|photograph by the author
Charles Oakley was busy constructing houses along Reason Street (named in honor of Thomas Paine's 1794 The Age of Reason) in the mid 1820s. In 1826 he completed Nos. 47 and 49 and in 1828 added Nos. 39 through 45. Already locals had corrupted Reason to Raisin Street and that same year Reason Street was renamed Barrow Street. Artist Thomas Barrow, who had depicted Trinity Church in 1807, received the honors.
It appears that Oakley made deals with craftsmen; for apparently they either invested in the project, or they received discounted prices on the houses in exchange for work. As a result the new buildings became home to masons, carpenters and stone cutters--like carpenter Jacob Bogert who moved into No. 39. (The stone cutter Abraham Bogert who also worked on the houses was most likely a relative.)
Three bays wide, his house was two and a half stories tall above a shallow basement level. A brownstone stoop let to the narrow entrance, adorned only by a small transom. The Flemish bond red brick was trimmed in plain brownstone lintels and sills. The peaked roof would have been pierced by one or two dormers.
On November 3, 1854 Joseph G. Warner moved into No. 39 Barrow Street. His timing was bad in terms of the State and City elections that year. Exactly one week later he walked to the polls to vote. The inspectors told him he was ineligible to vote, because he had just moved into the district.
Warner was not pleased. The New York Times reported that he "remonstrated" with the inspector and insisted that his lawyer had assured him he "had a perfect right to vote," because he had lived in the state for a year and in the county for four months. "The appeals of Mr. Warner made no impression upon the Inspectors," said the newspaper.
Furious, Warner headed to the Second District Police Office and complained to Justice Meech. Warner had presented an interesting conundrum. While, on one hand, he had just moved into the Fourth District; on the other the law declared it "a misdemeanor for Inspectors of Election to refuse the deposit of a legal ballot from a legal voter."
Because of Warner's complain, three inspectors were arrested. On November 11, 1854 The Times noted they were awaiting a hearing. "The punishment for this offence is left at the discretion of the Court; being imprisonment for one year, or a fine of not less than $250." It was the first case of its kind and the newspaper was sure that the "inquiry will probably excite considerable interest among politicians and citizens generally."
The fiery Joseph G. Warner was gone from Barrow Street by 1861 when David Groesbeck was living here. He worked in the Hall of Records as the First Auditor in the Metropolitan Police Department's Board of Finance. In December 1863 he received a raise, bringing his salary up to $2,000 per year (just under $39,500 today). But he was disgruntled about the back pay the city still owed him.
Since 1859 he had been performing "extra services," apparently what would be termed overtime today. He had petitioned the Board of Aldermen for his back pay in February 1863, but that petition "was referred to the Committee on Finance." Finally, on December 13 he received $2,460 which represented the "extra services rendered in the Auditing Bureau" during the years 1859 through 1862.
It may have been that sizable windfall--equal to more than a year's pay--that prompted Groesbeck to move. Only four months later he sold everything in the house. His advertisement on April 28, 1864 offered "Beds, bedding crockery, table linen, towels, looking glasses, pictures, mantel ornaments, &c., for sale cheap, in good order. Second hand dealers need not apply."
It was most likely James D. McClelland, a lawyer, who raised the attic to a full third floor within the next few years. The renovation was done prior to July 29, 1870 when an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "A second or third floor to let--unfurnished, in a private house, where there are no children."
On March 13, 1873 McClelland sold the house to Amos Jean and his wife, Rosina. They paid $4,100 (or about $84,800 in today's dollars). The couple took out a $3,000 mortgage to buy the property. They continued to rent rooms, and on May 8, 1874 offered "furnished--large front room and pantry in a quiet house...also a small room; excellent neighborhood."
The designation of a "front room" was important to potential renters. Unlike a "hall room," it would have a window and therefore light and ventilation.
When the Jeans sold No. 39 in January 1891, the buyer was, somewhat surprisingly, James D. McClelland, who now lived just two houses away at No. 43. He spent $6,500 to regain the house, which he leased to John F. Neilson, a City Marshal. Just two months later a fire broke out in the house; but the damage was minor and Neilson continued to live here.
Neilson was involved with Tammany Hall politics, a fact that tainted his reputation in the eyes of some journalists. After City Marshal Henry J. Spink was killed in a train accident in Sheepshead Bay in June 1893, Neilson was appointed to replace him. The Evening World commented "Neilson held the same office before. He is one of Police Justice 'Barney' Martin's henchmen in the Eighth District...Neilson will be attached to the Third District Civil Court, in the Jefferson Market building."
'Barney' Martin, was, incidentally, Justice Bernard F. Martin. He had been partners with "Red" Leary and his wife, Kate, in a saloon, described by Abram C. Bernheim as "the resort of the most disreputable classes in the community." And Tammany Biographies published by The New York Evening Post in 1894 added "'Red' Leary was the most notorious burglar in the country, and Kate probably the most famous pickpocket in the world." The trio had lived together above the saloon.
Later that year, in November, Martin advertised "hall rooms, nicely furnished, $1.50." The weekly rent would be equal to about $43 today. Among those living here in 1896 was William McClelland, apparently the son of Neilson's landlord. It is most likely no coincidence that the young McClelland landed a job as a clerk in the Third Judicial District Court--the same location where John F. Neilson served as City Marshall.
It is unclear when Neilson left the Barrow Street house. On July 1, 1910 James D. McClelland (still living at No. 43 Barrow) sold the house to Bridget McDonald. At least twice she leased the house--in August 1919 to Jane Herder, and in November 1921 to Catherine McCabe.
It was purchased by Marie Louise and Julius Goebel in 1936. Immediately Marie Louise involved herself in neighborhood activities. She opened what one newspaper described as her "100-year-old house and garden" for the Greenwich House Garden Tour in 1937, arranged by Mrs. J. G. Phelps Stokes. She participated in the event every year until 1940. In 1939 she installed a "studio for sculpturing" in the rear.
The following year Julius Goebel died. A few months later, in April 1941, Marie Louise leased the house to Bertha Brainard; then sold it in 1945 to Ruth Neinson.
No. 39 has remained a single-family residence. It sits on a block emblematic of Greenwich Village charm, perhaps best described by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1969 when it said "The warm quality of brick creates an atmosphere for this street."
photograph by the author