Posts Tagged ‘New York in the 1830s’

The sad fate of these Lafayette Street columns

August 1, 2016

You could call it one of New York’s first luxury developments: a nine-building stretch of magnificent marble row houses on the recently laid out cobblestone cul-de-sac of Lafayette Place.

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The new, two-block street was uptown in the late 1820s, when construction, spearheaded by John Jacob Astor, began. Land that had recently been forests and fields was about to become the young city’s most fashionable quarter.

Sing Sing inmates quarried the white marble used to build what would be named LaGrange Terrace (above, in 1895), after the name of the Marquis de Lafayette’s estate in France.

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(Lafayette fever was running high in the city; the Revolutionary War hero had just made a rock star-like return visit to the grateful metropolis in 1825).

Completed in 1833 (above) with amenities like running water, central heating, and bathrooms, LaGrange Terrace was occupied by Delanos, Vanderbilts, and Gardiners, as well as short-term residents Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Washington Irving.

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“Society liked the seclusion of the street, and houses were soon built on every side of the terrace,” wrote the New-York Tribune in 1902.

But fashions change, and Manhattan was on a steady march northward. By the end of the 19th century, the marble row—sandwiched in the light industry district on renamed Lafayette Street—was faded and forlorn.

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After they were acquired by department store magnate John Wanamaker (whose store was on 9th Street), five of the buildings had a date with the wrecking ball in 1902. The columns were reportedly salvaged by a builder who intended to use them in another project.

In the ensuing years, LaGrange Terrace, known also as Colonnade Row, has had its ups and downs. A mansard roof was added, and the grimy columns began disintegrating. But earning landmark status gave the row historic recognition.

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And what about the marble columns bulldozed a century ago?

They turned up decades later outside a boys’ school in Morristown, New Jersey—on property that was once the estate of the builder who salvaged them.

[Top photo: MCNY; second and third images: NYPL; fifth photo: Wikipedia]

St. Marks Place was once a posh New York street

April 11, 2016

StmarksstreetsignIn the 1820s, New Yorkers of wealth began leaving the crowded commercial section of the city.

Where to? The new residential drives going up above Houston Street, specifically on the growing city’s East Side.

StmarkshamiltonhollyBond Street, Washington Square North, Bleecker Street, Fourth Street, La Grange Terrace (today’s Lafayette Place) all became elite addresses.

And for a brief period of time, so did St. Marks Place.

St. Marks Place’s rise began in 1831, when developer Thomas E. Davis purchased property on the south and north sides of Eighth Street between Second and Third Avenues.

This stretch of Eighth Street was recently part of Peter Stuyvesant’s Bouwerie. It had only been an open street since 1826, inside the loose boundaries of a small enclave known as Bowery Village.

But New York was marching northward, and Davis intended to capitalize on it. His plan was to build “superior class” homes that would be set back from the street on large lots.

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And to give the block some pizzazz (and copy fashionable street names like Astor Place), he renamed it after nearby St. Marks Church.

Stmarks271890s“Grand, 3-1/2-story Federal style marble-and-brick-clad town houses with balconies were constructed here in 1831,” states this Landmarks Commission Report.

Soon, noteworthy residents followed. In 1833, 4 St. Marks Place was purchased by Col. Alexander Hamilton, son of the founding father.

Among other family members, he moved his widowed mother, Eliza Hamilton, into the house.

Daniel LeRoy, a member of the Fish family, bought number 20 (top right). Writer James Feinmore Cooper occupied number 6.

St. Marks retained its cachet through the 1840s. But as always in Manhattan, the rich fanned north. The street, as well as the neighborhood, slid out of fashion.

Stmarkschildrensaidsociety1890“The neighborhood of St. Marks Place has become of late a much less desirable location that it was formerly….” wrote the New York Times in 1852, referring to frequent cattle drives passing the corner at Third Avenue.

As the wealthy left, and then the cattle drives disappeared, thousands of German immigrants replaced them.

They remade St. Marks Place into a main street in the city’s teeming Little Germany, or Kleindeutschland.

Eastern Europeans, charity workers, gangsters, bohemians, punk rockers, tourists, and college kids all followed.

Stmarksplacetrashvaudeville2Today, just three of Davis’ Federal-style dwellings remain, including what’s now known as the Hamilton-Holly House—where Eliza Hamilton was foreclosed on in the 1840s (right).

The Daniel LeRoy House, in similar not-so-great shape as the Hamilton-Holly abode, is also still standing.

[Newspaper ad: The Evening Post, April 1832; fourth image: 27 St. Marks Place, a Girls’ Temporary Home operated by the Children’s Aid Society, from King’s Handbook of New York; fifth image: 24 St. Marks Place, a group of boys pose for Jacob Riis in 1890 before heading off on an orphan train sponsored by the Children’s Aid Society, MCNY.]

A piece of the 1830s city on West Fourth Street

January 26, 2015

In 1894, New York University tore down the 1835 Gothic Revival beauty that was the school’s main building.

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This lovely structure on the east side of Washington Square had housed all of the college’s functions.

Foundersmemorialbuilding1850sFor six decades, it anchored the college community and watched the neighborhood go from posh and stylish to more bohemian and rougher around the edges.

