[Tombs 2]
The second Tombs looked like a castle.
[Hynes Bio]

In 1902 a massive, gray building replaced NYC's pre-Civil War structure officially titled the Halls of Justice. But the replacement's castle-like appearance could not displace the nickname for the original structure whose architectural style had been inspired by an engraving of an Egyptian tomb. A century later, despite that replacement itself having been replaced twice, the Tombs nickname still persists and prevails. The Correction Commissioner who opened and initially ran Tombs 2 was Thomas W. Hynes.

He had been appointed by reform Mayor Seth Low, elected in late 1901 after Tammany Hall corruption -- under its reputed boss, Richard Crocker -- reached levels nauseating enough to prompt formation of a fusion ticket by the Republicans and Citizens Union.

[Seth Low sketch]
Thomas W. Hynes

At the time of his election as New York City's 92nd mayor and its second since the 1898 consolidation into five-borough Greater New York, Low was the president of Columbia University.

A reformist Republican mayor of the City of Brooklyn for two terms (1882-86), Low had been the Citizen Union nominee in 1897 to become the consolidated Greater New York's first mayor. But his candidacy was not endorsed by Republican leaders who were still angry at his neglecting party patronage while Brooklyn mayor and at his supporting Democrat presidential candidate Grover Cleveland, New York's former governor.

Instead, in that first five-borough mayoralty, the Republicans fielded Benjamin F. Tracy. Low outpolled Tracy by about 40,000 votes. The combined Low and Tracy vote exceeded the tally for Tammany's choice, City Court Judge Robert C. Van Wyck, by about 18,000 votes. But Low-Tracy vote split meant victory for Tammany, Crocker and Van Wyck.

Among Van Wyck's appointments Jan. 1, 1898, Francis J. Lantry -- variously a butcher, a butchers' union leader, and an Alderman -- was named Correction Commissioner. Lantry also was the Tammany leader in the 16th District where the new mayor lived.

The 1901 fusion campaign behind Low's second bid to become NYC mayor emerged in response to Van Wyck administration scandals so conspicuous and so disgusting that anything less than a united front would have severely damaged the credibility of Republican and Citizen Union leaders. The scandals involved strong suspicions of some police complicity in the forced prostitution of young girls and allegations of public officials' complicity in defrauding Metropolitan Street Railway stockholders.

[City Hall 1902-03]
City Hall circa 1902-03.

In 1902, to replace Tammany district leader Lantry as Correction Commissioner, Low named the widely-respected Thomas W. Hynes, long a leader in Brooklyn and Greater New York charitable activities. For more than a quarter century prior to that appointment, Hynes had been active in the leading Catholic charities organization of laity, the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Born in Ireland in the early 1840s, he came to the U.S. as an infant brought by his parents whose family roots have been traced to Galway and County Clare. His father was a stonemason. Hynes was educated in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he began a career as a journalist, perhaps reporting news related to the Civil War.

Later, Thomas became a New Yorker and also switched career paths. He started as a straw goods merchant and eventually established himself as a straw goods manufacturer as well. An 1869 Manhattan directory lists him as a straw merchant at 363 Canal Street. About that time period, he moved from 101 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, to a home in Brooklyn where he and his wife, Maria Millet, parented two sons, William (d.o.b. unknown) and Edward (born in 1876). Maria died of pneumonia in 1883. Later Thomas remarried. His second wife was the former Christine Dwyer of Binghamton.


NYCHS acknowledges and expresses appreciation to Thomas W. Hynes' descendants who generously have shared images and information helpful in putting together this brief web biography.

After he moved to Brooklyn, Thomas became active in St. John the Baptist parish and helped organize its St. Vincent de Paul Society parish conference, soon becoming its president. His leadership was so outstanding that at the relatively young age of 27, he was chosen in 1870s -- with Bishop Loughlin's approval -- to head the entire Brooklyn Particular Council of St. Vincent de Paul Society parish conferences. He would hold that post for 51 years until advanced age and ill health forced him to retire. By that time the council grown to include more than 50 parish conferences. In that era, the diocese extended far beyond just Brooklyn; it took in all of Long Island.

While Thomas' home life and charitable works were centered in Brooklyn, his business continued to have a base in Manhattan although its location there changed and its scope expanded to include manufacturing in Brooklyn.

