and I am living on 315 west 33 street now.
    I have to write an essay about my neighborhood.
    At the beggining I thought to describe architecture of Penn station, Madison Square Garden and Post office. But after I read your article, I want to completely change theme of my work.
    It was so interesting to read your article!
    Thank you for your research!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, having been in that neighborhood in the mid 70's and heard many stories, I am amasazed that someone would put together the pictures, stories, etc. of this little known region. Bravo! Get job! Did you know Alicia Keys grew up there? That is long after the riots and anyone without means could live there. Now it is NYC bigtime :(

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Simply wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness in your post is
    simply nice and i can assume you're an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

    my web site online scratch cards ?5 free

    ReplyDelete
  12. I know this if off topic but I'm looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is needed to get setup? I'm assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I'm not very internet smart so I'm not 100%
    positive. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks

    My blog post - Www.Youtube.Com

    ReplyDelete
  13. A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.

    There's no doubt that that you need to publish more on this subject, it may not be a taboo subject but usually folks don't
    speak about these topics. To the next! All the best!!

    Here is my homepage; World Of Tanks Hack

    ReplyDelete
  14. Unquestionably consider that that you said. Your favorite reason seemed to
    be at the internet the simplest factor to have in mind of.
    I say to you, I certainly get irked while other folks
    think about concerns that they just don't realize about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the highest and defined out the entire thing without having side-effects , other folks can take a signal. Will probably be again to get more. Thanks

    Also visit my web-site - Eco Sanctuary

    ReplyDelete
  15. Highly descriptive blog, I loved that bit. Will there be
    a part 2?

    Also visit my web page ... Unknown

    ReplyDelete
  16. you are really a good webmaster. The website loading pace is incredible.
    It kind of feels that you're doing any distinctive trick. Moreover, The contents are masterwork. you have done a excellent activity in this topic!

    Stop by my blog ... The Interlace

    ReplyDelete
  17. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I don't know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!

    my blog ... Pirater un compte facebook

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hello would you mind letting me know which hosting company you're utilizing? I've loaded your blog in 3
    different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads
    a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider at a reasonable price?
    Cheers, I appreciate it!

    Take a look at my page ... summer internship

    ReplyDelete
  19. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I've joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post. Also, I've shared your site in my social networks!


    Here is my webpage - candy crush saga hack

    ReplyDelete
  20. Greate article. Keep posting such kind of info on your site.
    Im really impressed by it.
    Hello there, You've done a fantastic job. I will definitely digg it and for my part recommend to my friends. I'm sure they'll be benefited from this website.

    Feel free to visit my web blog; Gafas De Sol Oakley

    ReplyDelete
  21. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about,
    why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog
    when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?


    my web site summer internship

    ReplyDelete
  22. I every time spent my half an hour to read this website's content every day along with a cup of coffee.

    Look into my web-site; Psn Code Generator

    ReplyDelete
  23. We're a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

    Feel free to visit my webpage; League of Legends hack

    ReplyDelete
  24. Excellent article. Keep posting such kind of information
    on your site. Im really impressed by your blog.
    Hello there, You've done a great job. I will certainly digg it and in my view recommend to my friends. I'm sure
    they'll be benefited from this website.

    Feel free to surf to my web-site :: Dragon City Cheat Engine

    ReplyDelete
  25. I like the helpful information you supply for your articles.
    I will bookmark your weblog and test again right here frequently.
    I am fairly sure I will be told many new stuff proper here!
    Best of luck for the next!

    My web page; Read This

    ReplyDelete
  26. Nice weblog right here! Additionally your web site
    so much up fast! What web host are you using? Can I am getting your affiliate link for your host?
    I desire my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

    my web site: generateur de code psn

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it
    was extremely long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog.

    I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I'm still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for novice blog writers? I'd
    genuinely appreciate it.

    Visit my web site; Psn Code Generator

    ReplyDelete
  28. Good information. Lucky me I recently found your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have saved as a favorite for later!

    Here is my page; Sac A Main Louis Vuitton :: www.beyonddelay.com ::

    ReplyDelete
  29. hi!,I really like your writing so so much!
    proportion we keep in touch more approximately your article on
    AOL? I require a specialist in this area to resolve my problem.
    May be that's you! Having a look ahead to look you.

    Have a look at my website - Discover More Here

    ReplyDelete
  30. My family members all the time say that I am wasting my time here
    at net, except I know I am getting know-how daily by reading
    such good posts.

    Here is my blog: Read Full Article

    ReplyDelete
  31. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it
    seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You clearly know what youre talking about, why waste your
    intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?


    Also visit my webpage - Cheap Jerseys

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hi this is somewhat of off topic but I was wanting to know
    if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

    Also visit my webpage: Chaussures Foot

    ReplyDelete
  33. Howdy, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i
    was just curious if you get a lot of spam remarks?
    If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or anything
    you can advise? I get so much lately it's driving me crazy so any support is very much appreciated.

    Here is my web blog :: Nike Trainers (whatsot.com)

    ReplyDelete
  34. I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so
    people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two
    pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

    my web blog ... Boutique Air Jordan

    ReplyDelete
  35. Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Safari, it looks fine but when
    opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.

    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, wonderful blog!

    Look at my page :: Air Max Sale

    ReplyDelete
  36. Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss and would
    love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers
    would appreciate your work. If you're even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

    my homepage :: Nike Blazers Women

    ReplyDelete
  37. If you are going for best contents like I do, only pay a visit this web site all the
    time as it presents feature contents, thanks

    Also visit my webpage :: Minecraft Crack

    ReplyDelete
  38. You can definitely see your enthusiasm within the article you write.
    The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they
    believe. All the time follow your heart.

    Feel free to visit my site :: This Site

    ReplyDelete
  39. This is the best collection of information on Hell's Kitchen that I have been able to find so far. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  40. This article is very good & informative.I have gain so much information from this blog.All the tips are very useful for me.I like your blog.Thanks for the post.I am waiting for your new post.

    ReplyDelete

  41. Stainless Steel hoods,restaurant hoods,commercial kitchen ventilation NJ exhaust fans & blowers, fire suppression systems, air cleaners, grease ductwork in NY, NJ & PA

    ReplyDelete
  42. My family has lived in Hell's Kitchen for over 200 years...I am 4th gen of this neighborhood...was a great neighborhood but now yuppie scum walk these streets...So glad I am the last gen!

    ReplyDelete
  43. Kitchen hood system is a must for any commercial setup like hotel, restaurant, small food shops, cafeterias etc. These systems are designedCommercial kitchen ventilation NY in such a manner that they capture and emit gases, grease, heat, steam and smoke out of the closed room into the atmosphere. The design and installation of the ventilation system must be done according to the standards set by the authorities.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Such a amazing post sharing the pictures of different design of the kitchens. A kitchen design can incorporate high-quality materials, proper placement of key features and expert advice. An experienced service provider can facilitate your remodel. Thanks for sharing it..

    ReplyDelete
  45. I simply wanted to appreciate you yet again. I am not sure what I would have used without the type of information shared by you directly on such a subject. This was a very alarming setting in my view, however , spending time with a skilled mode you handled that made me to cry for fulfillment. I am just happy for this information and thus hope you are aware of a great job you are doing teaching most people using a blog. I know that you’ve never got to know all of us.
    Kitchen remodel Manhattan NYC

    ReplyDelete
  46. I am really shocked by the info of this website and i am glad i experienced a seem over the weblog. thank you so a lot for sharing this sort of wonderful data.
    Kitchen remodel Manhattan NYC

    ReplyDelete