By the 1890s, NYU had decided to move its undergraduate school to the Bronx, and the main building had outlived its usefulness.

Lucky for us, when the building met the bulldozer, NYU officials saved one architectural detail: a small spire, complete with a handful of grotesques.

Foundersmemorial2015They ceremoniously named it the Founder’s Memorial and brought it to the new Bronx campus, where it spent most of the 20th century.

But the Bronx campus was sold off in the 1970s, and NYU once again concentrated its educational offerings in Greenwich Village. When the school came back, the spire came returned as well.

Today it sits off West Fourth Street between Bobst Library and Shimkin Hall, a modest sliver of the 1830s hiding in the shadows of the modern city.

The rising price of flour fuels a 19th century riot

June 27, 2013

1837 would be a rough year. A financial downturn caused in part by speculative lending (hmm, sound familiar?) ushered in a six-year recession nationwide.

Banks closed. Unemployment soared. And in New York City, a $5 hike in the price of flour touched off a riot at Washington and Dey Streets.

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It happened in February, as the cost of necessities such as meat and fuel began going up. A barrel of flour (pictured on the right in the political cartoon above) that had run $7 was now $12.

With a recession settling in and a third of the city of 300,000 out of work, New Yorkers were outraged . . . and feeling desperate.

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So when a speaker at a rally near City Hall suggested that a Washington Street merchant was hoarding flour and gauging prices, crowds went ballistic.

oak-barrel“As a result, hundreds of people rushed down Broadway to Washington Street where they stormed the premises,” wrote Joanne Reitano in The Restless City.

“Flour barrels were seized and thrown to the crowd who scooped up whatever they could into boxes, baskets, and aprons,” wrote Reitano.

By one account, hundreds of barrels were dumped, along with a thousand bushels of grain.

“The flour sifted onto the street a foot deep. Some of the rioters then attacked other flour stores and only the arrival of the militia stopped the pillage.”

[New York in the 1830s, above]

The Underground Railroad stop in Tribeca

May 31, 2012

David Ruggles (right) was a brave man. Born a free African American in Connecticut in 1810, he moved to New York in the 1820s as a seaman and grocer.

A decade later, he became a leader in the city’s burgeoning abolitionist movement.

From his three-story home at 36 Lispenard Street, he operated a bookstore, printed his own anti-slavery pamphlets, and wrote for African-American newspapers.

He also opened his house to slaves fleeing the South who needed a place to stay before typically going upstate or to New England.

Through the 1830s and 1840s, an estimated 600 slaves hid out in his townhouse on Lispenard Street, one of a handful of known New York City stops on the Underground Railroad.

His most famous guest, in 1838, was Frederick Douglass, who wrote in The Century in 1882, “With Mr. Ruggles, on the corner of Lispenard and Church Streets, I was hidden several days. . . .”

Ruggles died in 1849 in Massachusetts, his work to end slavery in a city divided by the issue close to forgotten.

[Above left: 36 Lispenard Street today, a different building on the historic site. A plaque notes its history.]

Bond Street: chic and exclusive in the 1830s

May 1, 2011

Noho’s Bond Street is trendy—just as it was 170 years ago.

That’s when the city’s wealthy residents relocated from bustling, overcrowded downtown to this newly built street, a two-block stretch east of Broadway.

“In the 1830s, Bond Street was one of the city’s most fashionable. Lined with Greek Revival–style houses, it was a secluded, peaceful street whose most celebrated resident, Albert Gallatin, lived at No. 1,” writes Gerard H. Wolfe in New York: A Guide to the Metropolis, from 1983.

Bond Street was surrounded by luxury, particularly Colannade Row, the nine Greek Revival marble mansions around the corner on the elegant cul-de-sac Lafayette Place (now Lafayette Street).

Theaters and chic stores popped up nearby on Broadway. Bond Street “swells” hung around, visiting young women from well-off families.

But of course, Bond Street’s moment in the sun had to end. After the middle of the 19th century, light industry began moving in, and the wealthy moved northward.

Today, a few of the old Greek Revival houses survive. But it’s mostly cast-iron loft buildings for manufacturing, plus modern glass monstrosities.

At least the Belgian Block pavement hasn’t been replaced.

A hidden cemetery in the East Village

June 28, 2010

Yellow fever had a big impact on the young city. Lethal outbreaks in the late 18th and early 19th centuries led officials to ban in-ground burials.

So New Yorkers opted to buy a plot in a cemetery and have their corpse stored in a marble vault (which were thought to prevent the spread of germs)—like the vaults at the New York Marble Cemetery.

The entrance is on Second Avenue between Second and Third streets; an alley leads you to a secret garden, a half-acre bounded by stone walls.

Those walls note who is buried in the vaults underground. They’re a bigwig lot: Varicks, Deys, Motts, Pecks, and Scribners.

Amazingly, this pastoral patch of the city was almost turned into a playground. In the 1890s, social reformer Jacob Riis pushed the city to seize the land for street kids who had no place to play.

The city didn’t bite, of course, and now there are two 19th century marble cemeteries in the East Village. The other, the New York City Marble Cemetery, is around the corner on Second Street.