The past lives of a modest 1809 house in Tribeca

Houses have stories. And the Dutch-style unassuming home at the corner of White Street and West Broadway can tell some fascinating tales.

The story of 2 White Street (or 234 West Broadway) begins in 1809, when a New Yorker named Gideon Tucker built this home, most likely the last in a row that stretched down White Street.

Tucker ran a successful plaster factory. He was also assistant alderman of the Fifth Ward and a school commissioner, according to a Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 1966.

Tucker’s house certainly wasn’t showy. But a man of his stature would build a place with some flair.

“Number Two White Street is one of those very rare brick and wood houses in New York which still retain its gambrel roof and original dormer windows,” explains the LPC report.

“Although it was completed in 1809, this house is eighteenth century in its feeling and style,” states The Landmarks of New York.

Almost no homes from the 18th century survive in the city of today, thanks in part to fires—like the great fire of 1835.

Two White Street can give us a good idea of where and how New Yorkers lived in the decades following the Revolutionary War.

How long Tucker and his family resided there is unclear, or if it remained a one-family home. But by 1842, there was a different occupant: Reverend Theodore S. Wright.

Wright was born a free African-American in 1797. He was educated at the city’s African Free School, a one-room schoolhouse for the children of free and enslaved black New Yorkers. (Slavery wouldn’t officially end in the state until 1827.)

Wright became the first black man to earn a degree at Princeton Theological Seminary, then helped lead the rising abolitionist movement in the antebellum city.

As a minister at the First Colored Presbyterian Church on Frankfort Street, he spoke out against the evils of slavery and founded abolitionist organizations, including the New York Vigilance Committee—which aimed to prevent black residents from being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.

“In the 1840s, the Reverend Wright may have written speeches denouncing white prejudice by the light from the gabled windows of this very house,” states the New-York Historical Society.

Wright did more than write speeches; he may have used 2 White Street as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The house wouldn’t have been far from the Lispenard Street home of abolitionist David Ruggles, an Underground Railroad stop that over two decades sheltered about 600 runaway slaves, including Frederick Douglass.

Wright died in 1847. Photos from the early 20th century show that the ground-floor retail space hosted a cigar shop, a barber shop, and at some point a liquor store.

Today it’s a J. Crew selling menswear, but the windows are still etched with the words “cordials” and “cognacs.” No trace of Tucker or Wright remain.

[Second photo: MCNY/33.173.221; third and sixth photos: NYPL]

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9 Responses to “The past lives of a modest 1809 house in Tribeca”

  1. Adam Cummings Says:

    I know you cannot at the moment get BBC I-player in the US but it may turn up on another channel. This 4 part series about a house in Liverpool would I am sure fascinate you – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09l64y9

  2. Lady G. Says:

    It’s a gorgeous building. I find it a shame that there’s no memorial or history somewhere in or around the building about the two original occupants.

    • Zoé Says:

      There really should be Lady G. Especially given the abolitionist history.
      Perhaps there’s one of those small discreet bronze plaques.

  3. Zoé Says:

    This house is a gem.

    This must be one of only several of the oldest in Manhattan. (I know that doesn’t really make sense; since ‘oldest’ is a fluid statement. But I mean 18th c. or Federal…).

    What interests me – aside from its beauty & charm & history – is the small window panes only in the later photo. The earliest one seems to have shutters which are closed; so perhaps the panes are hidden. But in the other older photo it looks like there are only single large panes. I thought those only came into use in the 20th c. (Like in LES tenements).

    Ephemeral do you know if there is one of those small bronze plaques on the building?

  4. billbgreen Says:

    I remember when it was a bar called “liquor store “

  5. THE 210 YEAR HISTORY OF A TRIBECA HOUSE - TRIBECAN Says:

    […] READ THIS BRIEF, BUT FASCINATING, HISTORY OF THE CENTURIES-OLD HOUSE AT 2 WHITE STREET IN TRIBECA. (read more, ephemeralnewyork) […]

  6. Doxie Says:

    I remember the actual liquor store, then when that closed, a bar with live jazz called the Liquour Store.

  7. David H Lippman Says:

    I bet the rent on that place today is astronomical….

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