Posts Tagged ‘New York in the 1820s’

The missing 1824 row house on Spring Street

December 23, 2019

Toward the western end of Spring Street, between Thompson and Sullivan Streets in Soho, stand two humble red-brick row houses.

Like many of the Federal-style homes that sprang up in the early 19th century, as the rapidly growing city burst beyond Canal Street, the two houses at 188 and 190 Spring Street have been altered considerably over the years.

The dormers sticking out of the peaked roofs were combined, lintels removed and replaced, and new first-floor windows added, according to the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District Designation Report from 2016.

Still, their resemblance is easy to see; they look like twin refugees of low-rise 1820s New York, when the opening of the Erie Canal turned New York into the financial and manufacturing capital of the nation.

But there was at least one more house just like them next door at 186 Spring Street, and it looks like it was literally ripped at the seams from its companions.

According to one 1857 street map, 186, 188, and 190 Spring were a trio of similar-size houses smaller than their neighbors yet reflecting the uniformity of a formerly tidy residential block.

Today, only the outline of the third house in a row of triplets is eerily visible.

So what happened to 186 Spring? The house, also altered over the years (at right in 1940), met the wrecking ball in 2012.

Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz was the owner; he sold it for $5.5 million to a buyer who promptly knocked the house down after the Landmarks Preservation Commission deemed it ineligible for landmarking, according to a 2013 post on Curbed.

(Why was it ineligible? Too many of its historic features had been wiped away, reported David W. Dunlap in a 2012 New York Times article.)

The developer apparently planned to also demolish 182-184 Spring (the 2-story building constructed in 1921 on the corner of Thompson that’s now boarded up and empty) and put up condos, to the dismay of preservation groups like the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

It’s been several years since demolition occurred and the condo project was announced, and legal problems reportedly have stalled development. The lot where 186 Spring Street once stood is empty and behind boards.

The impression of the house, including what look like two chimneys, rises above the boards and refuses to let passersby forget that it was once there.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: New York City Department of Records and Information Services Tax Photos 1940]

The view in the 1820s from a Canal Street home

April 29, 2019

I’ve always been curious about the three-story building just north of Canal Street at 423 Broadway. In the front, it resembles a late 1800s tenement walkup, thanks in part to the flat facade and cornice.

From the side and behind, it has the pitched roof and dormer windows of a Federal home, a popular design style for prosperous New Yorkers in the early 19th century. (Above and at right, in plans presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission)

(Completing the time travel feel is the 1980s-esque graffiti, but that’s a topic for another post.)

A little research helps fill in the blanks about this unusual survivor.

Number 423 was a product of the Federal era, built by a shipmaster named Benjamin Lord in 1822, according to Broadway: A History of New York City in 13 Miles.

In the ensuing years, as the city crept northward, the home was apparently altered and transformed to include a ground-floor commercial space (Below, in 1891).

Yet it stayed under the radar, a quiet underdog witnessing the transformation of the city.

In the 1880s, after Lord’s death, the home earned a mention in a court case related to his will; the house was then valued at $60,000.

And most recently, architectural plans presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2017 threaten to redevelop 423 Broadway and knock down the corner building adjacent to it.

But let’s go back to the 19th century. What was Broadway at Canal Street like in the 1810s, when Lord may have begun his hunt for a place to build his house, and in the 1820s, once it was completed?

It certainly wasn’t the bustling urban corner it is today.

Broadway was in place, but Canal Street was an actual canal—built to help drain polluted Collect Pond near today’s City Hall.

This view of a tavern at Canal and Broadway dates to 1812.

Lord’s house at 423 Broadway “would have offered a view of the small bridge that carried Broadway over the canal that preceded nearby Canal Street,” wrote David W. Dunlap in the New York Times in 2003.

[Second photo: Landmarks Preservation Committee Report; Fourth photo: 1891, NYPL; fifth image: MCNY 48.125.1]

Stand here and feel the ghosts of Bowery Village

October 9, 2017

Stand at Cooper Square looking toward St. Marks Place: this honky-tonk corner in today’s East Village was once the center of a 19th century outpost known as Bowery Village.

Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, Bowery Village sprang up around Petrus Stuyvesant’s estate. (Petrus Stuyvesant was a great-grandson of Peter, the director-general of New Amsterdam in the 17th century.)

