Monday, October 30, 2023

The Lost 1817 Nos. 16 to 19 State Street

Just a sliver of 16 State Street appears at the right.  To the far left can be seen the rear of 7 Bowling Green, at the southeast corner of State Street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In the first decades of the new republic, lower Broadway, Bowling Green, and State Street were the most refined residential streets in Manhattan.  The mansions of State Street faced Battery Park, which afforded vistas of the harbor and cooling breezes.  Mornings and afternoons saw well-dressed society members promenading in Battery Park.

On March 23, 1816, an advertisement appeared in The Evening Post that read:

House and Lot at the Battery.  That elegant House and Lot No. 19 State-street is offered for sale.  The House and appurtenances thereunto belonging will be completed by the first of May next.  There are many conveniences belonging to the House and for beauty and variety of prospect the situation is perhaps unsurpassed by any other in the United States.

The nearly completed brick-faced mansion was 28-feet-wide and three-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement.  It was one of four identical, Federal style residences going up.  Atop the stoops, their elegant marble framed entrances reflected the financial and social status of the families who would occupy them.  Their leaded glass sidelights and dramatic fanlights were hallmarks of the Federal style.  The windows wore paneled lintels and two dormers distinguished the peaked roofs.

An advertisement for 18 State Street next door boasted its being built "of the best materials...and in the most elegant and workmanlike manner."  It noted, "On the rear of the lot is a convenient brick stable and coach house, opening onto a commodious street or alley."

A watercolor executed around 1848 shows the walled garden between 19 State Street and 7 Bowling Green.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

No. 16 State Street became home to the Nathaniel Gardiner family.  They were looking to replace a servant in May 1826, their ad reading, "Waiter--A colored man as waiter is wanted at No. 16 State street."  (Waiters were polished, dignified servants who served in the dining and drawing rooms.)

In November that year the Gardiners welcomed a son, Abraham S.  Sadly, the little boy died a month before his first birthday, on October 2, 1827.

Living next door was William Irving and his wife, the former Julia Paulding.  Born on August 15, 1766, he was elected to Congress in 1814 and served until March 3, 1819.  William's younger brother and business partner was author Washington Irving.  William and Julia had five children, the youngest of whom, Henry Ogden, was ten years old when the family moved into their new home.

William Irving (original source unknown)

Irving would not enjoy his handsome home for long.  He died on November 9, 1821.  Two months later, Irving's estate sold the house, noting it "is replete with every convenience, faithfully built, and fashionable and well finished in every part."  The announcement noted, "the Stable is fire proof, and has ample room for carriages and horses."

Thomas Bloodgood sold 18 State Street to J. Phillips Phoenix in 1821.  Like Irving, he had served in Congress.  In July 1883 the New England Historical and Genealogical Register would recall, "Mr. J. Phillips Phoenix was for several terms the efficient representative in congress of a district in this city, comprising a cultivated and intelligent constituency."  He and his wife Mary Whitney, had seven children.  In reflecting on Stephen Whitney Phoenix's birth in the house on May 25, 1839, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register mentioned that the residence sat within the "aristocratic and fashionable quarter of Bowling Green and the Battery."

The Phillips's next door neighbors at 19 State Street were the Robert Maitlands.  Robert's wife, Elizabeth Sproat Lenox, was the daughter of James and Elizabeth Sproat Lenox.  

Robert Maitland, from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Mary Sproat Lenox Maitland, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Born in 1768, Maitland was the head of the Robert Maitland Company, a highly successful mercantile business.  In his 1864 The Old Merchants of New York, historian Joseph Alfred Scoville recalled the "famous society" which "called themselves the 'House of Lords.'"  He noted, "The society held their meetings at [Joseph] Baker's city tavern No. 4 Wall street, corner of New."  The group included Robert Maitland, Gulian Verplanck, Robert Lenox (Mary's brother), Preserved Fish, and John Wesley Jarvis.

Robert and Mary had two children, Jennet Lenox, born in 1817, and Robert Lenox, born the following year.  (Two others, Agnes and Harriet, had died in infancy.)  Robert L. Maitland would eventually join his father's firm as a junior partner and go on to establish a reputation equal to his father's.

Robert Maitland died at the family's country home in Westchester County on October 29, 1846.  The State Street house became home to Mary Townsend Nicoll, the widow of Edward H. Nicoll.  She died here on April 5, 1849 at the age of 60.

At the time of Mary Nicoll's death, the millionaires of Lower Manhattan were migrating north to exclusive enclaves like St. John's Park, the Bond Street neighborhood, and Washington Square.  By 1851, 16 State Street was being operated as a high end boarding house, run by Elizabeth B. Atkins, the widow of Benjamin Atkins.  She accepted only a few select boarders.  That year they were flour and grain merchant Thomas E. Burns; Antoine Cokino, another merchant; and attorney John J. Tyler.

The invasion of commerce into the once-refined block was perhaps best exemplified in 1857, when the Stafford Olive Tar Co. took over the lower floors of 16 State Street.

