Thursday, June 27, 2013

The 1828 House at No. 451 Hudson Street

In 1714 Queen Anne bestowed on Trinity Church an vast section of land stretching along the Hudson River from Duane Street to what would become Christopher Street to the north in the Village of Greenwich.  The large tract of land became familiarly known as the “Trinity Farm” or the “Church Farm.”
Around 1825, as Greenwich Village experienced a building and population boom, Trinity Church began developing the land into building lots.   Local builders George and David Sutton leased the southern half of the Hudson Street block, on the western side, between Barrow and Morton Streets and began building.  In 1826 No. 447 at the corner of Morton Street was completed as George Sutton’s own home.  David Sutton’s house would rise at the opposite end of their property, at No. 453.

Between the two, No. 449-1/2 was built in 1827 and No. 451 was completed in 1828.  Like its neighbor, No. 451 was a quaint brick-fronted Federal–style house.  It rose two and a half stories with prim dormers above the cornice.

Before long, No. 451 received a make-over when the attic was raised to a full story.   The now-popular Greek Revival style showed its influence in a sizeable fascia board below the cornice with small windows cut into it.

By mid-century many of the houses along Hudson Street combined business with residential use.  Nathaniel Binns lived and worked in No. 451 in the 1850s.  Binns operated his women’s hat company from the house.  In 1856 Trow’s New York City Directory listed his business as “wholesale and retail dealer in millinery goods, pattern bonnets, and ladies taps; at Nathaniel Binns’ silk and straw bonnet and hat manufactory.”

For a Victorian factory owner, Binns seems to have been unusually modern in the employment of the disabled.  That same year he was awarded a Silver Medal by the American Institute of the City of New York “for hats made by a blind girl.”

Before the decade was over, the upper floors were rented out to various families.  In 1865 George Steinrick was living here when he was drafted into the Civil War.  The Bishnisky family was also living here at the time, including 12-year old Solomon.

Young Solomon was playing at the foot of the nearby Christopher Street pier on July 4, 1866.   The boy lost his footing and fell into the Hudson River (called at the time the North River) and was drowned.  The body was recovered and brought back to No. 451 Hudson Street.  The following day an inquest was held in the house by Coroner Wildey who ruled the death accidental.

Edward C. Taylor was living here in 1870—a period bemoaned by The New York Times as one of “Deadly assaults and outrageous robberies.”  On August 8, 1870 the newspaper included among a long list of crimes the theft from the house of Taylor’s “pocket-book containing $42.”  It was a substantial amount to lose, about $650 today.  James Wandle was arrested, however, and “having confessed his guilt was committed for trial.”

Upstairs tenants and downstairs businesses came and went throughout the remainder of the century.   Walter Scott, a member of Company 1 of the 9th Regiment, was living here in 1883, and six years later the Triumph Rupture Cure moved in at street level.  Where Nathaniel Binns had manufactured silk and straw bonnets, Dr. C. A. M. Burnham, physician and surgeon, and truss expert J. A. O’Connor installed the National Truss Rooms.

The 1891 “History and Commerce of New York” said “The premises occupied consist of office and consultation rooms, having a floor-space of 25 x 50 feet, which are handsomely furnished and provided with every facility for tending the requirements of patrons…Consultation is free and both sexes are attended, there being a separate ladies room under the direction of Mrs. Dr. Burnham.”

Although the company claimed that “The Triumph Rupture Cure is universally regarded as the most successful and safest remedy for ruptures, varicocele, etc., extant;” it was quick to avoid absolute guarantees.  “The firm does not lay claim to being able to cure every case of rupture, but relief can be given in all cases; and where a cure is possible, a guarantee is given to that effect, and in the many years of their experience not a single failure under those conditions is recorded.”

“History and Commerce of New York” noted that “Mr. O’Connor, the manager, is now of middle age and is highly respected.”

The doorway sits within a recessed, paneled entrance.
While Dr. Burham and Mr. O’Connor consulted on ruptures, Mrs. Murray, the mother of Policeman Henry Murray of the Prince Street Station, was running the boarding house upstairs.  At the same time the Vacquerie family was rooming nearby at No. 15 Carmine Street.  Mr. Vacquerie was an artificial flower maker who died suddenly in 1892, leaving his 29-year old widow to fend for herself and their 7 year-old son, Harry.

Harriett Vacquerie took up her late husband’s occupation but, according to The Evening World a year later, “has had a hard struggle to earn a living for herself and boy making paper flowers.”

By May 1893, said the newspaper, “The pace soon began to tell.  Her mind became affected and she imagined the paper flowers contained microbes, and that the microbes were eating through her skin.  She also labored under the hallucination that her boy was alive with microbes.”  The Sun said “In the course of time her mind became unbalanced and she became possessed with the idea that she and her son were infected with microbes, and insisted on starving to kill the microbes.”

A concerned neighbor reported the case to the Gerry Society—a private group somewhat equivalent to today’s Child Protective Services—and both Harriett and her son were taken to the Jefferson Market Police Court.  Little Harry was committed to the Society’s care and Harriet was sent to Bellevue Hospital for psychological evaluation.

The Sun reported that “The doctors at Bellevue could find nothing wrong about Mrs. Vacquerie, and she was discharged.”  A friend, Mr. Outten, contacted Mrs. Murray at No. 451 Hudson Street and asked if she could keep Harriett Vacquerie for a few days.  On Saturday, May 20, “Mrs. Murray gave up her front parlor and Mr. Outten brought the poor woman from Bellevue,” reported The Evening World.

