While PJ and I were in NYC last week, we visited the Tenement Museum, a museum dedicated to telling “the stories of immigrants who lived in 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.” We both loved this museum, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting NYC.

The museum offers guided tours of apartments in this tenement building. Each apartment recreates immigrant life in the nineteenth or twentieth century by focusing on a specific family. The tours also emphasize issues of health and the history of immigration in the U.S.

We went on the fourth-floor tour, entitled “The Moores: An Irish Family in America.” Our tour guide was great. She made the tour fun while also emphasizing the serious issues that this tour wanted to convey to visitors.

The Moores moved to the Orchard Street tenement in 1869, just six years after the building was built. One of the things our tour guide emphasized was just how progressive the building was for its time, especially in promoting sanity sewer and water conditions. Unlike many other tenements at this time, 97 Orchard Street was hooked up to the city’s sewer system, which prevented its outhouses from overflowing and contaminating the water supply, which was right next to the outhouses in the back yard.

As our guide noted, this tenement was a step up for the Moores, who had previously lived in a more crowded, less sanitary neighborhood. One of the interesting things about the tour is the information we got about the neighborhood and how immigration patterns in the nineteenth century are quite similar to the neighborhood’s current pattern, the key difference being the nation of origin for the immigrants. In the nineteenth century this neighborhood was largely German; today it’s right on the edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown.

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