Posts Tagged ‘Municipal Lodging House’

How New York celebrated Christmas in the 1910s

December 23, 2019

If you like to browse photos of early 20th century New York City, then you’ve seen the work of George Grantham Bain.

Bain wasn’t just a talented news photographer who started one of the first photo agencies. He was also a poetic chronicler of street life in the city, a man with a knack for creating visual narratives of how life was lived in New York—especially when it came to lives of the working men and women, the down and out, and kids.

The Christmas season was a prolific time for Bain, who captured dozens of images in the 1910s showing all the ways the holiday was celebrated in the city by the down and out, the young, and the forgotten.

The top two photos were taken outside a Salvation Army Christmas Dinner held at Grand Central Palace, an exhibition hall on 42nd Street. It was an annual event where 4,000 people, “found places at 60 long tables set on the main floor of the hall and extending practically from one side of it to the other,” wrote the New York Times in 1903.

Some people didn’t sit; they took home their holiday meal in baskets—like the woman in the center of the photo.

The third and fourth images show women and kids posing in front of a Christmas tree at what’s likely the Municipal Lodging House, the public city shelter for homeless men, women, and children at the end of 25th Street on the East Side.

We’re at one of the Newsboys’ Houses in the fifth image, above. Facilities for street kids who worked as newsies, bootblacks, flower sellers, and other jobs children often took were built in the late 19th century and funded by benevolent societies.

Some New Yorkers celebrated Christmas by peddling everything from trees to cheap toys to food, like these vendors under an elevated train.

Meanwhile, others spent the holiday delivering all the gifts picked out of toy stores and department stores. The ropes holding these boxes into the back of this delivery wagon don’t look very secure!

[All photos: Bain Collection/LOC]

Where the homeless slept in an older New York

January 20, 2014

Before the existence of city shelters, there was one place the increasing number of homeless men and women in 19th century New York could sleep at night for free: police station basements.

Homelessleavingpolicestation“In 1857, the police formalized longstanding practice and required each precinct to designate a station house for lodging ‘vagrant and disorderly persons’ overnight,” states The Encyclopedia of New York City.

“Soon notorious for the crush of disreputable humanity they housed, such ‘night refuges’ did offer stranded citizens an alternative to the almshouse.”

How big was that crush of humanity?


In 1880, after the Panic of 1873 drove up unemployment in an economically divided New York, more than 124,000 people had spent time sleeping on the “soft side of a plank” in a station house, as social reformer Jacob Riis put it in 1889’s How the Other Half Lives.

What to do about “tramps,” as anyone without a fixed address became known, was a huge concern at the time.

An 1886 Municipal Lodging House Act prompted the opening a city-run shelter for men, and the Charity Organization Society operated a “wayfarer’s lodge” on West 29th Street where the homeless could chop wood in exchange for accommodations.


Jacob Riis convinced the city to shut police station basements for good in 1896.

In his 1900 book A Ten Years’ War, Riis cheered their demise, dubbing these bare bones, reportedly disease-ridden places an “awful parody on municipal charity.”


In its place, the city housed homeless men on a barge in the East River, and then in 1909, at the Municipal Lodging House on East 25th Street and the East River.

[Top illustration: NYPL Digital Gallery; bottom photos of police basement lodgings: Jacob Riis]

How the poor fared on the city’s most wintry day

January 27, 2011

That would be February 10, 1899, according to the next day’s New York Times headline—a day when the thermometer went from six degrees below zero at 6 a.m. to a relatively balmy six degrees above by 2 p.m.

Though the Times chronicled stuck ferries, house fires begun by overheated stoves (put out by firemen like the one at left, in an 1899 NYPL illustration), and men with mustaches “festooned with icicles,” much of the piece details the suffering of the poor.

“The really tragic side of all was seen in the charitable institutions and hospitals, which were filled to overflowing with the human derelicts beaten in during the night by the elements or found dying in the streets and taken to shelter by policemen.

“The biting west wind sought out every nook and cranny in the city and drove hundreds of half-starved and homeless wanderers to the shelters and charitable institutions and police stations.

[A line of homeless, hungry men outside the 25th Street Municipal Lodging House in 1917]

“There were 344 men, women, and children cared for during Thursday night at the city lodging house on East 23rd Street. The majority of the men had no overcoats. Some had only ragged undershirts on under their coats.

“The police have had orders for several days to watch closely for intoxicated men and women, or for persons in doorways and areas. . . . almost as many women were found as men, and not all had been drinking. Some will be maimed for life by the cold.”