Comments Off on 1874: The Cider Press Dogs at the Corner of Broadway and Houston

Siberian Bloodhound

On May 15, 1874, 23-year-old Charles W. Walker, the proprietor of a mill at 602 Broadway that manufactured bottled champagne cider, was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals. According to officers from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Mr. Walker was overworking his dogs at the mill to the point of suffering, fatigue, and injury.

For this curiously odd dog story of old New York, I’m going to take you on a short visual tour of downtown Broadway in the vicinity of West Houston Street, circa 1874, following a brief history of this area.

Olympic Theatre, Broadway

The second Olympic Theatre (the first one at 422 Broadway burned down in 1854) was built in 1856 at 626 Broadway. The theater was originally named Laura Keene’s Varieties, in honor of American actress Laura Keene, who appeared in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre the night President Lincoln was assassinated. The Olympic remained a popular venue for musical burlesques until it burned down in 1881. It was replaced by a brick and cast-iron store and loft building.

From the late 1840s through the 1870s, what we call NoHo and SoHo today was at the very center of the “Theatrical Rialto.” It was one of the most thrilling and glamorous parts of Manhattan, offering New Yorkers, businessmen, and tourists some of the finest shops, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and, of course, all the vices associated with these establishments. This Broadway era of glitzy white marble was a far cry from the residential Broadway of the 1820s and 30s, when glorious churches and rows of stylish red-brick Federal and Greek-Revival private homes lined the street.

For patrons of the theater – primarily men — there were numerous concert halls that offered vaudeville and the blackface minstrel shows that were all the rage in those days.

The exterior of Niblo's Garden c.1887.

The second Niblo’s Garden Theatre, shown here in 1887 (the first one was destroyed by a fire on September 18, 1846), opened in the summer of 1849 and became part of the Metropolitan Hotel in 1852. The 3,200-seat theater featured some of the most popular actors and plays of the time, as well as Italian opera. This theater was also destroyed by fire in 1872, but it was rebuilt by A.T. Stewart. The final performance at Niblo’s took place March 23, 1895. A few weeks later the theater and hotel were demolished to make way for the Metropolitan Building, a large office building erected by sugar-refining titan Henry Osborne Havemeyer. Today the building at 568-578 Broadway is home to some of New York’s fastest growing startup companies.

Wood's Theatre, Theatre Comique

Formed by Edwin P. Christy in 1842, Christy & Wood’s Minstrels (aka the Ethiopian Minstrel Band and Wood’s Minstrels) were a troupe of actors, actresses, performers, comedians, and acrobats. In July 1862, the troupe acquired an abandoned synagogue at 514 Broadway and converted it to a 1,400-seat theatrical hall. For the next 13 years the theater changed hands several times, caught fire, and operated under the marquees of multiple different names, including the Theatre Comique. The building was demolished in 1881. Photo: Albert Garzon

For the ladies of leisure, Broadway was a shopping Mecca during the daylight hours.

Tiffany and Company

Tiffany and Company’s marble-faced headquarters and showroom at 550 Broadway (1853–1881) featured a nine-foot statue of Atlas holding aloft a round clock (now seen on their shop on Fifth Avenue). This building still stands, but today it looks quite different as the home to Banana Republic.

There was Tiffany and Company just north of Prince Street at 550–52 Broadway, Lord & Taylor’s five-story department store on the northwest corner of Broadway and Canal Street, and Brooks Brothers at 668¬–674 Broadway near Bond Street.

Most of the halls changed management and marquee names every few years or so, and it seems like a majority were damaged or destroyed by fire at least once during their short life spans, but a few of the more memorable ones were still operating in the 1870s. These included Tony Pastor’s Opera House at 585 Broadway, the new Olympic Theatre at 622-24, Theatre Comique at 514, and Niblo’s Garden behind the Metropolitan Hotel at 578-60 Broadway.

The former Brooks Brothers, Broadway

In 1873, Adele Livingston Sampson Stevens, one of the nation’s wealthiest women, was still living in her magnificent mansion at 668–674 Broadway, in the fashionable Bond Street area. But that August, her home was demolished and replaced by a five-story store and factory building designed by George Harney for Brooks Brothers. In 1884 Brooks Brothers moved northward to Broadway and 22nd Street, but this building continues its original purpose – a clothing store on the first floor and manufacturing spaces above.

The Grand Central, Broadway Central Hotel

The Grand Central Hotel, later named The Southern Hotel and finally the Broadway Central hotel, was erected in 1869 on several lots fronting Broadway, with the main entrance at 673 Broadway. The site was originally a hotel and theater called the Lafarge House, but this structure was destroyed in an 1854 fire, rebuilt, and destroyed again in another spectacular fire. One day in August 1973, a section of the Broadway Central’s facade collapsed, killing four residents of what was then a welfare hotel. A fireman later rescued an 8-month-old dog named Dino who was trapped in the rubble for a week. The remains of the hotel were demolished, and New York University subsequently built a 22-story student dorm for law students on the site.

Woven throughout the theaters and shops were some of the city’s most grandiose hotels, including the Grand Central Hotel at 673 Broadway and the famous white marble St. Nicholas Hotel, which stretched 100 feet between Spring and Broome Streets.

The St. Nicholas Hotel, Broadway

The St. Nicholas Hotel, which opened on January 6, 1853, featured all the latest amenities, including central heating, gas in every room, and bathrooms and water closets with hot and cold water in every room. The magnificent building was demolished only 30 years later in 1884. Remarkably, two sections of the original hotel remain today at 521 and 523 Broadway.

