Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Robert H. Sherwood House - 206 East 13th Street


Robert H. Sherwood was a well-to-do attorney in 1851.  His recently built, 16-foot-wide house at 120 East 13th Street (renumbered 206 in 1867) stood apart from most of the residences in the neighborhood.  Its Anglo-Italianate plan did away with the ubiquitous high stone stoop.  Instead, the entrance sat above a low, three-step porch.  The elegant design included a rusticate stone base, above which floor-to-ceiling parlor windows sat upon a shallow stone bandcourse.  An attractive pressed metal cornice crowned the structure.

In 1853 the Sherwood family moved to 114 9th Street.  At the time Dr. Thomas Ritter and his wife, Delia, were living at 28 Market Street on the Lower East Side.  By 1856 they had moved into the former Sherwood house.

Ritter had graduated from Yale College in 1826.  In addition to his medical practice, he operated a "medicine chest warehouse" at 104 Cherry Street where he also manufactured drugs.

Thomas and Delia were members of the Broadway Tabernacle on Broadway between Worth Street and Catherine Lane.  The congregation was well-known for its outspoken anti-slavery stance.  Dr. Ritter's deep involvement with the church was evidenced in 1857 when it moved north to 34th Street and Sixth Avenue.  An advertisement in the New-York Daily Times instructed potential buyers of the old property to contact either Israel Minor or Thomas Ritter.

On May 16, 1861, one month after the first shot was fired in the Civil War, 38-year-old William H. Hallick was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in the 83rd Regiment of the New York State Volunteers.  The regiment was called into service in the war eleven days later.

In his absence, Hallick's wife and daughters moved into the East 13th Street house with the Ritters.  Tragically, only two months later, on July 10, six-year-old Mary F. Hallick died.  Her father was, of course, unable to attend her funeral, held in the parlor here two days later.

As was the fate of so many Union soldiers, Hallick fell ill on the battlefront late in 1861.  He returned to New York and the Ritter house, "hoping to recover his health and return again to the field of duty," according to the 1888 History of the Ninth Regiment.  That would not come to pass.  He died here on January 5, 1862 at the age of 39.  The History of the Ninth Regiment commented, "His death was not unexpected by his comrades, for in the stillness of the night, those nearest his tent had often heard his painful cough as he battled with that fell destroyer--consumption."  (Consumption was the then-current term for tuberculosis.)

Surprisingly, given the on-going war, the Ritters' daughter, Isabella Graham Ritter, was married to Henry L. Stevenson in New Orleans on July 3, 1864.  How Thomas Ritter's patients and friends reacted to the announcement is unknown.

Following the war, the Ritters leased the house.  In 1866 Dr. E. Mouchel, whom today we would call a urologist, lived and practiced from the house.  His advertisement in December that year read:

Physician and Surgeon of the Faculty of Paris.
Pupil of Ricard, (16 years practice.)
Cures private diseases, Dropsy, Strictures, Gravel, Stone and all Urinary Affections.
Consultation from 8 to 11 A.M. and 4 to 7 P.M.

By 1879 Dr. George H. Mitchell operated his office here.  That year he took on an assistant, 35-year-old Professor Brown, who also lived with the family.   The New-York Daily Tribune reported, "he had been educated at Harvard, had become a tutor and at his graduation an assistant-professor of chemistry in the college."  Then "some trouble with a lady had plunged him in despondency."   At that point he resigned from Harvard and became alienated from his family.

Four months after working and living with Mitchell, Brown suddenly disappeared.  The New-York Daily Tribune said, "He left a line telling his friends not to be uneasy about him."  The newspaper noted, "His face, however, was very careworn, and he acted as though some great trouble had affected his mind."  And then, a few months later, Brown appeared at the Mitchells' door for a visit.  In what the New-York Daily Tribune called "a curious though sad story," he revealed that he was now driving a team of mules on the Erie Canal.  He said "he was happy because he was earning $15 a month and his board and lodging."  After visiting for a few hours, he returned to his canal boat for the season.

Delia M. Ritter sold 206 East 13th Street in May 1884 to Conrad Dormann for $15,200--about $433,000 in 2022.  Conditions within the once refined neighborhood had noticeably declined by now.  Dormann operated the property as a rooming house--renting rooms sometimes by the hour.

On December 15, 1884 the divorce case of Hattie A. and C. Augustus Burgess commenced.  The wronged wife found a prostitute, Ella Burger, who was willing to testify on her behalf.  She told the court of meeting Burgess several times at Theiss' beer garden on 14th Street.  With startling frankness, she testified in part, "I met him the second time at Theiss'; we went from there to 206 East 13th street, this City; he accompanied me to a room there; he then had sexual intercourse with me; it was in the afternoon."

Dormann leased the house to Mary Studer on May 1, 1885.  She seems to have made a clean sweep of the premises, and the notorious goings on ceased.  It may have been Mary Studer who was looking for a handyman in September 1893.  The advertisement read, "Man, single, to do work in furnished room house.  references.  206 East 13th st."

While it was no longer a house of disrepute, the roomers of 206 East 13th Street were nonetheless decidedly proletariat.  Typical was Rosie Logan, living here in 1895.  Women who frequented The Bowery were most often hard-edged and had little reputation left to lose.  Rosie was arrested on The Bowery on the night of December 17, "charged with having jabbed Rosie Plumb, of No. 54 Great jones street, with her hatpin."  When the afflicted Rosie declined to file a complaint, Rosie Logan was released two days later.

Another roomer had been arrested earlier that year for a much more serious offense.  Michael S. Consodine had operated two "dives" in Philadelphia until 1889.  ("Dive" was a common term for the most depraved type of saloon.)  After moving to New York, he opened a "beer hall" on West 26th Street in the notorious Tenderloin District.  Frequent raids caused him to close the saloon, and he opened a pool room--the late 19th century term for a horse betting operation.  But then the police made a sweep of those illegal establishments.  The Press said on January 29, 1895, "He has been in no business since the pool rooms were closed."

