A ship captain built this 1830 Allen Street house

In the early 19th century, the city of New York was booming and expanding.

Eyeing undeveloped land on the east side of the Bowery, city officials issued a proclamation in 1803 that ordered “all the streets on the ground commonly known by the name of ‘De Lancey’s ground’ be opened as soon as possible.”

‘De Lancey’s ground’ was a 300-acre estate on today’s Lower East Side (and the namesake of Delancey Street, of course.)

The land was once owned by James De Lancey, a prominent New Yorker of French Huguenot descent who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War and subsequently had his land seized by the city.

Within a few decades of the city order, roads, building lots, and then houses went up on the former De Lancey estate. By the 1820s, the area was filling up with tidy 2- and 3-story homes.

One of these homes was the Federal-style house at 143 Allen Street, built in 1830 and a rare survivor of this early 1800s building boom.

Number 143 and five others just like it were developed by George Sutton, a ship captain who sailed between New York and Charleston along what was called the “Cotton Triangle.”

Like so many other New Yorkers, Sutton made his money off Southern cotton.

His ships would bring cotton picked by slaves on plantations to Manhattan, where it would be transferred to ships heading to England, according to a Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

“The six houses at Allen and Rivington Streets were maintained as investment properties, although Sutton seems to have preferred renting the buildings to friends and business associates—many of whom also participated in the Cotton Triangle trade,” states the LPC report.

Perhaps realizing that middle and upper class New Yorkers were now moving into fashionable neighborhoods north of Houston Street, Sutton sold the Allen Street houses by 1838.

As early as the 1840s, Number 143 was chopped into a multi-family dwelling. Over the decades the occupants reflected waves of immigration, from a Prussian family of eight in the 19th century to 15 tenants, mostly salesmen, in the early 20th century.

Number 143’s stoop was removed at some point in the 1900s—but so were the elevated train tracks that since 1879 had cast Allen Street in darkness (in the above left photo, you can just see the house’s dormers peeking out above the tracks).

A group of artists bought 143 and its surviving sister house, 141, in 1980 (the above photo shows the two homes in 1985.) Number 141 was eventually sold and demolished.

But 143 Allen Street is still with us and mostly intact—built with money made off Southern cotton and today surrounded by luxury dwellings in the new-money Lower East Side.

[Second image: Wikipedia; Third image: NYPL; Fifth Image: Landmarks Preservation Committee Report]

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18 Responses to “A ship captain built this 1830 Allen Street house”

  1. Ty Says:

    The last leg of the cotton triangle was to ship some of the goods from NY to Africa to trade for slaves who were then brought to the South to pick and clean the cotton. They called it the middle passage. The traders experimented how to pack the most people most efficiently in their ships finding that a mortality rate of 15 to 20% was acceptably profitable.

  2. Zoé Says:

    Looking at this photo it’s difficult to believe anyone ever thought the elevated trains were acceptable!

    That renovation/restoration is beautiful. I guess this is the silver lining of gentrification (?). (Despite all of us who now have to travel into our old neighbourhoods – from our new slummy conditions a mile away – just to be able to see these improvements 🙂 ).

    I’m wondering if that is a new door or original door from one of the buildings earlier incarnations (stripped of paint & varnished). With that rolling metal gate in the c.1980 b&w photo it’s impossible to know. I thought residences have required metal fire doors since the 80s. I guess that is just for inside doors (?) & buildings w/ over six tenants; as everything else is considered like a private home (?).

    Now that the iron gates at the windows & rolling gate at the door are removed – how do they keep the windows from being broken into? Or just being broken? I’m assuming they have alarms instead; but those existed before & were not enough. Has the City changed so much that nobody needs gates anymore?

    I would love it if people who restored these buildings you write about would write in.

    It’s really a shame the building adjacent to it was torn down. I wonder if it was beyond repair structurally.

    The mid century lack of love & care for the City’s oldest buildings so evident in this b&w photo made every building we passed by look like it was from the early 20th c. It seems bizarre now that we had to live like that downtown… looking back at that c.1980 photo. And – LOL – look at that car in front of the building! It matches it perfectly!

    • Zoé Says:

      That should have read ‘an hour away’ – not “a mile away”. The *predictive text* function on my new iPhone ruined my joke… I loathe it…

  3. frank dicapua Says:

    having had my humble beginnings on the lower east side of manhattan I always feel a connection with your emails thank you for this nostalgic web cite frank DiCapua


  4. jmnowak Says:

    I note on the map, it is called New York Island. When did it change to Manhattan? Also, I must comment that this style of structure evokes the thought of warehouses, not homes. But, then, that is probably what is commonly called a brownstone. I’m not a New Yorker.

    • Ty Says:

      The City of New York used to be just a part of New York County which comprised all of Manhattan Island plus some outlying islands. (Such as Ellis and Liberty).

      People would refer to Manhattan as the New York Island such as in the song “This Land is Your Land.”

      When New York City engulfed parts of two surrounding counties and all of two others in 1898 each area was called a burough. New York County is also the Burough of Manhattan. New York Island fell out of favor for Manhattan.

    • Ty Says:

      The style is called Federal which stresses visual harmony and restrained ornamentation. It’s closely associated with the birth of our nation. It can be contrasted with McMansion which is often associated with the pending death of our nation.

      • Zoé Says:

        “It can be contrasted with McMansion which is often associated with the pending death of our nation.”


        Those Hollywood film sets of ‘New York City’ & old Twilight Zone episodes & the Sesame Street set left out the Federal period buildings. That is the trouble. There were only the brownstones w/ multi-staired stoops portrayed to the rest of the world (= everyone who could not step out of their door & buy an egg cream).

    • Zoé Says:

      I think you may have meant a *townhouse* jmnowak. There are all kinds. Only some are brownstones 🌞

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    Fascinating entry. I wonder what that house would go for now, and what it’s like inside, and who lives there?

    • Zoé Says:

      Despite the sad loss of the adjacent sister house of the same age – I think the architect did a lovely job on the building that replaced it. It’s a creative take on an antique building. Like a toy antique building. I like it. It doesn’t fight w/ its neighbours like so many new buildings do. (The glammy ones taking over the former schmatte selling streets of the LES now).

  6. Ty Says:

    For a long-form read here is the NYC Landmark Preservation Committee report http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/2350.pdf.

    The sources listed at the bottom are a fascinating venture into published NYC history. Many of the sources are only available in book form. A book is a stack of paper bound on one side usually contained within paper of a thicker stock. They were commonly found in locations called “book stores.”

    An interesting note is that the mattress dealer who owned the building died on Dec 26 1963 and left the buildings (141 and 143) to the artist Amerigo Marras for $33,000 which wasn’t conveyed until 17 years later in 1980.

    141 sold for $772,000 in 1999

    • Zoé Says:

      Lol re. books Ty. (Stop being mean to our sweet young people). Bookshops are on the mend & coming back according to some recent articles (which can be read online… not sure if on paper… lol).

    • Zoé Says:

      PS Ty:

      The Beatles were a band…

      also Paul did not die

  7. Marina Says:

    The book, Mongo: Adventures in Trash, talks about these houses.

  8. elliot reisman Says:

    Delancey relocated to canada during the revolution as he was a tory and never came back.His land was seized by the NYC government and quietly sold to the aldermen in a private auction in chambers.

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