Thursday, November 2, 2023

The 1869 Thomas Cudbirth House - 41 Charles Street


In 1869 a row of five three-story-and-basement homes was completed on the north side of Charles Street between West Fourth and Waverly Place.  Their Italianate design included molded lintels, and bracketed cornices with paneled fascias.  The double-doored entrances above the high stoops featured arched pediments that sat upon scrolled brackets.

Thomas Cudbirth, who lived one block away on Charles Street, purchased 51 Charles Street (renumbered 41 in 1936).  A prominent Greenwich Village real estate dealer and developer, he leased the house for several years.  His first tenant was Joseph R. Ferrer, a merchant who had served with the 74th Regiment of Infantry during the war.  Ferrer and his family remained until January 1873.

Cudbirth advertised the house in February 1873.  The ad read:

To Let or Lease--A new brown stone house; modern improvements; 51 Charles street or Vannest place; rent $1,650.
                                                                                    T. Cudbirth.

The mention of Vannest (or Van Nest) Place referred to the single-block section of Charles Street one block to the west.  The advertised rent was an affordable $3,500 per month by today's calculations.  

The advertisement was answered by John O. Mott, a lawyer with offices on Chambers Street.  He and his family lived here for one year before the Cudbirth family moved in.

Thomas Cudbirth owned and built houses throughout Greenwich Village.  Born in 1806, he joined the United States Navy when he was a young man.  After 15 years at sea, "during which time he suffered shipwreck more than once," according to the New York Dispatch, he returned to New York City.  The newspaper said, "at the earnest solicitation of his mother, to whom he was tenderly attached, he became a real estate agent, and for about twenty five years conducted, with success, the affairs of the large estate of Mr. Cozzens."

Cudbirth and his wife, the former Cyrena Arlen, had four adult children, Mary A., Julia, Delia, and Thomas C.  Two other children, Cyrena and Benjamin, had died.  

Cudbirth ran his real estate business from the Charles Street house, and it appears he did not totally leave his sea-faring demeanor behind him when he left the Navy.  The New York Dispatch diplomatically described him as "a frank, bluff, outspoken and just man.  Under a somewhat rough and sailor-like bearing, he wore a kindly heart."

The family's respectability had been severely tested twenty years earlier.  On April 11, 1855, the New York Herald reported that Cudbirth had raped and impregnated a servant girl in their home.  The article went on to say that he, Cyrena, and a servant, Mrs. Wiley (most likely the housekeeper) had attempted to arrange an abortion, performed by the notorious Madame Restell.  

The year after the Cudbirths moved into the Charles Street house, on October 18, 1875, Cyrena died.  It was not long before Thomas remarried.

Thomas and his new wife named Belle lived together until Cudbirth's death in the Charles Street house on July 5, 1884.  The scandal of 1855 seems to have been mostly forgotten.  In reporting his death, the New York Dispatch said, "For a long period he has been a noted figure in the Ninth Ward, and he will be missed by many of the old inhabitants, to whom he was endeared by years of association in personal, social, and business relations."

At least one of Thomas's children, Thomas C., lived on at 51 Charles Street with Belle.  The house increased its population by one when Belle married Thomas E. Penton around 1903.  After having been in the Cudbirth family for nearly four decades, Belle sold the house to Eleanora Oberinder on March 26, 1906.

It is unclear whether the Oberinder family ever lived in the house, or if Eleanora used it as a rental property.  Living here in 1914 was the erudite scholar Dr. Samuel Augustus Binion.  Born in Suwalki, Poland in April 1837, at some point he had anglicized his birth surname.  The New-York Tribune said his father, Joshua Bin Nun, had been "a savant and teacher," in Poland.  

After studying at the Universities of Breslau and Padua, and at King's College in London, Binion worked as a "reader" in the British Museum for eight years before traveling to Spain to become Superintendent of Schools in Sevilla and the Balearic Islands.  Upon arriving in America, he worked in the Peabody Museum in Baltimore where he catalogued the works on Oriental languages, and then was hired by John Hopkins University.  Following his retirement he came to New York.

Dr. Samuel Augustus Binion (original source unknown)

An author and translator, he was chiefly known for his translation of Henri Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis?.  Other books he translated were Sienkiewicz's The Knights of the Cross; With Fire and Sword: A Tale of the Past; and Pan Michael, an Historical Novel.  Dr. Binion died in the Charles Street house on January 8, 1914 at the age of 77.

Another well-educated resident of 51 Charles Street was Frank J. Hopkins.  In 1909 he was hired as a proofreader with the New York American.  While living here in 1919, Hopkins's life came to a brutal end.  On February 25, The Sun reported, "Edward Butler, motorman of a Seventh avenue subway train, felt a jar 200 feet south of the Christopher street station early yesterday and shut off his power.  Underneath the rear trucks of the first car was found the body of Frank J. Hopkins."

In 1933 the basement level was converted to a restaurant.  A large window was cut into the facade at that level.  The fact that the stoop was removed strongly suggests that the upper floors were being operated as a rooming house.

A large electric blade sign advertises the restaurant in 1941.  A small sign affixed to the former parlor floor most likely advertises rented rooms.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1936, after having caused years of confusion, the Van Nest Place block was renamed  Charles Street.  It resulted in the renumbering of the entire street, and 51 Charles Street now became 41.

The restaurant expanded into the former parlor level in 1955.  The Department of Buildings documents demanded that the upper floors "remain vacant."  That changed in 1960 when the basement was converted to one apartment and each of the upper floors remodeled to two.  Then, a renovation completed in 2016 brought the former Cudbirth house back to a single-family home.  A striking refabrication of the lost stoop and lintels was initiated at this time, returning the residence to its 1869 appearance.

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

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