image via hirschmark.com
In 1794 Robert Harpur was Deputy Secretary of the State of New York. He lived at 18 Warren Street, half a block from the City Commons (today's City Hall Park), where five years earlier George Washington had been named President of the United States of America. By the 1850s the formerly residential neighborhood was rapidly being overtaken by commerce. The last resident of the former Harpur house was tailor Benjamin M. Noe, here until 1854.
That year the vintage homes at 18 through 22 Warren Street were replaced by modern loft buildings. The identical, Italianate style structures were five stories tall, their ground floor store spaces capped by a prominent cornice. The elliptically-arched second and third floor openings were distinguished by robust cornices that sat upon scrolled brackets. Matching scrolled keystones made the second floor windows slightly more ornate. The openings of the topmost floors sat within architrave frames and wore slightly less pronounced lintels. Handsome Italianate cornices upheld by paired, scrolled brackets completed the design.
On June 1, 1855 a notice appeared in the New York Herald that announced the dissolution of Thomas N. Dale & Co. Having severed his business relations with his former partners, the notice said, "Thos. N. Dale has this day formed a copartnership with George Richmond, under the firm of Thos. N. Dale & Co., and will continued the business of the late firm at No. 18 Warren street."
Thomas N. Dale was born in Massachusetts and began his career as a clerk in a country store. In his 1860 A History of American Manufacturers J. Leander Bishop said, "Mr. Dale, we believe, was the first to make the sale of Clothiers' and Tailors' Trimmings a specialty." The company sold braiding, buttons, fabrics and such to garment makers. By the time of the article, Thos. N. Dale & Co. was among largest such firms in the country, with branch offices in Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Paris.
The reorganization of Dale's firm in 1855 may have had to do with a disagreement about domestic production. It had previously imported silk ribbons and fabrics from Europe, but now operated a silk mill in Paterson, New Jersey and "a large and splendid factory," as described by Bishop.
A year after moving into the new building, the company was the victim of a bold forger. On October 22, 1856 the New York Herald reported that in June a 9-month note for $2,313.41 had been presented to Sackett, Belcher & Co. The fraud was discovered when that firm tried to liquidate the note. It was a significant amount, more than $76,000 in 2023.
Thomas Dale's regard within the business community was evidenced when he was elected a member of the Chamber of Commerce in 1861. That same year, the Civil War broke out. Passionately patriotic, just days after the first shot was fired in April, Dale donated $300 to The Union Defence Fund. Later that year he added another $500 to his contribution, the total amount equal to about $25,500 today.
Working for Thos. N. Dale & Co. at the time was David Kilmer, a clerk. When what today would be called "inventory shortages" were discovered that year, the employees were closely watched. On December 23, 1861, The New York Times reported, "David Kilmer, recently a clerk in the employ of Dale & Co., No. 18 Warren-street, was taken before Justice Connolly yesterday, charged with purloining from his employers, at various times, large quantities of sewing silk, buttons, braid, buckles, machine twist, &c. of the value of $500." Also arrested was the Third Avenue retailer who purchased the stolen goods.
In 1863 Thos. N. Dale & Co. moved directly across the street to 17 Warren Street. In its place, 18 Warren Street filled with apparel and drygoods firms. Rosenheim Brothers, dealers in fancygoods was composed of Leopold, Meyer and Seligman Rosenheim. Similar to Dale's items, "fancygoods" were trims and fabrics used by apparel makers. Also in the building were the drygoods operation of Herman Bernheimer, who was also a banker on Broad Street; and Griessman Brothers & Hoffman, a clothing firm run by Charles and Joseph Griessman and Isaac Hoffman.
In 1867 a far different type of tenant arrived. Onion, Haigh & Cornwall dealt in "all kinds of fire arms, gun materials, ammunition, fishing tackle and sporting goods." It was operated by William M. Cornwall, John H. Bliss, William Haigh and William H. Onion. As had been the case with Thomas N. Dale and his original partners, the firm was soon reorganized as Onion & Cornwall. But troubles continued.
On October 10, 1877, the New York Herald reported, "The firm of Onion & Cornwall, dealers in guns, at No. 18 Warren street, have failed and have placed their property at the disposal of their creditors." William M. Cornwall was resilient. He managed to keep control of the business, now named William M. Cornwall, as the sole proprietor.
