Hell's Kitchen ...more than a neighborhood...it's a state of mind. From the slaughterhouses and breweries of the 1800s, the draft riots of 1863, the Fighting 69th of World War I, the home of New York's most dangerous criminals from the early tenement days to Prohibition to the Westies, Hell's Kitchen rose from the blood and fire of the poor dreaming their riotous dreams and searing the urban landscape with a wild, demanding spirit. The story of Hell's Kitchen can be told in many ways, and must be told in many ways: in poetry and fiction, in art and film, biographies, histories and photographs. It's not one block, and it is. It's not one area, because the sum total is greater than what can be seen in a certain space or any lifetime.
Hell's Kitchen is the area between 34th and 59th Streets, from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. Back in the 17th Century, when the Dutch first arrived in New York, they found on what is now the midtown's west side an idyllic, pastoral area of freshwater streams and grassy meadows. They called the region Bloemendael, for "Vale of Flowers." Many decades later, in 1851, the Hudson River Railroad set up a station at the future site of 30th Street and 10th Avenue, initiating major change. Immigrants to America, mostly Irish (fleeing the Great Potato Famine) and Germans soon flooded the area and went to work in the railroad yards. With the burgeoning of industry in New York at mid-century, they were the workers in West Side breweries, factories, slaughterhouses, warehouses, brickyards and on the docks.
Although the name Hell's Kitchen refers to a rough section on the South Side of London, the term in reference to New York first appeared in print on September 22, 1881 when a New York Times reporter went to the West 30s with a police guide to get details of a multiple murder there. He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and 10th Avenue as "Hell's Kitchen," and said that the entire section was "probably the lowest and filthiest in the city." According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell's Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets. Another version ascribes the name's origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil's Kitchen, after its proprietors. But the most common version traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, "This place is hell itself," to which Fred replied, "Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen."