By Robert Pigott
As a bit of greenery opposite the Criminal Court on Centre Street has replaced an unsightly municipal parking lot, the name given this new park -– Collect Pond Park -- evokes 400 years of New York City history. The soggy origins of the block containing the new park pre-date the 17th century encounter of the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam and the Native Americans who inhabited the woods, fields, streams and ponds that were pre-colonial Manhattan.
Five Points became the most notorious neighborhood in New York City. Its ramshackle, overcrowded, sinking buildings were a breeding ground for crime. But, at the westernmost edge of the Five Points neighborhood, the City erected, on the block of the current Collect Pond Park, a bulwark against this criminal underworld.Built in 1838 as The Halls of Justice to house the Court of Special Sessions and the Police Court, “The Tombs” gained greater fame as a prison. Its Egyptian Revival style gave rise to the building’s “Tombs” nickname.
In 1893, one block to the north of The Tombs, the City constructed the Criminal Courts Building, which was the principal criminal courthouse in New York County until the construction in 1939 of the current Criminal Courts Building at 100 Centre Street. A “Bridge of Sighs” over Franklin Street connected the Criminal Courts Building to The Tombs to facilitate the transportation of prisoners from their cells to the courtrooms. In 1914, the Criminal Courts Criminal Courts Building, connected to the Collect Pond Park block by the “Bridge of Sighs” Building was the site of the manslaughter trial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory owners, which resulted in their acquittal. Both the Criminal Courts Building and The Tombs were razed in 1946, with the construction of the current Criminal Courts Building directly across Centre Street.
with the current Civil Court Courthouse at 111 Centre Street one block uptown.
The finishing touches on Collect Pond Park are just about completed. The chain link fence that surrounded it for several years has come down. Although the park benches and squares of green now provide some relief to the court personnel and others who frequent the park, it is a far cry from the pristine beauty of the colonial-era Collect Pond. But it is a decided improvement over the noxious slaughterhouses, forbidding jail and asphalt parking lot that successively occupied this block.
Robert Pigott, a lawyer, adapted this article from his New York’s Legal Landmarks: A Guide to Legal Edifices, Institutions, Lore, History and Curiosities on the City’s Streets. Reprinted with permission of The Broadsheet.