Friday, May 26, 2023

The Charles Peters House - 329 West 18th Street


By 1841 Charles Peters and his family lived at 213 West 18th Street (it would be renumbered 329 in 1868).  The two-and-a-half-story Federal style house was one of a row constructed several years earlier.  Faced in Flemish bond red brick it would originally have had one or two dormers at the attic level.  Federal style iron fencing guarded the areaway and elaborate stoop railings terminated in basket newels that perched atop stone drums.

Peters operated a butcher store on Eighth Avenue.  As was common, he and his wife Ann Eliza took in a boarder.  Sarah Hillhouse Percy, the widow of Jonathan Percy died here on March 1, 1848.

The next boarder in the Peters house was Theodore Passavant, a foundry operator.  When he moved into the house in 1851 he was a partner with R. B. Lockwood in Lockwood & Passavant, "Iron Workers and Founders," on West 25th Street near Tenth Avenue.  The business was reorganized on March 7 1853 when the partners parted ways and Passavant brought on George Archer, renaming the foundry Passavant & Archer.  Passavant remained with the Peters family through 1854.  

In 1859 three new boarders arrived.  James Neafie was a carpenter and builder who operated from the rear of 21 Jane Street, John Small worked as a clerk in the post office, and Zephaniah S. Webb was a physician.

Charles Peters died at the age of 61 on January 19, 1861.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.  James Neafie and Dr. Webb continued to board with Ann for another year.  She would continue to lease rooms afterward.

In September 1870 valuable items--worth about $3,000 in 2023 terms--went missing from the house.  It was not long before Barbara Hartman (described as "a middle-aged woman" by The New York Times), was arrested for the crime.  It appears that she was a servant, for after she pleaded guilty on September 13 to the charge of "having stolen $138 worth of jewelry and clothing from Ann Eliza Peters, of No. 329 West Eighteenth-street," Ann requested that she be let go.

At the time of the incident, Stephen D. Peters was working as a blacksmith at 659 Hudson Street.  He advanced in his craft, and in 1873 was listed in directories as a "wheelwright," a more specialized craftsman who built and repaired wagon and carriage wheels.

Following Ann's death, 329 West 18th Street was sold to Charles Edward Shopp and his wife, the former Thirza Maria Marshall in 1876.  Worked into the deal, it seems, was Stephen Peters's being permitted to live on in his childhood home.  He would remain until 1880.

It is certain that the Peters and Shopp families knew one another.  Like Charles Peters, Charles E. Shopp was a butcher and operated two stores on Eighth Avenue.  (It is possible he took over the Peters store upon Charles's death).  

Charles and Thirza had four sons.  Moving into the West 18th Street house with them were son John Marshal Shopp and his wife, the former Georgiana Eliza Huyler.  The newlyweds were married in 1874.  The population of the house was increased by one in October 1877 when their daughter Ethel May was born.

Tragically, on February 6, 1878, Georgiana E. Shopp died.  The wife and mother was just 24 years old.  Her funeral was held in the house on February 9.

The Shopp estate sold the West 18th Street house at auction on January 28, 1879 to Stephen S. Baker, who paid $7,875, or about $221,000 today.  He and his wife, Sarah J., had a daughter Eva Gertrude.

It was almost assuredly the Bakers who remodeled the house, raising the attic floor to full height and giving it a modern, neo-Grec cornice, and embellishing the openings with molded metal lintels.

Boarding with the family were Joshua Denby and his son, Edward, both builders.  Unfortunately, the Denbys' residency would be cut short when Joshua died at the age of 66 on November 3, 1879.  Once again a funeral was held in the parlor.

A more much joyous event occurred there on the night of December 12, 1894.  Eva Gertrude Baker was married at 8:00 to G. Harry Abbott in the Eighteenth Street Methodist Episcopal Church.  The New York Herald reported, "A small reception followed at the home of the bride's parents, No. 329 West Eighteenth street."

The following year Stephen S. Baker died.  Sarah sold the house on April 2, 1896 to real estate operators Eva G. Abbott and Lillie J. Mott.  They leased it to George H. Clark by 1899, who worked for an advertising company.

Clark's firm employed men to paste advertising posters where they would be seen by the most passersby.  Companies like his paid for the privilege of posting on blank walls, but fences around building plots and vacant lots were up for grabs.  That made for serious competition.

On May 16, 1899 a well-dressed Clark was walking along Broadway at 106th Street.  Ahead of him were four "bill posters" who worked for a rival firm, Van Buren & Co.  The workers, who were plastering advertisements on a fence, saw him coming.  The New York Press reported, "The men had always been enemies, and they decided that they would put some paste on his clothing."

As Clark began to pass the crew, they assaulted him with their brushes full of thick paste.  The article said, "He resented their actions and struck Ottinger with his cane.  A free fight followed."  A policeman "interfered" with the melee and placed all five men under arrested.  While the four bill posters were charged with disorderly conduct, Clark was charged with assault.

At the turn of the century John J. Hennessy purchased 329 West 18th Street.  A native Irishman, he was ardently proud of his heritage and was a long-term member of the American-Irish Historical Society.  He would remain in the house for decades, leasing space to one boarder at a time.  

In 1941 the original entranceway and stoop, with its basket newels, were intact.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Dr. Charles S. Baker was living with Hennessy in 1903.  He was in love with Myriam V. Levison and beseeched his fiancée to marry him as quickly as possible.  But, explained The Daily Standard Union, "Miss Levison had desired a church wedding and reception at her home and consequently refused Dr. Baker's pleading for a June wedding."

Myriam's mind was changed by a peculiar incident.  On July 5, 1903 The Daily Standard Union reported, "The other day, while riding with a few friends near Prospect Park, she had her future foretold by a gypsy woman who told her that she was engaged, but that she would never marry, as her fiancée [sic] was to be killed while trying to stop a runaway before the marriage day."

The article said that Myriam's friends laughed off the prediction, but that it haunted her.  On June 29, while they had dinner at the Hoffman House, Myriam related the story to Charles.  The Daily Standard Union wrote, "Promptly taking advantage of the opportunity, the doctor solemnly announced his decision to watch for runaway horses...unless she consented to be married to him at once."  And it worked.  Immediately after dinner the couple was married.

The Irish Callahan family boarded in the Hennessy house by 1916.  Living with Joseph F. Callahan and his wife was his widowed father-in-law, Daniel Dillon who was born in Cavan, Ireland.  Dillon died on November 18 that year.

The two families shared the house at least through 1929.  By 1940, when it was home to another Irish-American, James M. McNally, it had been converted to apartments and an iron fire escape attached to the facade.

The stoop is new, but the wonderful ironwork is original.  At the second step, boot scrapers worked into the railings helped keep mud from being tracked into the house.

At some point the stoop and entrance were rebuilt.  Sadly, while the Federal ironwork was preserved, the stoop drums and basket newels were lost.  A somewhat disproportionate and ungainly lintel was applied above the new entrance.

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

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