Posts Tagged ‘East Village in the 19th century’

5 houses from the East Village’s shipbuilding era

November 7, 2016

avenuedsignIf you traveled back in time to the far East Village of the mid-19th century, you would see a neighborhood sustained mainly by one industry: shipbuilding.

Along the East River, thousands of iron workers, mechanics, and dock men—many who were recent Irish and German immigrants—toiled in shipyards and iron works in what was then called the Dry Dock District, east of Avenue B.

avenuedrow

Marshlands were filled in, and row houses, shops, and churches (like the recently restored St. Brigid’s on Avenue B) went up for workers and their families.

“In sight and sound of their hammers along the water-front these master workmen and owners built themselves homes,” wrote the New-York Tribune in 1897.

avenuedrow264

One lovely row was a stretch of Greek Revival–style houses on East Seventh Street (the “Fifth Avenue of the Eleventh Ward,” as the block was called)—between Avenues C and D.

The circa-1840s row was built on “the profits of the sea,” the Tribune stated, describing them as “buildings of fine window casings and door frames and artistic mantels, yet with curious narrow halls and low ceilings . . . both within and without they show themselves to be houses of character.”

avenuedrow262

Perhaps they were occupied by high-level shipbuilders at first. But as residents of the Dry Dock District gained power and ran for office, the houses acquired a new distinction: “Political Row.”

avenuedrowtimesarticlePolitical Row “has furnished many office-holders, and there were more office-holders and patriots who are willing to serve the city and county, the State or the country at large, living on that thoroughfare now than on any similar stretch of highway in New York,” stated the Evening World in 1892.

“Electioneering goes on there from one end of the year to the other.”

The beginning of Political Row’s end came at the turn of the century, when many of the original houses went down and tenements built in their place.

Newspapers wrote descriptive eulogies, mourning a neighborhood that was “an American District” now colonized by a second wave of immigrants.

avenuedrownoveltyironworksmcny60-122-7

Two score years ago,” wrote the New York  Times in 1902, the “streets were then lined with trees covered with luxuriant foliage, and each house had its own green patch of yard.”

“Then Avenue D . . . was a thoroughfare that was made brilliant every Sunday by a promenade of all the youth and fashion of the neighborhood.”

avenuedrowangle

Today, five houses on the south side remain. Their facades have been altered; three sport pastel paint. Wonderful details over doorways and windows maintain their character and harken back to a very different East Village of another era.

avenuedrownumber264The row’s future is in danger; the owners of number 264 (right) have applied for a permit to demolish it.

The Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation is rallying to get the house landmark status, so it can’t be torn down.

Read about the GVSHP’s efforts to save the row and preserve a bit of the East Village’s history.

[Fourth image: New York Times headline, 1902; fifth image, Novelty Iron Works, East 12th Street and the East River, 1840s; MCNY 60.122.7]

The remains of two streets no longer on the map

October 6, 2014

IDrydockplaygroundsignmagine the East River from 12th Street down to Grand Street lined with great ships in various stages of construction.

That was the reality along the river from the 1820s through the end of the 19th century, when today’s far East Village was known as the Dry Dock District (a dry dock is a narrow basin where ships would be built).

Drydockstreetnypl1936Thousands of New Yorkers who made their homes along Avenues B, C, and D were employed by the neighborhood industry as dock workers, mechanics, and shipbuilders.

Today, that thriving industry is long gone. Even stubby Dry Dock Street, which survived at least into the 1930s between Avenues C and D off 10th Street, no longer exists (right).

Dry Dock lives on in name only at Dry Dock Playground on 10th Street and Avenue D.

South of the playground on the north side of East Houston Street is a handsome elementary school building that has the name “Manhattan Street” lettered on one side.

Manhattanstreetschoolsign2

Manhattan Street? Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it.

This little road closed in the 1940s when the Lillian Wald Houses were built. From at least the mid-19th century, Manhattan Street cut a short path between East Third Street to East Houston Street east of Avenue D.

Manhattanstreet1861nypl

Off the Grid, the blog for the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, recently posted a fantastic history of this forgotten pre-Civil War street.

[Second and fourth photos: NYPL Digital Gallery]

An 1880s shooting gallery on St. Mark’s Place

May 23, 2013

Stmarksshootingclub1893kingsNo, not that kind—an actual shooting gallery.

It’s a remnant of Kleindeutschland, the “Little Germany” that encompassed the East Village from the 1840s through the early 1900s.

The shooting gallery was at 12 St. Mark’s Place, east of Third Avenue. A bas relief carved into the facade gives away the building’s original purpose: it depicts an eagle, crossed guns, and a symbolic target, with the words Einigkeit Macht Stark (“unity is strength”) carved above.

This was the home of the Deutsch-Amerikanische Schuetzen Gesellschaft, or German American Shooting Society.

Built in 1888, it housed a saloon, lodge rooms, bowling alley, and a small shooting range in the basement (club members did most of the actual shooting in Queens).

Stmarksshootingclubfacade

“By the 1880s, shooting became a middle class pastime, and most halls had moved to the suburbs along with many residents of Kleindeutschland,” states a Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

Stmarksshootingclub2013“However, the German-American Shooting Society Clubhouse remained an important link to the old neighborhood despite the migration.”

“It served as a headquarters for meetings of twenty-four such groups, and was the site of fund-raisers for the construction of rifle ranges and travel to Germany for international shooting contests.”

The Shooting Society owned it until 1920, and in subsequent decades, it served as a Ukrainian Culture Center and St. Mark’s Bookshop.

Today it’s a yoga studio . . . of course!

[Top photo: King’s Handbook of New York City, 1890s]

The East Village, aka “Mackerelville”

May 18, 2010

Mackerelville—isn’t that an illustrious name? Centered at First Avenue and 11th Street, it was the mid–19th century term for today’s East Village.

And you know with a name like that—a mackerel was slang for a procurer or pimp—it had to be an awful place to live.

Second only to the legendary Five Points district in poverty, Mackerelville was a hotbed of gangs, gin mills, and other social ills, as this New York Times letter, from December 17, 1858, explains.

Other articles refer to Mackerelville’s “cholera heaps” and “uneducated denizens.” By the 1870s, it seems, the name was on the outs.

“The locality where the children will be taken from was once well known as Mackerelville, and consists of several squares of tenement buildings, all densely crowded with poor families,” reports an 1873 New York Times article about a charity boat trip.