Tag Archives: 1890s

Believe It Or Not This Was The Bronx In 1897 – Part 1

The Bronx In 1897 – A Borough of Beautiful Homes

Hampden Street in Fordham Heights Bronx, NY 1898

Hampden Street in Fordham Heights Bronx, NY in 1898. This view is looking east from Sedgwick Avenue towards Loring Place along West 183rd Street, (formerly Hampden Street). Every house in this photo is now gone, replaced by apartment buildings. The sole remaining structure is the stone wall on the right.

Same view of West 183rd Street (formerly Hampden Street) in 2011

Same view of West 183rd Street (formerly Hampden Street) in 2011

For almost anyone who grew up in the Bronx before World War II, they will recount happy memories of neighborhoods brimming with life and full of possibilities. But no one alive today remembers the Bronx when it was mostly undeveloped in the late 19th and early 20th century. Open land and spacious elegant houses dominated the landscape.

The Bronx was a conglomeration of about 50 villages, most of them rural in nature. In the grainy photographs you are about to see, many of the settings look like they could be in Ridgefield, CT or Smalltown, USA – but not the Bronx.

Now, with all the modern apartment buildings, public housing projects and ugly highways that have sprouted up in the last 60 years, these views of the Bronx will come as a surprise to many.

The book where these photographs originally appeared is The Great North Side or Borough of the Bronx by editors of The Bronx Board of Trade. After looking at these photographs, one thing is for sure: the Bronx will never again look as it did in 1897.

Stately homes in the Bronx 1897

Stately homes in the Bronx 1897

Accompanying the photographs, also taken from The Great North Side are the words of Egbert Viele (1825-1902), the famous engineer, surveyor and mapmaker. Viele’s genuine adulation for the The Bronx is readily apparent.

William Niles residence Bedford Park Bronx, NY 1897

William Niles residence Bedford Park Bronx, NY 1897

“The North Side of New York, i.e., the territory above the Harlem River, bears a similar relation to the city at large that the Great West does to the country — a land of great promise of infinite possibilities, and the seat of future empire.”

Ernest Hall residence Boston Avenue Bronx 1897

Ernest Hall residence Boston Avenue Bronx 1897

“No city in the world has such a wealth of public parks and pleasure grounds as lie within its area; no city in the world has such natural and economical advantages for commerce, or on so grand a scale.”

Louis Eickwort residence Anthony-Avenue Mt. Hope Bronx 1897

Louis Eickwort residence Anthony-Avenue Mt. Hope Bronx 1897

“None has a more salubrious climate, or such a variety of surface, nor has any other city such abundant facilities of passenger transit and land traffic.”

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When Rent Cost $10 Per Week In New York City

The Cost of Apartment Living In New York In 1892

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street - typical turn of the century brownstones

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street – typical turn of the century brownstones

New York has always had a wide range of housing choices. But the gulf in living conditions between rich and the poor remains vast. If you have a lot of money, your housing choices are unlimited. If not, you are hard pressed to find anything decent. As Kansas gunslinger and New York journalist Bat Masterson observed in his final column, “Everybody gets the same amount of ice — the rich get theirs in the summer and the poor get theirs in the winter.”

The lowest of New York's living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

The lowest of New York’s living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

Over time when it comes to housing a lot of things have changed, others have not. In 1892 living conditions for the very poor in New York were abysmal. Maybe not as bad as they are now, but pretty close. The majority of New Yorker’s were not living in poverty, but were just plain working people at various income levels; some struggling to survive and in many cases raise a family.

Which brings us to the question about living in New York in 1892 – just what sort of housing did you get for your money?

Kings Handbook of New York coverThe fabulous King’s Handbook of New York City, (1892), delves into everything related to New York, including home life, and answers the question.

One chapter in the book devotes itself to the types of housing available in New York.

The mansions, high class homes, bachelor apartments, middle income flats, boarding houses, tenements and lodging houses are all covered.

The most surprising thing is that you could live in a relatively decent neighborhood with room and board for about $10 per week. Realize of course that an unskilled laborer might barely earn that amount of money and paying room and board put them at the the precipice of poverty. For those people it typically meant finding lodging at a $2 per week boarding house.

152nd Street Riverside Drive Onondaga Apartments postcardThe wealthy, professional and merchant classes could afford to choose their housing according to taste and preferences with a good deal of flexibility. The middle class also had choices which varied widely. So when you read about what you got for your money at $50 or more per month, you cannot help but feel envy for Gotham’s dwellers of the past. You come away with the feeling that New York was a much more affordable city 123 years ago. The prices quoted may have you looking for a time machine.

From King’s Handbook, a selection from the section on housing: Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #54

Fifth Avenue and 96th Street

96th 5th ave shanties 1894This may seem incredible, but this color photograph is from 1894 and shows Fifth Avenue and 96th Street.

The buildings shown are shanties put up by squatters. Until the early 20th century much of upper Manhattan was undeveloped, enabling the “have-nots” to build on what would soon become the priciest and most desirable real estate in the world .

