Jacksonian Miscellanies, #61

June 16, 1998

Reminiscences of New York c1816

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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The following consists of about the first half of ch III of Haswell, Charles, Reminiscences of New York by an Octogenarian (1816 to 1860), (NY Harper 1896).

The whole book is online at my web site at: http://www.panix.com/~hal/octo/index.html


BUT one theatre was open in the city, the Park, built in 1798, standing at 23 Park Row, and running back to Theatre Alley, which extends from Ann to Beekman Street. There was one smaller in Anthony Street, near Broadway, which had been opened in 1814, but now was unoccupied, and later was the site of Christ Church. Concerning further means of amusement, it may be noted here that at this date bull­ and bear­baiting was practiced as neither unlawful nor improper. The first theatre in New York was opened in 1750 in Kip (Nassau) Street, between John Street and Maiden Lane. In 1761 a theatre was built on the lower side of Beekman Street, near Nassau, in which during that year " Hamlet" was presented for the first time in America. This house was wrecked during a riot over the Stamp Act in 1765 In 1767 the John Street Theatre, on the north side near Broadway, was opened; in 1776 the Montague Garden on Broadway between Chambers and Barclay streets; and in 1785 two new theatres were opened, one in William Street and one in lower Greenwich Street; doors open at 5.15, and curtain raised at 6 P. M.

At the Park the hour of opening was half­past six, the performance beginning at half­past seven. It was universally the custom to give two pieces of performance, generally a tragedy and a comedy; and sometimes three pieces were given, and between the pieces a comic song, a pas seul or pas de deux by danseuses. The pit, now termed parquet, was provided with board benches without cushions, and occupied exclusively by men and boys; the boxes were enclosed in the rear, the entrance to them through a locked door jealously guarded by a keeper. There was an advantage in this which fully compensated any inconvenience attendant upon it, inasmuch as the rear wall of the box reflected sounds from the stage; from which cause, added to the circumstance that the interiors of the buildings were less ornate than at a later day, the voices on the stage were much more audible than with the open seats. This arrangement left a wide space for lobby or foyer, in which it was customary for the male portion of the audience during the acts to promenade. In the second tier there was a moderate restaurant, and in the third tier a bar. In this theatre there was a very perfect whispering gallery; the peculiar face and arching of the proscenium enabled a sound delivered on one side in the third tier to be distinctly audible on the opposite side. Upon this becoming known it was availed of by humorists, to the dismay and annoyance of many who were ignorant of it. In the third tier of theatres before this time, and for many years after, the class of females erroneously termed demi­monde were permitted to be present, and on several occasions parties who had better have been absent, being seated in the end­box, and near the arch, were dismayed at hearing a voice near to them advising them to go home and attend to their families, etc. Prior to the closing of the theatre for the summer recess, it was the custom to set apart one night's performance, known as "ticket night," for the benefit of the employees of the house.

Not a few citizens yet living find pleasure in reviving in their conversation the glories of "the old Park." No doubt its scenery and appointments were primitive, compared with the elaborate provision made for modern theatres, as a result of the singular development of scenic art which has appeared in recent years. Excepting only its spacious stage-forty by seventy feet-the Park lacked nearly everything in the way of physical appliances that are considered necessary in­our theatres; but it is probably within reason to maintain that in the quality of its acting and of its audiences it remains unapproached, and that no theatre of the present period holds the primacy, or even supremacy, which it enjoyed without challenge. Even the present generation will understand this supremacy of a stage that witnessed-to select only a few names from the stock company, and stars that shone at intervals-the performances of Mrs. Wheatly, Mrs. Vernon (for many years afterward at Wallack's, and still "freshly remembered"), Mrs. Sefton, Miss Ellen Tree, Miss Fanny Kemble, Miss Charlotte Cushman, Miss Emma Wheatly (Mrs. Mason), Miss Clara Fisher (Mrs. Maeder), Edmund and Charles Kean, Charles Kemble, Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin Forrest, James Wallack (father of John Lester Wallack), Harry and Tom Placide, George Vandenhoff, William Wheatly, Tyrone Power, Cooke, Young, and Cooper. Mrs. Wheatly, so long and so well known to this theatre, daughter of an officer in the British Army, accomplished actress and universal favorite both on and off the stage, made her first appearance at the Park in 1805. She retired soon after, but reappeared in 1815, and continued her public career until 1848.