An 1890 directory lists him as owner of a straw goods business at 601 Broadway. An 1895 letterhead reads "T.W. Hynes & Co., Manufacturers of Straw & Felt Goods, American Bonnet & Hat Frames." It includes an illustration of the Metropolitan Straw Works factory at 574-584 Park Avenue in Brooklyn. The letterhead also reads "Salesrooms 601 Broadway New York."

In 1895 Thomas opened an additional branch of his business in Westborough, MA, then the straw goods manufacturing center of New England. Eventually, straw goods went out of style. The attempt to diversify with felt goods was not proving sufficient to sustain the business. But by then, Thomas was carving out yet another career path -- as a public official in the social services field.

Letters written to his son Edward reflect the character of Thomas' thinking, his religious devotion, his civic pride and his love of country. While, of course, he wrote at various times to other family members, only the letters to Edward have survived. His father's letters frequently contained reminders that Edward "say his prayers" and not let life's daily hustle and bustle distract him from his relationship with God. In one letter, written August 4, 1894 while Edward was traveling with a church group in Europe, the elder Hynes reminded his son that, while London is a great city:

"yet do not forget when you draw a comparison between London and our great City of New York, that the former is upwards of a thousand years in existence while the latter is only about a century. It is almost impossible for one to contemplate the future of New York and what it will be nine hundred years hence. I say this lest you might return a less American than when you started, for unfortunately, we have too many of this kind. I am sure you will not be included in this class."

Edward took his father's good counsel much to heart. The son thought of joining the Jesuits. They had been his teachers at Xavier High School and at its college from 1888-1893. Instead, Edward decided to pursue another path of service -- that of medicine. He transferred to Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons about the time Seth Low became Columbia's president. Later Dr. Edward Hynes became chief of obstetrics at Coney Island Hospital. Thomas Hynes, as Public Charities Deputy Commissioner, had presided over the opening of that hospital.

Edward and his father always tried to arrange their separate busy schedules so they could have a weekly lunch together, usually at Gage & Tollner's. Edward predeceased his father by nine months.

[Blessed Frederic Ozoanam]
Blessed Frederic Ozanam

Since Hynes' work as a Vincentian (that's what a member of the lay society is called) consumed and shaped so much of his life, a brief note about the society and its founder Frederic Ozanam seems relevant at this point.

Born the year Napoleon was defeated at Leipzip, Ozanam during his brief lifetime saw major upheavals in his native France: the overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty in the 1830 July Revolution, the end of Louis Philipp's "Bourgeois Monarchy" during the 1848 Revolutions and Louise Napoleon being crowned Napoleon III in 1852.

As a University of Paris student in the early 1830s, Frederic championed a Republicanism that aided the poor, not just the rich. But he took issue with the followers of Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon for their attacks on religion. Challenged by them to match his eloquent words about Christian charity with actual deeds, he and about seven like-minded students formed a Conference of Charity in May, 1833.

By 1835, the society had its own official rule and a new official name: The Society of Saint Vincent DePaul. The society took as its name that of the church-recognized patron of charitable works, the 16th century priest who had literally dedicated his life to the poor and who in the process founded religious orders to carry on that work.
[St. Vincent de Paul]
St. Vincent de Paul

Ozanam eventually became a professor of literature at the Sorbonne in 1840 and married in 1841 but continued his work with the society. By the time of his death in 1853 at age 40, it had grown to 2,000 conferences, about a fourth of which were outside France.

On August 23, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Ozanam "Blessed," a step advancing the case for having him declared a saint in the eyes of the Catholic church. The Society of the Saint Vincent de Paul that Blessed Frederic Ozanam founded now includes 875,000 members in 47,000 conferences in 131 countries on five continents. They engage in a wide range of charitable endeavors providing health, housing, food, and social support services, programs and institutions for the poor and needy.

Low and Hynes came to know each other as they addressed, in their respective spheres of activity, the plight of the poor in Brooklyn. In the late 19th century, considerable public debate arose over the issue of what was then termed "relief for the outdoor poor," roughly the equivalent of what we today call "welfare." The outdoor poor were the needy living outside of brick-and-mortar institutions. Phrases such as "taking the dole" and "being on relief" also could described the status of these recipients of public charity outside the doors of the almshouses, asylums, and orphanages.

