Chico Punch Alice Austin

Chico and Punch in the wash tub, August 6, 1887. Photo by Alice Austen

George Washington. Ben Franklin. General William Howe. Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt. These are just a few of the prominent men in history who visited the 17th-century farmhouse on the banks of The Narrows in Rosebank, Staten Island, where photographer Alice Austen made history in the late 19th century. Today, this old farmhouse where Alice lived with her family and her dogs Punch and Chico is a National Historic Landmark known as the Alice Austen House, aka, Clear Comfort.

Part I: Alice Austen

Alice Austen was one of America’s first female photographers. She was also a landscape designer and gardener, a master lawn tennis player, a banjo player, a sailor, a mountain climber, an avid bicyclist, the first woman on Staten Island to own a car, and an important figure in America’s gay and lesbian history.

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John Henry Dolph The Duchess

John Henry Dolph, “The Duchess”

“The leading cat-painter of America is Mr. J. H. Dolph, whom everyone knows, for his works appear constantly at exhibitions. He has worked and studied much abroad, at Paris, Antwerp, and Rome. Mr. Dolph excels in the delineation of feline and canine character.”–The Monthly Illustrator, Vol. 2, 1894

In Part I of this Old New cat tale, we met John Henry Dolph, a popular painter of cats and dogs who kept hundreds of cat “models” at his New York City studio on West 57th Street and at his summer studio in Bellport, Long Island.  In Part II, we’ll visit the summer studio, where Dolph’s cats Princess and Josephine made their home.

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J.H. Dolph Mother with her KittensMother and Her Kittens, John Henry Dolph

“What J.G. Brown has done for the American street urchin, Mr. Dolph has done for the American cat”–The Recorder

Unlike most 19th-century New York City residents who wanted nothing to do with stray cats and kittens, J.H. Dolph welcomed the neighborhood children with open arms (and a few coins) when they brought him baskets of kittens. If the kittens were very young and had no mother, John Henry Dolph was even willing to play mother cat.

Lifting each kitten by the scruff of the neck, he’d gingerly place them on the workbench in the small workshop behind his summer cottage-studio. Then he’d dip a large paintbrush into a cup of milk and touch the tip of the brush to the kitten’s mouth.

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Aimee Crocker bulldogs Gilsey House

Aimee Crocker with two of her many prized pampered French bulldogs.

This is a story about a princess and her three French bulldogs, the first cricket club in New York City, an old farm, and a grand hotel called Gilsey House.

In Part I of this Old New York dog tale, we met the princess, Aimée Isabella Crocker Ashe Gillig Gouraud Miskinoff Galitzine. In Part II, we’ll explore the old Casper Samler Farm and re-visit the three bulldogs in their home at the Gilsey House.

Part II: Living the Life of Luxury at the Gilsey House

In 1889, when Ms. Aimee Crocker was on the second of five marriages, she and her husband Henry Mansfield Gillig spent winter months in their suite of rooms at the Gilsey House, a luxury hotel at 1200 Broadway. It was here that their three bulldogs — Dicbutau, Shugi, and Boola Boy — lived in Gilded Age style.

Not only did they have their own room, but these pooches had their own attendants. Their personal footman walked them down Fifth Avenue and gave them a massage three times a day. And they had a maid who bathed them daily in their own private bath (the perfume for these baths cost $1 a day).

Each dog wore a massive collar made of Japanese coins worth a fortune. And their blankets and boots, changed every few months, cost hundreds of dollars.

Izora Chandler Hatching Cat

Mrs. Izora Schwartz Chandler, a famous painter of dogs, was hired to paint the three bulldogs’ miniatures at $100 each. 

But wait, there’s more. These spoiled little doggies dined on the same food as their mistress. They slept in imported baskets on elder-down pillows. And they had skilled medical care from one of the most fashionable physicians in New York.

The bulldogs also had the honor of living in the Gilsey House, which was one of the most luxurious hotels in New York City at that time.

The Old Casper Samler Farm

The Gilsey House was erected from 1869 to 1871 on the former homestead of Casper Samler (aka Semler).

Samler was a Dutch farmer who had a large dairy farm along the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway). His 41 acres comprised the 1655 patent of Anthony Mathys (a free African American), part of the land of Claes Martensen van Rosenvelt, and part of the Common Lands of the City of New York (later the Parade Ground and Madison Square Park). The triangular-shaped farm was bounded by the Bloomingdale Road and the old Eastern Post Road (the road to Kingsbridge), from about present-day 23rd Street to 42nd Street.

From the book “Early New York Houses” published in 1900:

On March 27, 1780, [Samler] purchased from Dr. Samuel Nicoll and others, “a farm or plantation, and messuage or dwelling house, lying and being at the third mile stone, bounded west by the Bloomingdale road, south and east partly by the road to Kingsbridge and partly by the Commons of the city.

Casper Samler built his first farmhouse near present-day East 28th Street and Park Avenue. He constructed a new dwelling, stables, and outbuildings in the early 1800s on the northeast corner of West 29th Street and Broadway.

Randel 1811 Map Parade Ground Casper Samler Farm

Once called the Commons Lands of New York City, Casper Samler’s farm comprised the Parade Ground and arsenal, which was used for military maneuvers and drills prior to the War of 1812. The Parade Ground was renamed Madison Square in 1814, and in 1847 Madison Square Park was created. Click here to explore this 1811 Randel Composite Map. 

Casper Samler died in 1810, leaving the farm and other property to his grandchildren and a step-daughter, Margaret. The farm was divided into lots, and Lot # 2, which included the homestead on the Bloomingdale Road, was conveyed to Elizabeth Galilee. Elizabeth married James W. Anderson in 1815; her son, also James Anderson, lived in the farmhouse until 1869, when Peter Gilsey leased the land for his new hotel.

