Friday, April 5, 2024

The 1828 Michael Eagan House - 19 Vandam Street


Edgar Harriot had diverse interests.  He was listed in directories as both a mason and a baker.  In 1828 he completed construction of a highly unusual house at 19 Vandam Street on land leased from Trinity Church.  (He owned the houses on either side, as well, which also sat on leased land.)  

Unlike its neighbors, the entrance of 19 Van Dam Street sat above two short steps instead of a stoop.  Two-and-a-half-stories tall and faced in Flemish bond brick, its handsome brownstone lintels had a raised center panel and end blocks.  Two (or possibly three) dormers pierced the peaked roof.  An advertisement a decade later would explain, "The first story of the dwelling is 20 ft. 6 ins. wide, and extends over an ally [sic] 7 ft. 6 ins., making the upper part of the house 28 ft. wide by about 35 ft. deep."  

The "ally" was what was commonly called a horsewalk--a passageway to the rear yard where Harriot erected two buildings--a bakery and a stable.  (The stable building extended over the property line of 17 Vandam Street.)

The horsewalk would have been similar to this example at 13 Vandam Street, seen here in 1939.  photograph by Beecher Ogden, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Edgar Harriot, who lived next door at 21 Vandam Street, ran his bakery business in the rear building.  In 1836, James Roome, whose grocery was at 241 Hudson Street, was leasing 19 Vandam Street.  Living with the family was Rensellaer Reinagle, an orphan and presumably a relative.  The 11-year-old died on June 9 that year, and his funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

In January 1839, Edgar Harriot sold the unexpired land lease at auction (there were still nine years left on the lease).  The announcement noted that on the property were "the well finished brick dwelling in front in Vandam st., and frame bake house and brick stable on the rear."  The notice listed the ground rent at $70 per year (about $2,750 in 2024).

Surprisingly (having just sold the lease), in 1840 Edgar Harriot moved into 19 Vandam Street.  He no longer ran the bakery, however.  He was now listed as a tailor, doing business at 271 Broadway, while continuing his real estate involvement.  That year Frederick P. Dearth operated the bakery in the rear.

Harriot moved again, to 5 Vandam Street, around 1842.  The following year, William Thies ran the bakery and lived in the house.  Like Dearth's, his proprietorship would be short lived.  In 1844, it was taken over by the Paulin & Luckett bakery, run by Samuel Luckett and William Paulin.  

The men had a short commute to work.  Paulina Mott ran a boarding house in 19 Vandam Street and both men and their families boarded here.  Another baker, John T. Rusher (presumably an employee), also lived here in 1847.  Among Mott's other boarders in 1850 were Wymund Sawyer, a stonecutter; and schoolteacher Jane McLaughlin.

On the afternoon of January 14, 1851, 11-year-old Charles H. Mason, who lived next door at 21 Vandam Street, was playing in the rear yard with his friends.  The New York Morning Courier reported, "The little fellow, it appears, was flying his kite on the top of the house No. 19 Vandam Street, and while watching it float in the air, he stepped back a few paces and fell on another roof, a distance of 30 feet, breaking his right arm and fracturing his skull. He was immediately taken to his residence by his companions, and died three hours afterwards."

Paulin & Luckett left in 1851 and the bakery was taken over by Henry F. Fox & Co.  As had been the case with his predecessors, Henry F. Fox and his family lived in the main house.  Working in the bakery with him was his son, Austen.  Another son, Frank Fox, was in the milk business on Madison Street.

William Thompson, who listed his profession as "pies," and his family moved into 19 Vandam Street in 1858 and took over the "French bakery."  Working with him was his son Henry.  

It was possibly Thompson, who would remain through 1874, who raised the attic to a full third floor.  Amazingly, the contractor carried on the Flemish bond brickwork and perfectly copied the Federal lintels.  Both were expensive and unexpected touches.  It was most likely at this time that the star-capped cast iron tie rods were installed.

