Squatter’s Shacks, West Harlem,1933

January 3, 2014

Squatter's shacks,upper west side of Manhattan,1933A photograph of the Harlem Squatter’s shacks, near 100th Street on the West side in Harlem, NY, during the great depression around 1933.

Harlem suffered terribly with a 50 percent unemployment rate with men and woman out-of-work rate in the 1920’s. The photograph shows a man standing near his shack in a West Side, also called “shanty town.” In the background sits Grant’s Tomb and The Riverside Church hoover as a backdrop.

MyInwood reports that lifelong Inwood Upper Manhattan resident Peter Dongan, who sold newspapers after school to help support his family helps set the scene:

“I developed an acute awareness of the Great Depression in Inwood. I have vivid memories of seeing people’s possessions carried out of their homes and deposited on the curb, and usually without terrible preparation . The Sheriff would appear and say ‘you’re evicted’ and there was no time to pack. So you would have a tearful scene, with people sitting on the sidewalk amidst their belongings.”

But many from in and out of the neighborhood had no such generosity to rely on and set up clapboard shanty’s, tents or lived in derelict boats along the riverfront.

To the east, along the Harlem River sat another such community. By all accounts this floating Hooverville, functioned in a fairly civilized manner with neighbors watching each others backs.

The “West Side Improvement” proposed in 1927 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses began using W.P.A. funds and labor to build bridges, swimming pools, parks and playgrounds. In Harlem Park labor gangs set quickly to work demolishing old structures; derelict, but once beautiful mansions from a previous gilded age, and began carving out the familiar trails hikers enjoy today. Joining them in the Depression labor pool were workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal public relief program whose workers often included teenagers eager to learn a trade.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Harlem World Magazine, 2521 1/2 west 42nd street, Los Angeles, CA, 90008, https://www.harlemworldmagazine.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact
We're your source for local coverage, we count on your support. SUPPORT US!
Your support is crucial in maintaining a healthy democracy and quality journalism. With your contribution, we can continue to provide engaging news and free access to all.
accepted credit cards


  1. This squatters shack would have nothing to do with the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC enrolled unemployed young men and sent them to organized camps in National Forests, National Parks and State Parks across the nation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Articles