1807 Samler Farm Map

In this 1807 map, three dwellings are shown on the Samler farm (spelled Semler on this map), including the original homestead near present-day 28th and Park Avenue (Fourth Avenue), the second homestead at the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway) and 29th Street, and what was probably stables or other outbuildings on Broadway near 30th Street.  You can explore this map at the Library of Congress by clicking here

 

Casper Samler Homestead now the site of Gilsey House 1200 Broadway

The old Casper Samler homestead at 1200 Broadway was still standing in 1865. The house was torn down in 1869 to make way for the Gilsey House. NYPL Digital Collections 

 

Casper Samler Homestead now site of Gilsey House

In this colored illustration of Casper Samler’s homestead, the Marble Collegiate Church, constructed in 1854, is in the background on West 29th Street. According to the church’s website, when the church was constructed, congregants were surprised to learn that their new church was near a dairy farm on a dirt road (Fifth Avenue). An iron fence, like the one around the Samler house, surrounded the church to keep out the farm livestock.  

The St. George Cricket Club Grounds

Many websites note that when Peter Gilsey leased the land from the estate of Casper Samler for his Gilsey House hotel, a portion of this land included the former grounds of the St. George Cricket Club. But that’s all they say. I did some digging and got the full scoop on what was New York City’s first cricket club.

The St. George Cricket Club of New York City, aka, the Dragonslayers, formed in 1838. Most of its playing members were British-born; the club excluded Americans from participating in their “English game.”

Gilsey House built on grounds of St. George Cricket Club

Here’s an illustration of a cricket game on the grounds of the St. George Cricket Club behind present-day 1236 Broadway sometime around 1838. The buildings in the background may either be the Casper Samler homestead and stables, or perhaps Ralph Burrough’s ale house, depending on where the artist was standing. 

Some sources say the men played on grounds near some vegetable farms on 42nd Street.But I found an obscure article published in the “Spirit of the Times” on March 18, 1882, which states that the club played on vacant ground behind an ale house at what is today 1236 Broadway, between 30th and 31st Street. This would have been just up the street from the Casper Samler homestead at 1200 Broadway.

From the “Spirit of the Times”:

For the purposes of a cricket ground the Dragonslayers scoured occupation of a plot  of land, severed from a kitchen garden, to the rear of a diminutive wayside tavern on  Broadway, then the Bloomingdale Road, a short distance above the House of Refuge (Fifth Ave and 23rd), which penal reformatory at that period must have covered a section of suburban property nowadays confronted by Madison Square, as the cricket ground itself extended over a region traversed in subsequent years by Fifth Avenue, not a long way off from its junction with Broadway.

The wayside inn or ale cottage, for it was a mere two-story shingle tenement, guarding entrance to the cricket-field was, however, a well-known place of resort, despite its dwarfish and insignificant appearance, with pedestrians, as its proprietor, Ralph Burroughs, an uncouth Englishman, was notorious among his epicurean countrymen as the cultivator of the most luscious and delicious kitchen stuff to be purchased upon Manhattan Island.

The St. George’s ground was of narrow dimensions and topographically unsuited for a prodigious display of batting,  as a hard hit to the long field too often carried the ball either amid the main body of admiring spectators, thereby causing dire confusion, or else sent it flying over the fenced-in boundaries, necessitating a gymnastic performance upon the part of fielders, more vigorous than graceful.   

RedHouseGroundsHatchingCat.jpg

The Red House Grounds were located at the corner of Third Avenue and 105th Street. The grounds, which also included a trotting course, extended to the Harlem River.

Ralph Burroughs was reportedly a rough, course Englishman. His wife was described as a “rotund, rosy checked, blooming matron.” They had a daughter who often flirted with the cricket players.

Ralph’s vegetable dishes made with celery, asparagus, and other vegetables grown in his garden were very popular. It was through this garden that one had to traverse down a narrow path to reach the cricket grounds.

Eventually, when development along Fifth Avenue began to encroach on their playing field, the St. George Cricket Club moved to the Red House cricket grounds in Harlem. In 1854, the members accepted the invitation of the New York Cricket Club to share their space at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The End of the Gilsey House
The Gilsey House closed in 1911 after a lengthy legal conflict between the operator of the hotel and the Gilsey estate over the lease terms. In 1946, the ground-level storefronts were modernized. The building was converted into co-operative apartments in 1980.
Following is a photo of the Gilsey House taken in 1920 before it was renovated. I also took some recent photos of the Gilsey House and the Marble Collegiate Church. (Part of the old iron fence that once kept Casper Samler’s cows off the church property is also still standing).
Gilsey House 1920
Gilsey House Broadway Hatching Cat
Gilsey House 1200 Broadway Hatching Cat
Marble Collegiate Church Hatching Cat

The Empire State Building now looms behind the 1854 Marble Collegiate Church.

Broadway Casper Samler Farm

 In the 1860s, this building was the Excelsior Stables, shown in the photo of the Samler homestead, above.
Aimee Crocker with Bulldog

Aimée Isabella Crocker Ashe Gillig Gouraud Miskinoff Galitzine with one of her many pampered bulldogs.

This story is about three French bulldogs, the first cricket club in New York City, an old farm, and a grand hotel called Gilsey House. It stars a pseudo-princess named Aimée Isabella Crocker Ashe Gillig Gouraud Miskinoff Galitzine.

If I had the ability, I’d turn this Old New York tale into a movie.

Part I: Aimée Isabella Crocker and Peter Gilsey

The princess was born Amy Isabella Crocker on December 5, 1864, in Sacramento, California. Her father, Judge Edwin Bryant Crocker, was the chief legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad. He was also one of the principal investors for the world’s First Transcontinental Railroad.

When E.B. Crocker died in 1875,  Aimée was left with a fortune of $10 million.

Much has been written Ms. Crocker, and I’d rather focus on the history of the Gilsey House. However, a quick summary of her eccentricities is warranted for one to fully appreciate this two-part story.

In a nutshell, Aimée Crocker was a wealthy heiress who embraced Buddhism and once joined an Asian harem just for kicks. She had a giant tattoo of a blue python on her left arm and loved doing snake dances for her Bohemian friends. (As they say, her father was probably rolling over in his grave.)

She also enjoyed collecting things, including bulldogs (at least 25) and husbands (5).

In 1924, after spending an extended time in the Far East, Aimee Crocker returned to New York City sporting a python tattoo.