Kinlock Stuart, residing at 40 Barclay Street in 1800, and for some years thereafter, failed in his business, and in 1807 his wife began, in a very humble way, the manufacture of candies, preserves, etc., at 271 Greenwich Street, the partial site of the present buildings that composed the sugar refinery of the late R. L. & A. Stuart. Her business, from the purity of her manufactures, had so increased in 1831 that it was assumed by her sons, who soon after enjoyed a world­wide reputation and amassed great fortunes. Alex. Stuart continued residence in his house in Chambers Street until his death, and was the last downtown resident of substance and position

Francis Guerin had opened in 1815, at 120 Broadway, a shop for confectionery, supplemented by coffee, chocolate, pastry, liqueurs, etc.; and, subsequently extending his premises to an adjoining room, he furnished and provided it for the convenience of ladies' luncheon. American ladies, however, in view of the early dinner­hour of the period and the vicinity of their residences to the scene of their shopping or promenading, had not yet felt the need of such a convenience. As the area of houses extended farther uptown, and the dinner­hour became later, the need of such a resort caused it to be so well patronized that the proprietor was rewarded with a very handsome competency; he was the pioneer in this line of catering to the public in New York. Restaurants, other than in a room or cellar, and principally on the river fronts, where few and coarse victuals were served, were unknown.

The popular and the largest dry goods stores were those of Jotham Smith, 223 Broadway (all on one floor), on part of the site of the present Astor House (it was but one story in height); King & Mead, at 175, and Vandervoort & Flandin, at 111 Broadway.

Charles Berrault, an emigre from St. Domingo after the insurrection there, being compelled to sustain himself and family, opened a dancing­school in 1814 at 300 Greenwich Street. He was for many years one of the two leading teachers of dancing in this city. He afterward removed to 31 Cortlandt Street, and in 1822 to 146 Fulton Street, in the Ross Building.

The first establishment for the repair and construction of steam­engines and boilers was that of Robert McQueen, a Scotch millwright, who in 1806, in connection with a Mr. Sturtevant, operated an air furnace on the corner of Barley and Cross streets (Centre).

James P. Allaire, who had commenced business as a brass­founder in the year 1813 in the upper part of Cherry Street, No. 434, had so extended his business under the patronage of Robert Fulton and the elder Gibbons, that he became the leading manufacturer of steam­engines, boilers, etc. The famous name of the Allaire Works was to be seen on a vast number of engines, especially on steamboats, at a time comparatively recent.

Of the change in social, domestic, and business customs and conveniences, from 1816 to the present day, none but one who has experienced it can give a proper estimate. At the earlier date, bathrooms were totally wanting in private houses and hotels, and there was but one public bath, that of Stoppani, in Chambers Street. Illuminating gas for the streets had been read of as a possible practicability. Clubs, street stages and cars, Sunday concerts, steamboat excursions, newspaper venders, and "Extras," street shoe­blacks, kindling­wood, expresses, organ­grinders, messenger boys, bananas, oranges-other than those from abroad-dates, grape­fruit, roasted chestnuts, photographs, telegraphs, railways, chiffoniers, drop­letter boxes, cabs, hansoms, sewing­machines, type­writing, eye­glasses-other than spectacles-and cigarettes were alike unknown; opposed to which we escaped the presence of "shysters", tramps, and the practice of "straw bail" in our courts, illustrated posters, and organ­grinders; but we had pure milk, a legitimate drama, and a more clearly defined line between man and gentleman, woman and lady ("salesladies", was an appellation wholly unknown), and a greater regard for social honor and business integrity.

The spectacles worn by those who required them were of a very different design and construction from that of this period. Thus: the side pieces were in two lengths, one sliding partly within the other, and retained in position, when used, by their pressure against the sides of the head. Light steel frames, resting over the ears, spring bows, and pince­nez, secured with a ribbon or chain, were not known until about 1840, and not in general use until many years later.

