Reminiscences of New York by an Octogenarian (1816 - 1860)

By Charles H. Haswell

Active in NY's civic and cultural life a half-century, Haswell's meticulous notes on it were published in 1896, the same year Correction emerged as a separate agency. A century later Jackson Era devotee Hal Morris posted them on his Tales of the Early Republic web site, from where these passages have been excerpted with permission.
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Chapter VII: 1823 - Stephen Allen, Mayor (Continued)
1823/4 - William Paulding, Mayor

1823. Under the new constitution the Mayor was appointed by the Common Council, and Stephen Allen was thus appointed. . . .

One of the New York Public Library's world-famous lions regally looks upon the passing 5th Ave. scene from a site that once served as the city's Potter's Field, succeeding Washington Square in that role.
The Potter's Field (Washington Parade, now Washington Square) was levelled; the use of it as a place of interment being abandoned in favor of a new plot of ground bought for the purpose, bounded by 40th and 42nd Streets, 5th and 6th avenues -- now occupied by the Reservoir and Bryant Park. This plot, containing 128 building lots, was purchased for $8449. In the matter of public grounds, the necessities of the poor have greatly ministered to the advantage of their more fortunate brethren; Washington Square, Union Square, Madison Square, and Bryant Park, all owing their existence as pleasure­grounds to prior use as pauper burial­places. About this time an ordinance was enacted prohibiting the interment of human bodies below Grand Street, under a penalty of $250.

Patchin Place, an iron-gated mew in Greenwich Village near the site of old Jefferson Market court and jail, contains NYC's last functioning Gaslight Era streetlamp. While the fixture goes back to the 1800s, it has been electrified.

The New York Gas Light Co. was incorporated, Samuel Leggett, President, this being the first introduction of illuminating gas in the country. The company was given the exclusive privilege for 30 years of laying gas­pipes south of Grand Street. The first introduction of the gas in a house was in that of the President at 7 Cherry Street. I went to witness it. . . .

In consequence of the question of deciding upon some method by which the city could be furnished with an ample supply of pure water, the Manhattan Co. was called upon to report its capacity, which was officially notified as amounting to 691,200 gallons of water per day, involving a period of sixteen hours' pumping. The pumping power was given as that of two engines of eighteen horses each. The capacity of the reservoir was 132,690 gallons, connected with twenty­five miles of log pipes. . . .

In this year, following the example of the boys of the period, I became a warm partisan of a fire­engine, and, following the very natural custom, it was the engine that was located the nearest to my residence. What the Fire Department, with 47 engines and 1200 men was then, and for many years afterward, even down to 1835, it will be difficult for me to convince those who knew it only from that period until it was reorganized in 1865 as the paid department of the present day. . . . The department, during the period above noted, was as a body composed of well­known solid citizens, notably a great proportion of Quakers, and but that I decline to introduce the names of private persons, I could give a list of those of old firemen that would do honor to any institution, commercial, financial, or eleemosynary.

In illustration of the wide difference of the customs and means of the men and machines of this day, and that of the present, the engine and ladder­truck houses were locked, and, in some instances, the key was given to the custody of a neighbor; in others, each member had a key. In consequence of the infrequency of fires it was customary, up to about the year 1830 for the companies to assemble once a month for the purpose of exercising the engines, to prevent the valves becoming too dry and rigid from disuse for effective operation. This meeting was termed the "washing," and delinquents in attendance were fined twenty­five cents. Upon arrival at the engine­house on an alarm of fire, if in the night, a light was first to be obtained by the aid of a tinder­box, the signal lantern and torches lighted, and then the engine or truck was drawn by the members and such private citizens as volunteered to aid them; and, as the city was not districted, it was taken to the fire, however distant.

As wood was the general fuel, varied only by use of bituminous coal in some parlor grates, chimney fires were very frequent, the fine for which to a householder was five dollars; and as the amount collected was given to a fund for the relief of the widows and orphans of deceased firemen, the Fire Department had registers placed at several locations in the city where the occasion of a fire could be noted, and there was an official collector of the fines. . . .

On the 15th of this month the first floating light was towed to its station off Sandy Hook. . . .

James Murray, from Boston, on his way South put up at a sailors' boarding­house of a man named Johnson, who, ascertaining that the former had a bag containing several hundred dollars in specie, murdered him in his bed, and two days after dragged the body to Cuyler's Alley, leading from Water Street to the river between Coenties and Old slips, and left it there. He was soon after arrested, and on December 4 was indicted. . . .
New York born and bred, John Howard Payne was the first American actor to become a star on the British stage. "Home Sweet Home," written in 1822, was first sung in Covent Garden, England in 1823 as part of the opera "Clari, the Maid of Milan." Payne served as American Consul to Tunis, Africa in the last years of his life and died there in 1852.

In November was given for the first time [in America], at the Park Theatre, John Howard Payne's "Home, Sweet Home." Payne had appeared on the New York stage in February, 1809, when he was but sixteen years old, and a pupil of the venerable Dr. Nott's academy at Schenectady. . . .