It’s hard to imagine the concrete and brick East Village of today as a struggling farming community. The illustration above gives an idea, though it depicts Union Square, where the Bowery (now Fourth Avenue) and Broadway meet.

In the late 1790s, this area was part of a “rugged belt of land, with here and there a garden and a solitary house, to diversify the bareness of the stunted pasture lots with their dilapidated fences,” states an 1864 history of the Bowery Village Methodist Church. This church was a centerpiece of the community and was located at Seventh Street between Second and Third Avenues.

Early on, Bowery Village “consisted chiefly of a long unpaved street of struggling houses . . . dreaming little, as  yet, of the Russ pavement and car track,” the church historical document recalled.

After Stuyvesant laid a street grid—while keeping diagonal Stuyvesant Street, which lead from the Bowery to St. Mark’s Church (above right in the 1820s)—people moved in, driven from the city downtown by heat and disease.

“Throughout the 18th century it remained sparsely settled—a few houses plus blacksmith, wagon shop, general store, and tavern—partly from fear of highwaymen lurking in the Bayard Woods,” wrote Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace in Gotham.

Like other villages across Manhattan, Bowery Village functioned as something of a suburb. “Because Bowery Village lay just outside the city limits, farmers could sell there without paying a market tax,” wrote Burrows and Wallace.

“Wagon stands soon flourished along Sixth and Seventh Streets, along with a weigh scale for Westchester hay merchants. Comfortable residences went up along the upper Bowery, still a country road edged with blackberry bushes. . . . “

“Artisan house-and-shops arrived too; so did groggeries, a brothel, and a post office (in truth an oyster house where the postrider left mail for the village). From 1804 the community even had its own (short-lived) newspaper, the Bowery Republican.”

The enclave also had its own graveyard between First and Second Avenues and Eleventh Street, possibly this one, noted on later 19th century maps.

Not much remains of Bowery Village. The city quickly marched northward and subsumed it by the 1850s, as it did Greenwich Village to the west.

One remnant is St. Mark’s Church itself, still on Second Avenue and Tenth Street. Built on Stuyvesant family land, it was consecrated in 1799.

Another survivor is the Stuyvesant Fish House (above left), a wedding present for Stuyvesant’s daughter and her husband, Nicolas Fish (parents of Hamilton Fish, New York governor and senator), at 21 Stuyvesant Street.

This wide Federal-style house was built in 1804, predating Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamboat.

“Bowery Village’s cohesion appeared to be short-lived,” wrote Kenneth A. Scherzer in The Unbounded Community.

“With the development of the surrounding wards it rapidly broke down, and with the settlement of “newcomers” who replaced the established residents in the late 1830s, Bowery Village ceased to exist in both reality and in name.”

That’s the East Village to this day: a constant push-pull between old timers and newcomers. Find out more about both in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

[Top photo: Ephemeral New York; second image: NYPL; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Evening Post 1819; fifth image: Edward Lamson Henry; fifth and sixth images: Ephemeral New York]

Harrison Street’s stunning 1820s row houses

August 28, 2017

They sparkle like 19th century gems against drab Independence Plaza: nine Federal–style, red-brick beauties with signature dormer windows and peaked roofs.

And though this L-shaped enclave of lovely homes and leafy backyards look like they’ve stood side by side on Tribeca’s Harrison Street since they were built between the 1790s and 1820s, only six are original to this Belgian block corner at Greenwich Street.

Three others were trucked in from a now-demapped stretch of Washington Street during a vast historic preservation effort in the 1970s—one that was derided by architectural critics but the contemporary city is richer for.

Forget the 1970s for a moment and go back in time to the city’s booming post-colonial era. Private homes (like these in an illustration of Greenwich Street) built in the modest yet fashionable Federal style were sprouting up as far north as Bleecker Street.

Federal-style row houses fanned out east along the Bowery and west to Harrison Street, which was once the “bouwerie” of settler Annetje Jens (“a little woman with merry eyes beneath her Dutch cap and a fondness for bright clothing” her biographer says) and then the site of Harrison Brewery.

