Saturday, July 1, 2023

The James McComb House - 64 Horatio Street


When former British Major Horatio Gates learned of the outbreak of war in 1775, he left his Virginia plantation, Traveller's Rest, to fight for the patriot forces.  In 1790, he and his wife, Mary Valens, relocated to Manhattan.  In honor of his service in the Revolution, a street in Greenwich Village was named for him--Horatio Street.

As Greenwich Village expanded in the early decades of the 19th century, surrounding farmland was rapidly developed.  In 1844 a local builder, Abraham Demarest purchased five empty lots at 58 through 66 Horatio Street from two cartmen, Cornelius Ackerman and Peter Van Natter.  (They had bought them from the Ireland family just months or weeks earlier.)  Demarest erected five identical, brick-faced homes on the plots.

Intended for middle-class families, their Greek Revival design featured handsome entrances with three-paneled sidelights and transoms.  Simple brownstone lintels crowned the windows and orderly dentil molding ran below the cornices.

By 1854, 64 Horatio Street was run by Ann Redway as a boarding house.  The widow of Maturin Redway, who had died in December 1847, she was born Ann Martin in New Jersey in 1795.  Her select boarders were professionals, like Abraham W. Martin, who was listed as an "agent" at Pier 15 on the North River (today's Hudson River); and James Boden, who operated a railing, or ironworks, business on Eighth Avenue.

There was no doubt a commotion within the house on the morning of August 15, 1856.  The New York Herald reported, "Between 11 and 12 o'clock on Friday forenoon, a quilt took fire from a furnace on the back piazza of [the] house No. 64 Horatio street, occupied by Mrs. Radley [sic]."  The article said that the flames spread to the piazza (the wooden extension or porch), "but were soon extinguished before much damage was done."  The newspaper placed the damages at "probably $3," or around $100 in 2023 terms.

In 1860, the house was offered for sale, the advertisement noting, "The house is in good order and is supplied with gas and Croton."  Both amenities were modern conveniences.  Not all New York City homes were lighted by gas in the pre-Civil War years, and "Croton" meant that it had running water.  (The term referred to the Croton Reservoir on the site of today's New York Public Library, opened in 1842.)

The house became home to Albert Anderson and his family.  Anderson's occupation was listed as a carman, however his ability to purchase a modest house suggests he owned a delivery operation rather than simply driving a dray.  

The family took in one or two boarders at a time.  Living with them in 1863 was a young man named F. Gayner.  His residency was cut short when he was drafted into the Union Army on March 16, 1865.  (Happily for Gayner, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House just over three weeks later.)

An interesting boarder at the time was Jacob C. Banta, his wife Sarah, and their six-year-old daughter, Lillie.  Born around  1832, Banta was a pioneer in the professional photography business.  His studio was at 328 Bleecker Street, where he created posed "cabinet cards." 

Banta shot this cabinet card later in his career. image via

Anderson and his family left 64 Horatio Street in 1866.  It was home to another carman, Simon Doremus for two years.  He also volunteered with the Columbian Hook & Ladder Company No. 14 at 96 Charles Street.

The house was purchased by James P. McComb around 1869.  A produce merchant, he and his wife, Elizabeth, had a 14-year-old son, William A.  Six years after the family moved in, on November 20, 1875, Elizabeth died at the age of 39.  In a somewhat surprising breach of tradition, her funeral was not held in the Horatio Street house, but in the Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church.

By then, James McComb had become involved in real estate development, as well.  In November 1877, for instance, he hired architect J. M. Dunn to design a three-story brick tenement in Harlem; and in April 1880 constructed a two-story brick warehouse on Washington Street.

McComb had a boarder in 1880, E. H. Fullerton.  He became a hero of sorts on Friday afternoon, April 30 that year.  Fullerton was seated on the Bleecker Street streetcar next to E. P. Fritz.  The men noticed a suspicious looking passenger next to Mary M. Barr, a widow.  They concluded he might possibly be a pickpocket.  The New York Times reported, "When the man left the car, Mr. Fullerton asked Mrs. Barr if she had lost anything.  She missed her pocket-book, which contained $18.76."  Fullerton bolted from the streetcar and alerted a police officer, who overtook Isidore Mauger.  He still had Mrs. Barr's purse in his clutches.

William A. McComb died at the age of 28 on March 19, 1882.  Unlike his mother's, his funeral was held in 64 Horatio Street.

It was around this time that James P. McComb remarried.  His new wife became involved in his real estate business.  When J. M. Dunn filed plans for another tenement building in Harlem in March 1887, it was Mrs. J. P. McComb who was listed as owner of record. 

The McCombs sold 64 Horatio Street on December 4, 1889 to Robert Fash, a real estate agent for $8,350, or about $254,000 today.  He leased it to a succession of tenants over the next years.

Following the Stock Market crash, the aversion to capitalism held by many liberal-thinking citizens increased.  The collective or cooperative housing concept, formed in the 1920s, spread, and in 1932 it reached 64 Horatio Street.

A group of young people including 18-year-old David Jenkins, Muriel Reiker, and Gittel Poznoski Steed leased two floors of the house for $60 per month.  Jenkins described it later as a "collective," meaning the tenants pooled their financial resources.  

Steed was a successful model for the Art Students' League and a dancer.  Her father was a Yiddish scholar, according to Jenkins.  The artistic tone of Greenwich Village was reflected in Jenkin's recalling in 1988:

Gittel particularly introduced me to a lot of the artists.  Raphael Soyer, whom I met there, and [Yasuo] Kuniyoshi, who was a famous Japanese painter.  Arnold Blanche, and later on Doris Lee, one of the famous women painters.  Louis Spieker, who was a famous painter, whose paintings still hang at the Whitney and places like that.  I also met this guy, V. O. [sic] Matthiessen , who was a literary critic at Harvard, who was gay and later killed himself.  Then I also met some of the poets: Horace Gregory, Kenneth Little.

Soon, both Steed and Jenkins joined the Young Communist League, and the Horatio Street house was the scene of meetings and other gatherings.  On May 26, 1934, for instance, The Daily Worker, a Communist newspaper, reported that there would be a "house party" at 64 Horatio Street that night "for $1,000 drive of the Workers School."  For 15 cents admission, the revelers would enjoy "dancing, games, refreshments."  Another house party was held to benefit a labor group on September 7 that year.

The house was purchased by Henry Brant in 1953.  Four years later it was converted to two duplex apartments.  The configuration that lasted until 1997, when the venerable house was returned to a single family home.  

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


  1. Thanks, Tom, for another well-researched article.

  2. That should be F. O. Matthiessen. Quite a sad story:

  3. It turns out that my best friend is the 5th cousin 5 times removed of Jacob Banta.