Aimee’s first husband, Porter Ashe, “won” Miss Crocker in a poker match in 1883, when Aimee was just 19.

Reportedly, Ashe drew four aces during a match with another suitor, Henry Mansfield Gillig, which earned him the right to claim his young bride. (Aimee also got quite the prize: Porter’s forefathers gave their name to Asheville, North Carolina; his uncle was the great Civil War Admiral David Farragut.)

Aimee Crocker with pet python, 1890

Aimee Crocker reportedly acquired her pet python in India (the fangs had been removed). She was often seen riding down Fifth Avenue with the snake wrapped around her shoulders.

Aimée’s first marriage did not last long (none of her marriages had staying power). This story takes place in 1889, the year Aimée married her second husband. Surprise, surprise, this was Mr. Henry Gillig, the wealthy San Francisco banker who lost her in the poker match six years earlier.

Aimee and Henry made their New York City winter home at the Gilsey House, a luxury hotel at 1200 Broadway. It was here that their three bulldogs — Dicbutau, Shugi, and Boola Boy — lived in fairy-tale luxury.

Not only did they have their own room, but these pooches had a personal footman (paid $30 a month) and maid ($25 a month) who catered to their every canine need.

Peter Gilsey and the Gilsey House

The Gilsey House was designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch for Peter Gilsey and constructed from 1869 to 1871 at the cost of $350,000.  The seven-story, 300-room hotel featured rosewood and walnut finishing, marble fireplace mantles, bronze chandeliers, and tapestries. The hotel also had “speaking tubes” in each room that provided a direct form of communications with the main desk.

 

Gilsey House 1200 Broadway

The Gilsey House at 1200 Broadway (extant), on the northeast corner of East 29th Street, celebrated its grand opening on April 15, 1871. The Marble Collegiate Church, built in 1854 and also still standing, is in the background.  NYPL Digital Collections

Peter Gilsey, a wealthy New York City merchant and city alderman, is the epitome of the American dream. Born in 1811 in the Province of Jutland, Denmark, he started out making moderate wages in a New York City piano factory after emigrating to America 1827. Within a few years, he had saved enough money to start his own business as a retail tobacconist in the Bowery near Prince Street.

Peter was quite successful in his new trade, and he was soon able to move to a larger location on Broadway and Cortlandt Street. It was here, in 1854, that he built the Gilsey Building. Located on the site of a former wood frame building owned by Bogart the baker, the Gilsey Building was one of the first large iron structures erected in New York City.

Gilsey Building 171 Broadway

The Gilsey Building at 171 Broadway was constructed in 1854 on the site of Peter Gilsey’s tobacco store and a bakery. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Peter Gilsey went on to become a New York City real estate tycoon, erecting numerous buildings in the new theater district along Broadway. His properties included the Coleman House hotel on the northwest corner of Broadway and West 27th Street (1867), and Apollo Hall at 31 West 28th Street (1868).

Gilsey Leases the Casper Samler Farm

In 1869, Gilsey leased a large plot of land on Broadway between West 29th and West 30th Street for $10,000 a year from the estate of Casper Samler. The plot, designated Lot 2 of the old Samler Farm, included the former homestead of Casper Samler.

It was on the site of this old homestead where Peter Gilsey constructed the Gilsey House. And it was here where three very spoiled bulldogs lived in luxury for two years until their mistress married again…

Peter Gilsey house and Apollo Hall

Peter Gilsey lived at #33 West 28th Street (left) until his death there in 1873. To the right is the old Fifth Avenue Hotel, formerly Apollo Hall. Gilsey’s wife, Mary, continued to live in the home until January 1891. She died there on September 13, 1891. Today a parking garage occupies this site.

In Part II of this Old New York dog story, I’ll tell you more about the Casper Samler farm (which has a connection to New York City’s first cricket club). I’ll also report on the wonderful life of Amy Crocker Gillig’s three bulldogs at the Gilsey House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part I of this Old New York cat tale, we left off at the the car stables of the Forty-second-Street and Grand Street Ferry Railroad, on the east side of Twelfth Avenue at the foot of 42nd and 43rd streets. It is the night of June 12, 1886, and about a dozen cats are fighting for their lives as a large fire burns their home to the ground…

enginecompany1firemen

Engine Company 1, stationed at 165 West 29th Street (pictured here sometime between 1873 and 1881), was one of the many engine companies that responded to the car stable fire. As the stables continued to burn, many firefighters helped rescue the cats that had been living there.

The Rescued Cats of the Green Line Car Stables

From the June 14, 1886, issue of The New York Times:

Rescued cats were a drug in the market at the Forty-second-street fire early yesterday morning. The car stables seemed alive with them when the fire was under control, and a half dozen firemen each got a cat. They were scorched, drenched, and thoroughly frightened animals when the firemen took them in charge.

How they had managed to stay in the burning building for the two or three hours they must have been there before falling walls and floors sent them scurrying out of the doors into Forty-second-street without being burned to death is a mystery that even the firemen cannot solve.

Of all the cats saved by the firemen, there was one feline in particular that evidently had at least 10 lives. This kitty, later named Hero by the men of Engine Company No. 1, was rescued by Assistant Chief John McCabe.

chiefjohnmccabe

Hero’s hero: Assistant Chief John McCabe.

According to the Times, the tabby had been seen lurking behind a chimney on top of the wall on 42nd Street just after the roof had collapsed. As the firemen approached her, she ran quickly along the wall toward the river, trying to limit the amount of time her paws had to land on the very hot bricks.

At one point she tried to jump from the wall to a telegraph pole, but instead she scurried along to a portion of the wall nearest the river, where the bricks were cooler. When the firemen found her again, they directed a stream of water against the wall below her in an effort to cool off the bricks. This only frightened her more, causing her to hide in space in the wall.

The tabby continued to hide for about an hour, until the firemen were forced to direct their hoses toward her once again to extinguish some flames in the area. Everyone had assumed the poor cat had roasted to death, but when the water hit the wall she jumped out of her hiding spot and tried to escape again.

