Inwood’s Dyckman Street Dump: 1914

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New York Herald, June 28, 1914.

Summer in the city.  The stifling heat, air thick with humidity and, yes, the smell of garbage roasting in the sun.  These are all components of city life we learn to live with.  But as the summer of 1914 approached the early residents of Dyckman Street found their very lives in peril as the empty lots surrounding newly constructed apartment buildings became a dumping ground for refuse collected in Manhattan and parts of the Bronx.

The situation would prove so dire that at least two children living in apartments in 109 Sherman Avenue contracted malaria from the swarms of mosquitoes that hovered around a pile of garbage so huge it almost defied imagination.

Let’s turn the dial on the time machine and visit the malodorous Dyckman Street of 1914 as described by the New York Herald:

New York Herald
June 28, 1914
LIVES IMPERILLED BY UPTOWN DUMP IGNORED BY CITY
Health Department Takes No Action on Repeated Complaints
EVERY BREEZE WAFTS POISONOUS FUMES

Wet Garbage, Mixed with Ashes, 240,000 Cubic Feet in All, Makes Plague Spot Near Broadway and Dyckman Street

Because the Board of Health of New York city apparently has paid no heed to the repeated complaints of residents in the vicinity of Broadway and Dyckman street they have appealed to the HERALD to aid them in preventing contractors employed by the Street Cleaning Department from using 40,000 square feet of land adjoining their homes as a dumping ground.  The investigator sent out by the HERALD inspected the ground yesterday and found the complaints well grounded.

The territory used as the dump extends from Freeman avenue  (sic: writer likely meant Seaman Avenue) to Post avenue to Dyckman street, has a frontage of nearly four hundred feet and is more than one hundred feet deep.  On March 24 the nearby tenants noticed for the first time that the ash carts owned by the city were driven there and the contents strewn over the lots.  At that time the bottom of the land used as a dumping ground was seven feet beneath the surface of the street level and contained a quantity of water left there by storms.  Today the bottom of this land is approximately one foot beneath the street level, almost the same quantity of water is visible and the odor from the filth and rubbish dumped there is sickening.

Dailey & Ivins postcard

Three months ago Dailey & Ivins, contractors, of No. 21 Park row, obtained permission from the Health Department to use those lots as a dumping ground, they having a contract with the city to dispose of all the “ashes and sweepings” collected in the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx.  Since that time more than a hundred refuse wagons have daily dumped there ashes and rubbish of every description, of which more than two percent was wet garbage.  During that time 240,000 cubic feet has been dumped and left to decompose.

Proceedings of the Municipal Engineers of the City of New York, 1915.

Each breeze picks up the nauseating odor and wafts it into the ten six-story apartment houses recently erected on the adjoining property.  After a storm the water absorbed by the paper and rubbish serves to hasten the decay and the stench becomes almost unbearable.  It is also a breeding place for flies and mosquitoes.  At No. 109 Sherman avenue, which borders on the dump, the windows must be kept closed when the wind blows from the east, north or south because of the odor.  Despite screens flies and mosquitoes fill all the houses and make sleep well nigh impossible.

109 Sherman Avenue, Summer of 2012.

Estelle Ellenburg, three years old, daughter of Mrs. William Ellenburg, of No. 109 Sherman avenue, is under the care of a physician, who declares she is suffering from a severe attack of malaria as a result of the adjoining dump.  Susan Pew, four years old, daughter of Marland E. Pew, another tenant of the same house, also has malaria.

Dr. T. Marsh Soper, of No. 110 West Thirty-fourth street, who has attended several persons in the district, said: —

“It is an outrage, I have complained to the Health Department and the Street Cleaning Department myself that conditions imperil life and health, but have been unable to make them take any cognizance.

Dr. Hazen Emerson, Deputy Commissioner of the Health Department, refused to discuss the matter, except to say that everything was being done to minimize the danger of contamination.  He admitted receiving many complaints.  When asked what really had been done he replied:–

“I have no time to discuss trivial matters with you.  I must attend a committee meeting immediately.”

Inwood dump complaint, The Sun and New York Herald, April 29, 1920.
Inwood dump complaint, The Sun and New York Herald, April 29, 1920.
Lost Inwood Amazon link

6 COMMENTS

  1. Having lived in the area for many years I do not regognize Freeman avenue.could it be Seaman avenue .Very nice web site thanks alot

  2. This is an interesting post to me. Cole, do you remember that photo that you have shown at “Lost Inwood night” which is a shot showing the area just in front of the Isham Gardens buildings about where Indian Road and 214th meet? This would be before they had constructed the “585 West 214th St” building. I was aware of it because Bernie and I used to live in that building. In this early shot I’m referring to, there is a scandalous “dump” covering most the area in this spot and spilling down the hill. I think it was in your “Then and Now” slide show at one point. I was always shocked and amazed to see this “dump” in that location. From this post, it seems to me that this was a fairly common practice in the “good old days”. If there was an empty space, various people would just dump their garbage, including agencies who have received permission from the Dept. of Health, as noted above.
    Just interested because the photo I mentioned of the Indian Road, 214th and 215th Streets area has always intrigued and shocked me.

  3. So what do you think? Similar phenomenon as to that being discussed in this article?
    BTW, I looked at all my old maps (not that I have that exhaustive a collection) but some from the late 19th and early 20th century. Also, consulted the booklet that Don gave out about the streets in Inwood. It looks to be a publication of Reginald Pelham Bolton in 1914. No mention of Freeman Ave. I saw a number of streets mentioned that have changed, Prescott, Emerson, Hawthorne etc. but no mention of Freeman. Do you think that the newspaper made an error? Just curious.

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