The Metropolitan Hotel Broadway

The 500-room Metropolitan Hotel occupied a full city block on Broadway and 210 feet on Prince Street. The Metropolitan was managed by Simon Leland and his brother and operated on the American plan, which included three meals a day. Unlike many New York hotels, the Metropolitan allowed the slaves of its Southern patrons to stay on the premises. Mary Todd Lincoln and her black seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley, stayed at the Metropolitan on several occasions. The building was demolished in 1895. Photo: Museum of the City of New York.

There were also numerous smaller hotels on the European plan that charged $1 or $2 a night and were popular with performers and single men seeking temporary housing. These included the Tremont House located next to the Grand Central at 663-665 Broadway, the St. Charles Hotel (formerly Sewell House) at #648, and the Revere House at 604–608 Broadway, which was very popular with the theater and circus performers.

Revere House Broadway New York

The Revere House at 604-608 Broadway was operated as a hotel and boarding house with restaurant by Timothy J. Coe and his son, Russell. It was the meeting place of the New York Fat Men’s Association, as well as the scene of numerous murders and suicides. The narrow building to the right of the Revere House is Walker’s cider mill at 602 Broadway, where our dog story takes place.

It is just south of Houston Street and one door past the Revere House where the dog tale begins…

Broadway south of Houston 1860

A stereoscopic view of Broadway, looking south from Houston Street, circa 1860. Photo: New York Public Library

The Doggy in the Window

According to news reports, Charles Walker employed several dogs, including a Siberian bloodhound and a Newfoundland, as the motive power in an apple-grinding machine at his factory on Broadway, right next door to the Revere House. The doggie treadmill was placed in the front window each day to attract the attention of passersby.

Dog treadmil, dog engine

Dog treadmills, also called dog engines, produced both rotary and reciprocating powers for use with light machinery like butter churns, grind stones, fanning mills, and cream separators. Shown here is Nicholas Potter’s patented “Enterprise Dog Power” treadmill, designed to power butter churns and other small farm machines, circa 1881.

On the evening of May 15, 1873, Mr. James W. Goodridge of 129 West 17th Street entered the factory and noticed that the Siberian bloodhound working the treadmill was suffering from fatigue and seemed to be starving. The dog also was chafed and bleeding at the neck. Goodridge reported this to the SPCA, who arrested Walker and ordered him to cease and desist until his court hearing.

Due to “severe illness, Walker’s court hearing was delayed for over a year. Apparently he didn’t want to obey orders for such an extended period, so he reportedly began using the dogs on the treadmill again. This time, ASPCA Officer Dr. William C. Ennever ordered Deputy Sheriff Timothy Kelly to arrest employee Jospeh Bailey for forcing the dog to run the grinding machine. Bailey was arrested on November 21, 1873, locked up and released by 33-year-old Police Justice George E. Kasmire the following day.

Less than eight months later, another employee, Washington Williams, whom the Brooklyn Eagle described as “a sable resident of Thompson Street,” was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals on a complaint made by Henry Bergh, founder and president of the ASCPA. This time it was a Newfoundland that was being used as motive power for the apple grinding machine. Mr. Williams was held on $300 bail by Justice Henry Murray at the Jefferson Market Courthouse.

The Hearing at the Jefferson Market Police Court

Charles Walker finally had his day in court on October 8, 1874. At that hearing, Mr. Bergh appeared before Justices Kasmire, Henry Murray, and Bankson T. Morgan. He reported that the dog’s collar had chafed a raw sore and that he panted and frequently tried to stop, but was so tied that he had to keep on running or choke.

Walker told the judges that he had worked the dogs for years at his factory, never worked them more than an hour at a time, and never chained them up to the machine. However, his father, William Augustus Walker, who owned Walker Glass Importing, Silvering, and Manufacturing Company at 616 Broadway, contradicted his son. He told the judges that the dogs were so fond of working the mill that they had to be chained to prevent them from walking on the treadmill outside of working hours.

Employee Washington Williams also testified at the hearing — and here’s where it gets even more bizarre. Williams told Justice Kasmire that since the dogs had been liberated by the ASPCA, he was being used as the motive power for the machine. Williams said he did not find the work hard at all. Apparently he did not feel it was cruelty to humans either.

Jefferson Market fire towwer and court

What is today the Jefferson Market Library on Greenwich Ave. between 6th Avenue and West 10th Street was formerly the Jefferson Market. The block originally housed a dingy police court in the Assembly Rooms over a saloon, a volunteer firehouse, a jail, and an octagonal wooden fire lookout tower constructed in 1833. The wood tower and market structures were razed in 1873 to make way for a new civic complex and courthouse, which opened in 1877. In 1927 the jail, the market, and the firehouse were demolished and replaced by the city’s House of Detention for Women. The courthouse was abandoned in 1945 and saved by the Greenwich Village Association in 1962 to be readapted as a public library. In 1973 the House of Detention was torn down to make way for a park. Photo circa 1855-60, Jefferson Market Library.

After only a few minutes of deliberation, Justice Kasmire announced the decision: The Court found Charles Walker guilty, and sentenced him a fine of $25.

The Jefferson Market Library.

In 1885 a panel of American architects voted the Jefferson Market Courthouse the fifth most beautiful building in America. Today it’s home to the Jefferson Market Library.

Following this case, Bergh became notorious for frequently storming in saloons where dogs called “turnspit dogs” were being used on cider and fruit presses. He would wave his silver-headed walking stick like a club until the bar managers, who didn’t think it was anyone’s business how they worked their cider mills, backed down and liberated the dogs. Unfortunately, Bergh often returned to some saloons, only to find that the dogs had been replaced by black children. Mind you, this was just 10 years after the Civil War, and child labor was not against the law — but still, this story shows how far we’ve come in 140 years.

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