In 1898 Andrew Carnegie purchased land nearby on 91st Street and Fifth Avenue that he would build his mansion on. 1903 saw Carnegie’s home completed and the tide had turned for the squatters as the land along Fifth Avenue had been bought up by the wealthy. By 1910 almost all of upper Fifth Avenue was developed with a long row of large pretentious mansions.

The First Execution By Electric Chair

125 Years Ago Today William Kemmler Became The First Prisoner To Be Put To Death By Electrocution

The original and first electric chair that was used to execute a prisoner on August 6, 1890 in Auburn, NY

The original and first electric chair that was used to execute a prisoner on August 6, 1890 in Auburn, NY. The chair was destroyed in a prison riot and fire on July 28, 1929.

While the debate continues today over what exactly comprises cruel and unusual punishment or whether the death penalty should ever be invoked, 125 years ago today on August 6, 1890 William Kemmler became the first person put to death by the electric chair. The electric chair was proposed to be a more “humane” way to execute criminals.

On June 4, 1888 New York’s Governor David B. Hill signed a law passed by the legislature that the punishment for murder after January 1, 1889 should be “death by means of an electrical current that should be caused to pass through the body of the condemned.” Electrical experts then came up with the plan to apply the current and strap a man in a chair while he sat.

The New York Evening World wrote of the convict Kemmler on the day of his execution, “If vengeance were what the law seeks by capital punishment for murder it would get little satisfaction out of the event today, for the poor wretch whose life has been taken within the walls of Auburn Prison has for weeks awaited the coming of black-visored Death with a child-like expectancy, almost impatience.”

One of eleven children, William Kemmler was born into poverty on May 9, 1860 in Philadelphia, PA. Continue reading

New York’s Little Italy Described In 1898

“Not a word of English is heard — only a rough, gutteral Italian”

Busy Mulberry Street photo Detroit Publishing CoWhen we ran our story about Chinatown last week we knew it was inevitable we would cover the section on Little Italy as well. It has the same anti-immigrant undertones as the section on Chinatown.

It is probably best not to read the unpalatable descriptions and have modern judgments on 19th century attitudes. What would seem outright racist or prejudicial today was merely the predominant “native” view of anyone who was not a WASP or other accepted creed.

Once again, the guidebook we quote from is Rand, McNally Handy Guide to New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and other suburbs included in the Greater New York edited by Ernest Ingersoll (1898). This section is from the same one as Chinatown and is called “A Ramble At Night”, where the visitor to New York is directed to tour the areas of New York that are off the beaten path after 9 p.m. The purpose of the night ramble is to “give some hints as how the dark, crowded, hard-working, and sometimes criminal portions of the city look at night.” Reproduced below is the section on the Little Italy. Continue reading

New York’s Chinatown Described In 1898

Joss Houses, Chinese Restaurants and Opium Smoking

Chinatown 1896 looking at 22 Mott Street

Bing Chung Importers (near left) in the heart of Chinatown at 22 Mott Street in 1896

The great thing about reading old guidebooks to New York City is that you can see the world through contemporary eyes. This usually means all foreigners were viewed as curiosities with their exotic customs and provincial ways.

In 1897 the Chinese population in New York City was only 7,000 – almost all living in Chinatown centered around Mott Street. In 2015, New York City’s Chinese population is now over 500,000 people spread throughout the five boroughs.

The guidebook we quote from is Rand, McNally Handy Guide to New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and other suburbs included in the Greater New York edited by Ernest Ingersoll (1898). This portion is called “A Ramble At Night”, and the visitor to New York is directed to tour the areas of New York that are off the beaten path after 9 p.m. such as Little Italy and The Bowery. The purpose of the night ramble is to “give some hints as how the dark, crowded, hard-working, and sometimes criminal portions of the city look at night.” Reproduced below is the section on the Chinatown.  Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #50

Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street circa 1897

5th Ave 42nd Street c 1897By the shadows we can see it is morning on a somewhat chilly day in the heart of Manhattan in about 1897. We are looking north up Fifth Avenue from the corner of 42nd Street. Pedestrians stroll on the flagstone sidewalks while horse drawn vehicles make their way up and down the avenue.

Croton Distributing Reservoir photo: NYPL

Croton Distributing Reservoir photo: NYPL

On the extreme left the small wall with the iron fence marks the perimeter of the Croton Distributing Reservoir also known as the Murray Hill Reservoir, on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Beyond the fence, stood massive walls 25 feet thick and over 50 feet high which when filled to capacity held 21 million gallons of water. The old reservoir served New York’s thirsty population from 1842 until it was taken out of service in 1897. The structure was demolished in 1900 and the main branch of the New York Public Library now stands on the site.

On the same corner we see an old fashioned fire hydrant and new electric lamppost standing next to what appears to be a gas lamp.

Just to the right of the wall a policeman chats another man perhaps a plain clothes detective as they look east across 42nd Street.  The building just behind them is the eight story Hotel Bristol. In 1903 the hotel would be converted to the Bristol Building.

