New York City – Wall Street Ninety Years Ago

THE views of Wall Street in the Manual for 1919, showing both sides from Broadway to William Street, are the result of an attempt to give a general idea of the appearance of the street as it existed about 1830, when many of the old residences were still standing though given up to business uses. Wall Street was regarded as the seat of fashion for a considerable period after the. Revolution, but as boot makers and harness makers and “porterhouses” and “cider vaults” edged their way in, to say nothing of the bolder intrusion of banks and insurance companies and stockbrokers, the more fastidious gentry fled far up town to such quieter localities as Park Place and Beekman Street.

The confused numbering of Wall Street in early days, especially before 1793, makes it difficult, except in a few cases, to identify the buildings by their numbers alone. For instance, No. 5 was on the northwest corner of William Street, No. 3 was on the site of the present Assay Office, and at the same time the south corner of Broad-way was No. 67. Nevertheless, by the aid of information from other sources, such as advertisements, news items, contemporary views, and real estate records, it has been possible to identify most of the old houses with certainty.

The four-story skyscraper on the north corner of Broadway, wearing the roof that evidently inspired the architect of the Bankers’ Trust Building, was owned as early as 1786 by William G. Forbes, gold and silversmith. It then had only two stories. In 1809 it came into the possession of Najah Taylor & Co., jewelers, and at the period of the view it was the store of the ultra-fashionable tailors of the day, Messrs. Howard, Keeler, Scofield & Co., and provided offices for numerous lawyers, brokers, and commission merchants. Its number, now 90 Broadway, was then 88.

The little house next to the corner, on the site of present No. 2, was the grocery store of John Taylor in 1795, and in 1802 the establishment of Andrew Sitcher, painter and glazier. Ten years later it was again a grocery, Charles Lee, proprietor, and in 1830 William Bull & Son were making harness and saddles there.

The old church was the First Presbyterian Meeting House,—called a meeting house, we are told, because when it was first built, in 1719, only the Dutch Reformed and the established Church of England were permitted to have churches. Other places of worship were houses, and to keep up the legal fiction they had to be provided with fireplaces. We are also told that the fireplaces were never used, since in those primitive times anything conducive to comfort in the sanctuary was considered a contrivance of the devil. The building shown in the view, erected in 1810, was burnt out in 1834, but was immediately restored with the same walls and a pointed spire. Ten years afterward it was demolished and in 1846 the present church at Fifth Avenue and Eleventh Street was dedicated.

The little two-story affair on the west corner of Nassau Street deserves more extended notice than its size would seem to justify. It was John Simmons’ tavern, where, in February, 1784, the common council met and with appropriate ceremonies installed the newly appointed Mayor, James Duane, in the presence of the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor. It is said that Simmons weighed more than four hundred pounds, and was of such bulk that at the time of his funeral the doorway of the tavern had to be enlarged to admit the coffin. His widow continued the business for several years, and among its later proprietors were David King and Samuel Randolph. After it ceased to be a tavern it was occupied by T. & W. Benton, bootmakers ; Thomas L. Rich, merchant tailor ; John N. Baur, watchmaker, and others.

In historic interest the site on the east corner of Nassau Street is the most important in New York. Here stood the second city hall, built in 1699-1700. In 1789, having been made over into the most elegant building in America and renamed Federal Hall, it became the first capitol of the United States, and on its balcony General Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the Republic. By 1812, the year in which the present City Hall was completed and occupied, it had become so dilapidated, and indeed unsafe, that the common council, unmoved by appeals for its repair and preservation, ordered the old building demolished and the lots sold. The structure shown in the view was erected in the year following and was first occupied as a bookstore by East-burn, Kirk & Company. About 1817 it became the Custom House, continuing as such until 1831 when the Collector moved his office to 21 Pine Street. The new Custom House, now the Sub-Treasury, was completed in 1839.

At this part of the street the view is not altogether accurate. Simmons’ tavern and the old Custom House should be shown farther to the west, making room for two dwellings, which the artist has omitted, adjoining the Custom House on the east. These were built about 1813 and were numbered 13 and 15. The former was the residence of Garret Storm until leased to the Bank of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. About 1830 the latter concern moved “upstairs” and its former banking room was taken by the newly organized “National” Bank. No. 15 was for several years the residence of George Griswold, of the celebrated firm of shipping merchants, N. L. & G. Griswold,—known, in the slang of the day, as “No Loss & Great Gain.”