Harriett’s nervous and mental condition was worse than the doctors realized.  “Sunday she became nervous and fretful,” said The Evening World, “and talked constantly about her boy.  She worried a great deal over his being away from her.  Last night she couldn’t sleep, but walked the room for hours.”

Then around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, May 23, Mrs. Murray heard the sound of a window opening and found Harriett Vacquerie sitting on the sill with her feet hanging out.  With the help of other boarders she got the woman back to bed and she dragged her own bed next to Harriett’s so she could keep an eye on her.

Three hours later, with Mrs. Murray sound asleep; Harriett slinked into the kitchen and jumped from the back window three stories to the yard.  As she jumped, a tablecloth caught on her clothing, sending “a lot of crockery-ware that was standing on the table at the window with her.”

The loud crash and Harriett’s screams awoke not only the other boarders, but the neighbors.  When police arrived they found the 30-year old woman seriously injured.  Described by The Evening World as “partly crazed by worriment, overwork and dire poverty,” she had broken both legs and suffered internal injuries. 

“Physicians at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where she was taken, say her attempt at suicide may be successful,” reported The Evening World.  The Sun was more pointed in its assessment.  “She will probably die.”

By 1902 the ground floor was home to a shoemaker shop owned by the father of little 5-year old Sarah Gelber.  On the opposite side of Hudson Street was Nicholas’s Candy Store and just before noon on May 4 a group of neighborhood children gathered in the shoe shop.   In a kindly gesture, the shoemaker gave Sarah some money to purchase chocolates for her friends and the little girl darted across the roadway.

The New York Times reported the next day that “She got the candy and ran very fast with it toward the opposite side of the street, because she had promised to divide it among several children who were sitting on chairs and boxes in the shoemaker shop with their hands in their laps, awaiting the messenger.  The sun was shining quite brilliantly about that time and it got into Sarah’s eyes and dazzled her, so that she stood still for a moment rubbing her eyes.  That was right in the middle of the southbound Eighth Avenue track.”

As the five-year old headed across the street, a street car turned the corner coming north.  The motorman saw her, but she was moving quickly enough that he knew there was no danger of hitting her.  But then she stopped to rub her eyes.

When the fender of the street car hit little Sarah a woman on the sidewalk screamed, attracting the attention of everyone around.  As the passersby watched, Sarah “flew high up into the air and landed in a sitting posture on the fender.  She had stuck to the candy because the candy had stuck to her,” reported The Times.

Little Sarah sat fast on the fender of the street car until it finally came to a stop at the corner of Barrow Street, nearly a full block away.  A crowd of nearly fifty people crushed around the girl, including her sixteen year-old sister, Freda Gelber, who was unable to get near. 

“A man in the crowd tried to lift the little girl out of the fender, but had some trouble because she hung on tightly.  Finally he released her, however,” reported The Times.  “The anxiety of those who had seen the accident was so intense that when the man held little Sarah up into the air in an endeavor to see whether she was hurt or not a loud cheer went up.”

The man asked Sarah how she liked the ride.  “How was it?”

Sarah replied without smiling, “Great.”

When the girl was taken back to her father’s shoe shop she was checked for injuries.  “A scratch half as long as a pin was discovered on Sarah’s left elbow,” said the newspaper.   The Times reported the happily-ending story with a headline that read “Little Sarah’s Wild Ride.”

The building continued its life as a boarding house for the next few decades.  By 1930 Alban Baumann was running his antique shop on the ground level.  Baumann became part of the investigation and trial regarding the murder of a Greenwich Village girl, Starr Faithfull in 1931.  The partially clad body had been found in June that year, the same month that her step-father, Stanley Faithful, had placed an antique Empire sideboard in Baumann’s shop.

Alban Baumann was called before the grand jury to testify about the family antiques he had seen in their $85-a-month apartment at No. 35 West 9th Street, including a Chippendale chest and two Duncan Phyfe chairs—antiques which belonged to Stanley Faithful’s wife’s family, not his.  It appeared that the Faithfulls were in financial straits and Stanley was furiously trying to raise cash by disposing of his wife’s heirlooms.

In 1972 the house was converted to four apartments including a triplex and a duplex.  The commercial floor and storefront were eliminated and the exterior restored to its residential appearance.   Vincent J. Tapick, president and owner o Joseph H. Carter, Inc. a wholesale fish distributor at the Fulton Fish Market, lived in the house in 1997.

A scar in the restored brickwork reveals the former arched opening to the first floor commercial space.

On March 5 that year agents from the national Marine Fisheries Service of the US Department of Commerce arrived at Tapick’s office with a search warrant.   The agents intended to search for records of any violations including netting too many ground fish (such as haddock), or fishing in protected areas.  Instead they found guns.

Tapick and a vice president, Warren D. Kremin, were arrested on weapons possession when two loaded handguns were found in their desk drawers.

The house was renovated once again, in 2006, this time to three spacious apartments.  Nearly two centuries after its construction it serves as a snapshot of Hudson Street in the decades just before the Civil War.
 photographs taken by the author

1 comment:

  1. And right across the street! Thanks for the vignettes of former life at Hudson and Morton.