Saturday, December 30, 2023

The 1869 Thomas H. Van Tine House - 47 Charles Street


Peter L. P. Tostevin listed his profession as mason in the Brooklyn directories during the 1860s.  He was not, however, a struggling bricklayer, but a partner in the thriving construction firm of Rabold & Tostevin.  In 1868, fellow Brooklynite James S. Bearnes purchased three building plots on the north side of Charles Street, just east of West Fourth Street, and hired Tostevin to build fashionable rowhouses on the site.  Completed in 1869, the brownstone-faced residences were handsome examples of the Italianate style.  

Like its identical neighbors, 57 Charles Street (later renumbered 47) rose three stories above an English basement.  Stone stoop railings with urn-shaped balusters rose from beefy newels to the arched, double-doored entrance.  Above it, an arched pediment sat upon scrolled brackets.  

All three homes were purchased by William Rabold in 1869, who initially rented them.  Then, in March 1872, Thomas Hartwell Van Tine purchased 57 Charles Street for $14,500--about $358,000 in 2023.

Born in New Jersey in 1820, Van Tine and his wife, the former Sarah E. Owens, had three adult children, Thomas Jr., Archibald, and Sarah Amelia.  Thomas, who was engaged in his father's business, moved into the Charles Street house with his wife, Adelaide Allen, and their three-year-old daughter Addie.

Thomas Hartwell Van Tine (original source unknown)

Like Peter L. P. Tostevin, Van Tine's profession of plumber belied his social and financial status.  He operated one of the chief plumbing firms in the city and handled significant projects, like the plumbing of several city fire stations.  

Little Addie Van Tine contracted scarlet fever in the spring of 1874.  She died in the Charles Street house at five-and-a-half-years-old on April 11, and her funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

According to The Evening Post, "The family had two trained birds of which they were very fond."  They became the target of malicious interlopers in the fall of 1874.  The family was away on October 1 when burglars pried off one of the iron grates protecting the basement windows and entered the house in broad daylight.  The Evening Post called the 3:00 break-in "one of the most daring robberies of late."  When the Van Tines returned home, they discovered that about $1,000 of "laces and other valuables" had been carried off. 

But, perhaps worse, their prized birds had been cruelly killed.  The Evening Post explained, "The burglars evidently intended at first to carry them off, and prepared a pasteboard box for that purpose.  Afterwards they changed their mind and, killing both birds, left them dead on the mantlepiece."

Sarah Owens Van Tine died on June 30, 1881.  Thomas Hartwell Van Tine survived her by almost four years.  He died on May 26, 1885 at the age of 64, and his funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Somewhat surprisingly, considering that Thomas Jr. and his wife lived at 57 Charles Street, it was his sister Elizabeth who inherited the house.  She had married Cornelius Van Zandt on June 4, 1866.  By the mid-1880s the house was being leased to the family of Captain George Washington Gastlin of the New York City Police Department.

Born in 1835, Gastlin had joined the Police Department in 1864.  He had been with the Steamboat Squad since 1878, the station of which was at Pier A on the Hudson River.  The Sun said, "Under his management the river pirates and 'dock rats' that were a terror to boatmen and sailors who slept on their vessels along the water front were suppressed."  

Captain George Washington Gastlin, The Sun, July 6, 1890 (copyright expired)

In 1887, Gatlin purchased a "big buff-colored St. Bernard," as described by The Sun, which he named Nero.  The massive dog was a frequent visitor at the police station and the newspaper said, "Nero knew every one of the policemen at Pier A, and he didn't believe his day was complete unless he had spent a few hours with the Captain at the station."

Equally fond of the big dog was Gastlin's little granddaughter, Maggie Dorn Johnston, who was three years old when her grandfather purchased him.  The Sun said, "The Captain had trained the dog to carry the little girl on his back, and it was a common sight in Greenwich village to see Maggie sitting on a tiny saddle riding her faithful steed."

On Friday afternoon, April 19, 1889, Maggie, who was now five years old and lived nearby at 133 West 10th Street, "came around to the house to call on the Captain and her shaggy friend," according to The Sun.  "She left the door open, and Nero slipped out on a voyage of discovery."  Four days later, the St. Bernard was still missing and, said the newspaper, "Maggie is disconsolate."  No follow-up articles appeared after that, making it unclear whether Nero was ever found.

Captain Gastlin endured public humiliation in 1894 when the New York Senate's Lexow Committee held hearings on police corruption.  Gastlin earned a salary of $2,500 per year (about $83,000 by 2023 terms), which he supplanted by inexcusable means.  He was one of three supervisors accused of extorting money from their own officers.  During hearings on December 19, Office Murphy testified that he "had been paid $25 per month for 14 years for dock work" and "gave up half of this money every month to the different wardmen."  Wardman Ball admitted to taking money from the officers, and testified he passed it on to Captain Gastlin.

Gastlin was not indicted, but was forced to resign on July 5, 1890.  The Sun reported, "He will lose his salary...but his pension will enable him to live well in the country, for he will probably never live again in New York."  He died one day after his 60th birthday on October 2, 1895.

In 1941 the original doorway pediment and the stone stoop railings survived.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

On September 14, 1905, Elizabeth Van Zandt sold 57 Charles Street to T. G. Patterson and his wife Mary.  They leased it to Edward Price.  

Price had arrived in New York in 1888 from his native Wales, where he was born in 1859.  He was the cashier (the accountant responsible for the cash and keeping of the books) of the Palatine Insurance Company, and then of the Northern Insurance Company.  He died at the age of 61 on January 28, 1920.  Three months later the Patterson estate sold the Charles Street house.

Since the early 19th century, the north side of one block of Charles Street--between Bleecker and West 4th Street--had been named Van Nest Place in honor of Abraham Van Nest whose sprawling country estate engulfed the area in the 18th century.  It caused immense confusion and in 1900 residents began lobbying the city to discard the name.  Finally, in 1936 Van Nest Place was renamed Charles Street, necessitating a renumbering of the houses.  No. 57 Charles Street became 47 Charles Street.

A renovation completed in 1969 resulted in a doctor's office in the basement level and one apartment each on the upper floors.  It was most likely at this time that the arched pediment and brackets above the doorway was removed, and the stone stoop railings replaced with modern iron examples.

image via

Then, a restoration completed in 2003 returned 47 Charles Street to a single-family residence.  Period-appropriate Italianate style stoop railings were installed and the entrance enframement reproduced.

photographs by the author
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