John J. Malone had convinced Michael Consodine to invest $500 in a "nailless horseshoe," according to The Press, which Malone said was already on the market.  But months later, Consodine saw no results and Malone "put him off from time to time."  On January 28, Consodine's patience had come to an end.  Outside the St. James Hotel Consodine fired a single gunshot into Malone's stomach.  Shouting, "You've killed me!," Malone staggered to the curb, hailed a cabman, and ordered him, "Take me to the New York Hospital, quick!"

The Press wrote, "Policeman Thomas Sheridan, who was but a few feet away, arrested Consodine and took the revolver away from him.  The shooting and all was done so quickly that no crowd gathered."  Malone died at the hospital.

On March 20, 1898 an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald offering, "For Sale--Four story house with furniture, good for boarding house.  Inquire 206 East 13th st."  It continued to be operated as a rooming house with a colorful mix of tenants.

On November 3, 1901, Harry Miller, a.k.a., Harry Hummel, was arrested for "false registration."  At the turn of the last century, it was common for petty criminals to accept money to cast multiple votes under different names.

Another roomer named Miller was Otto.  He lived here in 1906 with his wife, Augusta Martha Bruning.  Martha worked as a cook for the William Gardner family at 241 West 113th Street.  Miller was described by The Sun as "a fine six foot young German."  Around October 11, Augusta left him.  She later told a judge, "Otto wouldn't have been so bad if he'd not been so stuck up."

Augusta had previously been married to Frank Newman, a painter for the Department of Street Cleaning.  She now went back to him.  Somehow, two weeks later, Newman found out about her marriage to Otto Miller, despite having never divorced him.  Newman appeared at Miller's door, they discussed the situation, and on October 25, 1906 The Sun reported that they "appeared before the Magistrate in the Tombs court and swore out a warrant for their wife's arrest as a bigamist."  The men were in for a surprise.

In court it came out that Augusta had been married, first, in 1901 to a carpenter, Henry Koehler.  She said she left him when "he thought I could make a good living for both, and I said I was not such a fool."  Then she married Frank Newman.  She told the judge that Newman knew she was married, "and said it would be all right, that divorce was only necessary for actresses and rich people."  When Newman "turned out to be a brute," she left to marry Phil Spitzenberger, an ironworker.  She left him, she said, because "Some men think a wife is only good to cook and wash for them."

The often-married Augusta was held on $500 bail.  Asked by the magistrate if she were sorry, she answered, "Am I sorry?   Yes and no."  Otto Miller returned to 206 East 13th Street a single man.

It is possible Otto did find love, however.  A year later Mrs. Minnie Miller, who was possibly Otto's wife, lived here.  Her sister, Mrs. Ida Schiller, who lived in Albany suffered a mortifying tragedy that summer.  Somehow lighting gas had leaked in the her children's bedroom, and all four died of accidental asphyxiation.  With gross understatement, The Evening World said, "Mrs. Schiller was naturally depressed over the loss of her little children."

In December, Ida's husband sent her to New York to spend the holidays with the Millers in hopes of raising her spirits.  But, according to The Evening World, the effect was the opposite.  "The Christmas cheer and the festivities of New Year's appeared to accentuate her grief."  On New Year's night, Ida told Minnie she was tired of life.

Minnie went out the following day.  Another roomer in the house, Harry Blair, smelled the odor of gas, and traced it to the Miller's rooms.  Knowing that Ida Schiller had been depressed, he forced open the locked door and found her unconscious.  She had attached a rubber tube to the lighting fixture, placed it in her mouth, and turned on the gas.  Minnie came home to find Blair trying to resuscitate her sister, and rushed out to find a policeman who helped until an ambulance arrived.  "If Mrs. Schiller recovers she will owe her life to the prompt aid given by Mr. Blair," said The Evening World.

In January 1914, Frank M. Henning rented a room here.  It was not long, however, before police came knocking at his door.  On January 14, The New York Times reported that the 27-year-old had been arrested "on the charge of being a fugitive from justice."  Henning had come to New York from Schaumberg, Illinois.  The article said he "is accused of having stolen $40,000 from the Farmers' Bank" there.  It was a major bank robbery of more than $1.1 million in today's money.

Many of the residents of 206 East 13th Street continued to be shady through the succeeding decades.  One of them, Samuel Gross, committed a despicable crime on November 27, 1918.
 That day Adaline Eggers, a Navy yeoman, was in a bakery at 181st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue on November 27, 1918.  On the counter was a donation box for the Permanent Blind Relief Fund to help blinded soldiers and sailors wounded in World War I.  Gross entered, grabbed the donation box and fled.  Close on Gross's heels was the Navy woman.  She grabbed him, but he was able to break free.  Eggers chased him down the street until he was captured by a foot patrolman.

In 1968 206 East 13th Street was converted to apartments--one per floor.  One of them became home to rock and roll singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren by 1972.  That year he wrote two of his best known songs, "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw the Light."  In her 2001 book Rebel Heart, singer Bebe Buell recalls her first visit to the apartment:

Inside we mounted a stately staircase, but when Todd opened his door, I glimpsed the interior of an apartment that was the polar opposite of the building's nineteenth-century opulence.  I'd never seen such a mess.

As had happened in the late 19th century, the tenor of the block changed again in the late 20th.  Tenements across the street have been replaced with a luxury condominium building, and former tenements have become comfortable apartments.  And despite its often sketchy history, Robert H. Sherwood's brownstone home survives after more than 170 years.

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

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