NEW YORK IN THE 1840's WAS A LITTLE WORLD OF its own, with a population that grew vigorously to the middle of the decade and then thrust forward by leaps and bounds with the mounting tide of refugees from Irish famine and German revolution. By 1850 over half a million inhabitants, a conglomerate of nationalities, thronged the lower part of Manhattan Island and was spilling over into Brooklyn and Jersey. Central Park was still a wilderness, peopled by squatters and overrun by goats. Ploughing and spading matches were still held in Harlem. But below those areas a great city was struggling into being.
It was a forward-looking city. Croton water was introduced in 1842, the beginning of an adequate water supply. Three years later New York's first telegraph pole was planted at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. The Astor House was eclipsed by the Irving House, opening on the fashionable (west) side of Broadway opposite Stewart's Dry Goods Palace in 1848 at a cost of $500,000, with Croton water in every room and water closets and baths plentiful throughout. City aldermen were beginning to discuss the feasibility of street railways. There was a chorus of—"That bridge to Brooklyn must be built." Some daring spirits even talked of a tunnel under the East River.
New York grew too fast to keep clean. Rain customarily spread a thin black pudding over streets where the shops were wont to occupy at least half the sidewalk with their wares. Pigs, goats, and cows roamed the streets, a cow and calf even paying a lengthy visit to Wall Street during business hours one day in 1845. Vagrant dogs were so numerous that the city authorities felt impelled to authorize St. Bartholomew's days for canines, days that customarily ended with hundreds of carcasses floating in the bay.
Little attention was paid to sanitation. Thousands of quarts of milk were produced in city dairies where the cows' feed was slops