9. The Five Points Neighborhood

Five Points-Illustration-NYC Neighborhood-Erie CanalImage via Wikimedia Commons.

Local farmers were the first laborers to dig the Erie. But as the project moved to the sparsely populated western regions of the state, contractors increasingly hired Irish immigrants to heft the picks and shovels. Many of these workers came from the notorious Five Points district in lower Manhattan, just off Centre Street.

The Five Points, named for a distinctive intersection, was the most densely populated slum in the nation–perhaps in the world. Its level of unemployment, crime, disease and squalor were staggering. Canal workers earned less than a dollar a day for backbreaking labor, but many Irishmen jumped at the chance to get out of this urban hellhole.