Friday, June 26, 2020

The Much Altered 1829 Henry Fredricks House - 16 Morton Street

No trace of the Federal-style residence remains.

Around 1829 mason and builder Henry Fredricks erected a two-and-a-half story house at No. 16 Morton Street.  It is likely that Fredricks acted as his own architect for the project.  Faced in Flemish bond the 25-foot wide house reflected the elements of the currently rampant Federal style.  The doorway, above a short stoop, was flanked by wooden, fluted Ionic columns.  An overlight allowed daylight into the foyer.  Stone sills and lintels trimmed the openings and two tall dormers punched through the peaked roof.  

In the rear yard was a two-story brick stable and a smaller frame building, accessed from the street by a horse-walk, or pathway.  Fredricks chose to make full use of the real estate necessary to accommodate the horse-walk.  Rather than create an open alley as was often done, he built the house over it, adding a street level door for access.  With the added square footage inside, the house, which would have been three bays wide, was now four--the window above the horse-walk door being noticeably narrower than its counterparts.

Fredricks sold the house in 1841 to Albert Anderson, who sold it to Peter Edsall, Jr. in 1852.  It appears that he and his wife lost their new-born infant in 1857.  A touching advertisement appeared in The New York Herald on November 16 that year: "Wanted--A child to wet nurse at her own residence, by a respectable healthy American woman, with a fresh breast of milk."

By 1877 Edsall was leasing the house to John Wesley Jacobus and his family.  Jacobus's official occupation was listed as "carman," or delivery driver, but he had serious political ambitions.  That same year he was appointed an Inspector of Elections--the same elections during which he was elected alderman.

John Wesley Jacobus - The St. Joseph Herald, December 22, 1889 (copyright expired)

Jacobus was born in New York City in 1848.  When just 13-years old he enlisted in the 9th New York Volunteer Regiment to fight in the Civil War, coming home with the rank of colonel.  He and his wife had one daughter, Grace.  

He was a daunting athlete as well; something William Rollston would have done well to consider before he rang the doorbell of No. 16 Morton Street on March 4, 1884.  Rollston knew that no politician could afford scandalous press and he attempted to blackmail Jacobus with a story of a same-sex encounter.  When Jacobus opened the door Rollston announced "I've come to have a wrong righted," according to The New York Times.  The article continued "He told Mr. Jacobus that they had met in a lodge-room up town.  Then he accused the ex-Alderman of a disgraceful act and said: 'Now 'stake' me.'"

It was a bad decision.  "The blackmailing demand had hardly left his lips when Mr. Jacobus, who is one of the best amateur boxers in this city, felled him to the floor and gave him a terrible thrashing."  After his arrest Rollston claimed that he had gone to the wrong house, but that was doubtful.  "Rollston has been in similar trouble before," said The Times.

Despite their rather modest Morton Street house, the Jacobus family was financially comfortable.  They spent a long summer weekend with the family of Tom Swift in the seaside town of Highlands, New Jersey in 1887.  The family returned at around 11:00 p.m. on Monday, August 29, exhausted.  The Sun explained that Jacobus had spent "half of Sunday night and much of Monday morning before sunrise in telling stories and looking at the moon on Tom Swift's back piazza."

While the family and their servant slept soundly, two burglars gained entrance to the house through a cellar window.   Jacobus first realized there was trouble the following morning when he reached for his trousers and waistcoat, which he had hung on the head of the bed, to find them gone.   But, oddly enough, his wife's jewelry, valued at nearly $14,000 in today's money, still sat on the bureau where she had left it the night before.

Jacobus's pants and coat were found lying on the floor downstairs.  "The trousers had been skinned of about $150 put there ready to pay a couple of bills in the morning, and of the $50 note always carried in the pistol pocket as a reserve fund," said The Sun.  Missing from his coat was his $250 gold watch, a "65-penny-weight chain and the prized and ponderous gold-mounted claws of a Mystic Shrine badge."  Those items alone would amount to more than $14,000 today.

The audacious thieves had quietly ransacked the house while the family slept.  Even more galling, according to The New York Times, they shined their shoes "with Mr. Jacobus's blacking brush and blacking" in the parlor and helped themselves to Jacobus's alcohol before leaving.  "They calmly cleaned their boots in that sacred apartment, after which they got out a pack of cards and a bottle of whisky, and apparently enjoyed a brief season of quiet and restful converse."  