500 Fifth Avenue Building

500 Fifth Avenue Building

After the Bristol was demolished the art deco 59 story skyscraper, 500 Fifth Avenue Building, would go up on the site between 1929-1931. 500 Fifth Avenue was built  by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon the same architects of the Empire State Building, also completed in 1931.

Next to the Hotel Bristol we see a glimpse of the seven story Hotel Renaissance built in the obligatory French Renaissance style and completed in 1891. Though the hotel was designed with the intention of attracting a “high class family and bachelor clientele” there were a certain class of people that were not welcome.

In 1907 Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #49

Broadway & 80th Street 1898 and 1928

What A Difference 30 Years Makes

Broadway 80th 81st Street 1898 photo H. N. Tiemann

Broadway looking north and west between 80th & 81st Streets. 1898 photo: H.N. Tiemann

Up until the late 1800’s Broadway above 59th Street still retained much of its sleepy Dutch ways and was still called the Boulevard which followed the course of the Old Bloomingdale Road. The upper west side neighborhoods had their own unique character which were based upon the villages of Harsenville, Striker’s Bay, Bloomingdale and Manhattanville.

In the photo above from 1898 we see the Boulevard looking north and west from 80th Street with horses lined up along the curb. Building is sparse with low profile two and three story buildings. Commercial structures might contain blacksmith’s, grocery shops and tailors. Open land and farms were still nearby. In thirty years the change would be striking.

Land speculation and the coming of the subway would end the ruralness of the area.

Broadway 80th 81st Street 1928 photo H. N. Tiemann

Broadway looking north and west between 80th & 81st Streets. 1928 photo: H.N. Tiemann

This photograph taken in 1928 from the median of Broadway and 80th Street and looking in the same direction as the previous photo shows that almost everything from 1898 has vanished.

We see automobiles, but no horses. The trees that lined the street are gone and there is quite a bit of pedestrian activity along the street. Commercial stores line Broadway and 80th Street to the west and the north. The white building in the foreground is still standing today and now contains Zabar’s.

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Old New York In Photos #44

Western Union Telegraph Building 1880

Broadway looking south Western Union Building 1880This view looking south on Broadway was taken from the Old Post Office in 1880 and shows a deserted stretch of the usually traffic clogged thoroughfare.

The building partially seen on the right side is the Astor House Hotel. Adjacent to the Astor with the columns is St. Paul’s Chapel. The tall structure further down Broadway is Trinity Church with its spire rising 281 feet. This was the highest point in New York until the World Building was built in 1890.

The main building dominating the photo at the corner of Broadway and Dey Street is the Western Union Telegraph Building designed by architect George B. Post. At 230 feet, it was one of the tallest commercial buildings in the city when it was built from 1872-1875. To put this tremendous height in perspective, this was four times the height of the average New York building. On top of the building’s flagstaff a time ball was perched which would drop precisely at noon, so everyone in the surrounding financial area could set their watch to the correct time.

The telegraph was still the predominant way to get a message to someone quickly. To send a telegram with the body message being ten words or less from New York to Baltimore or Boston cost 25¢; to Chicago 40¢ and to San Francisco $1.00.

Western Union Building Fire - New York Evening World

Western Union Building Fire – New York Evening World

A Fire Destroys The Building

As the night shift of telegraph operators and workers was letting out at 6:55 a.m. on Friday, July 18, 1890 the Western Union Building caught fire.

The fire broke out on the 6th floor and quickly spread to the upper floors. Firefighters arrived within six minutes of the first alarm being turned in.

The fire was far above the roof lines of the adjacent buildings and the water pressure from street level could not possibly come close to the fire. The firemen strung several hoses together and carried them up  into nearby buildings on to the roofs to fight the flames.

20,000 people watched from the surrounding streets as the firemen placed ladders from the adjacent building at 8 Dey Street to rescue people trapped in the Western Union Building and pour water on to the upper floors. Continue reading

115 Years After New York’s Deadliest Hotel Fire, A Memorial Goes Up For The Unidentified Dead

The Windsor Hotel Fire On St. Patrick’s Day In 1899 Killed 86

Windsor Hotel Fire Memorial  by artist Al Lonrenz photo: Ricky Flores for The Journal News

Windsor Hotel Fire Memorial by artist Al Lonrenz photo: Ricky Flores for The Journal News

It only took 115 years, but finally 31 unidentified dead, who were killed in New York City’s deadliest hotel fire, will be receiving a stone which commemorates their final resting place.

On Thursday, October 9 at 4:00 p.m., a memorial service was held at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y. to officially unveil and dedicate a monument to those who were interred without a marker.

The Windsor Hotel built between 1872 and 1873, stood at 575 Fifth Avenue, between 46th and 47tth Streets and was considered one of New York’s finest hotels.

At a few minutes after 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 17, 1899 with thousands of spectators along Fifth Avenue watching the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a fire broke out at The Windsor Hotel and spread like lightning throughout the entire structure.

Windsor Hotel 5th ave 46th 47th street magic lantern slide B.P collection

The Windsor Hotel

On the 46th Street side of the hotel, John Foy, a waiter at the hotel was passing the parlor located on the second floor. Foy watched a guest light a cigar Continue reading