The Harlem Rag Market At 115th Street & First Ave. Pre: 1934


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Like some huge flower-bed, sprawled across city pavements, off One Hundred and Fifteenth Street and the East River, stretches New York's Rag Market.

All day long, hand-propelled push-carts and horse drawn wagons rattle over the asphalt, bringing rags to market. They are gathered by Jewish and Italian peddlers from old attics, wholesale houses and ash-bins. Anything and everything in the way of cloth is grist for their mill.

Great scales manipulated by women, weigh out the bundles of rags. It was sometimes difficult for us to distinguish the women from the rags. They were large, bulging old peasants that might have been so many sacks tied in the middle.

While rag-yards dot the water-front, the only point at which they assume the proportions of a market is on East One Hundred and Fifteenth Street. Here, one stable after another is given over to the business of juggling rag bundles. They bring three cents a pound. Paper mills buy them from the peddlers.

The Harlem Rag Market has been in existence since the middle nineteenth century. City Hall statistics show that there are some five thousand "I Cash Clothes" and rag men doing business on New York streets.

Down through the years they have clung to the chimes of their trade, cow-bells strung on a rope suspended from two poles attached to their carts and wagons. The metallic clank of the old bells brings a rural touch to Manhattan's busy streets.

Our way from the Rag Market led along First Avenue up to One Hundred and Sixteenth Street, before we could again reach the river. Push-carts, sheltered by red and yellow tarpaulins, replaced the Farmer's Market and the rag exchange in rapid succession.

We missed the bright yellows, reds and blues so dear to this Italian neighborhood, when we left First Avenue for Thomas Jefferson Park, a park known to every child in the neighborhood. It is their farm, here they raise in neat rows under the supervision of the city, radishes, onions, lettuce, turnips__anything you ask for in vegetables as well as their favorite flowers.

One little Italian boy led us down to show us his radish patch, another pointed out his lettuce bed. The park borders the river. It is an oasis in a district known as the "Uptown Little Italy."

Pleasant Avenue was our next path. We are now one block from the river's edge, walking along a wide, unruffled thoroughfare, once a street given over to Harlem's first families.

Two or three times we slipped down side-streets to the river's edge. But the street ends were blind, and there was no way of actually following the water, so we had to return to Pleasant Avenue.

The character of the water-front, we found, changes at One Hundredth Street and the river. Italians are responsible. In that district which extends from One Hundred and First Street and the East River to One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Street there are said to be more Italians to the square inch than in any other portion of New York City.

Harlem is a strange mixture of all nationalities, but from what we saw the Italians predominated. They live in a neighborhood of old Harlem houses that were once American homes. Today they bear no semblance of such a past. The Italians have seen to that. So successful have been their attempts at ornamentation that hanging vines, bits of statuary and plaster cornices which drape the buildings suggest an Italian village rather than a cross-section of an American metropolis.

At 415 Pleasant Avenue, is a stiff, quaint little old frame farmhouse with blinds half drawn in a manner that implies bitter resentment against the influx of Little Italy. The house belongs to Mrs. Hodges. She is an American, keeps lodgers and traces her ancestry back to Colonial days.

Mrs. Hodges's house maintained a determined silence in the Babel that rose about it, on our June-day walk. Shouts of children at play in the streets, the clack-clack of feminine Italian tongues from fire-escape to fire-escape and the lilting notes of hurdy-gurdy and street carousels, made no impression upon Mrs. Hodges and her lodgers. A world undisturbed by the seething excitement that sometimes boils over in its vicinity. Strange stories have swept past Mrs. Hodges's house. There was the famous murder stable, for instance, in which thirty-four Italians met their death in a feud in that even the police refused to interrupt.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Harlem Rag Market At 115th Street & First Ave. Pre: 1934
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Round Manhattan's rim; by Helen Worden Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1934
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