Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Capt. Edward Slevin House - 121 West 11th Street


In 1841 architect William Hurry and builder George Youngs partnered in the aggressive project of erecting a long row of high-end rowhouses in Greenwich Village.  Completed the following year, the Greek Revival row began at 121 West 11th Street, filling nearly half the northern side of the block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, and continuing up Sixth Avenue with five more homes.

The westernmost house, 121 West 11th Street, stood apart from its nearly identical neighbors with its stately pediment over the doorway.  The added touch may have been the request of the original buyer as the house was under construction.

By the mid-1870's 121 West 11th Street was being operated as a boarding house.  An advertisement on August 29, 1875 offered:  "To Let--Two or three unfurnished front rooms, every convenience on floor, first class neighborhood; vacant on September 1; suitable for lady or gentleman."

Earlier that year, on March 23, the New York Herald had reported that "Mr. Bunker, of No. 121 West Eleventh street, was riding up town on the front platform of a Fourth avenue [street] car" when a lager beer truck crossed the tracks in front of it.  A streetcar coming in the opposite direction struck the wagon.  The pole of the truck broke off and "swung across the front of the Fourth avenue car, and striking Mr. Bunker in the head and breast severely injured him."  Bunker was brought back to the West 11th Street house "in a very weak condition."

The stricken Mr. Bunker was either Alexander Bunker, a real estate agent, or Washington A. Bunker, most likely his son, a clerk.  The other white collar boarders in the house at the time were clerks Charles C. Hough, William R. Payne, and Zachary T. Trimble; physician Antonie Stichweh Selmnitz; and Martin Parker who listed his profession as merchant.

Widow Emma E. Braisted ran the boarding house by 1880.  Her deceased husband, James Braisted, had been the captain of a Staten Island ferryboat for many years.  Emma's son and her mother, Mrs. O'Brien lived here as well. 

The Bunkers were still boarding with Emma in 1881.  Her other boarders that year were Charles Burnham, "treasurer;" teacher Joseph Operti; Charles F. Roemer, a basket merchant; and Joseph Stanton, a clerk.

Emma Braisted's reputation and that of her home were nearly destroyed by two children in 1882.  It all started when she rented rooms to William Banta, Jr., a hatter on Grand Street.  He and his wife, Charlotte Magill, had lived in the fine Brooklyn home of Charlotte's parents with their three children.

But about a year after Charlotte died, infighting among the in-laws and Banta prompted him to take the children to Manhattan.  The decision to leave the only home they had ever known did not sit well with his children, 12-year-old William, 9-year-old Mary, and Edward, who was three.  Six weeks after moving in, the children ran away.

They ended up at the home of their uncle, Robert Magill, who notified Banta.  There had already been a series of confrontations in court between Banta and the Magill family--battles over custodial rights, a slander suit, a fight over who owned certain pieces of furniture, etc.--and now there would be another.  In court on January 15, 1882, the children were interviewed by the judge.  Intent on returning to their grandmother's home, they claimed their father was unfit and turned the focus on Emma Braisted.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "They said that they went neither to Sunday school nor church during their stay with their father.  The older boy and his sister, it appeared, slept in the same bed with their father, and [the] youngest child on the couch in the parlor."

It seems that even the reporter questioned the children's fantastic description of the Braisted house.  "The two [eldest] children told a curious story about the methods of their Eleventh street home.  According to their statements the habits of the inmates were very offensive.  Much beer was consumed."  According to them, little Eddy's feet were washed "in the basin in which the bread was made and Mrs. Braisted used the napkins in lieu of handkerchiefs."  Then Banta's sister-in-law (who had been seen in the 11th Street neighborhood just prior to the children's disappearance) took the stand.  Although there were no female residents listed there, she alleged that the boarding house "was occupied by a class of women who worked during the day and brought home friends with them of an evening."

Emma Braisted and her daughter had come to Brooklyn for the proceedings that day.  She brought her own witnesses who testified, in part, "the lady who kept the house was a good and proper person."  In the end, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said "Mrs. Braisted [was] exonerated."  Nevertheless, the children's grandmother was granted custody.

Emma would deal with more drama the following year.  She took in a Mrs. Staver and her two daughters, both of whom were young adults.  One of them, Susie, was stricken with "a spell of mental derangement" on July 2, according to The National Police Gazette, and rushed to the roof of the house intent on suicide.  The newspaper said, "A thrilling spectacle was witnessed by a large number of persons."  Susie was "about to throw herself over the parapet, when she was discovered by her mother and sister."

The National Police Gazette, July 21, 1883 (copyright expired)

The article continued, "The women had just time to grab the would-be suicide by the arms and hold on to her until their screams attracted the attention of neighbors."  A group of rescuers ran through the house to the roof and were able to pull Susie to safety.

Around 1886 121 West 11th Street once again became a private home after it was purchased by William H. Cronk, who, according to the New-York Tribune, held a "lucrative place with a New-York cloak house."  Living with him and his wife and daughter was his widowed mother-in-law, Harriet Jewett Morgan.

It was apparently the Cronks who gently updated the Greek Revival design by slightly raising the top floor to full height, adding an Italianate cornice, and replacing the ironwork of the stoop and areaway.  The modern French-style replacements were quintessentially Belle Époque in design.

On the night of July 15, 1889 Cronk was walking along 32nd Street near Sixth Avenue when Paul Greville and James Weir jostled him.  The New York Times called Greville "a tout" (a person who offered betting tips, often in a harassing manner).  Very quickly Cronk realized he was missing his gold watch and $58 in cash (more than $1,600 today).

