Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The 1848 Richard Cunningham House -- No. 44 Horatio St.

No. 46, to the right, was originally nearly identical to No. 44 Horatio Street.
As late as 1831 Fair Ireland’s farm still sat greatly undeveloped slightly north of the village of Greenwich.  But the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 had laid out lot lines and numbers in the property bounded by 13th Street, Greenwich Avenue, West 11th Street and Greenwich Street.  And the rapidly expanding Village would soon overtake the old Ireland farm.

Horatio Street was named after Revolutionary War General Horatio Gates.  (Why it was given his first name, rather than surname, is puzzling.In 1847 two bricklayers, Cornelius L. Lacost and Richard Cunningham embarked on a building project.  They purchased the plots at Nos. 44 and 46 Horatio Street from John B. Ireland and laid plans for their own private homes. 

Expectedly, their homes were faced in brick.  Three stories tall they were accessed through attractive, modest doorways above shallow stoops.  A single wooden door was flanked by pilasters and sidelights.  A transom allowed sunlight to spill into the hallway.  The near-matching 20-foot wide homes featured simple lintels, and modillioned cornices.

Only a year after its completion, Cornelius Lacost sold No. 46 to Francis Mallaby.  Exactly how long Cunningham remained in No. 44 in unclear; however he, too, would sell his house to the Mallaby family.

By 1855 No. 44 was operated as a boarding house.  Among the tenants were William Yonge Tufft (who later changed his surname to Taft) and John W. Stinman.  Both men volunteered in the Exempt Engine Company at No. 202 Centre Street; and by now were employed as “bell-ringers” in the Jefferson Market Cupola.  The “cupola” was a wooden fire lookout manned in shifts by three men, the other being Abraham D. Carlock.

The 38-year old Stinman had already had a varied background in public service.  In 1845 he was foreman of Engine Company No. 12 at No. 14 Amos Street (later renamed 10th Street).  Then, on November 16, 1847 he was appointed patrolman in the Jefferson Market Station House.  After leaving the police department on March 17, 1850 he returned to firefighting.

Born on April 6, 1819, Tuftt was two years older than Stinman.  Their friendship is understandable.  In 1850 Tufft became a member of the Metropolitan Police and when the department was reorganized in 1857 he was one of the first policemen appointed.  Their common law enforcement and firefighting backgrounds—coupled with their working together in the cupola—no doubt contributed to their living in the same Horatio Street house.

Also living in the house was Joseph Perkins.  Perkins lost his eyesight and was unable to work.  In response, in April 1855 his friends started a fund-raising drive for him.  Donations were collected from “those who were charitably disposed” by Councilman Thomas Cooper.  The problem was that Cooper decided to keep the money for himself.

In October 1855 Perkins sued the councilman and a warrant for Cooper’s arrest was issued; but he had disappeared.  It was not until January 1856 that he was found and charged “with breach of trust.”  Perkins’s complain read in part “Deponent is informed that said Cooper has collected from various persons a considerable sum of money, and has neglected and refused to pay the same to deponent, and therefore prays that justice may be done.”

Cooper was held on $500 bail.  On January 12, 1856 the New-York Daily Tribune reported “He claims that on trial he can satisfactorily explain the matter.”

In 1857 John W. Stinman left Horatio Street and joined the pioneer movement.  He traveled west, settling on a farm in Adair County, Iowa “when the county was, to a great extent, in a state of primitiveness which would hardly be dreamed of at this day,” according to the 1884 History of Guthrie and Adair Counties, Iowa.

Stinman got out of town just in time.  On April 15, 1857 the Metropolitan Police Act was signed into law by Governor John King.  This effectively disbanded the old Municipal Police Department and took policing out of the hands of the infamous Mayor Fernando Wood.   Corrupt cops were dismissed and while others, like William Yonge Tufft (who by now was using Taft as his surname) were reinstated.

But the political machine was not ready to give up that power and convinced 800 of the former Municipal Police to remain loyal to Wood.  The tension grew to the boiling point, and it came to a head when Street Commissioner Joseph Taylor died on June 16.  Governor King appointed Daniel D. Conover to replace him.  Mayor Wood appointed his own man, Charles Devlin, giving him a salary of $50,000—about $1.5 million.  (William Taft was earning about $600 at the time.)

On July 18, 1857 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depicted the chaos (copyright expired)
When Conover attempted to take his office the following day, Wood has his unofficial police force there to bar him.   But the Governor had anticipated problems and deployed the Metropolitan Police.  It ended in the bloodiest confrontation since the Astor Place Riots.  The New York Times headline the following day read “RIOTING AND BLOODSHED.”  The mayor, sheriff and deputy street commissioner were arrested, and at least 16 Metropolitan Policemen were injured aside from several fatalities.