One of the most sweeping attempts to end public charity for the outdoor poor took place between the early 1870s and the 1900s. It was led by groups such as Josephine Shaw Lowell's Charity Organization Society and Brooklyn's Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor founded by Seth Low's grandfather. In Brooklyn the annual cost of public outdoor relief was cut from $10 to $12 per household in 1877 to less than half that the following year, and then abolished entirely in 1879, impacting more than 46,000 people.

The arguments that raged then still echo today about putting a time limit on relief support, about breaking the cycle of dependency, about making recipients become self-reliant by requiring them to work, and about getting rid of the welfare cheats. As we hear today, so went the claims advanced back them that the private sector could do the job better for less cost than government agencies.

[Seth Low sketch]
Mayor Seth Low.

This brief bio of Correction Commissioner Hynes is not the place in which to attempt a resolution of that perennial policy issue. Rather, passing mention of it is made here to sketch the context in which Low and Hynes came to know each other. Both of them helped found the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities, established upon the abolition of public outdoor relief in that city. Low and Hynes were lifetime directors of the bureau. Low's leadership in the late 19th century campaign to "reform welfare" helped launch him on his political career.

In 1901, a year before Low named Hynes as his New York City Correction Commissioner, the latter had already established the Ozanam Home for Friendless Women and Children. This had evolved through his Vincentians' work with the courts in various programs to promote rehabilitation of young offenders.

After he became Correction Commissioner, Hynes had his Vincentians take on probation work with delinquents. Since the Department's first facility intended as a youth reformatory opened on Hart Island a year or more before formal authorization for it was enacted by the state legislature in 1905, the preparatory work in advance of its opening was likely begun in 1903 under Hynes. Such an institutional initiative would have been entirely consistent with his reformist views. The basic concept behind the reformatory would appeal to his abiding interest to provide opportunities for people to help themselves put their lives back together.

[Qboro span building]
Mayor Low pushed construction of the Queensboro Bridge that eventually gave Correction vehicles access to Blackwell's Island Penitentiary.

Although by all accounts, the Low administration proved to be among the city's better ones in terms of reforms, rectitude, debt reduction and rendering of most basic services, the aristocratic mayor himself lacked a down-to-earth friendly manner attractive to voters across party lines.

He also had a tendency to rub the wrong way even some in his own political constituency. While ever ready to criticize the bossism of Crocker's successor, Charles Murphy, in the Democratic Party, Low's turning a blind eye toward the bossism of Senator Thomas Platt in the Republican Party undercut with independents the mayor's credibility as a true reformer.

Tammany's candidate, former Board of Aldermen president and Congressman George B. McClellan Jr., as the son of the Civil War general and Democratic Presidential candidate ever popular in New York City, his home community, carried a family name that by itself had vote-pulling power. McClellan Junior won City Hall by more than 60,000.

[Teddy Roosevelt]
Teddy Roosevelt is likely to have first met Thomas Hynes when the future governor and President served as Police Commissioner in Mayor William L. Strong's administration (1895-7)..

Hynes' governmental service was not confined to the single Low term as mayor, nor to Correction or even to the city. Among official duties he performed in the course of his long public career were stints as

  • Supervisor of Charitable Institutions for the city Department of Finance,
  • City Deputy Commissioner of Charities,
  • New York City Commissioner to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 St. Louis World's Fair), and
  • Auditor General of Puerto Rico by appointment of President Theodore Roosevelt who also appointed him to investigate Port of New York immigration problems.

President Theodore Roosevelt, in his Dec. 7, 1903 State of the Union address to Congress mentioned former Correction Commissioner Hynes by name as among those who investigated immigration irregularities in New York. He said, in part:

During the last two years the immigration service at New York has been greatly improved, and the corruption and inefficiency which formerly obtained there have been eradicated. This service has just been investigated by a committee of New York citizens of high standing, Messrs. Arthur V. Briesen, Lee K. Frankel, Eugene A. Philbin, Thomas W. Hynes, and Ralph Trautman.

Their report deals with the whole situation at length, and concludes with certain recommendations for administrative and legislative action. It is now receiving the attention of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. The special investigation of the subject of naturalization under the direction of the Attorney-General, and the consequent prosecutions reveal a condition of affairs calling for the immediate attention of the Congress.

