Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Thomas Mulry House -- No. 10 Perry Street

photo by Alice Lum


As Greenwich Village expanded, a handsome row of seven brick-faced homes was erected in 1849 on Perry Street.  Among them was No. 10 which, like its identical neighbors, was three stories tall over a rusticated brownstone basement.  Intended for an upper-middle class family its conservative details demanded little attention.  The cast iron fencing and stoop railings of the row were, however, especially handsome.  Floor-to-ceiling casement windows at the parlor floor could be thrown open in the summer heat for cooling evening breezes.

No. 10 became home to the family of Thomas Bell.  It was possibly this Thomas Bell who petitioned the Board of Assistants in 1852 “to be paid for bell-ringing in Twenty-second-street.”

The parlor of the Perry Street house was the scene of the funeral of Bell’s son-in-law on Friday the 13th in 1855.  David E. Hill was just 33 years old at the time of his death.  Five years later Bell’s 23-year old daughter, Elizabeth, who had married William Graham, also died prematurely.  Her funeral, too, was held in the house; this one on Saturday morning, March 31, 1860 at 8:00.

The house soon changed hands relatively quickly.  In 1865 the Clay family was living here when T. Clay was inducted into service in the Civil War on March 17.  His was among the 1,100 names drawn in the draft lottery that day.

By November 6, 1867 the residence was home to the George J. Ackerman and his wife Julia.  On that day George Groesbeck Ackerman, their only child, was born in the house.  Little George was born into a family with venerable roots.  His mother was a descendant of the Groesbecks, early settlers of Fort Orange, New York—later renamed Albany.  On his father’s side he was related to the Dutch Van Der Beek family.

The infant George bore not only his father’s, but his grandfather’s name.  George N. Ackerman, his grandfather, was the owner of the large Ackerman Planing Mill.  When the family moved from Perry Street around 1889 to Hackensack, New Jersey (to “a handsome residence in Union Street,” as described by The New York Times later), the aging grandfather would join them.

Replacing the Ackermans on Perry Street was the Mulry family.  Devout Irish-Catholics, Thomas Maurice Mulry’s father (also named Thomas M. Mulry) and uncles arrived in New York from Ireland in the 1840s.  They earned their living as hard-working construction laborers know as “cellar-diggers.”  Thomas Mulry, Sr. met and fell in love with Parthenia M. Crolius.  They married, despite the objections of her father, Clarkson Crolius.  According to the New-York Tribune later, “He came of Dutch and Quaker stock, and, being a stanch Protestant, was strongly opposed to the marriage of his daughter to the young Irish Catholic.”  Crolius was, no doubt, even more deeply concerned when Parthenia converted to Catholicism at the time of the marriage.

There would eventually be 14 children in the Mulry household.  Four sons would go on to become priests and two daughters would become nuns. 

Thomas Mulry Sr. eventually opened his own construction firm.  Proudly naming it Thomas Mulry & Son, he brought young Thomas into the business when the boy was 17.  In 1868 it was the Mulry construction firm that laid the foundations for the new Tammany headquarters on 14th Street.

By the time Thomas Mulry, Jr. moved his family into No. 10 Perry Street, the construction firm was highly successful.  His strong Catholic upbringing led to his appointment as president of his parish council and secretary of the Superior Council of New York.  Through his work he became close friends with Archbishop Michael Corrigan.

Thomas and Mary Mulry’s pious lives and their active work within the church would not fend off tragedy.  On May 20, 1901 their 18-year old son Thomas G. A. Mulry died.  His funeral was held in the house two days later at 10:30 in the morning.  Just one year later, in May 1902, Parthenia Mulry died, followed on June 18 by Thomas and Mary’s infant daughter.

At the time Mulry held the position of President of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  He was highly-regarded for his unbiased, non-political approach to issues and that year was appointed by Mayor Low to serve on the committee to investigate the Rabbi Joseph funeral riot.  Following the General Slocum disaster, Mayor McClellan appointed him a member of the committee to receive relief funds for the surviving families.

On June 18, 1905, a few months after daughter Parthenia left the house to enter the convent of Mount St. Vincent Academy “with the intention of becoming a nun,” according to The Evening World, Mulry was approached again.  Mayor McClellan asked him to accept the position of Tenement-House Commissioner.  The Evening World called Mulry “sturdily independent and well fitted for the place,” and said “Although Mr. Mulry’s business interests are heavy and all his spare time is taken up with his charitable work, it is believed he will make great personal sacrifices and take the place.”

The newspaper described him saying, “he is one of the leading contractors of the city.  He has been interested in charitable works ever since his boyhood and to-day is the head of the most powerful and far-reaching charitable organization in The World.”

The house on Perry Street would be the scene of a remarkable reunion a month later.  The five Mulry brothers came together to celebrate the ordination of Joseph Mulry into the priesthood.  Rev. Patrick F. X. Mulry traveled from the West Indies for the reunion.  Now all of the brothers, other than Thomas, were Catholic priests.

On January 20, 1906, as though he did not have enough on his plate already, Thomas M. Mulry was named President of the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, called by The Sun “one of the greatest of the savings institutions of the country.”  By now, in addition to his presidency of the superior council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, he was a member of the central council of the Charity Organization Society, first vice-president of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, and a former president of the New York State Conference of Charities and Correction.  He also sat on the governing board of the New York Catholic Protectory, the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, and several other prominent Catholic institutions.

photo The Sun, January 21, 1906 (copyright expired)

Mulry’s daughter Parthenia Mary Mulry died on April, 18, 1910.  The nun had developed two abscesses on the head and neck and died following two operations.  Three weeks later Thomas M. Mulry was near death himself.

