My grandmother was a devout attendant upon the services of St. John’s Chapel, in Varick Street. I can see her now, in coal-scuttle bonnet and ample Hudson’s Bay sables, leaning one arm upon the high top of our pew, while she delivered the responses in as firm a voice as if she were an ecclesiastical adjutant with a copy of general orders from celestial headquarters. Her prayer-book was an octavo of formidable dimensions, for which I had a sincere and somewhat awful respect in my very young days; for, when it was brought out from the bureau drawer, I knew that it meant the recording of more sermons in my youthful calendar. Twice a day to church and twice a day to Sunday-school was the rule of the house, and it was inflexible. Everybody went to church in those days, and we all knew each other and duly cataloged the absentees and inquired of their families after service as to their welfare. Immediately in front of my grand-mother sat Dr. Hunter and his family, behind us Lispenard Stewart ; to the right sat Gen. John A. Dix and his household ; to the left, across the north aisle, was the great square pew, upholstered in drab, in which the Lydig family sat. I remember it particularly, because of the fact that it appeared to offer unlimited scope to the limbs of a naturally fidgety boy.
Once in a while my grandmother would delight me by stealing away by night to a Methodist or Presbyterian conventicle. Usually she despised heretics and schismatics-at least, she said that she did, and tried to believe it. But the sermons at St. John’s were in-variably high and dry-delivered high up in the old-fashioned, three-decker pulpit, and as dry as the ink on the manuscript-and I think the dear old lady felt the need occasionally of what some of her ancient heretical cronies of other churches called “an awakening discourse.” So I was always glad when she put on her bonnet of a Sunday evening and locked up the drawer that contained her formidable prayer-book, and said, “Come, Felix”-for then I prepared for an awakener. We always got it at the Vestry Street Methodist Church. No ; you won’t find it on the map now. The church at present occupies a handsome brown-stone building on Seventh Avenue, near Fourteenth Street. Then it had a shabby, old brick structure for its ecclesiastical home, but its membership numbered nearly a thousand, and its congregation overflowed the aisles and vestibules. I do not remember the names of any preachers I heard there, but they were earnest and energetic men, who had no manuscripts before them, and who sometimes startled me by their plain talk about a brimstone region which I was accustomed to hear very delicately alluded to in the pulpit. Some of the old hymns that I heard there linger still in my memory. There was no poetry in them, but somehow they had power to sway humanity in masses more than any modern anthem. Sometimes my grandmother would hear me singing at home, “It’s the old-time religion, And it’s good enough for me ;” or shouting explosively in the back yard, ” I am climbing Jacob’s ladder ;” and if she saw me at the time she would turn and look at me reproachfully, but she never said anything.
Occasionally my grandmother compromised with her conscience by going to hear an eloquent young Virginian who occupied the pulpit of Laight Street congregation, and delighted a most fashionable audience. She would quietly remark to me on the way that he was really more than half a churchman, because he wore gown, bands, and cassock when he preached, and used the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed in the opening service. The diagnosis made by my grandmother was correct. This young clergyman, the Rev. Flavel S. Mines, was afterwards ordained deacon and priest in old St. George’s Church, in Beekman Street, where he became assistant to the Rev. Dr. Mil-nor. Some time ago I received a letter from Ben-son J. Lossing, asking me if I could tell him what had been the young assistant’s fate. He wrote : I think he was the most eloquent man I ever heard in the pulpit. I suppose he must have passed to his rest long ago.” Yes; for thirty-four years he has been sleeping under the altar of Trinity Church, San Francisco, which he founded.
Now, what has caused this diversion from our tour up Broadway, from the Lispenard Meadows? Imprimis, it was the recollection that I had forgotten to mention the famous book-store of Roe Lockwood, on Broadway, below Lispenard Street, where all the boys of forty years ago went to purchase their school-books. Can I ever forget with what awe I looked up at the shelves filled with tomes of tremendous learning, or with what pride I went there alone, at the age of eleven, and purchased a Cooper’s Virgil? It was carefully wrapped up in paper, but as soon as I got outside I tore the paper off, placed the book nonchalantly under my arm, and walked with head erect down to my home on the Park-the proudest boy in the city on that day. Looking back, I know it must have been a queer sight that I presented as I trudged along to school with my big books under my arm, and I don’t wonder that the larger boys in Billy Forrest’s school stopped -me sometimes to see if I could really read the direful woes of AEneas and Dido. Small for my years, I wore roundabout and trousers, a cap with a visor, and a brown linen apron with sleeves, tied behind and reaching to my knees. This last was my grandmother’s idea of a school uniform for small boys. A woollen tippet around my neck and a pair of mittens knit by home hands completed my winter equipment. Why, I can smile myself as I see this queer little figure trudging through the snow at the junction of Varick and Franklin streets, and far too chilled to cast more than an oblique glance at his favorite antiquity-the much admired and lamented statue of William Pitt, which stood, wrecked and dismantled, outside Mr. Riley’s Fifth Ward Museum Hotel. But here I am digressing again. Mr. Roe Lockwood was an elder in the Laight Street Presbyterian Church, as well as a shrewd man of business, and this fact it is that has led me astray in my tour.
