Posts Tagged ‘Homeless Kids in 19th Century NYC’

This Gothic building near Avenue C was an “industrial school” for poor and homeless kids

September 5, 2022

In the 1880s and 1890s, the East Village of today became a magnet for lodging houses and training schools designed to help impoverished children from becoming casualties of the harsh life of New York’s streets.

The Sixth Street industrial School, 630 East Sixth Street

It was an era of great support for private social services. The Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys and Industrial School on Eighth Street and Avenue B opened in 1887. The Elizabeth Home for Girls, on 12th Street between First and Second Avenues, took in its first residents in 1892.

In 1890, the Sixth Street Industrial School (above) opened its doors just west of Avenue C, in what was then called the Dry Dock District. Like the other buildings, it’s a stunning Gothic beauty with a stepped roof, dormer windows, and resplendent red brick. Also like the others, Calvert Vaux—the co-designer of Central Park—is the architect (with a partner, George K. Radford).

CAS: Children’s Aid Society

Each facility—which taught some academic classes along with lessons in specific trades and the life skills a young person would need to eventually live independently—was overseen by the Children’s Aid Society. The CAS got its start in 1853, when a young minister named Charles Loring Brace sought to help the estimated 10,000 street children, or “street rats” as police called them, living on their own and often working dangerous jobs or forced into criminal activity to survive.

At least a dozen lodging houses and industrial schools were built by the CAS and designed by Vaux and Radford all over Manhattan, including the 14th Ward Industrial School on Mott Street and the Sullivan Street Industrial School in today’s Soho. (Both buildings still grace the cityscape.)

The Sixth Street Industrial School in 1939-1941

“Vaux sought to develop buildings that stood out from the city’s tenements, which defined poor and immigrant life in the area with generally grim living conditions,” stated an Off the Grid post from Village Preservation. “His buildings, often free-standing, displaying varied rooflines, and characterized by ornamental features that recalled Dutch architecture, attempted to evoke the feeling and image of a ‘snug country inn.’”

The CAS was a popular charitable organization in the benevolent Gilded Age city, garnering financial support from society families like the Astors. Funding for the Sixth Street Industrial School came from Mrs. William Douglas Sloane—aka Emily Vanderbilt, daughter of William Henry Vanderbilt and granddaughter of Commodore Vanderbilt.

“The Sixth Street School, under the generous support of Mrs. William D. Sloane, continues its good work among the poor of the East Side,” stated the CAS annual report from 1892. “The primary and industrial classes are most successful, and the children receive a training which is of value to them all through their life.”

Industrial schools and lodging houses for poor or homeless kids disappeared during the 20th century. The CAS still exists though, rebranded recently as Children’s Aid. And while the breathtaking building at 630 East Sixth Street is no longer a school, it continues to serve as a nonprofit called Pencer House, “an apartment building for limited-income and formerly homeless New Yorkers,” according to the organization’s website.

[Fourth image: NYC Department of Records & Information Services]