About five minutes later, “a forlorn-looking cat with her hair well singed off” jumped from a window on 43rd Street. Assistant Chief John “Bucky” McCabe caught her, and, wrapping her up tenderly, turned her over to the care of one of the firemen from Engine Company No. 1.

enginecompany1900s

Hero the tabby cat made her new home at the firehouse at 165 West 29th Street, pictured here sometime in the early 1900s.

The men immediately brought the kitty to their engine house and treated her burned and blistered paws with liniment and tender care. According to news accounts, by the next day, the cat the men named Hero was recovering, and her paws “were resuming something like their normal condition.”

The Firehouse at 165 West 29th Street

engineco1firehouse

The old firehouse is still standing at 165 West 29th Street. Photo by P. Gavan

Metropolitan Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1 was organized on July 31, 1865, at 4 Centre Street (northeast corner of City Hall Park), in the former headquarters of the Exempt Engine Company, a reserve corps that was composed exclusively of exempt members of New York’s volunteer fire department. (The Exempt Engine Company was organized on November 14, 1854, at the home of H.B. Venn at 298 Bowery, a building with a very interesting history.)

On February 17, 1873, Engine Company No. 1 was reorganized at 165 West 29th Street (first photo above). A new firehouse at this same location was constructed in 1881 (photo at right). The firemen stayed at this location until 1946, when they moved to 142 West 31st Street, where today they share quarters with Ladder Company 24. (Incidentally, Father Mychal Judge was the fire chaplain at this firehouse until he became the first officially recorded victim of the September 11, 2001. attacks.)

The firehouse on West 29th Street was constructed on what had once been the estate of James A. Stewart. Stewart was a wine merchant who had a country seat along what was once called Stewart Street, a diagonal street that intersected his property bounded by 29th and 31st streets, the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway), and the Fitz Roy Road (near today’s 8th Avenue).

jamesastewart1867

In 1809, James A. Stewart sold about 71 lots on Stewart Street (depicted in blue and green on the 1867 map) to Matthias Ward, who in turn conveyed the lots to David Dunham in 1810. The lots were sold at auction for the Dunham estate in 1825 to Charles Smyth.

In 1809, James A. Stewart advertised for sale or lease “a very convenient country seat” and about 71 lots (each 25 feet x 100 feet) along Stewart Street. According to the ad, the home was very roomy, and featured four rooms on the first floor, fireplaces, a coach house, stable, about two acres of mowing ground or pasture, a garden with fruit trees, a good well, and “a cistern that never fails.” The ad also boasted that Stewart Street would be “the handsomest road in the city,” as it was 58 feet wide and featured two rows of trees.

In 1810,  Stewart asked the Common Council to accept Stewart Street as a public road. But Street Commissioner Samuel Stillwell said that the diagonal road might interfere with the the new grid plan then under consideration (the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811).

Stewart Street remained as just stakes in the ground until it was eventually reorganized into conventional lots. However, the buildings on the north and south sides of 30th Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway still follow the original diagonal, as one can see in Google Earth:

30thStreetGoogleEarth.jpg

All of the buildings on the south side of West 30th Street have recently been demolished to make way for the future Virgin Hotel at 1205-1227 Broadway, so today only those buildings on the north side of the street preserve the old diagonal line from Stewart Street. 

 The Demise of Deputy Chief John McCabe

John McCabe, better known as Bucky, was a printer by trade who started his long career with New York City’s fire department as a runner for Oceanus Engine Company No. 11 at 99 Wooster Street.  He joined the city’s new paid fire department in September 1865, was promoted to Battalion Chief in 1881, and to Second Assistant Chief in 1884. By the time he retired due to health reasons in 1893, he was Deputy Chief of the department.

ChiefJohnMcCabe1895.jpg

Deputy Chief John McCabe around 1893.

On the morning of April 25, 1895, John Bucky McCabe left his home at 78 Washington Place, bought a revolver and a pack of cartridges, and walked over to the John E. Milholland Club at 111 Clinton Place (today’s 8th Street). John was president of the political club, which had been founded in 1893 to fight the “Platt Machine” and “Boss Platt” (Thomas C. Platt), the reportedly corrupt leader of the Republican Party in New York State.

At 12:15 p.m., after talking with some friends in the club for about an hour, John McCabe walked into the back room and shot himself in the head. According to news reports, McCabe had been privy to corrupt activity and so he chose to end his life rather than testify and implicate his close friends (including state senators and officers in the fire department).

As General O.J. LaGrange, president of the Board of Fire Commissioners, told the press during the hearings on April 28, “He  had  been  trusted  by  his  associate,  or some  of  them,  with  things  that  he  could  not tell.   He   expected   to   be  called   before this   committee. He  had  Irish  blood  In  his  veins, and  could  not  be  an  Informer.”

The Demise of Hero the Cat 

johnemilholland

John E. Milholland was a newspaper editor and social reformer who played a large role in the city’s pneumatic tube mail system. He was also very interested in advancing the rights of the colored race (which back then included Jews and African-Americans), and was a founder and treasurer of the NAACP.

Three months after McCabe’s death, on July 16, 1895, a fire started in the cellar of the firehouse at 165 West 29th Street. Nearly all the members of the company were in the firehouse at the time, including another man by the name of McCabe — Engineer Thomas McCabe.

Although the men were able to save the horses and the fire apparatus, two gray cats that made their home in the cellar perished in the fire. I can’t say for sure that one of these cats was Hero, but one has to note the irony.

The Car Barns Burn Again

On March 4, 1906, the rebuilt car barns at the foot of West 42nd Street were destroyed in another spectacular fire. This fire was way more devastating then the one 20 years earlier; one man was killed and the fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in nearby tenements and patrons at the adjacent Terminal Cafe and Annex Hotel.

Once again the car barns were rebuilt (see photo below), but sometime before 1941 the building was demolished, leaving an empty 27,000 square foot lot. That year the lot was leased by a syndicate that planned to operate a large gas station on the site.

west42ndstreettrollybarn1915

The car barns of the 42nd Street and 34th Street trolley lines in 1915. 