Another reason for the digression is my chancing in upon a quiet celebration in a forgotten neighborhood a Sunday or two ago, which brought back to me some vivid memories of my visits to the Vestry Street sanctuary. This was the centennial anniversary of the old Bowery Village Methodist Church, known now as the Seventh Street Church, which began very humbly in the parlor of Gilbert Coutant’s little frame house, near the two-miles stone on the Bowery. From the modest parlor that was carefully sanded every Saturday night in preparation for the morrow, the church was moved to a site on the ground now occupied by the Cooper
Institute, and here young and zealous Peter Cooper became the first superintendent of its Sunday-school. It was moved successively to Nicholas William Street, once parallel with Stuyvesant Street, but now blotted out, and then to its present situation. I heard john Stephenson, who has built street-cars for nearly every civilized country, tell the story of his conversion in the old church fifty-nine years ago, and he and others praised the work of old “Father” Tiemann (father of the Mayor of that name), and told the story of the church in the days when it was in the prime of its strength-the days when I was a boy on the west side, and Seventh Street was up-town, and the centre of the homes of prosperous tradesmen and wealthy descendants of the old colonial settlers, who had their bouweries and villas on the other side of the Sand Hills. The neighborhood about St. Mark’s Church was known as Bowery Village for the first quarter of the present century, and even later.
On an old map of this neighborhood I find the continuation of Stuyvesant Street beyond the Bowery (now Fourth Avenue) set down as Art Street, and I wonder if this was identical with Astor Place as indicated by some later maps. Upon Art Street, a little east of the Bowery, stood the stone house which was once the residence of Charlotte Temple. Her story seems to have made an impression which ambitious and gifted men have failed to create. Her grave in Trinity church-yard excites more interest than those of Alexander Hamilton or gallant Captain Lawrence, of the Chesapeake. The other day, as I was passing the entrance of that church-yard, a quiet-voiced young man, on whose arm a shy and pretty bride was leaning, asked me if I could point out the grave of Charlotte Temple, and they informed me confidentially that they were on a tour from Philadelphia. As if a gray mustache like Felix Oldboy could not tell at a glance that the two blushing innocents were taking their first week’s journey in life together, all daisies and whipped syllabub and sunshine, to which gold and diamonds were but dross. A few moments after-wards I passed and saw them forming part of a group that were gazing sadly at the slab sunk in the turf that told of a short life sadly ended, and, if I mistake not, there was a tear hanging to the eyelids of the gentle bride.
Not far from this neighborhood was another historic church, which is fated to go the way of its predecessors of the same creed in the down-town districts. The old Reformed Dutch Church, which has so long been a landmark in Lafayette Place, at Fourth Street, is now razed to the ground. It has been somewhat lonesome since the departure of St. Bartholomew’s Church, on the opposite side, and a block below, and has found its continued existence a burden. The young do not mind the moving, but rather enjoy it ; but to us older ones the razing of a church hallowed by associations with the past is a sore blow. I find that we don’t like to turn down the streets in which an old association of our youth has been slain. We go out of our way to avoid it. True, the people we have known have moved away, but they cannot carry with them the familiar look of their homes and haunts. For some years past only the Willetts, out of all the old stock, have remained to keep up the ancient connection of Lafayette Place with the old-time settlers. The new race do not even remember when Madame Canda kept her famous school for young ladies next door to the Dutch Church-a very rose-bud garden of girlish loveliness-and have only dimly heard the tradition of a winter’s night tragedy that shocked a whole city by its startling suddenness and left the Canda household bereaved. The fair young girl who on her eighteenth birthnight was dashed from her carriage and killed, and at the moment she was to make her triumphant entrance into society entered into life eternal, had a whole city for her mourners.