The Stafford Olive Tar Co. slathered the facade of 16 State Street with its advertising.  Appletons' Hand-Book Advertiser, 1857 (copyright expired)

An advertisement in the New-York Dispatch in 1857 read:

To Disinfect A Sick Room, place a table spoonful of J. R. Stafford's Olive Tar in a saucer over a bowl of hot water [and] the room will be soon filled with the delightful blended Aroma of the Olive and Pine, revitalizing the sick and preventing the spread of Disease.  Remember this when Small Pox, Scarlet, or other infection Fevers or Diseases prevail.  Olive Tar 50 cents a Bottle by the Stafford Olive Tar Co., 16 State street, east side of Battery, and by all Druggists.

Then, with the outbreak of Civil War in 1861, all four houses were taken over by the Union.  No. 16 became the New York City headquarters of certain U.S. Navy departments, and 17 through 19 were occupied by the U.S. Army's Quartermasters Department.  Various military figures occupied the upper floors of all four houses.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

On July 25, 1864, 17 State Street was the scene of the court-martial of General Francis B. Spinola.  According to The New York Times, he was charged with various offenses, including "mustering into the service of the United States sailors owing allegiance to, and in the service of, a foreign power."  More pointedly, he was accused of kidnapping troops and sailors.  Five months earlier the newspaper had noted, "During Gen. Spinola's administration, when 'runners' and the kidnapping of negroes were rife, over four hundred colored men were mustered into the service of the United States; since his removal there has only been one."

Following the war, the houses returned to private ownership, each being operated as a boarding house.  In 1873, New York City saw a resurgence of yellow fever.  On June 22, the New York Herald reported, "Considerable excitement has been occasioned among the residents of the lower part of State street by the death of a young man from that terrible contagion, the yellow fever, and the illness of three others with symptoms of the disease."

Sixteen-year-old John Ennis, who lived at 16 State Street, contracted the disease on Tuesday June 13 and died on Friday.  The day before his death, his brother exhibited severe symptoms.  The New York Herald said the Health Department authorities went so far "as to seize upon every article of furniture in the place, carting it away and burning it outside the city limits."  The house was quarantined, and on June 22 John's brother was "in a very low condition."

The article added, "Two of the neighbors were also attacked with the symptoms of this terrible malady.  One of the parties resides at 18 State street, and the other in the house adjoining the one in which young Ennis died."  In 17 State Street a Mrs. Lydon, who was 25 years old, and her sister had both contracted the disease.  The New York Herald reported on June 22, "Mrs. Lydon was confined last night and died shortly after.  The other patient was very low and her recovery was considered doubtful."

Four months later, 16 State Street became the German Emigrants' House.  The New York Herald reported on October 29, 1873 that it would be formally opened and dedicated two days later.  The ceremonies were to include "Addresses in English and German by distinguished speakers."

Surprisingly, 17 State Street was returned to a single family house in 1875 when it was purchased by Dr. William L. Shine.  In addition to his private practice, he was the official surgeon and claims adjuster of the Metropolitan Elevated Railway.  During the Civil War he had served as surgeon of the 69th Regiment.  The Evening Post later described him as a "skillful surgeon," but added, "He had an uncontrollable temper, which frequently involved him in affrays, and his habits were irregular."

Indeed, on September 11, 1878, The New York Times titled an article, "Dr. Shine Again In Court," and reported on his being charged with assault and battery on John Noonan.  The latter worked aboard the steamship City of Washington and boarded at 19 State Street.  Noonan had come to Dr. Shine for treatment and owed him $5 (about $151 in 2023).  The seaman was not as quick to pay his bill as his physician would like.

On the night of September 10, as the City of Washington pulled into port, Shine was waiting on the dock.  Noonan told authorities:

He says, "I'm looking for you for some time.  You owe me $5, and I want it."  I said, "I ain't got any money at present," when Shine said, "You lie, you got paid today, you ___ ___ little snoozer; you've been sending me off long enough."

Noonan claimed that Shine then jabbed him "right in the neck" with his umbrella.  "I said to him, 'Shine, I'll fix you for this.  I'll get the law.'  He then took a revolver out of his pocket, and holding on to the butt-end smashed me on the head."  Several witnesses appeared in court to support Noonan's account.

As often as Shine's name appeared in newsprint for his expert treatment of patients, it appeared in reports of his unprofessional and violent encounters, often in saloons.  On November 12, 1881, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Dr. William L. Shine, of No. 17 State-street, who was recently charged with cutting William H. a fight in a First Ward Bar-room, was again before Justice Kilbreth, in the Tombs Court, yesterday."

Both Shine's residency at 17 State Street and his medical career came to an end in October 1883 when he was declared insane.  He was sent to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and then moved to Ward's Island in August 1884.  He died there at the age of 47 on February 16, 1885.

The former mansions were demolished in 1899.  In the background can be seen the Produce Exchangefrom the collection of the New York Public Library

Against all odds, the beleaguered relics of an elegant period along State Street survived until 1899, when they were demolished to make way for the United States Customs House, designed by Cass Gilbert.

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