Today, the site where a tabby cat named Hero was rescued from a fire in 1886 is occupied by the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York at 520 12th Avenue (constructed in 1962).

consulategeneralchina

 

hermitage

In the late 1700s, The Hermitage residence was right about where McCaffrey Playground is today, on West 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. New York Public Library Digital Collections

Part I of this Old New York cat tale begins in 1825 at the old Hermitage Farm on the west side of Manhattan…

In 1825, John Leake Norton distributed some handbills advertising a raffle for his land on the west side of Manhattan. His plan was to divide his portion of the Norton Farm, aka The Hermitage Farm, into parcels of 4 to 16 lots, and sell them at a price beginning at $600 for the smaller parcels.

According to The New York Times, the drawing took place in the Shakespeare Tavern at Fulton and Nassau Street. “Over mugs of ale, between smoke rings drawn from long pipes, adventurous citizens bought the Norton farm.”

That same year, John L. Norton ceded to the City of New York all that land which would be required to open 39th through 48th streets. The city paid him $10 for this land.

randelnorton1811map

The “sunken lands” along the Great Kill are clearly depicted on the Randel Farm Maps, drafted between 1818 and 1820. John L. Norton’s Hermitage is also shown (far right) as well as a few other smaller buildings on the family’s estate.

The Hermitage Farm had been in the family since about 1780, which is when John Leake purchased a tract of about 80 acres between present-day Broadway and the Hudson River from Matthew Hopper. Much of the property west of the Eleventh Avenue comprised “sunken lands” that were under the Hudson River and the Great Kill, a large stream that emptied into the Hudson at the foot of what is now 42nd Street.

When Leake died in 1792, he bequeathed the land and the home he called The Hermitage to his niece, Martha, the wife of Samuel Norton. Upon her death in 1797, the property passed on to her sons John Leake Norton, Samuel John Leake Norton, and Robert Burridge Norton.

hermitagefarmmappaintThe Hermitage Farm was a diagonal tract between Broadway and the Hudson River, from about 40th Street to 48th Street. The Great Kill stream is also noted on this 1872 map. Click here for a more detailed view. Museum of the City of New York Collections 

In the years following the sale of the Norton Farm, residential development was brisk, particularly after the city’s first street railway — the New York and Harlem — began running from Prince Street to the Harlem Bridge in 1832. Commercial development also picked up along the Hudson River after the sunken lands of the old Hermitage Farm between Eleventh Avenue and the Hudson River were filled in to create Twelfth Avenue in 1862-63.

The Green Line Car Stables

In 1864, the car stables of the Forty-second-Street and Grand Street Ferry Railroad were constructed on land that had once been under water, on the east side of Twelfth Avenue at the foot of 42nd and 43rd streets. Immediately to the south of the three-story brick car stables was the large Consolidated Gas Company, and just to the north was the E.S. Higgins & Co. Carpet Factory.

carbarn1900

This old car barn at 65th Street (circa 1900) was probably very similar to the car stables on Twelfth Avenue and 42nd Street. Notice the streetcars inside the building and the horses waiting outside. NYPL Digital Collections

The Forty-second-Street and Grand Street Ferry Railroad, also known as the Green Line because of the green lights on the cars, was a horse-drawn streetcar line that ran a zigzag path from the Weehawken Ferry (the West Shore ferry terminal) at the foot of 42nd Street to the Grand Street Ferry on the East River.

Approximately 570 horses were stabled in the Green Line car stables, along with about 50 trolley cars plus all the harnesses, bales of hay, and other equipment required to care for the horses.

west42ndmap1885

The Grand Street Horse Car Depot at 653 West 42nd Street, E.S. Higgins & Co. Carpet Factory, and Consolidated Gas Co. were all constructed on what were once sunken lands on the old Norton Farm. (The blue line denotes the old Great Kill stream and the boundary of the old sunken lands.) Numerous brick and brownstone tenements and frame buildings are also evident on this 1885 map.  

The Great Car Stables Fire

At about 10:30 p.m. on June 12, 1886, night watchman John Horner noticed smoke coming from the third-floor paint shop at the northeast corner of the car stables. He ran out and sounded the alarm, but by the time the fire engines arrived a few minutes later, the entire stable, covering 8 lots on 42nd Street, 8 lots on 43rd Street, and the entire river front, was on fire.

At the time of the fire, about 565 horses were in the building, including five that were upstairs in a special hospital for the horses. One sick horse was in slings awaiting treatment.

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The Forty-Second Street and Grand Street Ferry Railroad terminated at the Grand Street Ferry depot at the foot of Grand Street and Broome Street on the East River. Here, passengers could take a ferry to either Grand Street or Broadway in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The New Metropolis, 1899; Collection of Maggie Land Blanck.  

Under the direction of Superintendent John M. Calhoun, all of the employees on site were able to lead the horses safely outside (quite an amazing feat, considering that most car stable fires of this period resulted in the deaths of hundreds of horses). Only one horse — the one in slings — perished in the flames. The other horses were taken to Justice Murray’s coach lot on 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue.

After all the horses were out, the men focused on saving the cars by pushing them out on the tracks along 42nd Street. All but 4 cars were saved, and almost all but 40 harnesses were also saved.

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While all this was going on, about a dozen or more cats that lived in the stables, including one especially brave tabby, were fighting for their lives as the building continued to burn all around them…

In Part II, I’ll tell you what happened to the cats, and how one very brave cat found a new home at a firehouse in Chelsea following this event.

 

 

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Popular in England during the 17th and 18th centuries, illegal bear-baiting took place occasionally in New York City in the mid-1800s, most notably at James McLaughlin’s dog pit at 155 First Avenue (corner of East 10th Street). In bear-baiting, the bear would be chained by the neck or leg to a stake and harassed by dogs.

The following story is not for the squeamish — it was not an easy story for me to write, but I think it’s an important story to tell as it says a lot about society in New York City just before and during the Civil War. Plus, there seems to be a lot of talk about Russian bears in the political news these days, so it’s a timely tale to tell.

Hell in New York City

Three hundred beings human only in shape were crowded together in a close, noise some cellar only about 20 feet square, and a great part of that space was taken up by the pit Saturday night. The animals were tortured merely for the amusement of the spectators. The programme advertised three days beforehand: The sports of the evening would commence with bear baiting, badger and coon drawing, wolf hunting and rat killing.

