Thursday, June 15, 2023

The 1846 John Radway House - 55 Jane Street


In the 18th century the Jaynes family summer estate sat just outside of Greenwich Village.  The house, erected in 1750, was approached by a lane.  As streets were opened in the first decades of the 19th century, Greenwich Village expanded into the former estates.  The Jaynes road became known as Jane Street.

Tobacconist George Schott erected two identical, speculative houses on Jane Street, just east of Hudson Street, in 1846.  Three stories tall and 20-feet-wide, they were clad in red brick above high brownstone basements.  Delicately dentiled cornices completed the design.

Printer William Applegate moved his family into the eastern house, 76 Jane Street (it would be renumbered 55 Jane Street in 1855).  Born in 1805, Applegate was the proprietor of what the Sunday Dispatch described as "the large printing office and extensive press rooms in the rear of No. 17 Anne street."  For two decades he had mostly printed newspapers.

Sadly, Applegate would not enjoy the new house for very long.  On November 26, 1847, he complained "of slight indisposition," according to the Sunday Dispatch, "but no danger was apprehended."  Around 11:00 that night, he died of what the newspaper called an apoplectic attack--what today would be termed a stroke.  In flowery Victorian prose, the article said he had seemed "the impersonation of vigorous manhood," and, therefore, "The summons of the destroyer scarcely preceded the blow."

Applegate's widow sold the Jane Street house not long afterward to John Radway.  He was a partner with his brother Richard in Radway & Co., "manufacturing chemists," at 162 Fulton Street.  They founded the firm in 1848.  John's son George also worked in the company, which manufactured what John and Richard listed as "remedies," and George called "medicines."

Initially making medicated soaps, by 1852 they had added Radway's Ready Relief, Radway's Regulators, and Radway's Renovating Resolvent to their offerings under the name brand R.R.R.  Advertisements promised that Radway Ready Relief would cure problems like "tumors, female complaints, digestive troubles, syphiloid tongue."  Radway's Renovating Solvent treated "scrofula [and], female complaints," while Radway's Regulators cured irregularity.

On October 16, 1853, an article appeared in the Sunday Dispatch titled "R.R.R.--An Interesting Case."  It told of the problems of "a well-known builder" who had suffered from rheumatism for three years.  "He sent to the residence of his son-in-law, No. 76 Jane street, who constantly keeps a supply of the Ready Relief in his house, for a bottle.  Ten minutes past 6 P.M., it was applied; at twenty minutes past 6 he was free from pain."  The "article" failed to mention that the sufferer's son-in-law was John Radway.

The wrapper of Radway's Ready Relief depicted customers clamoring for a bottle.

In 1855 John's youngest son John Jr. became involved in the company.  The family remained in the Jane Street house until 1860, when it became home to engineer William K. Thomas.

As was common, the Thomas family took in a boarder.  Living with them in 1860 and '61 was artist George Loring Brown.  A landscape artist, he was born in Boston in 1814 and studied art with Washington Allston.  His residency with the Thomas family was understandably short, since he spent almost all of his time in Europe.

Typical of Brown's work was his Monte Pellegrino at Palermo, Italy, painted in 1856, four years before living at 55 Jane Street.  from the collection of the Fine Arts Museum, Boston.

Following Brown, Scottish immigrant George Kethel boarded with the Thomases.  Most likely unknown to all parties, he was suffering from "consumption," today known as tuberculosis.  The 26-year-old died on May 30, 1861.  The New York Herald announced that his funeral would be "from the residence of W. K. Thomas, No. 55 Jane street, on Sunday morning at ten o'clock."

An advertisement the following year gives a hint of the up-to-date accommodations, including indoor plumbing and lighting gas:

To Let--Part or an entire second floor, to one or more gentlemen, or to a gentleman and wife, with or without board.  Family private.  House has gas, bath, water closets, &c.  Location select, one block above Abingdon square.

By 1870, 55 Jane Street was operated as a boarding house, home to a handful of professional tenants.  Living here that year were David H. Blakeley, a clerk; builder Warren H. Rose; and Charles H. Welling, a weigher.  (Weighers worked on the docks, weighing the incoming cargo as it was unloaded.)

Melville Sutphen and his wife Margaret purchased the house at an executor's sale in September 1878, paying $5,850 (about $165,000 in 2023).  Sutphen was a fish dealer with two locations.  He and Margaret lived almost directly across the street at 40 Jane Street.  The purchase was an investment, and they leased the property to merchant Rush Sherrill.  

Born in Hyde Park, New York on June 23, 1812, Sherrill was an 1830 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  He had retired from the mercantile business in 1862, and two years later was a founder of the Dutchess & Columbia and the Poughkeepsie & Eastern railroads.  

The Sutphens nearly doubled their investment in 55 Jane Street when they sold it in October 1891 to James and Johanna Lennen for $9,600 (about $295,000 today).  They took in boarders like William Kanbitz, a real estate developer.  On November 18, 1893 Architecture and Building reported Kanbitz was erecting "a store and dwelling and nine flat buildings" on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn.  Also living with the Lennens in 1895 was Abraham Benson, a contractor who was possibly affiliated with Kanbitz.

James and Johanna Lennens' daughter, Agnes G. Gallagher lived with them at 55 Jane Street.  She was either divorced or, more likely, widowed.  Following their parents' deaths, in 1914 her siblings transferred their shares of the title to Agnes.  It is unclear how long Agnes remained in the house.  In 1917 through 1919 retired policeman Augustin D. Ford rented a room here, presumably from Agnes Gallagher.

By the Depression years 55 Jane Street was being operated as a rooming house.  Living here in 1940 was 18-year-old Jack Anderson, who worked as an office boy.  He met and began a sporadic sexual affair with author William S. Burroughs.  According to Burroughs's biographer Barry Miles in his 2014 Call Me Burroughs, A Life, after the two were caught together in bed in the Taft Hotel in 1940, "They took a cab back to Jack's rooming house on Jane Street and the next day Bill took a room in the same building.  It was a dollar a day, a considerable savings on the Taft."

It was a tumultuous relationship, however.  Burroughs became obsessed with Anderson, to the point that he consulted an analyst, Dr. Herbert Wiggers.  James Grauerholz writes in his 1998 Word Virus, the William S. Burroughs Reader:

Jack was bisexual, and when he persisted in bringing men (and women!) back to his room for sex, Burroughs was so distraught that he cut off the end of his left little finger, with a new pair of poultry shears...Carrying the severed digit in a handkerchief, Burroughs triumphantly presented himself to Dr. Wiggers--who immediately committed him to Bellevue.

The finger incident made its way into Burroughs's short story, "The Finger."  In 1944 the author moved to an apartment he shared with Joan Vollmer Adams, novelist and poet Jack Kerouac, and Kerouac's first wife Edie Parker.

In 1949 55 Jane Street was converted to a two-family residence.  It served as the location of Shaft's apartment in the 1971 motion picture by the same name.

Two scenes from Shaft, 1971.  via

A renovation completed in 2012 returned 55 Jane Street to a single-family home.  

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

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