Builder William R. Halsey purchased land from Francis B. Cutting on the north side of Horatio Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets in 1835. The following year five Greek Revival style homes were completed on the plots. Two of them, 89 and 91 Horatio Street (renumbered 75 and 77 in 1854), were built for politician Henry J. Wyckoff as investment properties.
Faced in brick above a brownstone basement level, the identical homes were two-and-a-half stories tall and 24-feet-wide. Handsome iron fencing protected the areaways, and stepped and paneled stone wingwalls flanked the stoop where only the topmost level held iron railings. The elegant single-doored entrances were recessed behind stone pilasters that supported a heavy entablature. They were flanked by narrow sidelights and capped by multi-paned transoms.
Wyckoff leased 89 and 91 Horatio Street. No. 89 became home to the William Knowles family, while next door lived William Henry Tinson and his family. Tinson ran a printing concern at 43 Centre Street. In 1847 his family was searching for a live-in servant through a highly detailed ad:
Wanted--A neat and industrious girl, English, Scotch or German, to do the general house work of a family of three persons. She must be a good plain cook, washer and ironer; to one answering the above qualifications (and none other need apply) a comfortable home and good wages will be given.
William Knowles was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1806. Living with him and his wife Elizabeth (known as Eliza) were their grown sons, William F. and Frederick C., and William's wife Margaret.
Knowles died at the age of 47 on March 23, 1853. As was customary, his funeral was held in the parlor of 89 Horatio Street. A second funeral was held there on September 26, 1859 for Norman White Knowles, the seven-month-old son of William F. and Margaret.
The Tinsons moved to 40 West Washington Square in 1863, after which 77 Horatio Street was leased to two families at a time--one each in the "upper" and "lower" portions. Eliza Knowles remained in 69 Horatio Street through the mid-1870s.
For years 77 Horatio Street was shared by the families of Stephen Curtis and Robert Thompson. Curtis was in the Brittania business (a metal alloy similar to pewter). His son Stephen Jr. was involved in the firm with him, and his daughter, Emily taught at Grammar School No. 10 at 180 Wooster Street.
Two young men living at 77 Horatio Street, Daniel M. Hogan and John H. Allen, were accepted into the New York City Police Department one year apart--Hogan in 1891 and Allen in 1892. Hogan astonished physicians during his physical examination on February 21, 1891 simply because they could find nothing to fault. Of the 300 applicants, the Board of Examiners said he was "the most perfectly developed man of the lot." The 30-year-old was currently employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad as foreman of Pier 16 on the Hudson River.
The Sun reported that he lifted 660 pounds "on the lifting machine," and 1,188 pounds with his legs. The doctors measured his biceps at 15.5 inches. "With the right arm he put up a dumb bell weighing seventy-five pounds, and with the left one of sixty pounds," said the article.
By the turn of the century, the titles to 75 and 77 Horatio Street had passed to a daughter of Henry J. Wyckoff with the married name of Bright. On February 8, 1902 the New-York Tribune reported on their sale to Maria S. Simpson. The reporter got the history only slightly wrong when he commented, "The property had been owned by the Bright estate for more than one hundred years."
Simpson resold the houses in November 1905. In 1909, the homes became the northern annex to the Chrystie Street House, a settlement house that had focused on helping homeless boys and young men for years. Wallace Gillpatrick, who had been associated with the Chrystie Street House downtown, moved into the Horatio Street facility.
In 1908 he explained, "The Chrystie Street House is ready to help any homeless boy or young man who wants to improve his life. But I suppose easily 75 per cent of the young men who come to the Chrystie Street House have been through the workhouse, where they have been committed on a technical charge of vagrancy." The 1913 Documents of the Senate of the State of New York was more direct, saying the Horatio Street facility, "aids young men who have been in prison."
In May 1912, the downtown Chrystie Street House was discontinued and the entire operation moved to Horatio Street. In anticipation, 75 and 77 Horatio Street were renovated and combined internally. On January 27, 1912, The New York Press reported that they "are to be remodeled for use as a home for friendless boys. It will replace the present house in Chrystie street...The new home will be prepared at a cost of $8,000." Included in the plans were "a gymnasium, reading and dining rooms, and accommodations for twenty boys."
Expectedly, not all the residents were upstanding citizens. On September 14, 1913, The New York Times reported, "After being sheltered and fed at the Settlement Workers' House, 77 Horatio Street, for several days, Joseph Toy and Leroy Matlock, 23 and 24 years of age respectively, repaid the hospitality...by breaking into [superintendent M. Heilbroner's] room on Friday and taking two suit-cases filled with clothing and small articles of jewelry. The thieves were arrested later in a Chatham Square lodging house."
In 1917, Wallace Gillpatrick read a paper to the American Prison Association in which he described the work of the Horatio Street facility. He said in part:
Young men on leaving prison seek companions and recreation. Unless some special form of effort is made in their behalf, they frequently find both companions and recreation under unfavorable conditions...The effective way to help them is by means of recreation centers, with club features, as a library, music, billiards, games, etc., under the supervision of a board of directors and with a competent secretary always in charge.
The Chrystie Street House remained in 75-77 Horatio until the late 1920s. In 1927, the combined property was renovated for the Winfield Day Nursery, Inc. It now held a day nursery and kindergarten on the first and second floors, and a caretaker's apartment on the third. It was inaugurated on May 4. The New York Sun reported, "Members of the board of managers of the Winfield Day Nursery, Inc., formerly the Bloomingdale Day Nursery, at 75 Horatio street, will give a tea on Wednesday afternoon from 4 to 6."
The success of the facility was such that in 1930 73 Horatio Street was purchased. While that house was operated as an adjunct to the main property, they were not joined internally.
Repeated benefits were held for the Winfield Day Nursery over the years. In reporting on an upcoming lecture at the Plaza Hotel ballroom for the facility on November 7, 1938, The New York Sun described its operation:
The nursery, at which babies as young as two weeks old have received care, maintains a kindergarten and provides warm mid-day dinners for the children after they have gone on to public schools. Facilities for supervised play in the nursery yard are also available for the children who have reached school age.
There were meeting spaces, as well, for Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations.
The Winfield Day Nursery operated from the houses until 1957, when 75-77 Horatio Street became the Masters Children's Center. It opened in September that year and, according to The New York Times, "provides a therapeutic program for disturbed children in a nursery school setting." Like its two predecessors, the Masters Children's Center remained for decades. Then, in 1986, a renovation resulted in two and three apartments per floor within the combined homes.
photographs by the author
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