The bear was baited by five dogs until he caught them in his paws and crunched them half to death, amid the yells and cheers of the assembled fancy. More than a dozen dogs baited the badger. There was also a match between two dogs who fought with such fury that in five minutes their passing could be heard above the shouts of their masters: and when they were stopped for a moment in one place, they marked it with a pool of blood.

The dogs fought for 20 minutes until they were helpless. The men kept cheering them on even though they were exhausted. Then a bag of rats was dropped into the pit, and men and dogs jumped in kicking. When all the rats were killed, a dog and raccoon were pitted against each other. This went on until early on Monday morning by a raffle for dogs still bleeding from the fights.– New York Tribune, January 29, 1855, “Hell in New York”

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A scene at Kit Burn’s Sportsmen’s Hall at 273 Water Street, one of several “sporting” establishments that featured rat-baiting in New York City in the 1800s.

The Dog Pits of New York City

In the 1850s and 1860s a brutal pastime called rat-baiting reached new heights in popularity in New York City. Basically, rat-baiting involved pitting a dog against a rat until they fought to the death. When the rats did not provide enough excitement for the mostly young sporting men and male tourists who came to these events, other animals including raccoons, badgers, pigs, and sometimes a bear would take the place of the rats.

Oftentimes, champion dogs were pitted against other dogs. And later in the century it became popular to pit rats against men wearing heavy boots.

Rat-baiting events were not legal, but they were openly patronized and often advertised in publications like The New York Clipper, a weekly entertainment newspaper published in New York City from 1853 to 1924.

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A typical scene at a rat-baiting event.

The dogs at these “sporting” events were, for the most part, terrier breeds who were trained for about six months and sent into the pit when they were about a year old. The rats were provided for free — neighborhood boys were paid to catch them, at a rate of 5 to 12 cents each.

The dog pits, at places like McLaughlin’s on First Avenue, Kit Burns’s Sportsmen’s Hall at 273 Water Street, and Jacob Roome’s pit at 140 Church Street, were basically open wooden boxes with walls about 8 feet long and about 4 feet high.

James McLaughlin and His Champion Rat-Baiting Dogs

James McLaughlin was one of the most famous breeders of champion rat-baiting dogs. From about 1854 to 1859, he held “canine exhibitions” at his dog pit at 155 First Avenue. Oftentimes his own terriers, including Whiskey and Princey, participated in the events.

These events were usually advertised in The New York Clipper, such as this announcement that appeared in April 1859:

 April 25, 1859 – A great canine exhibition on Easter Monday…Muzzles and silver collars, and prize for the dog who kills his five rats in the shortest amount of time. Princey, the champion at 24 pounds, open to fight any dog in the world for $100 or $200.  Crib, 44 pounds, Billy, 18 pounds, Mr. O’Brien’s dog, Blinker, 15 pounds, Nelson and Fan of Staten Island, Dick of Newark, Sailor of Brooklyn, the slut Lady, the slut Rosy of Brooklyn, the Yorkville slut. Weighing to commence at 7 p.m., the show started at 8 p.m. Tickets 25 cents. Collars and rats free of charge.

Another announcement read:

A Grand Ratting Exhibition will be given at James McLaughlin’s Sportsman’s Retreat, 155 First Avenue, on Friday Evening, May 26, 1854. There is 4 handsome collars to be run for; 200 Rats to be killed, this is a real chance for gentlemen wishing to try their Dogs, as Collars and Rats will be given free. On that night there will be 10 Rats for large Dogs, and 8 Rats for small dogs; the Dogs making the best time to receive the Collars. The Badger Sport will be beated for a handsome Collar; the Bear and Coon will be on hand. Doors open at eight o’clock.

Sometime in January 1855, a Russian bear named Dennis was reportedly baited at McLaughlin’s. I don’t know the fate of the bear or the dogs that attacked it. But I do know that shortly thereafter, James McLaughlin and 30 spectators were arrested by the police of the 17th Ward. McLaughlin was charged with keeping a disorderly place and was held on $300 bail.

I don’t know if it was this arrest that changed his career path, but I do know that in the 1860s McLaughlin renamed his place Union Hall, which featured sparring events with men only. In later years, McLaughlin continued breeding terriers, but for the dog show circuit at Madison Square Garden as opposed to the rat-baiting circuit.

A Brief History of First Avenue

When Petrus Stuyvesant, the last Dutch Director-General of New Netherland, surrendered to the British in 1664, the King offered him a 62-acre tract of land on the lower east side of New York. Stuyvesant established his country seat on his Bouwerie (or Bouwerij, the Dutch word for farm), which covered what we call today the East Village and Stuyvesant Town (from about 6th Street to 23rd Street, between Fourth Avenue and Avenue C). He named his home Petersfield.

Stuyvesant built his home on a high slope facing the East River, right about where today’s First Avenue intersects with 15th and 16th streets. He lived in the home until his death in 1672.

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Peter Stuyvesant’s country seat near present-day First Avenue and 15th Street. 

More than 100 years after Stuyvesant’s death, First Avenue was one of the 12 north-south avenues proposed as part of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 for Manhattan. The southern portions of the Avenue, where Stuyvesant’s old home was located, were cut and laid out shortly after the plan was adopted.

In 1831, an article in the New York Mirror reported that the Stuyvesant house was still standing, albeit, “it appeared to be tottering on its ancient base” as all the earth around it was being removed to use as landfill in other areas. According to the article, the two-story house with gambled roof was constructed of brick painted yellow. Part of the building on the northeast corner had fallen down, and its demise was imminent.

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In this engraving from the December 31, 1831 issue of the New York Mirror, the old Peter Stuyvesant house near First Avenue and 15th Street does appear to be tottering. NYPL digital collections

For almost three centuries, the Stuyvesant farm remained in the family, although little by little, parcels were sold off for development.

In 1820, Peter Gerard Stuyvesant sold 60 lots adjoining First, Second, and Third avenues from 10th through 13th streets. Based on this account in The Evening Post (November 18, 1820), the five-story with basement tenement at 155 First Avenue was probably constructed around this time.

