Eight streets converge at Chatham Square, which is named for the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt. The square has a long, rich, and (in some eras) notorious history, having served as an open-air market and a central point of the historic Bowery and Five Points neighborhoods. It is now part of Manhattan's Chinatown.
The area now called Chatham Square was once a forest
clearing named Warpoes (meaning Small Hill). Fenced off for cattle, it was
granted to twelve freedmen from the West India Company in 1647, and it grew into
an outdoor market trading in horses and housewares during the 18th century.
Around the time of the 1837 depression, the square became a site of working
class entertainment, and by the middle of the 19th century had become an
Old Times Square of sorts, only 10 times seedier .
Flophouses and saloons dominated the square and the neighborhood around it. At
1 Chatham Square (or 2 Mott Street), where a 1977 office building now stands,
Moses Baker (in the 19th century) based his Five Points gambling operations,
private lotteries Baker dubbed the policy business.
In 1872, former Hong Kong merchant Wo Kee opened a general
goods store on Mott Street (one of the many streets leading into Chatham
Square), establishing the beginning of Manhattan's Chinatown. Also in the 1870s,
Chatham Square Crossing was a busy exchange on the New York rapid transit
system; passengers had to transfer at the square to switch between the 2nd and
3rd Street El lines.
At 5 Chatham Square, in 1899, the first American tattoo
parlor opened after a barber named Samuel F. O'Reilly created a mechanical tattoo
needle based on Thomas Edison's electric engraving pen. In the same year, a
branch of the New York Free Circulating Library opened at Chatham Square,
replaced in 1903 by the Chatham Square Library (part of the New York Public
Library) using funds from Andrew Carnegie's 1901 gift to the city. The new
library was designed by the McKim, Mead, and White architectural firm, and had
a circulating Chinese language collection as early as 1911. The Chatham Square
Library was remodeled in 2001, but the woodwork and windows on the first floor
are original, and the lower level boasts a Chinese Heritage Collection.
Chatham Square is also the site of Kimlau Square (see http://theclio.com/web/entry?id=21600 and http://theclio.com/web/entry?id=21601)
and Chatham Square Cemetery (see http://theclio.com/web/entry?id=21597).