In the meantime, the livery stable was operated by John F. Budd, a "veterinarian surgeon," by 1867.  He lived at 185 West 16th Street.  On April 9, 1868, he advertised, "For Sale--A blood horse (sire Jupiter), 15 hands 3 inches; also brown stylish mare, 14 hands; with two light Wagons, one top, all to be disposed of for want of use, and will be sold cheap.  Apply at Dr. J. P. BUDD'S, 19 Vandam street."  (The term "blood horse" referred to a horse of good descent.)

Irish-born Michael Eagan moved into 19 Vandam Street in 1876.  The 39-year-old was an attendant in the Third District Court (the position would be called a court officer today), earning $1,200 per year--about $33,800 in 2024.  Apparently highly motivated, he invested in real estate (he purchased 10 Vandam Street in April 1883, for instance), and diversified.  In 1885, he was listed as running the stables at 9 MacDougal Street, and as a partner in the undertaking business Eagan & Leake at 225 Spring Street.

Eagan inherited boarders James and Bridget Thompson when he purchased the house.  They were listed here in 1873 and continued renting their rooms.  James was a laborer.  

Also living here were Michael's brother, Patrick, and his family.  Born in County Clare, Ireland in 1835, Patrick married Margaret O'Loughlin in 1856.  They had five children, Thomas, Francis, John F., Mary H., and George Stephen.  Patrick listed his profession as a driver.

In the mid-1880s, Michael Eagan added to his resume when he was appointed an Inspector of the Common Schools of the City of New York.  (Patrick Eagan had left his wife and family several years earlier, and was living upstate with another woman, Catherine Glynn, according to the 1880 census.)

James Thompson died in 1882.  His widow continued to board with the Eagan family.

In the meantime, the former bakery was home to N. Connor & Sons, contractors.  Thomas F. Connor and Nicholas Connor lived far north, at 216 East 117th Street and 239 East 105th Street, respectively.  

At some point, Michael Eagan married.  His bride Sarah was two decades younger than he.  She died in the house on December 4, 1895, "aged 37 years 6 months," as reported by the New York Herald.  Her funeral was held in the parlor on December 7.  Eagan survived her by just over a year, dying on February 7, 1897 at the age of 60.  His funeral, too, was held in the parlor.

Bridget Thompson died on January 10, 1899 at the age of 80.  The last of the Eagan family to live at 19 Vandam Street was the still-unmarried Mary H. Eagan, listed here as late as 1905.

The family of Matthew and Margaret Norris Caffrey occupied the house in 1911 with their unmarried daughter and 42-year-old son William Joseph Adrian Caffrey.  William was educated in the city's public schools.  He graduated from the Columbia College Law School, and began his law practice in 1891.  He was elected to the State Senate in 1908, serving until 1910.  

William J. A. Caffrey was soon appointed Assistant District Attorney.  On August 1, 1919, The Evening World reported that he had been nominated as a candidate for Justice of the First Municipal Court.  The article noted, "Mr. Caffrey is a bachelor and lives at No. 19 Vandam Street with his father, mother and sister."

That year Trinity Church began liquidating much of its real estate holdings, and on August 9 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that William Sloane Coffin had purchased 15 properties in the neighborhood, including 19 Vandam Street.

It was most likely Coffin who shaved the Federal details off the lintels (since the same fate befell the lintels of most of his other properties of the same period), and filled in the horsewalk as an extension of the first floor.  His ownership was extremely brief.  When The New York Times reported in 1921 that he had sold it, the article mentioned, "The buyer purchased for his own occupancy."

Hints of the Federal lintels can be seen over the second floor windows.  A 1921 renovation most likely included the conversion of the horsewalk to an extension of the ground floor.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Despite that assertion, unofficial apartments were rented in the house for decades.  One of the tenants, James McGinnis, was appointed Transfer and Tax Assistant for New York County in December 1930.  (His new job came with a $7,000 salary--equal to about $123,000 in 2024.)

Another renovation, completed in 1971, resulted in a second entrance above a new two-step platform that matches the original.  Around that time a coating of stucco was applied to the facade, which has thankfully been carefully removed.

photographs by the author
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