155-157 First Avenue

In the early 1900s, First Avenue from about 1st to 14th streets was filled with peddlers and their pushcarts. Mayor Fiorello Henry LaGuardia, elected to office in 1934, removed the pushcarts from city streets and abolished the city’s filthy, crowded open-air markets.

In place of the open-air markets and pushcarts, LaGuardia used federal Works Progress Administration funds to build several indoor markets that had running water and loading platforms.  In 1937, architects Albert W. Lewis and John D. Churchill were commissioned by the Department of Markets to design several of these markets, including the First Avenue Retail Market.

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Mayor LaGuardia addresses the crowd at the grand opening of the First Avenue Retail Market in 1938. The market closed in 1965. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Constructed in 1938, the indoor market occupied an L-shaped building that spanned 155-157 First Avenue and 230-240 East 10th Street.  Where once terrier dogs fought rats and bears, there was now a bustling neighborhood market where merchants sold cheese (the rats would have loved that), vegetables, and other grocery products.

When the market closed in 1965,  the city’s Sanitation Department took over the 30,000 square foot building for use as a storage warehouse for paperwork and small equipment. The Sanitation Department was the sole occupant of the building until 1987, which is when Crystal Field and her husband, George Bartenieff, moved in with their small theater group, the Theater for the New City.

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Inside the First Avenue Retail Market in 1938. 

Founded in 1970, the Theater for the New City is, according to The New York Times, “Off Off Broadway’s answer to the mom and pop grocery.” According to the theater’s website, each year TNC produces about 35 new American plays by emerging and established writers and theater companies that have no permanent home.

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The old First Avenue Retail Market as it looks today. Google Streets

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Margaret Wise Brown and her Kerry blue terrier Crispin’s Crispian in the 1940s.

In this final chapter of Crispin’s Crispian, I’ll tell the fascinating story of what happened to the old New York City farmhouse on York Avenue in Lenox Hill where his famous pet mom, Margaret Wise Brown, wrote her final children’s book, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself.

In Part II of this Old New York dog tale, we left off in the 1940s, when Margaret Glass and her husband Owen Healy occupied their two-story brick building at 1335 York Avenue and ran a neighborhood dining room on the property. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, children’s picture book author Margaret Wise Brown rented the small, 18th-century cottage hidden on the back lot behind the Healy’s brick apartment house for use as her studio.

Born in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood in 1910 (Margaret and her family lived in an existing two-family house at 118 Milton Street), Margaret spent much of her career in New York City. She first lived in her own flat at 21 West 10th Street, and then, during her long affair with Blanche Oelrichs (stage name, Michael Strange, a wealthy socialite and ex-wife of John Barrymore and Harrison Tweed), she shared an apartment with her partner at 10 Gracie Court near the East River.

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Margaret always loved animals. During her childhood, she and her sister, Roberta, had about 30 rabbits, one dog of their own, and about 6 “borrowed dogs.” 

Sometime during the 1940s, Margaret and Michael lived in adjacent apartments at 186 East End Avenue. It was during this time that Michael gave Crispin’s Crispian to Margaret. Every day, Margaret would take the Kerry blue terrier to her studio, where he reportedly had full run of the place.

The two-story cottage, called Cobble Court because of the cobblestone court that separated it from the brick apartment building, was reportedly unheated, so Margaret covered the walls of the living space with animal fur (don’t ask me how she did this). She spent her days writing in the cottage, and sometimes at night she would host dinner parties there.

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The crooked little house in this 1967 newspaper illustration from Mister Dog looks familiar…

It was here that Margaret wrote Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself,  a charming picture story about a conservative dog who lives in a two-story doghouse and wants to find a little child to be his friend. The book was inspired by Crispin’s Crispian, the setting was no doubt based on the Cobble Court cottage, and there’s a good chance that the child is based on Albert Clarke, a little boy who lived in a tenement that Margaret passed by every day to get to her back-lot cottage.

Margaret’s Final Days

In 1952, 42-year-old Margaret met 26-year-old James Stillman “Pebble” Rockefeller, a bearded sailor who descended from Andrew Carnegie. Although the two were engaged, they never got the chance to marry. That year, she was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst while in France. Although she lived through the surgery, she died two weeks later on November 13 of an embolism.

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Margaret Wise Brown and Crispin’s Crispian at the Cobble Court cottage in the late 1940s.

Although she had supposedly asked to leave Crispin’s Crispian in the care of an old friend, I came across a news article that stated her sister, Roberta Rauch of Jamaica, Vermont, was bequeathed $20,000 to take care of the famous terrier. Albert Clarke, the little boy from the tenement, was reportedly willed the royalties from most of Margaret’s books published up to the time of her death.

Cobble Court’s Not-so-Final Days

From about 1950 to 1966, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York tried to persuade Margaret Glass Healy and her brothers to sell the property, including the two houses and the land. They finally reached a deal, and the property was sold for about $75,000.

At this time, the little farmhouse was being rented by Swedish-born Mr. and Mrs. Sven Bernhard. They had made extensive renovations to the home since moving there in 1960, and did not want to move when the archdiocese ordered them out to make room for a large nursing home (the Mary Manning Walsh Home for Aged at 1339 York Avenue).

So they made a deal: the couple would leave, but only if they could take the house with them. With the help of architect William C. Shopsin, they purchased a vacant 3600-square foot lot for $30,000 on Charles Street and made arrangements for the house be moved to Greenwich Village.

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On March 5th, 1967, the farmhouse (including the cobblestones from the courtyard) was loaded onto a flatbed and brought to the vacant double lot off at Charles and Greenwich Street (most city lots are 25 feet wide, but since the house is 26 feet wide, the couple had to purchase two lots to accommodate it). As the truck pulled away, Mrs. Bernhard exclaimed, “It’s saved! It’s saved!”

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The 18th-century cottage, hidden for 100 years behind 1335 York Avenue and 435 East 71st Street, was revealed during demolition work in February 1966.

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On March 5, 1967, the house was loaded on a flatbed truck and transported to Greenwich Village. This view is of the back of the house, which apparently had not been painted white. It cost the Bernhard’s $6,500 to move the 26-foot-wide house. 