It was proposed by some enterprising citizens to remove the Bridewell and Jail to the North River and to construct two­story houses in the park fronting Chatham Street, as a source of revenue to the city. A petition was circulated asking that the "Jail liberties" should be extended over the whole county; they were then restricted to an area of 160 acres. . . .

New York Chemical Works, with banking privileges, was chartered through the labors of John C. Morrison, a druggist at 183 Greenwich Street, under cover of being a factory for drugs and chemicals. It was located on a point of land at foot of Thirty­second Street, and Fitzroy Road, Hudson River; which point for many years after was one of the landmarks of the river, and known as "the Chemical Works," in like manner to "the Glass House Point" near to it, where there was a glass factory.

It was from this that the Chemical Bank was organized, and commenced operations in Broadway near to corner of Ann Street, afterward the site of the Herald Building . . . .

Johnson, who had been indicted for murder on the 4th of December preceding, was found guilty on the 17th of March, and as there were not any members of the legal profession in those days known as Tombs lawyers, vulgo Shysters, the verdict was accepted without appeal and he was hanged on the 2nd of April. The proceedings connected with his execution were so widely different from those of a later, and the present day, that a reference to them may be of interest. The culprit, dressed in white, trimmed with black, and seated on his coffin in an open wagon, was transported from the Bridewell (City Hall Park) through Broadway to an open field at the junction of Second Avenue and about Thirteenth Street, where his execution was witnessed by many thousands of persons; his body was then taken to the Hall of the Physicians and Surgeons in Barclay Street, where it was subjected to a number of experiments with galvanism.

An Egyptian mummy, the first ever brought to this country, was exhibited in one of the basement rooms of the Almshouse; an ordinary building, alike to a row of six three­story dwelling­houses, occupying the site of the present new Court House. . . .

After purchasing Scudder's American Museum in 1841, P.T. Barnum began exhibiting "500,000 natural and artificial curiosities from every corner of the globe," and kept traffic moving through the museum with a sign that read, "This way to the egress" -- "egress" was another word for exit, and Barnum's patrons would have to pay another quarter to reenter the Museum! Later, he exhibited "The Feejee Mermaid," ostensibly an embalmed mermaid. In 1842, Barnum hired Charles Stratton whom he made world famous as General Tom Thumb.

August 15 General Marquis de Lafayette, the friend of Washington, who had given to this country his generous aid in the dark days of the Revolution, arrived here in the packet­ship Cadmus. On the 16th he landed at Castle Garden, the guest of the nation, being received by the entire military force of the city and an enormous concourse of citizens. He was greeted by many of his former companions in arms, notably, Generals Van Cortlandt and Clarkson, and Colonels Marinus Willett, Varick, Platt, and Trumbull; General Morgan Lewis and Colonel Nicholas Fish were necessarily absent. In order to add to the assemblage of citizens upon the reception of General Lafayette, the committee of arrangements provided that upon his arrival mounted buglers should ride through the city, and at certain intervals, at the corners of streets, proclaim his arrival by blasts from their instruments. . . .

The Advocate, a leading paper, in its columns of the 21st of September, published the fact, accompanied with expressions of its disapprobation, that a young man had been seen smoking in the streets so early as nine o'clock in the morning. . . .

The American Museum (Scudder's), originally at 20Chatham Street, and now in New York Institution [see Chapter III], was the only one in the city. In evenings of favorable weather a band of musicians from over the portico enlivened the grounds in front, which became a very popular resort. Subsequently it removed to the building on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street, the site of the late Herald building and here were transferred the curiosities of the Museum, afterward owned by Phineas T. Barnum, the world­renowned showman. It was here that Barnum opened a theatre under the style of "Lecture Room," of which that close observer, the late "Artemus Ward," remarked that you could see Barnum's actors before seven o'clock in the morning going to work with their tin dinner­pails. Here Barnum produced his Mermaid, manufactured by a Swede in Washington; his "Woolly" horse, Wild Woman of Borneo, Joice Heth, the "What­is­it?" etc., and generally rejoiced in humbug. The premises were destroyed by fire, July 4,1865.

September 23, in some of the principal streets, the laying of gas­pipes for public service was begun, and on the 30th Samuel Leggett, the President of the Gas Company (New York), gave a reception at his house, in commemoration of the event.. . . .

In Marion, near Houston Street, there was a theatre in which the performers were colored. . . .

About this period night­latches for the outer doors of residences were introduced, and in order that the great convenience they effected may be fully appreciated, one must understand that prior to this these doors were secured only by a large iron lock, the iron key of which varied from six to eight inches in length, and was of a proportionate weight thereto; hence, if a member of a family purposed to remain out late at night, he had either to agree with some member of it to remain up for him, to lock the door and take the key with him, or awake the family by the knocker on the door. Door­bells were then very rarely, if at all, in use. . . .

The New York Bible Society organized. Occupied a room corner of Cedar and Nassau streets, then one in Cliff Street, then one in Hanover Street, then erected a building on Nassau between Beekman and Ann streets; 1830 enlarged; 1852, at its present site, occupying the square bounded by Third and Fourth avenues, Astor Place, and Ninth Street; cost, $304,000. Supplies Bibles to families and emigrants as they arrive, to vessels, public institutions, Sunday­schools, hotels, and city missionary societies.

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