Monday, March 2, 2020

The Lost Christian Briel House - 246 East 82nd Street

from the collection of the New York Public Library
After the New York and Harlem Railroad was extended along Fourth Avenue in the 1830's a hamlet grew up around the 86th Street station.   In the 1850's an influx of German and Irish immigrants settled in the village, many of them hired to build the Croton Aqueduct.   Then, following the end of the Civil War, streets were opened and houses and shops rapidly rose.  At around the same time the village took on the name of Yorkville.

The financial opportunities in the rapidly developing neighborhood were not lost on German immigrant Christian Briel who bought up vacant plots along Second Avenue and erected commercial buildings.  In December 1868 he purchased the large plot on the southwest corner of Second Avenue and 82nd Street from William J. Frost for about $118,000 in today's money.   And then, three months later, he purchased the abutting lot at No. 246 East 82nd Street from Frost's wife, Rosalie.  The price was $2,000, or about $38,800 today.

Briel constructed a 20-foot wide, two-story high-stoop wooden house on the site for his family.  Its full-width deep porch was typical of the scores of frame dwellings being erected throughout Yorkville at the time.   Behind the delicate paneled porch posts floor-to-ceiling windows provided the interiors with both light and fresh air.  Solid paneled double doors were capped by a clear glass overlight.  The pretty wooden cornice ornamented with knee brackets and pendant finials drew from the popular Italianate style.

It appears that the Briels took in at least one roomer.  In 1869 and '70 Samuel Kipp Brown was listed here.  Most likely from out of town, he was attending the introductory class of the College of the City of New York.

Because the bank closed out Briel's mortgage on the property in November 1888, it appears that it was around then that he sold it to policeman Charles O'Connor and his wife, Delia.

The parlor was the scene of sadness two years later when the funeral of their 9-year old son, Charles, Jr. was held here on September 30, 1890.

Charles O'Connor retired from the police department around 1897.  He received an annual pension of $1,000, or about $31,200 a year today.  He continued living in the little wooden house and receiving the same amount through 1906.

The property was then sold to an unexpected buyer.  In 1907 it was converted for the Yorkville Dispensary and Hospital for Women and Children.  The facility had 35 beds, "principally for children (free)" according to the Directory of Social and Health Agencies of New York.  Of equal importance, a portion of the house was used by the New York Milk Committee for one of its milk stations, or "milk depots."

New York City had been plagued with unsafe milk throughout the 19th century.  In response, the New York Milk Committee established experimental stations where "clean milk" was distributed and where mothers were given instruction on the proper care of infants.  The depot at No. 246 East 82nd Street was one of the initial seven facilities opened in neighborhoods throughout the city populated mostly by impoverished immigrants.

Rooms were being rented in the house when this photo was taken in 1936.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The changing demographics of the Yorkville neighborhood was evidenced in 1910 when the hospital was renamed the Beth Israel Hospital, operated by the Federation of Russian Polish Hebrews of America.  It continued, nevertheless, to accept patients of all faiths.  

But a proposed change in policy in 1920 caused friction between the managers and the Ladies' Auxiliary, who had recently worked hard to collect $500.  When the Board of Directors demanded they turn over the funds, the women called a hasty meeting at the Hotel Astor.  The feisty members resolved to keep the money, contending, according to the New York Herald on October 12, "the money they had collected was for the benefit of a non-sectarian hospital."  The treasurer of the Auxiliary, Mrs. L. A. C. Volkman, explained that the hospital "is being transformed to the use of the Federation of Polish Jews."

By 1926 the hospital had vacated the vintage house, which was now being operated as a rooming house.  One of the residents was affluent enough to afford an automobile--and a speeding ticket.  On September 30, 1926 the upstate newspaper The Daily Argus reported Pelham police had fined M. Spackmann $15 for traveling 32 miles per hour.

In the 1940's the house was remarkably well maintained and intact.  via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services.
Wedged in between two more substantial buildings, the little house survived until 1963 when it and the surrounding structures were demolished to make way for the 20-story apartment building, Grace House.

photo via

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