Monday, April 25, 2022

The Lost Gotham Inn - 298 Bowery


While the large sign on the front of the building said "Gotham," the arch over the garden entrance touts another popular name, "Bowery Saloon."  from D. T. Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New-York, 1862.  (copyright expired)

No one seemed to know exactly when the original part of 298 Bowery was erected.  In April 1878 the New-York Tribune said, "It is said to be one hundred years old, and was originally used as a farm-house."  The wooden building was two-and-a-half stories tall with a peaked roof and a double height veranda.  At some point around the turn of the 19th century, it was converted to a roadhouse.  A two-story commercial extension with a dignified rooftop balustrade was added to the front, blocking about two-thirds of the old facade.  

In 1813 the inn was operated by George McKay, and by 1822 was being run by John Mackey.  The history of the building nearly ended two years later.  The minutes of the Common Council of April 26, 1824 included the notation: "A Petition of George Warner for permission to remove a frame building No. 298 Bowery was referred to the alderman & Assistant of the 8th Ward with Powers."  For whatever reason, the petition was denied.

Instead, John Rikeman took over the tavern.  Apparently cost-conscious, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Evening Post on April 18, 1829 seeking:  "Billiard Table--Any person having a good Billiard Table to dispose of cheap, may hear of a purchaser by applying at 298 Bowery."

Owners of the roadhouse continued to come and go.  John Rikeman was succeeded by Harry B. Venn in 1831, followed by Benjamin True, then S. W. Bryham in 1836, who sold it to Edwin Parnell, in 1839.  It appears to be Parnell who named it the Bowery Cottage.  He announced his proprietorship on May 14:

Bowery Cottage, 298 Bowery--The subscriber would respectfully inform his friends and the public that, having taken the above establishment (formerly kept by Ben True), and having improved, refitted and supplied his bar with the choicest of liquors and cigars, hopes by assiduous attention to the comfort of his guest, to merit a liberal share of patronage.

                                                                             Edwin Parnell 

Around 1843 George V. Ryerson took over the operation, but his tenure would be a short-lived.  On January 12, 1844, the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer reported that "three men pleaded guilty to the charge keeping a disorderly house."  It was the polite 19th century term for a brothel.

The inn and tavern were taken over by Henry (sometimes referred to as Harry) B. Venn in 1844.  A volunteer fireman, he was, according to Augustine E. Costello's 1887 Our Firemen: A History of the New York Fire Departments, "quite a prominent fireman."  Costello added, "No man was better known or had a larger circle of friends."

Venn, who renamed the business Gotham House, moved his family into the house proper, which was the hotel portion of the roadhouse.  He took advantage of the spacious yard.  Pleasure gardens--outdoor spaces where food and entertainment could be enjoyed in the warm weather--had been popular in New York since the 18th century.  His announcement in the New York Herald in 1846 detailed his coming attractions:

H. B. Venn, announces to his friends and the public, that his fall arrangements of musical entertainments will be resumed in the most attractive style, this evening, Tuesday, 1st September.  In order to secure the general approbation which this style of rational recreation has experienced, he has engaged the well known public favorites--Messrs. Knease, Lynch, Mrs. Sharp, Miss Bruce, &c., during the season.  Every available talent will be employed, and it is unnecessary to say that he is determined to secure from his friends that support that they have extended to him with liberality, and to promote the comfort of all who visit "Gotham."

Unlike his predecessor, Venn ran a respectable operation.  Propriety was reflected in his family life as well.  His daughter, Mary E. Venn, remained in the house into her young adult years while she taught in the Primary Department of School No. 32 on Orange Street.

Because Henry Venn was a volunteer firefighter, the Gotham House became a meeting place for firefighters, as well as other groups.   On April 30, 1854, for instance, an announcement in the New York Herald notified "The members and honorary members of Pacific Engine Company No. 28" to meet that day "at the house of H. B. Venn, 298 Bowery, to join in the funeral obsequies of the late members of the Fire Department who lost their lives at the fire in Broadway on the 25th instant."

And later that year, on November 4, a meeting of "hotel keepers and venders of liquors" meet here to "organize ourselves into a society, to be known as the 'Fifteenth Ward Liberty Vigilance Club."  The purpose of the organization was purportedly to protect "our homes, property, and our rights as freemen, against the unjust and tyrannical fanaticism of those who would rob us of the precious heritage of freedom bequeathed to us by our fathers."  Despite the noble ring to the goals, they were, in fact, window dressing on the real purpose--to support New York gubernatorial candidate Horatio Seymour.

Another important group to meet at the Gotham House (or the Gotham Inn, or the Bowery Saloon, depending on whom one was talking to), was the Gotham Base Ball Club of New York, organized in 1852 in the meeting room.  The Gotham Base Ball Club made the Gotham House its clubhouse, and it became the site of several annual conventions of the National Association of Base Ball Players.  The original president of the club was Cornelius V. Anderson, who had been the chief engineer of the Volunteer Firemen from 1837 to 1848.  According to the 2013 book, Base Ball Founders, "His portrait was prominently displayed at Henry Venn's Gotham Cottage at 298 Bowery, the ballclub's headquarters."

In 1858 Edward Bonnell, also a firefighter, took over the operation of the hotel portion.  He renovated the rooms, advertising them as "convenient, cozy and desirable as the best-furnished parlors of a Broadway hotel."

It did not take the volunteer firemen long to muster following the first shot of the Civil War on April 12, 1861.  On April 21, The New York Times announced that a regiment composed of firefighters from the Fifth Fire District, Company E, were to rendezvous at the Gotham House.

Throughout the war the tavern continued to be the meeting spot for the firefighters.  On February 3, 1863, The New York Times reported on the Fire Department's election of Chief Engineer that day.   "The members of the various fire companies will, at various carriage-houses, between the hours of 7 and 9 this evening, formally signify their preference by ballot.  The returns will be immediately carried to 'The Gotham,' No. 298 Bowery, where they will be counted by the inspectors, and the result announced about midnight."

Henry B. Venn died in March 1879 at the age of 68, having made a significant mark on the fire department and in the history of baseball.  He had retired about 14 years earlier, the Gotham House being operated by John Bolin in 1865.

The tavern was the scene of a highly-publicized murder on April 28, 1872.  At around 4:00 that morning, John Halloran was "sitting quietly" in "the Gotham drinking and gambling saloon," as worded by the New York Herald, when city marshal James Burns approached him.  Burns demanded that Halloran stand up, and as he rose, Burns shot him in the chest.  The newspaper said "There had been some ill feeling between the parties, but just previous to the shooting Halloran had not said a word to Burns nor given him any provocation whatever."

On May 7 the New York Herald announced that John Halloran had died "from the effects of the wound."  Prosecutors were now dealing with a first-degree murder case.  The trial concluded on July 11.  Burns was found to have "a dangerous and chronic unsoundness" of mind and was committed to the County Lunatic Asylum.  The Sun reported, "The prisoner and his wife were overjoyed at the escape from the dread alternative of the gallows."

The end of the line for the Gotham Inn came in the spring of 1878.  The New-York Tribune reported, "The 'Gotham Cottage' at No. 298 Bowery, is to be torn down, and a new building is to be erected in its stead...It has been used as a liquor saloon, variety theatre, and club house, and has been closed several times by the police on complaint of persons who have lost money in gambling.  In 1871 it was the scene of the killing of John O'Halloran by James Burns."

The site of the Gotham Inn was replaced a row of four-story tenements, designed by Marc Eidlitz, and the four-story American Dime Museum at the corner of Houston Street, designed by architect Charles Mettam.  Portions of the Eidlitz structures survive.

The site as it appears in 2022. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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