photo by Beyond My Ken
Completed around 1845, the house at 127 West 16th Street (renumbered 209 in 1868), was an early example of Italianate architecture with its full-height third floor and pressed metal cornice. But the architect did not totally dismiss the still popular Greek Revival style. Although the property was a mere 17-feet in width, he managed to squeeze narrow sidelights on either side of the door and top it with a transom, both nods to the Greek Revival style. Also melding Italianate with Greek Revival were the stoop and areaway railings, which exhibited design elements of both.
The house became home to Henry Sutcliff, a carpenter, and his family. As was often the case with houses of the period, a secondary building sat in the rear yard. Sutcliff ran his carpentry business from the shop and another carpenter, presumably an employee, William G. Diehl, lived above it. The family had one boarder in the main house, Ruth A. Whitford, a widow.
Although the Sutliffs remained in the house through 1854, by then Henry had given his carpentry shop over to a bakery. Bakers Cornelius Decklyn and John Rowe both lived in the second floor of that building. Living in the main house with the Sutliffs that year was the Warren family. John H. Warren listed his profession simply as "manufacturer." He may have been in the hat making business, since his son, also named John, was a hat presser.
Following the Sutliffs, the house became home to another carpenter, William Leaycraft. He seems to have closed the shop in the rear building and it was occupied by two widows, Mary Brown, a "tailoress," and Mary Conway, in 1860. Boarding with the Leaycrafts in the main house that year was Ellert Wulfhoop, who was in the milk business.
Around 1874 Michael McMullen, a roofer, purchased 209 West 16th Street. Two dressmakers, Sophia Loftus and Meta Hartman, rented rooms from the family in 1876, possibly in the rear building. Another boarder, James Gildreth, appeared in newspapers for a potentially embarrassing situation that year.
On December 13 he visited the house of Ellen Rosenbury on Atlantic Street in Brooklyn. When he left, he discovered he was missing $60 in cash--around $1,500 in today's money. Very often women of ill repute managed to get away with theft, since their victims wanted to avoid scandal and notoriety. The amount was apparently too much for Gildreth to ignore and he filed a complaint. Two days later The New York Times reported she had been arrested for stealing the money "while in his company." Happily for Gildreth, the money was recovered.
Michael McMullen sold the house on February 27, 1886 to James and Catherine Maher Gregg for $10,000--around $285,000 today. It was almost assuredly the Greggs who updated the stoop newels and added cast metal cornices to the windows.
Gregg was a "fitter," or gas pipe plumber. As had been the case with his predecessors, the Greggs took in boarders. The first of them were Jacob J. Knox and Cerarine Thibaud, yet another dressmaker.
In March 1887 Cerarine placed an advertisement in The New York Times that read, "Dressmaker--French: Arrived few months from Paris; wishes some customers at home; stylish and elegant fitting and draping. Call at 209 West 16th st."
Julia Sorenson lived here with her mother and sister in 1896. She got a job as a governess at the upscale resort community of Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island that summer, earning the equivalent of $795 per month today. She left New York on June 11 and wrote frequently to her mother and sister. As the summer drew to an end, she wrote that "she had been out in the evening once or twice with a young man," according to The Press, "whose name she did not mention, but she would not go out with him again, as she was afraid of him."
With the summer social season ended, on September 14 Julia left her employers' cottage to return home. She was paid in cash as she said good-bye. Her mother expected her that night, but she never arrived. And then, the following day, a special report to The Press announced, "Miss Julia Sorrenson, of No. 209 West Sixteenth street, New York, was the woman washed off a rock here and drowned yesterday." The article noted that she had been paid that morning and said, "The money is missing, and this fact had led many to express a suspicion that her death may not have been purely accidental."
Following her husband's death, Catherine Gregg was prompted to seek a profession. Almost unbelievably she graduated as a nurse from the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School in 1909 at the age of 70. In 1912 she was hired at the Bureau of Preventative Diseases and six years later the Times Union said, "She resides at 209 West Sixteenth street, Manhattan. In 1917...her salary of $1,809 was boosted to $1,920." With her raise she was earning the equivalent of $38,800 per year by today's terms.
The Irish-born Catherine Maher Gregg died in the house on August 5, 1921 at the age of 83. Her funeral mass was held in the Church of St. Francis Xavier nearby at 39 West 15th Street.
Beyond the security door, the sidelights and transom of the door are visible. photo by Beyond My Ken
Possibly because of its narrow proportions, 209 West 16th Street had never been converted to apartments. Other than a coat of paint, it looks much as it did when the Greggs cautiously updated it in the 1880's.
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