While upon the subject of churches, I recall a picture of desolation that I witnessed on one of the streets east of Broadway, soon after the close of the war-an old-fashioned church, with stucco walls, whose roof and windows had been dismantled, standing in the midst of trees that had been felled and vaults that had been rifled of their mouldering coffins. It was the old home of St. Stephen’s congregation, who had moved up-town into a more fashionable neighborhood. The old rector, Dr. Price, still lives, though approaching ninety years of age. But the ruined church had a special interest for me at the time as the place where William M. Tweed attended public worship, or at least had his family pew. It did not strike me then as prophetic, but I seldom think of that fallen man, who gave his occupation as ” statesman ” when enrolled as a convict at Blackwell’s Island, without that picture of utter desolation in the dismantled church-yard that had often echoed to his steps, coming up to my mind. Before me lies, by chance, a list of the wedding presents made to his daughter. It is a, queer record. There are names here which are still potent in local politics, chiefly of Mr. Tweed’s own political following, but among them are sandwiched the names of Jay Gould, Thurlow Weed, James Fisk, Jr., Isaac Bell, Hugh J. Hastings, and other gentlemen of apparently opposite views, and the value of the presents mounts up to a small fortune.
As I trudge back to Broadway and prepare to take up again my line of march from the vicinity of Canal Street, near by the spot where a lovely lane once ran from the Bayard mansion, a little to the east of this thoroughfare, down through Lispenard Meadows to the North River shore, I am composing mentally a sermon upon shade trees. An old school-teacher of mine once vowed in his wrath-apropos of an adolescent elm-tree that had been hacked to death by the knives of his pupils-that ” the boy who would kill a shade tree would kill a man,” and I do not know but that in the main he was correct. My uncle has told me that when he was a boy, Broadway and all the adjacent streets were lined with trees of every native species. It is curious to read that in the time when Broadway, from the arched bridge (Canal Street) to its junction with the Bowery Lane (at Union Square) was known as the Middle Road, Mr. Samuel Burling offered to furnish poplar-trees to line the thorough-fare from Leonard Street to Art Street, and that there was poetry enough in the Common Council to agree that the arrangement would be ” an additional beauty to Broadway, the pride of our city !” I try to fancy it all as we stand here-the modest dwellings close at hand, which were the homes of the Pells, the Griswolds, the Hoffmans, the Lawrences, the Ludlows, Citizen Genet, and Dr. Livingston, and the stately poplars that stood sentinel in front of them ; the circus that fronted unobtrusively on the main street and hid itself in the fields beyond; the public-house at Broadway and Grand Street, with Tattersall’s below it. But I cannot make it real. My uncle has told me that the open ditch or stream at Canal Street was eight or ten feet wide, and that its banks were lined with beautiful wild flowers, and that upon the hills in the rear of Broadway and below Spring Street the boys of his day used to play in the remains of the Revolutionary earthworks. I recall hereabouts the old Olympic Theatre, the American Art Union (whose annual drawings of pictures made one of the milder sensations of the day), the Manhattan Club, and Tattersall’s.
Tattersall’s, on the east side of Broadway, between Howard and Grand streets, was one of the best known institutions of the old city. Here one could buy any sort of a horse or carriage at an hour’s notice, and its auctions were as amusing as a circus. Perhaps my own memory of it is faint, but it had been freshened up by my uncle. In youth a centaur, he used to spend all his spare time around Tattersall’s stables, and more than once his mother had been properly shocked at seeing him flying down the street on the bare back of a horse which he had been permitted to take out for exercise or to ride to water 4t the Arched Bridge. A reckless boy, he rode like the wind, and kept up his pace through life, but he always loved the mother who adored this most daring of her offspring.
When in a reminiscent train of thought on this line, my grandmother said, solemnly, ” Felix, if I had that boy’s neck broken once, I had it broken a hundred times, and then to think he died quietly in his bed, after all !” If I had not known my grandmother in-finitely well, I might have thought that she had been actually disappointed at her favorite son’s edifying end. But I took up her great cat, Gustavus Adolphus, a famous fellow of the tiger pattern, who was never far away from the gentle old lady’s little feet (which had moved daintily in the minuet in the old Clinton Mansion on the Hudson River, close by Greenwich Village, and had wrought immense havoc among the high-collared and voluminously – cravated exquisites of the period), and placed him in her lap. And as she stroked his fur a tear fell on the ferocious whiskers of the namesake of Sweden’s hero, and he looked up and plaintively purred as if he, too, had understood it all.