Forgeries and perjuries of shameless and flagrant character have been perpetrated . . . . All good citizens, whether naturalized or native born, are equally interested in protecting our citizenship against fraud in any form, and, on the other hand, in affording every facility for naturalization to those who in good faith desire to share alike our privileges and our responsibilities. The Federal grand jury lately in session in New York City dealt with this subject and made a presentment which states the situation briefly and forcibly and contains important suggestions for the consideration of the Congress. . . .

Hynes served in the last two years of the McClellan administration as a Department of Public Charities Deputy Commissioner.
[Home for Aged]
NYC Home for Aged and Infirm in Brooklyn.
He is listed in the agency's 1908 and 1909 annual reports' organizational table as "Second Deputy Commissioner (in charge of the Brooklyn office)." That office, at No. 327 Schermerhorn St., had responsibility for the Public Charities institutions in both Brooklyn and Queens.

On the 1908 report's title page, his name appears along with Commissioner Robert W. Hebberd and First Deputy Commissioner Richard C. Baker. The volume includes signed submissions to the Commissioner by his two deputies on their respective spheres of duty.

Hynes' signed remarks -- dated Jan. 2, 1909 -- focused on the needs of the Home for the Aged and Infirm, Kings County Hospital, Cumberland Street Hospital and the (Brooklyn) Central Office. He wrote, in part:

On November 6, 1908, you honored me with the appointment as Second Deputy Commissioner; and while the period intervening is comparatively short, I have been observant of certain conditions existing which, to my mind, demand attention and remedy.

The conditions existing at [the New York City Home for Aged and Infirm] are very unsatisfactory . . . .
[Seth Low sketch]
DOPC 1908 annual report..
The building was erected in 1869, and since then no improvements have been made; and when it is remembered that the population at present is over fifty per cent in excess of the normal bed capacity, no further comment is necessary. . . . . The toilet facilities are insufficient for the normal population, and totally inadequate for the increased number, so that the floor is frequently soiled by the poor old people while waiting their turn to use the toilets. . . . . The State Board of Charities in a recent report has characterized this institution as the worst ventilated and the most ill-smelling under the control of the Department . . .

While the capacity of Kings County Hospital has at times been overtaxed, relief will be soon afforded by the opening of the Coney 1sland Hospital and the contemplated addition to the present institution . . . .

I find that many persons who have entered into an agreement with this department for payment [to the department] for the care and maintenance of their children in institutions are delinquent in meeting their obligations. With additional assistance I would be enabled to compel all such persons to meet their obligations, and the resulting saving to the city in this direction would more than offset the cost of additional clerk hire.. . .

[St. Vincent de Paul]
Coble Hill Health Center's restored building recalls St. Peter's Hospital era.

Hynes' activities outside or alongside public office included service as treasurer of the Brooklyn Chapter of the American National Red Cross and as vice president of the New York State Prison Association. As the father of six children, his private life was full as well.

Upon his retirement as Brooklyn St. Vincent de Paul Particular Council president, its members endowed a Thomas W. Hynes Memorial Ward of St. Peter's Hospital in Brooklyn for the benefit of poor patients. Although the hospital long ago ceased activity, its building -- now restored -- recalls a bygone era. Today it is the Cobble Hill Health Center, the home of more than 500 elderly residents. Situated on Henry Street, between Congress and Warren Streets in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, the block-long building with its deep red brick, elegant terra-cotta trim, majestic rounded towers and distinctive front entrance serves as an architectural focus in that landmark-designated neighborhood.
[Knighthood medal]
Hynes received a medal much like this to signify the wearer is a knight in the Order of St. Gregory.

At the request of Bishop McDonnell, Pope Pius X formally recognized Hynes's charitable efforts by conferring upon him a Knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory. Originally founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831, the Papal Order of Saint Gregory was modified somewhat as part of the 1905 reform of the Papal Orders instituted by Saint Pius X who also assigned to the Papal Knights a particular place in processions and ceremonies of the Church. Awards of the Order are usually made on the recommendation of Diocesan Bishops or Nuncios to acknowledge an individual's particular meritorious service to the Church.

Thomas W. Hynes died Jan. 3, 1926. He is buried in Springfield, MA. There his name appears on a gravestone that states his age at death was 83. His name also is inscribed among the leaders in the social histories of the Brooklyn Catholic Diocese, the City of Brooklyn and the City of Greater New York including its Department of Correction.

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