New York State Association for the Protection of Fish and Game, 1881 (copyright expired)
By the 1880s, drygoods firms at 18 Warren Street had been replaced by G. & D. Silver, boots and shoes; and Butler & Constant, hardware merchants. In a now familiar scenario, John R Butler and John C. Constant found themselves in financial trouble in March 1886. The firm was reorganized as Butler Hardware, with only John Butler now involved in its operation.
P. H. Bohner & Son manufactured "leather goods" (specifically harnesses and "harness specialties) here by 1894. That year the firm employed 13 men and 12 girls under 16 years old who worked 59 hours per week. The firm would remain through 1901.
In 1899 the store, basement and cellar levels of 18 Warren Street were rented by hardware dealers Neal & Brinker. It had been established at 168 Church Street two years earlier where it employed "one salesman, stenographer, porter and boy," according to Hardware Dealers' Magazine later. "Owing to the growth, they were compelled to seek larger quarters," said the article. Neal & Brinker acted as agents for out-of-town hardware makers, like the Buffalo Manufacturing Co., which made items ranging from tea kettles to bathroom fixtures.
The Buffalo Manufacturing Co. was one of the firms represented by Neal & Brinker. Hardware Dealers' Magazine, June 1907 (copyright expired)
The success of Neal & Brinker was such that on May 1, 1905, "they found it necessary to occupy the entire building," as reported by Hardware Dealers' Magazine.
The offices of the firm were located on the ground floor. On May 3, 1908 The New York Times reported that at 7:00 on the previous evening, "Mr. [Edward B.] Brinker was at work in the office and was surprised to hear three engine companies come up to the front of the building. He went to the window, looked out, and then ran to the street."
Several employees of the building next door had seen flames and smoke coming through the sidewalk and summoned firefighters. By the time Brinker escaped to the street, the basement and cellar "were blazing like furnaces," according to The Sun. The men battled the fire for an hour before it was subdued enough that they could go in. The Sun reported, "The smoke was so stifling that the men had to work in relays, some coming to the surface for air while the others held the hose."
Then a near disaster occurred. The New York Times said, "The fire had been so hot that the gas connections were melted." When the gas pipes burst, the firefighters of Engine 7 had already reached the subcellar. Miraculously, the release of gas did not result in a massive explosion, however the firefighters were put in imminent danger. Deputy Chief Gooderson called out, "Back! Back out, men!" The Sun reported that Lieutenant Charles McConnell replied, "I'm all in, Chief!" and "he dropped unconscious into the water that flooded the place."
Firefighters Robert Burnett and Frank Conroy bent down to pick him up, and "both fell over his body unconscious." By now Gooderson and Battalion Chief Galvin were nearly overcome, and escaped only when fresh men carried them to the street. Eventually, all the men were rescued, six of them brought unconscious to the street. The Sun reported, "The fire was extinguished after two hours work with a loss of about $2,000."
A blade sign advertising Horrock-Ibbotson Company projected from the building when this photo was taken in 1941. The storefront cornice and the window details were still intact. via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
As had been the case so often at 18 Warren Street, in May 1912 Neal & Brinker first reported financial problems. Three years later, on May 4, 1915, The Sun reported, "The five story loft building at 18 Warren street, the home for the last twenty years of the Neal & Brinker Company, hardware dealers, was sold yesterday for that firm to the M. Weiss Company." The deal allowed Neal & Brinker to lease the store and basement for two years, while M. Weiss Company, importer of chemicals and hardware goods, would occupy the upper floors.
As it turned out, Neal & Brinker Company did not survive through its two-year lease. In 1916 the store became home to the Baily Electrical Supply Co.
In its November 1916 issue, Electrical Review illustrated the Baily Electrical Supply Co. store. (copyright expired)
M. Weiss remained in the building through around 1922, after which the Horrock-Ibbotson Company moved in. Like William M. Cornwall, it was a sporting goods firm. Claiming to be "The Largest Manufacturer of Fishing Tackle in the World," it operated factories in Utica and Rome, New York.
The Horrock-Ibbotson Company went out of business around mid-century. In 1953 Rudge Cycles operated from 18 Warren Street. The firm marketed "Britain's Best Bicycle." For years, starting around 1969 through the 1980s, Leonard Radio occupied the ground floor.
Then, in 1989, the Tribeca renaissance caught up with the venerable building. That year the upper portion was converted to apartments, one per floor. Sadly, the striking 1855 architectural details have been shaved off, stripping the building of most of its personality.
photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Evan Rieder for requesting this post
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