After Amsterdam’s father is killed in the battle between the Natives and the Dead Rabbits in the opening scene of Gangs of New York, the boy is hunted down and sent to”Hellgate.” The next scene shows him leaving the “Hellgate House of Reform on Blackwell’s Island” years later. I had never heard of Blackwell’s Island and was curious to find out where it was and if there was ever a “Hellgate” on it. Turns out, Blackwell’s Island was the name of the island we refer to as Roosevelt Island from 1686 until 1921. In 1921 it was renamed Welfare Island and was finally renamed Roosevelt Island, after FDR, in 1973. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_Island) Upon searching extensively, I could not find any records of a “Hellgate House of Reform” on Blackwell’s Island however I did come across records of lunatic asylums, hospitals, almshouses, workhouses and Blackwell’s Penitentiary all owned and operated by the city government.(http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/blakwel1.html) Perhaps the “Hellgate House of Reform” where Amsterdam is raised after his father is killed is a reference to a workhouse or almshouse.
Image Caption: Mid-1800′s Male Almshouse on Blackwell’s Island, NY (Present day Roosevelt Island) perhaps the inspiration for the “Hellgate House of Reform” on Blackwell’s Island featured in the film, Gangs of New York. (Image From: poorhousestory.com)