Saturday, September 9, 2023

The 1854 54 Charles Street


In 1788 Richard Amos acquired a section of the former Sir Peter Warren county estate, Greenwich.  Eight years later he had streets laid out, and in 1817 plotted out building lots.  Three of the streets were named for a relative, Christopher Charles Amos.  (Amos Street, would later become West 10th Street).  In 1839 a group of masons and builders purchased five lots on the south side of Charles Street between West Fourth and Factory Street (later renamed Waverly Place).  While they owned the plots separately, they worked in concert to create a handsome row of identical Greek Revival homes.

David Roelef Doremus was listed as a "surveyor and builder."  He and his son Cornelius David erected 74 and 76 Charles Street (later renumbered 54 and 56).  Faced in red brick above a brownstone basement, the houses were three stories tall and 24-feet-wide.  Iron stoop railings gently encircled the cast iron newels that perched upon paneled pedestals.  The entrances were typical of the style.  Heavy stone pilasters upheld a stone entablature and cornice.  Their single doors were flanked by narrow sidelights and capped by an ample transom.  The row of houses shared a continuous, delicately dentiled cornice.

Living in 74 Charles Street in the mid-1840s were John Reid, a baker, and his wife.  In the winter of 1846 Mrs. Reid was the victim of a counterfeiter.  On December 5, the New York Herald reported that "a man called Levi Marks" had been arrested the night before, charged with "passing a spurious coin" on Richard Phenix and Mrs. John Reid.

Beginning in early 1850s, the house was operated as a boarding house, home to working class tenants.  In 1851, for instance, they included shoemaker William Bishop; William M. Brown, a butcher; Oliver Houston, a carman (or delivery driver); Ernest Kearnan, who did not list a profession; and John Maxwell, who was in the "lardoil," or lard oil business.

The boarders came and went, bringing no undue attention to the house for decades.  In February 1889 Melchior Hoffman sold 74 Charles Street to William P. Zwinge for $26,000, a considerable $853,000 by 2023 conversions.  Perhaps coincidentally, the address was suddenly in the newspapers for the wrong reasons.

On April 16, 1889, boarder Michael Farrell, alias William McCormack, was arrested on suspicion of burglary.  The Evening Post reported, "In his possession were found two pawn tickets for a diamond stud and a diamond ring, valued at $300, pawned on the 25th and 26th of March."

Boarding here at the same time was Mary Quigley, who had been separated from her husband for some time.  In May that year, she found herself in a predicament--she was pregnant.  Mary faced certain ruin if her condition was found out.  A woman who had a baby fathered by a man to whom she was not married would be unable to obtain employment, would be evicted from her residence, and be openly scorned.  Desperate, she visited Dr. Charles E. Gilbert who performed an abortion.

The procedures in the 1880s were risky (at best) and illegal.  And this one did not go well.  Late on May 4, Dr. B. C. McIntyre was called to the Charles Street house where he found Mary dying.  She admitted to him that she had visited Dr. Gilbert twice and he had performed what The Evening World described as "the unlawful operation upon her."  She refused to disclose the name of the father (who would also have been in legal trouble).

Coroner Hanley was called to the house.  He took an ante mortem statement, which served as the grounds for Dr. Gilbert's arrest.  On May 6, The Sun reported that Detective Burleigh of the Charles Street police station "took Dr. Gilbert out of bed early yesterday morning and brought him before the dying woman at 3 A.M."  Now, face-to-face with the physician, Mary Quigley changed her story.  "She said that her former statement was false, and before Notary John T. Birdsall...made another statement in which she withdrew her allegations against Dr. Gilbert."  

It was not enough for Coroner Hanley, who "placed Dr. Gilbert under bail of $5,000 to insure his appearance when wanted," reported The Evening World.  The newspaper added, "He is a reputable physician of many years' practice, and, it is said, proposes to seek redress in the civil courts for the imputation cast upon him."  Mary Quigley died having protected both of the men ultimately responsible for her death.

James Maguire was 17 years old in 1892.  His mother lived in the Charles Street house, and that year he rented a spare room in a house of William Walling, a pier worker, and his wife Maggie nearby on Washington Street.  The couple had four children.  The World said, "The boarder didn't seem to have any employment in particular and idled about the house most of the time."