William Y. Taft later testified that he and his men were assisted by “a number of the Bowery Boys,” the Irish gang that, despite their reputation, left mostly law-abiding lifestyles.  “They going with us, we turned again upon the mob, and defended ourselves as well as we could; many of our men were wounded; we were again forced to retreat and remove our wounded,” he told an inquest on August 7.
Young Charles Brower, Jr. was living in the house in 1865 when he was drafted into the Union Army.  And it may have been through the influence of William Y. Taft that resident Norman Westervelt applied for the job as patrolman in 1878.  Westervelt was a patternmaker by trade and he was no doubt disappointed when his application was rejected.

That same year William Taft’s health began to fail.  Now 59 years old, he requested to be placed on the retired list of the Police Department.   After living in the Horatio Street house for more than a quarter of a century, he died there on Wednesday, July 28, 1880.   A long-time Mason, for 22 years he had been secretary of the Crescent Lodge. 

In reporting his death, The New York Times called him “well known to old residents of the Ninth Ward.”  The newspaper reported on July 30 that “Crescent Lodge took charge of the preparations for his funeral, which will be held this morning in the Tuscan Room, Masonic Temple, at 11 o’clock.”

At the time No. 44 was owned jointly by members of the Mallaby family.  It created an unusual sale when Henry Tonjes purchased the house on December 6, 1882.  One title, for half the property, was transferred by Theodore Mallaby.  Another sale covered the second half of the house, owned by Seaman, Francis, and Katharine Mallaby, “heirs to T. Mallaby.”  Tonjes paid $3,600 for each half—a total of $7,200, or around $175,000 today.

A real estate operator, Tonjes was the principal of Henry Tonjes & Co.   The firm not only continued leasing rooms in the house, but moved its office into the building.  On April 28, 1884 he took out a $9,000 mortgage against the property with the New York Savings Bank, most likely used for renovations.

When Henry Tonjes sold the building to Herman H. W. Weslage January 6, 1886, it was described as a “three-story brick tenement.”   Weslage paid Tonjes $8,800 for the former house.

By the turn of the century Christopher M. Garland and his wife, Margaret, owned the house.  By now cast metal lintels had been installed over the upper floor openings and the doorway.  The Garlands lived here while renting out rooms to families like that of Frank Ward.  A former firefighter, Christopher Garland received an annual pension of $799.92 as a “paid retired man.”

An outbreak of smallpox would claim 410 New York City residents in 1901; and it is possibly this disease that brought horror to No. 44 Horatio Street a year earlier.  Margaret Garland died in the house on October 5, 1900 at the age of 65.  One month later, on November 9, little one-year old Ellen Ward died here.  And the following month, on December 19, her 43-year old father Frank Ward died.

Christopher Garland remained here for two more years, selling it in May 1914 to John and Magdalena Fait.  The selling price was $10,000.

The Faits continued to rent rooms at No. 44 Horatio.  It was the scene of tenant Margaret E. King’s funeral on December 10, 1916.  Another resident was Margaret Reiser, a widow, who lived here following World War I, into the 1920s.  She received her husband’s police pension of $300 a year.

Brothers Peter and Thomas Diaz shared a room in 1928.  That summer 34-year old Peter began suffering from a toothache.   Peter was a soda clerk and apparently did not seek a dentist’s care.  By August 26 the pain of his toothache was too much for him to stand.  He leaped out the second story window, landing on the sidewalk below.  “Patrolman James J. Spain sent him to Bellevue Hospital, where it was said there was little chance of his recovery,” according to The New York Times.   Thomas Diaz told a reporter that he believed “the pain had affected his mind.”

For the first time in nearly a century No. 44 Horatio Street was returned to a single family home when radio news commentator Mark A. Hawley and his wife Adelaide purchased the building in 1941.  Their renovations were completed in September that year.   Rather surprisingly, they sold it just a year later, in October 1942 after leasing a duplex apartment at No. 77 Park Avenue.

The house was purchased by William Rubin, and continued to be occupied as a single-family home until 1966, when it was converted to two duplexes—one in the basement and parlor floors, and another on the two upper stories.

Despite an ill-advised coat of paint and the oddly out-of-proportion cast entrance lintel, added in the late 19th century, the house retains its original doorway.
John Franklin Campbell, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine and his wife, the Former Brenda Lee Hughes, lived in one of the apartments.  The author of The Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory, he had also worked in the State Department’s Foreign Service.   Just 31 years old, Campbell died in St. Vincent’s Hospital of “an obstruction in his throat” on November 6, 1971.

When the house was sold in March 2015 for $6.25 million, its brick façade had long been covered in a ruddy barn-red paint; and sills, lintels and cornice were painted black.  Nevertheless, the charm of Richard Cunningham’s 1848 house shines through.

photographs by the author

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