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Here’s the four-room, 900-square-foot house being pulled down 14th Street on what appears to be a rainy day.

The Bernhards continued living in the home on Charles Street for twenty years. They sold the house for about $725,000 in 1986 and moved to Mystic, Connecticut.

In 1988, the house was purchased by its current owners, Eliot Brodsky and Suri Bieler. The couple worked hard to restore it, adding a 540-square-foot addition when their son was born that earned them an award from the Greenwich Village Historical Society for its canted angles that match the original house.

“It’s as if a farmhouse, in the manner of a spaceship, fell from the sky and landed smack in the middle of a dense urban setting.”–Off the Grid, 2011

 

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Today, the six-room, wood-frame house, with its well-manicured yard and driveway, looks very much out of place at 121 Charles Street. Photo by P. Gavan

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Now, should you ever find yourself walking past this house on Charles Street, you have a great story to tell. Photo by P. Gavan

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Margaret Wise Brown and Crispin’s Crispian

“Crispin’s Crispian lived in a two-story doghouse in a garden…”

The charming story of Crispin’s Crispian — and the old New York farmhouse where his famous pet mom wrote her final children’s book — takes place on what was once known as the Louvre Farm. The 90-acre farm extended from the Old Boston Post Road (near today’s Third Avenue) to the East River between present-day East 66th Street and East 75th Street. Today we call the neighborhood Lenox Hill.

In Part I of Crispin’s Crispian, we left off in 1894. In Part II, we go back just a bit to the 1860s, which is when William and Margaret Glass purchased a few vacant lots on what was labeled Subdivision 4 of the old Louvre Farm. The lots were located on the west side of Avenue A (today’s York Avenue), between East 71st and East 72nd Street.

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Margaret Wise Brown and Crispin’s Crispian at her writing studio in the little frame house.

It was here in the late 1940s and early 1950s that children’s picture book author Margaret Wise Brown rented what was reported to be a tiny, 18th-century frame house, where she wrote Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself.

Margaret’s pet Kerry blue terrier, Crispin’s Crispian, was the inspiration for this book. The house was no doubt the inspiration for the setting of the story and the illustrations.

The Mysterious Frame House on East 71st Street

Sometime in the 1860s, Irish immigrants William and Margaret Glass moved from Greenwich Village to a little frame farmhouse — more like a cottage — on the northwest corner of East 71st Street and Avenue A. The Glasses reportedly lived in this cottage and operated a small dairy on the site (according to the 1870 census, the Glasses had two sons, John and Charles, and William’s occupation was “milk business.”)

Around 1868-1869, the Glasses constructed a two-story brick dwelling in front of the cottage, thus hiding the tiny house away from street view. They continued to live in the cottage, which was accessible via a narrow path on 71st Street, until William passed away in the early 1880s.

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This 1879 illustration of Second Avenue at 72nd Street — the “hill” of Lenox Hill — gives you a good idea of what the Upper East Side of New York City looked like about 140 years ago.

Here’s the mystery: Just when was the frame cottage built? In his book “New York–Oddly Enough,” published in 1938, Charles G. Shaw describes the “hidden house” as an 18th-century clapboard farmhouse with small, paned windows and an open, outside staircase connecting two floors.

News reports from the 1960s also suggest that the house was at least 200 years old, which means it was built in the 1760s, when wealthy privateer David Provost owned the Louvre Farm. But for some reason, the tiny house does not appear on any maps until 1891.

Perhaps the cottage was a small outbuilding on the Provost farm and simply not labeled on any map? Or could it have been moved from another location before the Glass family arrived in the 1860s?

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In this 1855 map of Subdivision No. 4 of the Louvre Farm, no construction appears to have taken place yet, and no building lots have been created along Avenue A between 71st and 72nd Street. There’s no sign of a tiny frame house or any other structure.

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In 1868, when this map was drawn, the building lots have been created and there appear to be quite a few buildings on Subdivision No. 4, including what is probably the Glass family’s new two-story brick house. Still, I don’t see a tiny frame house. 

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The little frame house finally shows up in 1891 (see the little yellow square just above the “V” in “Avenue.”)  The two-story brick building constructed around 1868 is in front, and there was a small cobble court between the two buildings. A narrow path on 71st St. provided access. 

Following William’s passing, Margaret Glass moved into the two-story brick building with her two sons.  She apparently rented part of this building along with the tiny cottage: The 1890 census records three families at the address, including Margaret and her sons.

Cobble Court: 1930s-1940s

In 1928, when Avenue A north of 59th Street was renamed York Avenue, the Glass family’s brick building was designated 1335 York Avenue. I assume the cottage in back shared the same address.

During the Great Depression, the Glass family rented a portion of 1335 York Avenue for use as a tea room called Cobble Court (named for the cobblestone court that separated the brick building from the cottage). The tea room was run by Alta E. Dines and other members of the Cobble Court committee — mostly trained nurses and doctors’ wives who volunteered their time to help nurses who were out of work and in need of assistance.

In addition to the tea room, where, according to the New York Sun, “the chicken salad was marvelous,” Cobble Court had a gift shop and library (possibly in the cottage) as well as a mending service and a theater ticket service for the out-of-work nurses.

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In this 1935 photo, 1335 York Avenue is the little two-story brick building to the left of the  Redemptionist Fathers of New York Church. The cottage was behind this building, hidden between the five- and six-story tenements. Museum of the City of New York 

In the 1940s, the Glass’s granddaughter — also named Margaret Glass — occupied the second floor of 1335 York Avenue with her husband, Owen Healy, and their two daughters, Margaret (Margaret “Peggy” Peters) and Charlotte (Charlotte Whalen).  On the first floor, the family operated a restaurant called Healy’s Dining Room.

It was during this time that Margaret Wise Brown rented the back cottage as a writing studio.

In Part III, I’ll tell you about Margaret’s final years in the cottage, and show you some pictures of what this little house looks like today (no, it’s not on East 71st Street anymore, but it’s still standing, and it’s still somebody’s cherished home.)

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Another view of 1335 York Avenue (behind the bus) in 1935. Museum of the City of New York