Friday, March 15, 2024

The Barber Badger House - 15 King Street


In 1817 John Jacob Astor I paid Aaron Burr "handsomely," according to one source, for his Richmond Hill Estate slightly south of Greenwich Village.  In doing so, he took over the land lease from Trinity Church, upon which the estate stood.  Over the next decade, Astor leveled the land and laid out streets, including King Street, named for Revolutionary War soldier and member of the Continental Congress Rufus King.  By the mid-1820s, prim brick-faced houses were rising along the new blocks.

Among them was 15 King Street, on the northwest corner of Congress Street.  Two-and-a-half-stories tall, its peaked attic level was pierced by two dormers at the front, and three windows on the side--two of them were arched and the other was quarter-round.  A stable, accessed on Congress Street, sat within the rear yard.

A century before Sixth Avenue mowed a swatch through Greenwich Village, 15 King Street sat within a quiet residential neighborhood.  map by G. W. Bromley & Co. from the collection of the New York Public Library.

The house became home to the Barber Badger family by the early 1830s.  Born in Coventry, Connecticut on June 24, 1793, Badger was an editor and publisher.  He was the original editor of The Christian Advocate and Journal, founded in 1826.  He resigned in 1831 to establish the New York Weekly Messenger, acting as its publisher and editor.  He and his wife Sarah had a son, Thomas B. Watt Badger, born in 1819.

On Monday morning, June 10, 1833, Thomas and at least one of his parents had a particularly heated argument.  The teen left the house and disappeared.  If his parents thought he would cool down and return, they were mistaken.  A week later, the frantic couple placed a heartfelt notice in the Evening Post.  Saying Thomas had "left his parental home...under circumstances peculiarly painful," the detailed description noted, "He was a bright intelligent lad, in the 14th year of his age; rather full face, fair skin and large black eyes; the nail on the fore finger of the right hand had been torn nearly off by an accident, and has not yet grown out."  After describing his clothing, the notice said, 

He left home without hat or cap, but may have obtained one since.  Any person who shall return the lad to his parents, No. 15 King street, New York, or inform them where he may be found, shall be rewarded for the trouble and expense which they may incur in such a deed of mercy and benevolence.

It appears the youth was found.  A Thomas Badger was listed as a silver merchant in New York a decade later.

Sarah B. Badger died at the age of 52 on March 15, 1837.  As was customary, her funeral was held in the parlor at 15 King Street two days later.  Within three years Barber Badger left the house, which became home to the Gideon Fountain family.

A merchant doing business on Whitehall Street, Fountain had deep American roots.  His first French Huguenot ancestor, named de la Fontaine, arrived in Staten Island before 1658.  Gideon and his wife, the former Maria Slover, had six children, Jansen, Loo B., Emma Slover, Kate, Mary Ann, and Eliza Ross.  Despite what must have been snug conditions, the Fountains took in a boarder.  In 1840 it was James W. Greenman.

Gideon Fountain was highly involved in local politics.  He was a member of the Henry Clay Club of the Eighth Ward, and was on its Committee of Arrangements for a ball held at the Tivoli Saloon (the former Aaron Burr mansion nearby) in February 1842.  He ran for alderman on the Whig ticket in 1843, receiving a blistering assessment in an anonymous letter to the editor of the New York Herald in April that year.  The writer said Fountain's "intentions are pure, but [he is] a decided flash in the pan."

Youngest daughter Eliza Ross Fountain created this charming sampler in 1827 at the age of 9.  image via  

That year, Fountain served as the Chairman of the  Inspectors of Election in the Eighth Ward.  Things got especially heated during a meeting on November 8.  Two months later, on January 5, 1844, the New York Herald reported, "James McMurray and Peter Crawford were put on trial for an assault and battery on Gideon Fountain."

On February 12, 1848, the New York Herald reported that the State Senate was considering Gideon Fountain's nomination for Harbor Master, a responsible and coveted position.  He was confirmed and would hold the position of Harbor Master for years.  It necessitated his relocating his family to Brooklyn.

