Friday, September 22, 2023

The 1836 Henry D. Thayer House - 315 West Fourth Street


In the spring of 1835 merchant Charles W. Hawkins lived at 98 Greenwich Street.  That year he purchased ten vacant lots on Fourth Street between Bank and West 12th Street from Samuel Bayard.  Within the next four months he resold the 20-foot-wide parcels to six men, all of whom were builders or otherwise involved in that trade.  Solomon Banta and Abraham Frazee made up the construction company Frazee & Banta, James Vandenberg and Aaron Marsh were also builders, while Henry M. Perine was a mason, and Richard Taylor was a dealer in lime.  A year later, ten houses were nearly completed on the sites, presumably constructed by their several owners.

Each of the nearly identical, brick-faced homes was two-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement.  Like its neighbors, 45 Fourth Street (renumbered 315 West 4th Street in 1863) was Greek Revival in style.  A short stoop led to the entrance where Doric pilasters flanked the single door.  The attic windows pierced a wide fascia board below the dentiled cornice.

By 1840 Joseph Fennimore, a carter, lived in the house.  It is unclear how long he remained, but in 1851 it was home to two families, the Finches and the Tallmans.  Whether the families were related is uncertain, but they would live together for years.

George Finch was a builder.  In his spare time, he volunteered at the Harry Howard Hose Company No. 55 on Christopher Street.  Living with him and his wife was his mother-in-law, Lavina Allen.  The parlor was the scene of 87-year-old widow's funeral on December 26, 1854.  

Tunis Tallman was a cabinet maker, whose shop was at 609 Hudson Street.  His son, Abraham S. Tallman, would go into the drygoods business around 1856.

The two families left West Fourth Street in 1863.  They were followed in the house by Thomas Forbes, a clerk, and his family.  Joseph Forbes, possibly Thomas's father, listed no profession in city directories, suggesting he may have been elderly and retired.

The Forbes family sold 315 West Fourth Street in 1868 to Nelson D. Thayer, a collector for the city.  Thayer was born in Schenectady on November 6, 1818 and moved to New York City in 1829.  He married Margaret Eliza Brown in 1840 and the couple had six children, Joanna, Lovina Ann, Margaret Jane, Irene, Seth Nelson, and Ella.  Highly involved in civic affairs, he had been elected to the City Assembly in 1857 and held the position through 1866.  In 1859 he was elected Fire Commissioner, as well.  

It was most likely Thayer who updated the home's appearance by raising the attic to a full third floor, and installing beefy, cast iron Italianate railings and newels to the stoop.

The muscular cast iron stoop ironwork survived in 1941.  The approximate appearance of the original third floor can be seen at right.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Middle-class households like the Thayer's would have had one or two servants, such as a cook and chamber maid.  In August 1869 Margaret advertised for "A German girl, to do general housework."

Like most of their neighbors, the Thayers took in a boarder.  In 1871 it was policeman William H. Christie, and the following year Harriet Habermehl lived with the family.  Harriet died on August 27, 1873 "at the residence of N. D. Thayer," according to her death notice in the New York Herald.  It described the 73-year-old as "the relic [i.e., widow] of Henry."  Her funeral was held in the house the following day.

Over the next few years the Thayers' boarders were Irene Pierce, a teacher, here from 1874 through 1876; and attorney Henry Winans the following year.

The Thayer family left 315 West Fourth Street in 1878, and the house continued to be home to middle-class families for decades.  Then, in 1926 architect George Provst was hired to convert the building to bachelor apartments--meaning that for the most part, they did not have kitchens.  The Department of Buildings warned, "not more than two families cooking independently on the premises," and "not more than 15 sleeping rooms in building."  

An advertisement for one of the two apartments within the "remodeled dwelling" that did have a kitchen was advertised for rent in 1933.  Rent for the two-room apartment was $35 per month, or about $750 in 2023.

Among the tenants here in the mid-1940s was inventor Shepard J. Goldin.  Goldin did not attempt to change the world with ground-breaking inventions, but focused on improvements to everyday objects.  While living here in 1946, he received patents for an "ornamental design for chess pieces," and an "illuminated watch clip and mirror."  The latter was an "attachment for watches in form of a flashlight mount for casting light on face of watch, having mirror over center of crystal."  Earlier he had patented an improved eyeglass case.

A renovation completed in 1963 resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor floors, and two apartments each on the upper floors.  Then, in 1996, the house was returned to a single-family home.  New stoop ironwork based on the surviving areaway fencing replaces the Italianate examples.

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

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