The World described Maguire as "a stalwart, good-looking fellow."  A few months after he arrived, Maggie informed her husband "she was tired of living with him."  He begged her to stay, but a few days later, according to The World, "the wife disappeared.  So did two of the children.  And so did Maguire.  There had been $3,000 of Walling's savings in the bank.  That was gone too."

Trouble came when the money ran out.  Maggie and James had gone to Chicago and to Boston, and frittered away Walling's life savings.  Finally Maggie, now pregnant, and James came back to New York.  Using the names Mr. and Mrs. Williams, they took a single room on West 17th Street, which they shared with three other men.  The baby was born a few days later.

With no money and a new baby, Maggie Walling's teen-aged lover turned cruel.  On April 8, 1892, The Evening World reported, "One night about three weeks ago she was heard screaming for help.  The neighbors say they heard 'Mrs. Williams's' husband beating her, and Decker [the janitor]...says that the woman was apparently beaten until the man got tired."

A neighboring roomer, Mrs. Burke, told police that her "eyes were blackened and her bosom badly bruised."  A doctor was called, "but the woman received little or no attention."  Just after midnight on April 5, an ambulance took Maggie to a hospital where she died.  Maguire promptly disappeared (as did the three other roomers), abandoning Maggie's three-year-old daughter and the infant.  (The other child had been sent back to Walling soon after the couple returned to New York.)

William Walling was unable to obtain his wife's body for burial, because she had been admitted to the hospital as Mrs. Williams.  He tracked down Maguire in his mother's rooms at 74 Charles Street.  Williams told a reporter later, that in an uncharacteristic act of decency, "He went with me to the hospital and acknowledged that he had lied, and I got the body to give it decent burial, knowing that he wouldn't."

Maguire was arrested in the Charles Street house on April 8 and was imprisoned.  Charges of murder pended the exhumation and autopsy of Maggie Walling's body.

Two of the boarders in 1894, William Hart and John McDonald, worked in the Budweiser Brewing Company.  The plant went on strike that spring and Hart and McDonald participated in a protest in front of Frank Grundy's saloon on Third Avenue at 31st Street on April 22.  The Evening World said, "a crowd of forty men congregated outside Grundy's saloon and persistently endeavored to prevent any person from entering the place."  Ten protestors were arrested, including Hart and McDonald.

As James Maguire had done, William Kelly took refuge in 74 Charles Street after a murder.  After the killing of a police officer in Albany on August 22, 1902, Kelly fled to New York and to his sister's rooms here.  Police arrived at the house on September 18 and arrested him.  The Evening World reported that Kelly said "he was an iron-worker, and that he lived in Harbor Hill, Albany.  He said that he left there about four weeks ago to to pay his sister a visit, but denied that he had had any trouble with any officer."

A tragic incident involved Archibald Robertson, a police officer who lived here, and another policeman, Jeremiah McCarthy.  Both men were off duty on September 8, 1923.  That night Robertson and his wife were on their way home.  Robertson stopped to buy a newspaper and his wife continued on.  When he got home, "she told him of having been accosted by a man who made some remarks to her," reported The Yonkers Statesman on September 10.  Back on the street, she pointed out McCarthy.  

When confronted, McCarthy produced his police shield, and Robertson followed suit.  Robertson suggested they go to the Charles Street station to settle the matter.  On the way, according to Robertson, McCarthy attempted to trip him, and he retaliated with a "heavy blow on the jaw," as described by the newspaper.  McCarthy fell backwards onto the pavement.  "As he did," said The Yonkers Statesman, "Mrs. Robertson, who had been in ill health, screamed and became hysterical.  Unmindful of McCarthy, Robertson ran to his wife and comforted her, finally taking her home because of her condition."

The following morning Robertson read in the newspaper that McCarthy had died of a fractured skull.  He turned himself in and was held in $1,000 bail in the Homicide Court.

When Richard Amos named the streets in 1796, he honored Abraham Van Nest by christening the north side of the Charles Street block between Bleecker and West Fourth Street Van Nest Place.  For decades it caused confusion and in 1928 a push began to have it renamed Charles Street.  Finally, in 1936, the name change was implemented.  It resulted in 74 Charles Street receiving the new address of 54.

While never converted to apartments, the venerable house continued to be operated as rented rooms until a renovation completed in 2008 returned 54 Charles Street to a single family residence.

photographs by the author
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