Cronk was quick enough that a policeman was able to apprehend Greville.  In court he testified "that Cronk was not sober, and that the jostling was a friendly encounter," said The New York Times.  The judge did not buy his story and he was committed to jail.

Harriett Morgan was more socially recognized than her daughter and son-in-law.  Her deceased husband, Andrew W. Morgan, had been a lifelong friend of Horace Greeley, according to one source, and "she was related through her marriage to the Longfellow and Hawthorne families."  Born in Salem, Massachusetts, she and her seven sisters had been "famous for their beauty."  In 1892 Harriett began suffering a series of strokes.  They eventually resulted in her death in the house on January 20, 1893.

In March the following year Cronk sold 121 West 11th Street to Police Captain Edward Slevin and his wife, Catherine F. Slevin.  The couple paid $5,000 for the house, or about $155,000 in today's money.  

The Cronks moved to Passaic, New Jersey.  In November 1899 his wife and daughter went to Paterson, New Jersey to attend the funeral of Vice-President Garret Hobart.  In their absence, on November 24, William went to an Erie Railroad train station and shot himself in the head.

Edward Slevin was born on June 15, 1811 "of Irish parentage," according to the Boston Daily Globe.   After solving several important cases, he was made a police captain in June 1887.  He and Catherine had a daughter, Mary Catherine.

On February 20, 1895, the Slevins attended the funeral of Catherine's mother.  Two days later, at around midnight Edward woke Catherine up, saying he was ill.  The Evening World reported, "The Captain complained of excruciating distress in his stomach and abdomen."  Catherine wanted to call a doctor, but Slevin told her to wait until daylight.  Early the next morning Catherine sent a messenger to Police Surgeon Stephen G. Cook.

Slevin was famous enough to earn a place on a tobacco trading card.

"The police surgeon saw that the Captain was a very sick man," said The Evening World.  He briefly left, returning with Police Surgeon Phelps and Dr. Charles S. Bull.  They diagnosed a perforated intestine, most likely caused by an ulcer.  Rev. Father McManus of St. Joseph's Church on Sixth Avenue was summoned to administer the last rites, and Slevin died at around 12:30 that afternoon.  

Catherine "fell in a swoon" when he died.  The Evening World reported, "The shock following so closely upon the death of her mother, who was buried two days before, proved too much for her delicate constitution.  For a time the doctors feared the shock might result fatally.  She is a sufferer from heart trouble, and is still very low."

Normally the funeral of a police captain would have been a large affair, but Catherine requested a private ceremony, although police were invited to attend.  The Evening World reported the following day, "The condition of the widow is still precarious and it is doubtful if she will be able to attend the funeral."

Captain Slevin's coffin sat in the parlor of the West 11th Street house until the morning of February 24.  A police detail stood honor guard.  "During the day the friends of the dead Police Captain called at the house and viewed the body, which lay in a cloth-covered casket bearing his name and the date of his death," reported The Sun.  The casket was then carried to St. Joseph's Church for the funeral service.  The pallbearers were all police captains.

Edward Slevin's reputation and esteem was such that a drive was launched to raise $4,000 to pay off the mortgage on 121 West 11th Street.  On April 13, 1895 The World reported, "A benefit for that purpose will be given Thursday next by a matinee performance of 'Too Much Johnson' at the Standard Theatre."

Despite having her mortgage paid, Catherine took in a boarder.  On April 11, 1897 she advertised, "Large front room, beautifully furnished; all conveniences; private family; gentleman; reference."

Renting that room in 1901 was Andrew L. Dalton, who was appointed clerk to the Surrogate Court in January.  His annual salary was $1,800.  

Two years later Henry G. Moore was Catherine's boarder.  He was most likely referred by Andrew Dalton because he, too, was a clerk in the Surrogate's office.  Moore suffered an unnerving incident on the evening of November 17, 1903.  He and John H. Nagel left the office with their boss, chief clerk J. Fairfax McLaughlin.  Normally they would have caught a subway at the City Hall station, but McLaughlin said he wanted a little fresh air.  The trio headed north to the 14th Street streetcar.  They had just reached Broadway and White Street when McLaughlin's hat blew off.  The 64-year-old ran after it, but, according to the New-York Tribune, "before he had taken a dozen steps he fell heavily to the sidewalk."  Moore and Nagle rushed to his side, but he was already dead, most likely the victim of a heart attack.

Catherine received unwanted news in August 1908.  The Police Department "investigated the financial condition of Catherine F. Slevin," according to The City Record.  It found that she "does not need for her support the pension heretofore granted her."  The monthly pension payments were suspended on August 31 that year.

She was still living at 121 West 11th Street in 1913 when she announced the engagement of Mary Catherine to Dr. Charles A. McCarthy.

It appears the house was once again being operated as a rooming house by the first years of the Great Depression.  In 1929 Carmetta K. Barie, a dietitian with the Childs Company, married John Ballard Allen in the First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue.  Allen worked with the National City Bank.  The Waterville Times reported on February 28, "The couple will reside at 121 West Eleventh Street, New York City."

The occupants continued to be financially comfortable.  On January 4, 1937, for instance, the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News reported that resident Pattie Field O'Brien had purchased "the former Samuel Frost farm of 120 acres in the town of Clinton [New York]."

The 21-foot-wide house has never been converted to apartments.  A recent real estate listing said, "Since 1894, the home has been owned by two families."  While much of the 1842 interior detailing has been lost, outside the house is little changed since the Cronks gave it a gentle updating in the 1880's.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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