The absurdities of billiard, shaving, and oyster "parlors," hair­cutting, tailor, boot­making, and fashion "emporiums," "anatomical" hair­cutting and boot­making, or "gentlemen's and ladies' dining­rooms," on West or South Street, in the condemned pilot­house of an old steamer, were unknown. I, in candor, however, may have to acknowledge to one or two "merchant" tailors, but not like too many of a late day, occupying small and confined apartments, with a very narrow scope of custom, restricted more to mending than making. Pipesmoking (other than in common clay pipes by laborers) was also unknown.

For spirituous drinks, in most cases, but three cents per glass was charged; for ale, two or three cents; tobacco was three cents a paper; the habit of chewing tobacco was then far more common than now. Imported Havana cigars of the best quality could be bought for three cents, or five for a shilling (12-1/2 cents), and, strange as it may now appear, young men carried them in their hats, for it is to be borne in mind that cigar­cases were a rarity, and that within hats there was purse­like diaphragm lining, well designed to retain a handful of cigars, a handkerchief, or a pair of gloves.

The fractional currency, in this and all the States at this period, was very generally the Spanish coins of 25, 12-1/2, and 6-1/4 cents, and they were denominated in the several States as follows: In New England, Kentucky, and Tennessee the dollar was divided into six shillings, and the coins were termed quarters, ninepence, and fourpence ha'penny. In this State, Ohio, and Michigan the dollar was divided into eight shillings, and the coins were termed sixpence, one shilling, and two shillings, according to value. In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland the dollar was divided into seven shillings and sixpence, and the divisions were termed quarters, elevens, and fips; in South Carolina and Georgia, into four shillings and eightpence, and the divisions were known as quarters, bits, and picayunes. In consequence of the derangement of the currency by the war with Great Britain, and the failure of many country banks, provisions were scarce and dear: milk, 12-1/2 cents per quart; flour, $15 per barrel; and, a year later, butter, beef, lard, pork, and potatoes were imported from Belfast.

Perhaps I should here remark that there was a numerous class of caterers to the juvenile or junior tastes of the public that has wholly retired from operation. Their specialty was to disperse mead, spruce beer, cakes, and ginger pop; their locale was almost universally designated by a sign, on which, for the mead and beer, was delineated a bottle with a stream of liquor pouring from it into a tumbler at its side, with a uniformity of outline and of curve that would have done credit to a geometrical draughtsman. The ginger pop was designated In a very different manner, being totally devoid of any illustration of convenience or economy inasmuch as two men were portrayed as fulfilling the regulations of a duel, being placed opposite to each other and each extending a bottle, from which emanated a stream of liquor propelling a cork, which was as the bullet of a pistol.

New York at this date contained but two billiard. rooms, one in the Washington Hall, the other in the Cafe Francais in Warren Street near Broadway. American whiskey was not known as a general drink, and mint juleps were only heard of as a mixture said to be taken by people in the Southern States as a preventive against malaria. Rhine wines were unfamiliar, and the use of champagne in either public or private houses was very rare.

The employment of ice for any purpose but for making ice­cream was unknown. Families used an enclosed structure called a "safe," with woven wire sides and ends, admitting air and excluding flies (Croton­bugs did not then exist), and on these alone they depended for preservation of meats, milk, etc. Even the ice­cream (water ices were unheard of) was furnished only by Mrs. Usher, in Broadway, where the New York Hotel lately stood; and by John H. Contoit of the New York Garden, in 1801 at 39 Greenwich Street, in 1802 at 253 Broadway, and in 1806, and for many years after, at 355 Broadway, between Leonard and Franklin streets. The customary accommodations of these resorts were confined to rows of open apartments, termed boxes, white­washed or greenpainted, with a plain bare table running through their centre, with a bare board seat on each side, capable of seating two persons, lighted, that is, essayed to be, by a dimly burning wick, floating in oil on a stand outside the entrance; colored waiters with their labelled numbers displayed in front, expressing, emphasizing, and displaying themselves in a manner known only to their race, and a bill­of­fare comprising ice cream (vanilla, lemon, or straw berry, if in season), pound cake and lemonade, with the exception that, at Contoit's you could be served with a glass of veritable claret, and, if I recollect right, one of cognac too. Milk was borne in tin cans suspended from the carriers, shoulders,-frequently women,-and was supplied from cows within the city limits or contiguous shores of Long Island and New Jersey. As there were no railroads or night passages of river steamboats, no other sources existed from which milk could be obtained. Milk wagons, "Orange County" milk and milk bottles, and freshened or fortified milk, were equally unknown. There were many cows which roamed the streets in the day and were stabled at night. The slaughtering of animals for the markets was wholly done by individual butchers on their premises in different parts of the city, the blood and offal being carried to the river and deposited there. Gentlemen went to market, and in default of express companies, messengers, etc., often carried home a turkey, chicken, or a leg of lamb. The public authorities gave annually a prize to the farmer who submitted to them the best sample of butter of his production.

