Friday, November 10, 2023

The Haven Day Nursery -- 443-445 West 24th Street


Beverly Robinson was the attorney of the Clarke and Moore families, as well as a close friend.  Around 1818, Clement Clarke Moore began parceling his ancestral estate, Chelsea, into building plots.  Robinson acquired the row of lots stretching along 24th Street from Ninth to Tenth Avenues in May 1820 as an investment.  It would be nearly two decades before development began.

On April 24, 1849, the same year that the striking row of Greek Revival townhouses called London Terrace was completed on the corresponding block of 23rd Street, Robinson sold the plots to George F. Talman while retaining an interest in the speculative homes to be built there.  The pair commissioned local builder Philo V. Beebe to erect a series of twelve paired brick homes that same year.  Completed in 1850, they sat back from the sidewalk behind cast iron fencing that gave the houses (like the elegant London Terrace homes) front yards, a luxury in Manhattan.

Nos 303 and 305 (renumbered 443 and 445 in 1868) were mirror images, their only differences being the location of the entrances--right and left respectively.  The Greek Revival homes had touches of the emerging Italianate style.   They were purchased by Reid R. Throckmorton and George Warner, respectively--Throckmorton as an investment and Warner as his family's home.

George Warner ran a coal business at 660 Houston Street.  His family remained in the house for nine years, offering it for rent in 1859 for $500 a year--an affordable $1,500 per month by 2023 standards.  It was being rented by Margaret and Edward A. Moss in 1861, when their 20-month-old baby, Madge, died on October 13.  Her tiny coffin sat in the parlor until her funeral on the 15th.

In the meantime, Jane Colt, the widow of R. L. Colt, had leased the house next door until around 1856 when Gardner M. Peck and his family moved in.  Although a trained physician, Peck was in the straw hat business, with two locations--on Pine Street and West 19th Street.

Gardner M. Peck, from A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Joseph Peck, 1868 (copyright expired)

Peck had received his medical degree in 1821 from Brown University.  After practicing in Foxborough, Massachusetts for 15 years, according to the 1868 A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Joseph Peck, "the fatigues and privations of a country practice became intolerable, and he resolved to abandon it."  He moved to New York City in 1838 and began his hat business.

Peck's wife, Ella H. Mason, had died two years later.  By the time he moved into the West 24th Street house, he had married Sarah Talbot.  Of the six children from his first marriage, two had survived to adulthood.  Gardner and Sarah had two children, Helen G, who was 10 years old when they moved in, and Ella M., who was three.  Sadly, Ella died on March 24, 1857.  Her funeral in the house two days later was the fifth of his children's funerals Garner Peck endured.

Henry Ferris and his wife Caroline lived next door by 1864.  He was a brewer on Tenth Avenue.  The couple's domestic problems came to a head a year later.  According to Captain Hedden of the 16th Precinct, between January and April police were repeatedly called to the address for what today would be termed domestic disturbances.  Finally, Ferris decided to move out.  In doing so, however, he opted to take the furniture with him.  Caroline Ferris was adamant that her things would remain.

On April 29, 1865, Ferris sent word to the station house, asking Captain Hedden "to send policemen to their dwelling," as reported by The New York Times.  He said that Caroline "threatened the lives of his men" and he needed police protection in removing the furniture."  Hedden send Officers Tilton and Irwin to the house, "instructing them not to unnecessarily interfere."

Tilton later recounted, "Mrs. Ferris was flourishing a club over the heads of the men who were moving the furniture."  He offered to arrest her, but Henry refused to press charges.  At one point, according to Tilton, he "pushed the woman back from a trunk, but thought that he had done no more than his duty."

Caroline's story was different.  On May 11, she appeared in court against Officer Tilton, alleging that "he seized her arm and thrust her into a bathroom, and, holding the door, kept her there while four of her husband's workmen were removing her furniture."  Tilton was reprimanded for interfering with a domestic situation.

With the Ferrises gone, George Warner sold 305 West 24th Street to Hugh Coffey and his wife Caroline in 1865.  The couple were newlyweds, having married in December 1863.  A native of Ireland, Coffey was an oyster dealer in the Washington Market.

Because he was "becoming enfeebled in health," according to court papers, in 1873 Hugh Coffey transferred title to the property, now numbered 445 West 24th Street, to Caroline.  Hugh Coffey died on May 3, 1881.  Caroline remained in the house, renting rooms for income.

Sharing the house with her in 1893 were Charles Simonson and his sister Ellen.  Charles was an oyster dealer (he had, quite possibly, taken over Coffey's business), and Ellen had been a private nurse since 1891.  The arrangement worked out well for the siblings, since Ellen often lived in the homes of her clients.

On Saturday April 29, 1893, Ellen was sent by Dr. Clarence Cornell to a new patient, the wife of Robert T. Davidson who lived in an apartment building on West 58th Street.  Mrs. Davidson, it turned out, was an especially difficult and needy patient.  Her sister later said that Ellen, "was kept up for three nights attending Mrs. Davidson and had practically no sleep from Sunday morning until Wednesday evening.  On Wednesday night she got a little sleep, but on Thursday night I am told she was awake most of the night."

The lack of rest and the stress of tending to her patient got the best of Ellen Simonson.  At 6:00 on the morning of Saturday, May 6, the building's janitor found "the mangled body of a woman" lying at the bottom of the air shaft.  Ellen had jumped to her death.

Caroline Coffey died around 1917 and 445 West 24th Street was inherited by her niece, Katherine Coffey.  In 1918 Katherine leased it to the Haven Day Nursery, which had already been renting 443 since 1913.  

On January 5, 1919, The New York Times explained, "With the coming of the war the numbers kept increasing until a second building was rented and rebuilt by the people who have undertaken the carrying on of this work," said The New York Times, which added, "Today their two buildings house more than a hundred children whose mothers are engaged in industry."

The article said, "The people living in the neighborhood of the nursery are mostly Italian and Irish."  The nursery allowed the immigrant mothers the ability to work.  They dropped off their children at 7:30 in the morning and picked them up as late as 6 p.m.  They paid 10 cents a day.  The article noted, "It wasn't much but it took away the stigma of charity from those who were forced to go there."

On July 2, 1920, the New-York Tribune reported that the Haven Day Nursery had purchased 443 West 24th Street from the Law Estate, and 445 West 24th Street from Katherine Coffey.  The article noted, "The nursery has been occupying the houses for several years."  The day nursery and kindergarten occupied the basement through second floors, while the third floor was listed as a "dwelling," most likely for the caretaker.

The New York Times explained that every child received individual attention.  "They are bathed, clothed, and fed here...The diet is carefully planned, and the transition from the mother's care to the nurse's care is made very carefully.  Each child has its own bed, its own clothing bag, and its own towels."

The rear yard was outfitted as a playground, when weather permitted.  For the older children, said The New York Times, "Several hours during the day are given to classes.  The work is carried on by a Montessori teacher."

In 1926 the facility became the Eisman Day Nursery, Inc. which operated essentially the same as the Haven Day Nursery.  It operated here until 1942, when the combined buildings were converted to furnished rooms.

That configuration lasted until 1984, when a renovation resulted in Class A apartments and a new penthouse level, unseen from street level.  From the outside, the two venerable houses look little changed from their appearance nearly 175 years ago.

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

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