Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Doubleday & Beak Building - 49 Murray Street


In 1813, Joseph Stringham lived and worked in the Federal style house at 49 Murray Street that he leased from Trinity Church.  On August 11 that year, he advertised:  "A good, fast-sailing vessel, with excellent accommodations, will shortly be dispatched as a cartel for the Leeward Carribee [i.e., Carribean] Islands.  For passage, apply to Joseph Stringham, No. 49 Murray-street."

The property was acquired from Trinity Church by Hubert Van Wagenen, Jr. in 1844.  He and his family resided here until 1855, a time when the neighborhood was beginning to exhibit noticeable change.  Within a year or two, as loft buildings supplanted residences, Van Wagenen replaced the vintage house with a modern loft and store building.  

The five-story building was faced in stone above a cast iron storefront executed by Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works.  The segmentally arched openings of the upper floors sat on bracketed sills and wore molded hoods.  A stone cornice with a carved frieze capped the design.

It appears that Van Wagenen's first tenant was Doubleday & Beak, manufacturers of umbrellas and parasols.  A reorganization around 1866 resulted in the firm's name being changed to Doubleday & Dwight.  It shared the building that year with Joseph Walter's paper box company, which would remain for decades.

Doubleday & Dwight left in 1868.  In addition to Joseph Walter, the building's occupants were the saddlery firm of A. D. Dickinson & Co. (Asa Dickinson also ran a dry goods business at 8 Murray Street); importers James and William Conklin; and Bartlett Brothers & Smith, a glass business run by Homer N. and John B. Bartlett with David R. Smith.

The bookkeeper of A. D. Dickinson & Co. was Asa Dickinson's brother, Dewitt.  The New York Herald described his job as "a very responsible position."  The newspaper added that Dewitt Dickinson, who lived in a boarding house nearby at 1 College Place (today's Park Place), was "an educated and accomplished gentlemen and his relatives are of the highest respectability."

But the young man had a drinking problem.  The New York Herald explained he sometimes "drank to excess, so much so that he neglected his business."  Asa Dickinson tried to reason with his alcoholic brother, and "often expostulated with [him] and endeavored to dissuade him from pursuing such a ruinous course."

Around April 1, 1869, Dewitt Dickinson failed to show up at work and over a week later was still missing.  The New York Herald wrote, "the belief prevailed that shame and humiliation at his course of late had taken such deep hold upon him that he determined never again to see his brother."  At around 1:00 on the afternoon of April 12, Mary McMahon, Dickinson's landlady, heard a pistol shot, but could not discern where it came from.  Three hours later, suspicious that something was wrong, she tried Dickinson's door, which was locked.  Mary's husband found a police officer and they forced the door open.  They found the 26-year-old Dewitt Dickinson dead on the bed.  The New York Herald revealed, "the [pistol] ball had passed clear through the head, struck the partition wall, from which it rebounded, and lodged on the bed."

Asa Dickinson took on a partner, George H. Norton, around 1874, changing the name of the firm to Norton & Dickinson.  Norton appeared in court on September 26, 1874 to testify against Joseph Cowley and Philip Scherer.   The New York Herald reported that he accused Cowley of stealing and Scherer "with receiving five brushes and thirty-one horse blankets, worth $105."  (The amount would be closer to $2,780 in 2024.)  The stolen goods had been found in Scherer's possession.  

The following year another tenant was the victim of a burglar.  Barbey & Sons occupied the second floor where they manufactured fans--a must-have for Victorian ladies in the warm months.  On May 20, 1875, The New York Times reported that Barbey & Sons "was entered by thieves on Tuesday night and robbed of fans valued at $1,700."  It was a major haul, worth about $46,800 today.

Also in the building in the mid- to late-1870s were M. Reiman & Co., manufacturers of "absolutely pure French fruit syrup;" H. Siebold & Co., "importers of lithographic stones, &c."; and the New York office of German lamp and candle shade makers Hohenstein & Lange.

Hohenstein & Lange was described by New York's Leading Industries in 1885 as "one of the largest factories in Europe for the manufacture of every description of lamp and candle shades."  The New York office was run by Hugh Hohenstein.  New York's Leading Industries noted, "At his fine establishment in Murray street, can be seen a full line of these beautiful goods and which are universal favorites throughout the trade."  The firm also manufactured "fancy papers," "laces for paper boxes," and "the most elegant and artistic menu, Christmas and New Year's cards."

