Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The 1834 Thomas Cox House -- No. 17 Barrow Street


photo by Alice Lum
Greenwich Village with its winding streets and quaint buildings has long inspired romantic stories and interesting tales—whether or not they are true.

In 1834, as the village of Greenwich experienced a boom in development, a handsome Federal-style double house was built at Nos. 15 and 17 Barrow Street.   The two mirror-image homes, two and a half stories tall, featured Flemish bond brick and tall prim dormers.   A horse walk, or passageway to the rear yards, tunneled through the center of the homes accessing the two private stables.

The modest but attractive houses were constructed for Thomas and Henry Cox, presumably brothers.   Both men were carters—the equivalent of today’s local truck drivers or deliverymen.  Thomas Cox lived at No. 17.

photo by Alice Lum
The block along Barrow Street between West 4th Street and 7th Avenue remained quietly residential for most of the century.  In 1875 Laura Trace, a teacher in the Girls’ Department of Grammar School No. 10 on Wooster Street, was living at No. 17.   But by 1894 when Edward Kelly lived in the house, changes were on the way.

Irish immigrant Michael Hallanan was a force in that change.  The blacksmith had arrived in New York from Galway, Ireland in 1861 and his fortunes took a turn when he invented a vulcanite rubber horseshoe pad.  The New York Times would remark “His inventions proved not only profitable to himself but a blessing to horses.”

In 1896 Conrad Schafer demolished No. 15 Barrow to construct an imposing private stable designed by H. Hasenstein.   The following year Michael Hallanan purchased No. 17 and renovated it as his horseshoeing operation.  An immense arched opening with double carriage doors was installed that engulfed the basement and parlor floors and the horsewalk became the entrance to the upstairs living quarters.

The demolition of half of the double house resulted in an odd window above the new entrance where the horsewalk had been -- photo by Alice Lum
Hallanan’s patented rubber horseshoe was not only earning him a sizable income, but he received awards at the Paris, Louisiana Purchase, Pan-American and St. Louis Expositions.   Fame and fortune, however relative, did not entice the blacksmith from his shoeing profession; however he began cementing his financial security by investing in Greenwich Village real estate.

By 1901 he had leased No. 17 Barrow Street to Abraham J. Norris while he moved his own operation to No. 186 West 4th Street, just down the block.     An idea of Hallanan’s growing real estate holdings is evident in a petition signed by Norris and him that year.  The men joined other businessmen in the neighborhood seeking to have “the carriage way of West Fourth Street, from McDougal street to Barrow street…repaved with asphalt pavement on concrete foundation.”  Norris listed No. 17 Barrow as his address; Hallanan listed Nos. 186, 188 190, 194 and 196 West 4th Street.

Hallanan did not attempt to match the brickwork when he created the large arched entrance.  The origin of the coat-of-arms type decoration remains arcane. -- photo by Alice Lum
Abraham Norris was still leasing the building in 1917 and living upstairs when he served as agent for the State Fair Commission’s Division of Agriculture.

By the time Hallanan died in April 1926 he had earned the affectionate nicknames of the “Greenwich Village Blacksmith” and the “Father of Sheridan Square.”  The latter was due to his influence in the naming of that park.  The 79-year old was the largest property holder on Sheridan Square.

Within two decades, the former blacksmith shop was converted to a restaurant.  And with its new life another set of romantic Greenwich Village stories was born.

Popular lore suddenly made No. 17 Barrow Street the former carriage house of Aaron Burr.  And to spice up the story, the building was haunted by the spirit, not only of Burr, but of his daughter Theodosia.   The wonderful and spellbinding tale sidestepped the historic facts that Cox’s 1834 house was a residence, not a carriage house; and that it was built exactly three decades after Burr fled New York.  Additionally, the educated and privileged Theodosia Burr would never have visited a utilitarian structure filled with horses, hay and manure, let alone haunt it.

With or without ghosts the latest restaurant (established here in 1973), One if By Land, Two if By Sea, is a charming upscale restaurant that remains here four decades later.  Upstairs are two apartments.   The nearly 200-year old house is perhaps even more charming because of its Victorian alterations and the tall tales that it tells.

10 comments:

  1. Hah! Another local myth bites the dust. Thanks.

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    1. I actually saw this building being investigated on one of those paranormal tv shows. The team kept searching for evidence of Aaron Burr and Theodosia. I really wanted to tell them to give it up.

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  2. Does anyone remember when this was a cozy village hangout called simply "17 Barrow"? Candles on old with e

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    1. I remember--17 Barrow was a restaurant in the 1950's and I loved coming here from my college days with a date. Planked steak. Fireplace and great ambience.

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    2. Unlike the article, the house was a restaurant when I ate there in 1946. As I recall it was a Russian restaurant, though I don't remember the name of it. What I recall is the borscht, the fireplace and a dog sitting by the fire. Years later it was named "17 Barrow St." and was extended to two stories.

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    3. Yes, an inexpensive restaurant rented to restranteurs by my Uncle Walter Leo Conway who was wintering in FL.

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    4. I remember 17 Barrow as a mellow gay bar in the late 60's to mid 70's.

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  3. My grandfather William Aloysius Conway bought 17 Barrow St. from Hallanan and shoed horses there for many years . He shoed horses for the fire department and other businesses but specialized in unruly horses. He had five children. In the waning days of the business ,he was interviewed by The Evening Sun, 6-4-1927 about his artisan workshop and again about the horseshoe he made for Lindbergh at the forge (6-11-1927) He was from Co. Mayo, Ireland. The family sold the house (restaurant) in the mid 60"s. Mr. Conway, blacksmith, is buried near his summer farmhouse, St. Stephen's in Warwick, New York.

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    1. I would be really interested in knowing more about your grandfather and possibly finding that interview. Could you possibly contact me? I write The Hoof Blog (hoofblog (dot) com). Thanks very much. Fran Jurga. Google should connect to me.

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  4. The restaurant was called the 17. There was a bright horizontal sign that was visible walking down Barrow St. One If By Land is the most recent name at 17 Barrow Street.

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