Saturday, September 2, 2017

The 1828 Thomas Emmet House - 42 Carmine Street

Thomas Carman was an early vestryman of Trinity Church.  Like several other churchmen, he was honored by the naming of a street after him.  But by the time that development along Carman Street gained footing in the 1820s, locals had already distorted the name to Carmine Street.

Carpenter John D. Brower purchased the plot at No. 42 Carmine Street in 1827 where he constructed a 25-foot wide Federal-style house of three stories and an attic.  Simple brownstone sills and lintels contrasted with the orange-red brick, and a single tall dormer sat above the cornice.
Brower sold the newly-completed house in 1828 to Thomas Emmet.  Emmet was not new to the neighborhood.  In September 1819 he had been appointed by the City Council as a "watchman."  His post was "6th Avenue and Carmine Street."   The position--somewhat a hybrid of policeman and neighborhood security guard--earned Emmet $340 a year, or about $6,500 today.

On July 23 1842 The New York Herald reported that the Carmine Street house had been sold for $3,600 (in the neighborhood of $109,000 today).  The new owner soon converted the ground floor to a shop, which was the home of Henry C. Bridglan's pharmacy in 1856.

Among the elixirs and panaceas available in Bridglan's store was Earl's Magic Liniment.  An advertisement in The New York Herald in January 1856 claimed that it could essentially cure anything:

A friend to the afflicted, the greatest benefit to humanity for the cure of rheumatic pains, scalds, wounds, sore throat, sprains, cramps, swellings, chilblains, frosted feet, and sore feet by standing or travelling; salt rheum, quinsy, sore throat, bruises, cuts, sores, pimples on the face, and eryspelas in the nose.  It has cured rheumatism and other diseases when all other remedies have failed.  It is the best remedy in use for horses and cattle.

The store was run by Walter Hawley by 1858 who, with his family, lived upstairs.  He came under the scrutiny of law enforcement that year later during a crackdown on lottery operators.

In the mid-19th century lottery and "policy" games were both popular and illegal in New York City.  The sellers preyed on the poor, who could least afford to lose money.  Among the several operations was that of Wood, Eddy & Co. which distributed "State of Delaware Lottery" tickets through retailers.

On Saturday night, December 11, 1858 Police Officer Sherwood entered the store and took a package from Hawley's son, James.  In it were tickets for Wood, Eddy & Co.'s Delaware Lottery.  James appeared in court on December 21.  When shown the evidence, he was asked whose handwriting appeared on the wrapping.

"I decline answering in whose handwriting it is."

After the judge ordered him to answer the question he relented.  His answers did not help the case. "It is my father's; he resides at 42 Carmine street; I do not know his business."

James Hawley testified that the numbers along the bottom of the tickets, like the one above, signified nothing.  (copyright expired)

When asked the purpose of the numbers on the slips, he said they were simply "some numbers signifying nothing."  The prosecutor laughed aside saying, "That is a little of Shakespeare."

A subsequent witness said flatly "I have heard of lottery tickets being sold at No. 42 Carmine Street."

In the meantime the upper floors were home to several tenants.  In 1862 musician John Ehlers lived here, as did 46-year old Richard Donald. 

Walter Hawley's store became home to Salomon Shilberg's second hand store in June 1864.  His license to run the store cost him $25 a year.  His opening advertisement promised "Ladies and gentlemen can receive 50 per cent more for Cast Off Clothing" and said "they will be punctually attended to."

Shilberg remained in the store at least through 1864.  An advertisement in December that year noted that he not only dealt in second-hand clothing, but items like "carpets and jewelry" as well.

The building was purchased in 1867 by Maria E. Gibbons; but she did not hold onto the property for long.  It was sold at auction on April 14, 1868.  The auction announcement noted that the the rental income was $1,400 a year, a little over $2,000 per month today.  It was purchased by Matthew Mallory for $12,150.

Like Gibbons, Mallory quickly resold the property.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on February 26, 1869 was a hard sell.  "$14,000--cash $9,000--if sold within three days; if not, will be withdrawn; House and Lot."  According to the new figures, the rents had risen to a total of $1,500.  The property was purchased by John Eckhoff whose family would retain ownership for decades.

