In 1864 The New York Times estimated that 20,000 squatters lived in Manhattan. Patches of the island north of 57th Street were covered in wooden shacks, built largely by German and Irish immigrants unable to find affordable housing downtown. As the city grew northward, squatters experienced a cycle of eviction and resettlement, moving from the site of Central Park to the east side, then the west side and the north end of the island.
The photograph documents a shantytown in East Harlem in 1894. The squatters have built one- to two-room shacks made of unfinished boards or other simple materials in an undeveloped area. Not all squatters were illegal occupants, as speculators often rented out their property while they waited for its value to increase. The squatters raised livestock, poultry, swine, and goats, and kept small patches for vegetables that they sold at market. Many also earned a living by building and paving roads for the city, the very streets that threatened their livelihood. AR