Posts Tagged ‘Water Street New York City’

A former thief dedicates his life to the city’s poor

October 13, 2014

JerrymcauleyBy his own account, Jerry McAuley was a rogue and a serious crook.

Born poor in Ireland and sent to live in New York City at age 13, he became a drunkard and river pirate who frequented the rum shops and brothels on Water Street, one of the worst sections of pre–Civil War Manhattan.

At 19, he was convicted of highway robbery and went to Sing Sing in the 1850s. McAuley learned to read and write and found religion in prison, he explained in an autobiographical sketch.

When he was released seven years later in 1864, he returned to Water Street—and after a couple of relapses into crime, he decided to change his ways and help men like himself straighten out their lives.

In 1872 he renovated a former dance hall at 316 Water Street and called it Jerry McAuley’s Mission.

Mcauleymission

This “helping hand for men” was one of many religious missions in the city determined to aid the down and out with food, job training, and lodging via prayer meetings and bible study.

McauleycremornemissionMcAuley’s effort was similar, except in one crucial way: he accepted everyone.

At a time when an increasing number of missions and benevolent societies were dedicating themselves to helping the poor, the sentiment was that only the “deserved poor” should be offered charity.

The so-called undeserving poor—drunks and criminals, basically—were on their own. And thanks to the Panic of 1873, there were many more deserving and undeserving poor who desperately needed help.

“No one, however wretched, however far gone in sin, is ever turned away; a helping hand is extended to all, and the vilest outcast is made to feel welcome and confident that there is still a chance for salvation left him,” wrote James D. McCabe, Jr. in his 1882 book New York by Gaslight.

McauleyfountainMcAuley’s mission earned notoriety citywide, and many wealthy New Yorkers provided financial support.

In the 1880s, McAuley and his wife founded a mission on West 32nd Street in the Tenderloin called McAuley’s Cremorne Mission to help prostitutes and other “fallen” women turn their lives around.

McAuley didn’t live much longer. He died in 1882 from tuberculosis, contracted during his stay at Sing Sing. His mission still exists as the New York Rescue Mission.

He’s also memorialized on a 1913 water fountain in Greeley Square, with the inscription: “I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”

[Last photo: via pilot-projects.org]

Vintage house numbers of an older Manhattan

March 22, 2012

I love the huge typeface and style variety of the house numbers painted on or carved into city residences and businesses.

Walk down any street in Manhattan, and you’ll likely see a fantastic mix: decorative lettering from the late 19th century, sans serif fonts from the 1920s and 1930s, spelled out numerals that are supposed to be classy.

Like this script above the front entrance to One Sheridan Square, a West Village apartment house built in 1920.

I like this understated plaque, affixed to the Greek Revival-style column fronting a residence on Murray Street near West Broadway. Streeteasy says it was built in 1920, but it looks older.

The No. 9 of this Flatiron address feels very Gilded Age New York. It must have housed a pretty swanky business.

The terracotta Water Street address is truly lovely. Unfortunately, a search through the New York Times archives reveals that in 1894, a night watchman who lived at 251 Water Street, a widower with five children, was murdered at the candy factory where he was employed on Franklin Street.

The killer, an ex-employee, admitted he’d been caught stealing by the watchman. So he murdered him with a double-headed hammer. Just one of the city’s thousands of forgotten tragedies.