From the early 1800s to the Civil War, this Lower West Side area formed a well-to-do neighborhood where prosperous residents built homes: dry goods sellers, printers. John McComb Jr., the architect who designed City Hall, Gracie Mansion, built two of the Harrison Street homes.

Like so many other downtown neighborhoods, this enclave lost its cache after the Civil War. They houses fell into disrepair. Two were combined into boardinghouses populated by poor immigrants, and some of the ground floors turned into storefronts.

What had once been an exclusive residential area was now home to industry and commerce, with the bustling produce sellers of Washington Market a stone’s throw from Harrison Street.

Through the 20th century, the homes remained shadows of what they once were, with dormer windows boarded up and storefronts abandoned. But in the 1960s, with Washington Market now gone, New York City historians took notice.

“At the same time that the World Trade Center was being built, from 1969 to 1973, a wide swath of buildings north of Chambers Street along the Hudson River was being cleared for the Washington Market Urban Renewal Area,” wrote Christopher Grey in a New York  Times article in 2001.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission decided to preserve the six houses on Harrison and Greenwich Streets, while saving and moving three more Federal-style survivors on a stretch of Washington Street that was slated to for development.

Once all nine houses were on Harrison Street in an L formation (six facing the street, and three to the side), the architectural firm in charge of Independence Plaza restored them to their former glory.

Some critics at the time found the restoration synthetic. Paul Goldberger wrote in 1979’s The City Observed, “There are facades at Disneyland that look more real, and all that these houses make you want to do is run back again across Greenwich Street where old buildings are still real and not kept alive by artificial respirator,” according to the Times story.

Four decades have since passed, and unless you look closely, it’s difficult to notice that the facades only date back to the 1970s. This auspicious plan to save six of the city’s oldest private homes should be considered a success, especially for the lucky owners.

In the 1970s, “[T]he city offered the houses for sale, with unfinished interiors, for $35,000 to $75,000, and began transferring title in 1976,” wrote Gray.

In October 2016, 27A Harrison Street was listed at $7.9 million!

[Third image: NYPL; Fourth image: NYC Department of Records’ Fifth Image: MCNY 2013.3.1.721; Sixth Image: MCNY 2013.3.1.284]

Dandy Point: the 1820s city’s popular swim spot

June 26, 2017

How did New Yorkers of the early 19th century handle summer?

If they didn’t cool off at one of the city’s lovely pleasure gardens, they may have gone to Dandy Point—a popular East River recreation spot at today’s East 13th Street, depicted here by William Chappel.

A Harper’s New Monthly Magazine article from the 1882 looked back at Dandy Point, which was just north of several shipyards.

“Above of the northernmost yard the bank of the river sloped into a beautiful beach of clean fine sand, where at evening scores of men and women assembled to bathe in Arcadian simplicity,” stated Harper’s.

“Dandy Point, or ‘Pint,’ as they called it, was the name of this popular resort, and no summer night passed without witnessing the arrival of bathing parties of twenty of more persons of both sexes.”

“Down from the big wagons they jumped, the men going to one spot, the women going to another not far off; and when their clothes had been exchanged for older or less valuable ones, without the protection of bath-houses of any kind, down into the water they ran, disporting themselves as freely as dolphins.”

[Second image: East River at 53rd Street in the 1830s, to give an idea of what Dandy Point might have looked like; Wikipedia]

Who gave Maiden Lane its name?

April 9, 2010

A bit of mystery surrounds the origin of innocent-sounding Maiden Lane, one of the first streets laid out by 17th century Dutch colonists.

It may have started as a lovers’ lane.

“Tradition had it that the girls of early Dutch days were wont to stroll by the little stream along what was known first as Maagde Paatje,” says a 1911 New York Times article.

The name might also stem from the street’s rep as New Amsterdam’s clothes-washing center. “Maiden Lane was the site of a freshwater stream where young maidens did their laundry,” explains Gerard R. Wolfe’s New York: A Guide to the Metropolis.

Whether a lovers path or laundry area, Maiden Lane was for a short time home to Thomas Jefferson.

The street eventually hosted a market and then became the city’s jewelry district in the 19th century.

It’s part of the Financial District now, but the name resonates differently than, say, adjacent Gold Street.

“View of South Street, From Maiden Lane,” by William James Bennett, 1827