The King Street house became home to Calvin Demarest, a carman (a driver of a delivery vehicle).  Living with the family in 1856 and '57 was James H. Demarest, also a carman and presumably a son or brother.  Like the Fountains, the Demarests took in a boarder.  In 1860, for instance, their boarder was policeman Joseph Halsted, and in 1872 Howard Barrett, another carman, lived with the family.

In March 1873, Calvin Demarest hired architect J. C. Doremus to design a full-height, 10-foot extension to the rear of the house.  The extensive renovations cost him the equivalent of $30,000 in 2024.  It was most likely at this time that the quarter-round window in the attic was bricked shut.

Nine years later, on April 28, 1882, Demarest sold 15 King Street to milk dealer Louis H. Muller for $12,000.  The figure would translate to about $354,000 today.

Around 1890 Muller retired.  It appears that several of the people with whom he associated were less than respectable.  On August 20, 1891, The New York Times reported that he had furnished the $4,000 bail to get Edward Bechtodt, "the green-goods swindler," out of jail.  The article said Muller "swore that he owned real estate worth $35,000."  ("Green goods" was a 19th century term for counterfeit money.)

Two years later, on July 26, 1893, The Evening World began an article saying, "The notorious Katie Metz was again a prisoner in Jefferson Market Court this morning.  Katie is one of the boldest of the many disorderly women [i.e. prostitutes] who frequent the Tenderloin district, and she has been arrested more times than any one can remember."  The frustrated journalist said, "Each time that she has been arrested, Katie has been sent to the island in default of bail, and she has always managed to get the bail."  

As an example, he noted, "she was arrested June 7 and sentenced to one month on the island.  Louis H. Muller, of 15 King street, became her surety in the sum of $400."

Barber Badger's stable sat where the garage door can be seen today.

Like all well-heeled families in Manhattan, the Mullers summered away from the city.  And summer homes, like townhouses, required help.  On June 17, 1896, an  advertisement appeared in The World that read, "Housework--German girl for private family going to country; good wages.  Mrs. L. Muller, 15 King st."

In the first years of the 20th century, the neighborhood around 15 King Street had become one of Italian immigrants.  In April 1917, Muller leased the house to Dr. Alfred Benevento.  

On May 12, 1919, the doctor's nephew, Attillio Graziano, was discharged from the army and moved in with him.  Formerly a drug clerk, Graziano had served with the 305th field Hospital overseas during World War I.  Like many returning servicemen, he suffered from what today would be diagnosed as post traumatic stress disorder.  The day after his nephew moved in, Dr. Benevento discovered the 23-year-old dead from an overdose of morphine.  The Sun reported, "Dr. Benevento said he evidently had miscalculated the quantity of drug which he took to quiet his nerves."

In 1920 Dr. Alfred Benevento replaced the old Badger stables with a "private garage," as described in Department of Building records.  He would not enjoy it for long, however.  Two years later Louis H. Muller sold the property to Alberto Baratta. 

Dr. Benevento's garage is seen here around 1940.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

When Baratta  purchased the property, Sixth Avenue still ended at Carmine Street.  In 1925 the massive project of extending the avenue southward was begun.  It wiped out hundreds of buildings, narrowly skirting 15 King Street and virtually erasing Congress Street.  

photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Dr. Anthony J. Poggi, Jr. and his wife Marie lived in the house after mid-century.  Poggi received his degree from the New York College of Dentistry on June 14, 1923.  The couple had two daughters, Frances and Evangeline.  Marie Poggi, described by The Villager as "a lifelong Villager," died in the King Street house on April 27, 1965.  

A renovation completed two years later resulted in a two-family home.  Other than expected alterations like replacement windows, outwardly the venerable house is little changed after 200 years.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. I remember that street wall had started to bulge but they repaired it.