Canned vegetables and fruits were also unknown; hence, when their season passed they passed, and as railways and interstate steamboat lines did not exist, we did not receive the early fruits of the South or the game of the North and West. A grocer's store of the time was as unlike one of this day as if it was that of another line of business, there being a display neither of bottled nor canned articles, fancy cakes, biscuits, etc., in boxes. There were only two leading grocers of the Park & Tilford grade of a later period-Richard Buloid at 129 Broadway and James Geery at 119 Mulberry, corner of Bayard Street, who was widely known for the excellence of his teas. Mr. Richard Williamson, one of this class, appeared later (1825, at 85 Maiden Lane).

The drive for gentlemen and others who drove out of an afternoon was limited on the East side to Cato's (Fifty-Fourth Street and Second Avenue), a well­known resort, -see page 63,-where imported Havanas were sold, five for a shilling (12-1/2 cents), and pure brandy at sixpence (6-1/4 cents) per glass-and for many years previous, and later, even down to 1830. Love Lane, before mentioned, was the resort on Saturday afternoons of cartmen, fish and oyster venders, etc., where their horses and those of others of a like grade were raced for such entrance stakes or wagers as were mutually agreed upon. The public race­course was on Hempstead Plains, and known as the New Market. The principal or noted restaurants were De Cousse's, in Reade Street, under Washington Hall; Ainslie's in Broadway, between Duane and Anthony streets; and Lovejoy's, Broadway, corner of Anthony Street (Worth). Sunday excursions on steamboats, etc., were unknown. It was only at a later day, or about 1820, that the "Green" and river walk at Hoboken became a general afternoon resort.

The Turtle Club, afterward known as the Hoboken Turtle Club, was in existence; notices of its meetings were announced as dividends of twenty or twenty­five per cent., and termed spoon exercise. Also the Krout Club, which later was presided over by a Grand Krout, who once in a year was declared to have nodded, thereby indicating his assent to a meeting, which was opened at nine in the morning, and continued until late at night; at the dinner, smoked geese, "ringlets" (sausages), and sour­crout were the pieces of resistance. The symbol of the place of meeting was a cabbage on a pole. Members of the club were termed cabbage­heads, and a death or absence was termed wilting.

On the eve of Fourth of July, or Independence Day, booths were erected around the City Hall Park, and roast pig, eggnog, cider, and spruce beer were temptingly displayed. On the following day the militia formed at the Battery, paraded up Broadway to the City Hall, where it was reviewed by the Mayor and Aldermen, and after executing a feu de joie was dismissed. The various civic societies met, formed in line, and marched through some of the principal streets; the Tammany Society, by right of seniority, being assigned to the head of the column. Evacuation Day, or the anniversary of the evacuation of the city by the British, was very generally observed at this time. Horse, foot, and artillery, together with the veterans of the war, paraded. Salutes were fired in the morning, and public dinners occupied the evening. My readers are aware that this day never passes now without at least some slight observance in New York, and many of them will remember the elaborate preparations made for celebration of the Centennial Anniversary in 1883, and the furious storm of that day, which ruined a pageant that, with fine weather, would have been the most superb ever witnessed by the city up to that time.

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