The Saddlery Hardware Manufacturing Co. operated from 49 Murray Street by 1890.  (It is unclear whether it was somehow connected with the earlier Norton & Dickinson firm.)  Among its executives in 1892 was a man named Dreher, whose 17-year-old son brought unwanted publicity to the firm that year.

On December 1, The New York Times sad flatly, "Young Dreher, whose father is employed in the office of a saddlery and hardware manufacturing company at 49 Murray Street, has been a disobedient and wayward son for over a year.  The great trouble with the boy, the father says, has been his disinclination to work."  

Three months earlier, the teen had found work at the farmhouse of Mrs. Charles Purdy in Red Bank, New Jersey.  The New York Times said, "He did not stay here long, as he was discharged for laziness."  Dreher came to New York City where he became acquainted with two "crooks," as described by the newspaper, one of whom, Charles Adams, was well-known to police.  Dreher came up with the plan to rob Mrs. Purdy's house.  He would show up, plead that he was starving and had no place to stay, and beg for a meal and a bed for the night.  He was sure Mrs. Purdy would not turn him down, and during the night he would open a window to allow his cohorts to enter and burglarize the house.

When Dreher arrived at the Purdy house, she was not there, but the servants let him in.  As planned, he let the teens in during the night and they made off with $500 worth of silverware and other valuables.  In the morning, Dreher sauntered out, telling the servants he was going to look for a place to live and work.  "Several hours after his departure the robbery was discovered, but no one suspected Dreher," said the article.

To avoid the suspicious appearance of two teenaged boys carrying a bulky bag of silverware on the ferry, they shipped it via an express company to New York.  The clever plan fell through, however, when Adams was arrested on suspicion by a sharped eyed police officer after he picked up the bundle at the express office at 94 Broadway.  "When Dreher was brought to the station house he made a clean breast of the whole affair," reported The New York Times.  Adams confessed to the crime and fingered Dreher and the other accomplice.  

Bernard Meiners, dealers in lithographic supplies, was in the building at the time, and Joseph Walter's paper box factory, now run by Joseph Walter Jr., was still there.   At the turn of the century, the Walter firm employed eight men, 22 women, a one girl under 16.  They worked 54 hours per week.  By then the printing establishment of Joseph Carroll was also in the building.

At around noon on October 29, 1900 the Tribeca neighborhood was rocked by a massive explosion.  The New York Times ran the headline "RUIN, DEATH; MANY INJURIES. / Drug House of Tarrant & Co., And About Twenty Other Buildings Wrecked."   The explosion occurred at the northeast corner of Washington and Warren Streets.  

Henrietta Gorman worked in the paper box factory.  The 18-year-old was taken to Hudson Street Hospital where she was diagnosed with "hysteria."

New-York Tribune, October 30, 1900 (copyright expired)

A bizarre story was that of Edward Bradley, who worked for Joseph Carroll.  According to the New-York Tribune he and his wife, Mary, met for lunch and, "were in front of Tarrant's building when the explosions wrecked the place."  The newspaper continued, "There was a shower of stones and dust.  Mr. Bradley says he heard his wife shriek for help, and looking around found that the spot where she had stood was covered with wreckage.  He could not find her, and reported to the police that he feared she had been killed."

But the following day, The New York Times reported that Bradley's former housekeeper "saw him on the street yesterday morning, and she declared that he had referred to the matter as a joke played on him.  He is not married and has no sisters or relatives by the name given, according to the housekeeper."

The Joseph Walter box company would remain at 49 Murray Street through 1908, and Bernhard Meiners was still here in 1929.  Rand, McNally & Co. moved in by 1912, and the following year E. Steiger & Co., publishers and distributors of school supplies was in the building.  Like Bernhard Meiners, E. Steinger & Co. remained through 1929.

The Publishers' Weekly, July 19, 1924 (copyright expired)

Exactly one century after his family had purchased the property, in 1944 Edward Van Wagenen sold 49 Murray Street to the Selmer Loft company.  Its ownership would prove much shorter.  The building was purchased by the Seaboard Twin & Cordage Company in 1946.

As was the case in 1858 when Hubert Van Wagenen demolished his house, the Tribeca neighborhood again saw drastic change in the last quarter of the 20th century.  A renovation completed in 1998 resulted in four spacious loft dwellings on the upper floors.  

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

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