When Eckhoff took possession of the building the store was recently vacant.  It was soon leased to A. B. Clark who opened a saloon.   Living above a barroom did not immediately affect the respectability of Eckhoff's tenant list.  In 1871 Norman Fountain was living here when he received recognition from the American Institute for his invention, a "safety attachment for horses."

Also living here were Paul C. Grohmann and his wife, Mary.  They came home on Saturday night, May 31, 1873 to find their rooms ransacked.  Three burglars had made off with $170 in clothing and other items, worth a little over $3,500 by today's terms.

Police quickly nabbed one of the thieves, Joseph Dalton.  He was charged with burglary and breaking and entering two days later.  The New York Herald reported "Two confederates made their escape."

In addition to break-in, things in the Grohmann household were not going smoothly.  The following year in September Mary A. Grohmann was granted a divorce.

Meanwhile, the saloon downstairs changed hands.  On August 1 A. B. Clark sold at auction "the fixtures of a first class Lager Beer and Lunch Room, doing a first class business."  The lease was taken by brewers Bernheimer & Schmidt.  Brewers routinely operated saloons in the 19th century, guaranteeing them a monopoly on the beer and ale sold there.

The saloon changed hands twice more before the turn of the century.  W. Koch ran it in 1882, and in 1885 W. Peter took it over.   He operated the business into the 1890s.

No. 42 Carmine Street was the scene of a shocking news story in 1889.   Catherine Brandt, who went by Kitty, and Mary Young, were described by The New York Times as "two young and good-looking girls."  They left their homes in West New York, New Jersey in September, and rented a furnished room in the Carmine Street house.  Kitty was 18 years old and Mary was 19.

Kitty and Mary were not mere runaways.  They were dallying with Policeman Charles Velton of the 5th Precinct.  Appointed to the force in December 1883, Velton was married.  But The Evening World said that he "has had the reputation among his brother officers as a 'masher.'"  (The term was popular through the 1920s to describe a womanizer whose advances were often unwanted.)

Kitty's mother, Mary Brandy, tracked the girls down.  She went to the office of Police Superintendent Murray, and informed him "that her daughter Catherine had been betrayed by Policeman Velton and enticed by him to this city for immoral purposes."  Police found the girls in the Carmine Street house.

The Evening World reported "When questioned they identified Velton as the man who had brought them to New York and detailed their adventures."  Velton came to his own defense, saying the girls "were unchaste and of bad character."

Superintendent Murray called him a disgrace to the department, stripped him of his shield, and had him arrested on a charge of abduction.  The Evening World called his dismissal "under circumstances dramatic in their nature, though unflattering to him."

A twist in the case came when the girls told their story to Justice McMahon under oath.  "They made no claims to be chaste girls, and it became evident that they had manifested no reluctance to accompany the policeman when he had invited them," reported the World.   The Police Department was "reluctantly" forced to reinstate Velton and he was on duty on September 26.

Within days, however, he was charged with a raft of other charges, including "absence from post, entering a liquor saloon for improper purposes, enticing females from New Jersey for immoral purposes, and for conduct unbecoming an officer."

The wayward girls were soon back in New Jersey.  On September 27 The Times reported "Kitty Brandt went home with her mother yesterday afternoon.  Mary Young is locked up in the Central Office waiting the arrival of her father."

In 1891 the Eckoffs extended the house to the rear, enlarging the commercial portion of the building.  The Carmine Street neighborhood had become sketchy by now, as discovered by a sailor three years later.

Edward Rogan had just returned from nine months at sea.  With his $160 pay in his pocket, he entered the saloon on the night of February 2, 1894.   He handed the bartender a $20 bill, which was declined.  Considering that it was equal to about $575 today, the bartender's reaction is understandable.

Not so understandable was Rogan's willingness to hand over the bill to another man who said he would go out and find someone to break it.  He sat and waited but, of course, the man never returned.