Suddenly a noise spooked them.  "They apparently went sooner than they expected to, as a bundle of silver-handled umbrellas and some valuable silver which they had wrapped in tissue paper were left behind."

Jacobus's political career continued to rise.  He ran twice for sheriff, unsuccessfully, but in December 1889 he was appointed Federal Marshal of the Southern District of New York.  In reporting on his appointment The St. Joseph Herald noted that he "is considered wealthy.  His business is that of carman."

The house was the scene of a joyous event in 1890.  The New-York Tribune reported on September 17, "the marriage of Miss Grace Lent Jacobus, the daughter of United States Marshal John Wesley Jacobus, to William F. Patterson, will take place to-morrow afternoon at 5 o'clock at the home of Marshal Jacobus, No. 16 Morton-st."   A "large party" of fashionably-dressed guests attended the wedding, at which "The bride wore beautiful diamonds, presents from her husband," according to The Press.  The newly-weds received a generous wedding present from either the Jacobuses or Pattersons (or both).  The Press said that after their honeymoon to Niagara Falls and the Thousand Islands, "they will find a home furnished for them at No. 62 Barrow street."

Jacobus was still renting No. 16 at the time.  On April 25, 1891 the Record & Guide reported that Peter Edsall had renewed his lease for another two years at $900 (just over $26,000 a year today).   Then, in December 1897, Mary C. and Joseph H. Dalrymple took title to the property.  The couple, who lived in Hackensack, New Jersey, took out a $10,000 mortgage--a significant $318,000 today.

The Dalrymples sold the "brick dwelling with stable in rear" to Roger Foster.  The once respectable residence quickly declined.  Operated as a rooming house in 1904, one of its tenants, James Harman, was arrested in a raid on a gambling raid on the Eagle Hotel on Morton and West Street on January 6 that year.  In 1904 and again in 1905 Foster received Health Department violations that cited No. 16 as a "public nuisance."  The term usually referred to reeking outhouses or grossly unsanitary conditions inside.

The Federal style doorway and the entrance to the horse-walk can be seen in this photograph.  Above the junk store the windows of the second floor are woefully broken out.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
By 1914 the ground floor and stable building were being operated as a junk shop and scrap metal and rag business.  It was the target of three youthful robbers early on the morning of February 27 that year.  The beat cop named Flanagan would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary if he had not heard a boy's voice warning "Chiggy, Jimmy, here comes a cop!" 

The voice came from the doorway of No. 14 Commerce street where "three shabbily dressed boys stood guard."  At his approach the boys darted.  In the doorway he found "1,400 pounds of metal, worth $306, which had been stolen from No. 16 Morton street during the night."  The three youths, Herman Paro, 16-years old; Alfred Grossino, 15; and James McGloin, 16, were arrested after a four block chase.

On November 25, 1922 the Record & Guide reported that Henry and David Pippman purchased the "old 2-1/2 story and basement brick dwelling" from Roger Foster.  It was the first of a rapid string of turnovers in ownership until 1927 when barrel makers Giovannini Basilico and Evaristo Barbero purchased the property as home to their Basilio & Barbero Cooperage Co.

A Basilio & Barbero truck sits in front of the building prior to the 1928 makeover.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The following year the partners hired Italian-born architect Salvatore P. Patti to completely remodel the building.  The facade was removed and replaced and the rear extended to connect with the former stable building.  Patti gave the building a Utilitarian style facade, with a large bay door cut into street level and the entrance moved to the former horse-walk.

Basilio & Barbero Cooperage & Co. remained in the building until 1935 when Mabel Pesango purchased the property.  She commissioned architect Philip Bardes to convert the building to a garage "for more than five cars and repair shop," according to the Department of Buildings.  At the same time he raised the attic to a full floor topped by a stepped parapet.

The Morton Auto Service occupied the newly renovated space when this photo was taken.  via NYC Department of Records & Information Services
Morton Auto Service remained in the building for years before being converted to six apartments.  Then, in 2014 a startling new chapter began.  On May 6 Curbed New York entitled an article "Cynthia Rowley May Be Mending a West Village Fixer-Upper" and reported that the fashion designer had spent just under $11 million on the 4,500-square foot property.  Ten days later plans were filed for conversion of the first floor to commercial space and the "renovation and combination of second and third floor residential apartments."

photo by Leslie J. Garfield via
Rowley moved into one of the two resultant apartments.  She put the property back on the market in April 2018 for $17.5 million.  The series of make-overs completely hide the bones of the 1829 house where a high-powered politician lived for decades.

photographs by the author

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