About the time of the funeral Mulry tripped over a footstool in the dark in his bedroom and suffered a severe head wound.  Dr. Charles H. Lewis treated him for several days before he noticed that Mulry had developed typhoid fever.  He was immediately taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital.  On May 6 The New York Times reported that he was still “seriously ill;” however Dr. Lewis reported that “while Mr. Mulry’s condition was serious, there were hopes for his recovery unless complications set in.”

Mulry did recover and on Valentine’s Day 1911 saw his daughter Margaret’s wedding to Dr. Charles A. Monagan in the Church of St. Francis Xavier.  The couple was married by Margaret’s uncle, Rev. Joseph A. Mulry, and her sister Mary was her maid of honor.  The Evening World reported that “Many prominent members of the clergy were among the throng of friends and relatives who witnessed the ceremony.”

Thomas Mulry’s charitable work was rewarded when Pope Pius X made him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great; followed on May 12, 1912 by Cardinal John Murphy Farley’s presenting him with the Laetare Medal, awarded by the University of Notre Dame.  It was the highest honor within the Church in America.  Although Mulry had requested a “quiet presentation, either at the chapel of the Cathedral College or, privately at the Cardinal’s residence,” Cardinal Farley decided on something more impressive.  More than 1,500 persons attended the ceremony at the Cathedral College.

On May 4, 1913 the New-York Tribune reported that the 58-year old Mulry was resting at his home after suffering “heart trouble” a few days earlier.  “It was said last night that his condition was by no means serious,” said the newspaper.

Calling him “one of the best-known Catholics in New York,” The New York Times added “in ten days or two weeks, it was thought, he would recover enough to permit of his being moved to the country to recuperate.”

No. 10 Perry Street survived the extension of 7th Avenue in 1914 by feet.  Close inspection reveals that the brownstone stoop actually curls over the property line of the "new" adjoining structure.  photo by Alice Lum

The resilient Thomas M. Mulry indeed recuperated and on November 20, 1915 was installed as head of the Superior Council of the United States of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  The position would be short-lived, however.  On March 10, 1916 he died of pneumonia in the house on Perry Street. 

Two days earlier he had returned home feeling ill.  During the night his condition worsened and Drs. Weeks and Maguire were called.  They diagnosed pneumonia.  The following day, according to The New York Times, “Mr. Mulry sank rapidly and early in the afternoon his family were notified that there was no hope.”  When he died not only was his entire family at his bedside, so were Cardinal Farley; Monsignor Mooney, Vicar General of the Archdioces; Father Malick Fitzpatrick, rector of the Church of St. Francis Xavier; and Father Thomas White, rector of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin.

At the time charges of improprieties had been leveled at some of the charities he headed.  The Sun reported on March 21 “In the investigation into the State Board of Charities recently it was intimated that Mr. Mulry’s death was hastened by the charges made against certain charitable institutions.”

New Yorkers were surprised to find that Mulry’s estate was nothing near what was expected.  Apparently much of his fortune had been exhausted in his philanthropies.  “It was supposed that he was very wealthy,” said The Sun.  Instead his estate amounted to $18,000; $17,000 of which was the value of real estate and the remainder in personal property.  The total estate would amount to about $340,000 today.

The high esteem Thomas M. Mulry had earned was reflected on June 17, 1920 when the small park nearby was named Mulry Square.  The ceremony was attended by approximately 5,000 people including Archbishop Patrick J. Hayes and Mayor John F. Hylan.  Daughter Mary Mulry, who still lived in the Perry Street house, was there as the Police Glee Club sang and the Fire Department Band played.

Mary Mulry stayed in the family house until about 1925.  By 1927 it was home to several tenants, one of which was the mother of Hollywood screenwriter and producer Tony Veiller.

The house would make an appearance in Victor D. Lopez’s poem “Of Pain and Ecstasy” as a symbol of home and safety.

My children will never live off charity as long as my back is strong” was your
Reply.  You resented your husband for putting politics above family and
Dragging you and your two daughters, from your safe, comfortable home at
Number 10 Perry Street near the Village to a Galicia without hope.

Today Thomas Mulry's Perry Street house has been lovingly restored as a private home once again.  Meticulously maintained, it appears little changed from the days when one of Manhattan's most important lay Catholics and respected businessmen lived here with his family.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this report. As Thomas Mulry's great-grandson, I can tell you it is making the rounds within our family.

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  2. My grandparents lived in an apartment the house as one of the tenants in the mid to late 1920s with their two young daughters before returning to Spain. My grandmother always spoke with much fondness of her time there and asked to drive by the house when she returned to New York in the late 1960s. It was indeed a symbol of safety, hope, stability and a happy home remembered and mentioned throughout my grandmother's life in sharp contrast to the pain, disappointment and privations that awaited them in their native, beloved Spain spiraling towards war and its cruel aftermath. In my poem, "Unsung Heroes" to which you allude (from my small book of poems, "Of Pain and Ecstasy: Collected Poems") the house is in a very real sense a pivoting point from ecstasy to pain in the lives of my grandparents--a life-long symbol of a happy, fulfilled life that was and the unfulfilled promise of continued joy that might have been in contrast to the tragedy and physical and emotional pain that they unknowingly headed towards when they left their happy home behind and undertook the long descent from the light to the darkness, disappointment and betrayal of a Spain beginning her slow spiral into chaos.

    Thank you for providing such a welcomed, detailed background into the Thomas Mulry House. I was largely unaware of its rich history beyond its special significance for my grandparents.

    Victor

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  3. As a great granddaughter of Thomas Mulry, I thank you for recognizing the accomplishments of this great American. Laura

    ReplyDelete