The large bill had not gone unnoticed by others.  While he waited Rogan was attacked by Daniel Lyons, "a homeless longshoreman," according to The Evening World.  Lyons took all the cash the sailor had on him.

At the turn of the century the saloon was converted to a butcher shop.  It was operated by John Rann in 1901 when he was arrested on January 29 for "selling horseflesh as first-class sirloin steak."  The 52-year old butcher appeared in court the following day and was sentenced to 30 days in city prison.  Although his attorney pleaded that this was his first offense, the prosecutor argued that "the practice of selling horseflesh was becoming too prevalent in this city."  The judge agreed, calling Rann's crime "a most reprehensible one."

In March 1903 Meta Eckhoff leased the building to another butcher, John E. DeAngelis.  He took over the shop, which had been being run by M. Raphael, and managed the upper floors.  The DeAngelis family moved in among their tenants.

The Eckhoffs were also engaged in the saloon business, owning a tavern at No. 228 West 27th Street.  When their daughter married 24-year old Otto Difenbacher early in 1904, Meta Eckhoff gave him the job as saloon-keeper there, and the newlyweds took an apartment in the Carmine Street building.

Difenbacher was close friends with Policeman Daniel J. Mulcahy.  When the officer got off work at 4:00 on the afternoon of April 15, 1904, he stopped by Difenbacher's saloon.  He stayed there drinking with another policeman, James Leslie Hunter, until Difenbacher and his wife closed up.

The Evening World reported "Both policemen were in uniform.  It was near daylight when the quartet, Mr. and Mrs. Difenbacher and the two policemen, started downtown to the Difenbacher home, at No. 42 Carmine street."

Once there, the couple said good-night to the policemen and went to bed.  But before long Otto got up, telling his wife he had "something to attend to across the street."  Despite her protests, he left.  He would never return.

He met the two drunken policemen on the corner and they went to the liquor store across the street at No. 37 Carmine.   Joseph Martino was just opening up.  The policemen said they wanted drinks and Martino told them they did not serve drinks.  Martino later explained, "Then Hunter pulled a gun and said: 'We are going to have drinks.'

"Mulcahy then drew his revolver and grabbed my hat and shot a hole through it.  Just then Difenbach fell to the floor and I saw that he was shot."  While Mulcahy tried to stop the bleeding Hunter ran away.

Police and an ambulance arrived.  Difenbacher refused to identify his friend as his accidental assailant.  "He would say nothing," reported The Evening World.  He was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital where it was said he had only a few hours to live.

Police took Mulcahy to his bedside.  The dying man was asked if this was the man who had shot him.  "His answer was a grunt as he turned on his other side," said the article.

Within months of the tragedy Meta Eckhoff sold No. 42 to John DeAngelis.  In 1909 he had a show window to his butcher shop installed which extended onto the sidewalk, beyond the property line.  A well-respected businessman, during World War I he was a member of the Italian Butchers' Sub-Committee for the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign.  The DeAngelis family continued to live in the building among their working class tenants. 

Lena Aresca lived here in 1925.  She was in the wrong place at the wrong time on a cold February day that year.  Lena was passing a six-story building on the corner of Bleecker and Wooster Street that day.  On the fifth floor was the factory of the Gramercy Textile Printing Company, which employed about 200 workers, mostly women.  Unbeknownst to them, the pilot light on a gas heater had gone out and a large amount of gas was accumulating around the device.  When someone lit a match, an enormous explosion occurred which blew out 38 windows and "caused excitement."

The only person hurt was Lena Aresca.  Hearing the blast she raised her arms to protect herself and was hit by falling shards of glass that cut her arms.

In 1942 the property passed to Federick D. DeAngelis.  By now his father's 1909 show window had been removed.  In 1953 the former butcher shop was home to the Metro Cigarette Service, Inc.

Other than alterations to the ground floor and a replaced cornice, the house still retains much of its 1828 character.

photograph by the author


  1. I really love your blog- a window into vanished eras- even when the bricks and mortar survive.

    1. Thanks! I hope the blog preserves some of these fascinating stories that could otherwise be lost.