The rest of the block, except a single lot on the north-west .corner of William Street, was occupied before the Revolution by the buildings of Bayard’s sugar refinery. In 1773 Samuel Verplanck bought a frontage of seventy-five feet next to the old city hall for what would now be about $650, and on the easterly portion the famous Verplanck mansion was erected. During the Revolution it was occupied by British officers, among them General Robertson, and for a time it sheltered Benedict Arnold. It was given up by the Verplancks about 1810, and from that year until 1821 or later it was the residence of Edmund Moorewood, merchant, a former partner of Jonathan Ogden. In 1823 the building shown in the view, which is well remembered as the old Assay Office, was erected to house the New York Branch of the Bank of the United States. It was then No. 15%. After President Jackson had succeeded in killing “The Bank” and had bankrupted half the country in the process ‘(no pun intended) the building was let to private parties and at one time was occupied by Henry Clews & Company. In 1839 it was the home of the new Bank of Commerce.

Passing down the block, the next three houses beyond the Assay Office were Nos. 17, 19 and 21. The -first was the residence of William M. Seton, and later of John Keese. After it ceased to be a dwelling it contained the law offices of Major Nathaniel Pendleton and of William Duer and Beverly Robinson who practiced under the firm name of Duer & Robinson. For many years, including the period of the view, it was occupied by the Union Bank. No. 19, now No. 36, was in early days the residence of Samuel Mansfield, merchant. Among its later tenants were Francis R. Tillou and F. Bayard Cutting, attorneys at law, composing the firm of Tillou & Cutting. In 1834 the building was taken by the “National” Bank, which continues on the same site as the Gallatin National Bank. No. 21 was the residence of George Barnewell, merchant, vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce. The site is now No. 38.

The site of the next building, the fifth west of William Street, now No. 40, has been occupied for a hundred and twenty years by The Manhattan Company, which purchased the plot in 1799 and put up the building shown in the view. The statuary on top is supposed to represent Oceanus (not Bacchus) reclining in a comfortable position and pouring water or some other liquid out of a jar, probably intended to be symbolic of the blessings so generously bestowed by the company upon the thirsty populace. When the Croton project was being agitated, Recorder Riker opposed the enterprise, contending that the water furnished by the Manhattan Company was good enough for any one, and in proof of the assertion adduced the fact that he drank a tumbler of it every morning—leaving his hearers wholly in the dark as to how he managed to make out during the rest of the day.

On the adjoining lot, the fourth from William Street, stood the residence of John Delafield, merchant, who ,was later connected with the Phenix Bank as cashier and president and was one of the original trustees of the old Tontine Coffee House on the northwest corner of Wall and Water Streets. In 1803 the Merchants’ Bank opened for business in the Delafield house and at a subsequent period erected the building with the two columns in front.

The third house from William Street was the residence of Dr. Wright Post, the eminent physician and surgeon. It was then No. 27, now 44. Later came Samuel Jones, Jr., one of the great lawyers of his day, called the “father of the New York bar.” John Speyer, merchant, was another occupant, and after him Benjamin Butler; Davenport & Camman, brokers ; and the Globe Insurance Company.

The corner house was on the site of Gabriel Thompson’s tavern, built about 1700. Some twenty years later the plot was acquired by Evert Bancker, whose descendants were living there as late as 1786. In 1789, when New York was the capital of the United States, the old Bancker dwelling was a boarding-house kept by Johannah Ursin, among whose boarders were Mynheer Francis P. Van Berckel, ambassador from Holland, and Samuel A. Otis, secretary of the United States Senate. The house was then No. 5. In 1790 or ’91 the Bancker lot and the one adjoining were acquired by Francis Bayard Winthrop, who built the two houses shown and resided in the westerly house, which in 1793 became No. 29, for twenty years or more, until he moved to No. 7 State Street. In 1815, No. 29 was the private bank of Jacob Barker, the “Quaker merchant,” noted for his piety and “a talent for making bargains,” as Fitz-Greene Halleck charitably puts it. Jacob was a pretty keen individual, and when it came to entertaining lambs in the manner for which Wall Street is (or was) famous he is said to have wielded the shears with remarkable skill. Indeed, if contemporary accounts are worth believing, he was not much different from a certain speculator of a later day, who built a theological seminary over in jersey with one hand and with the other in Wall Street (he had a long reach) relieved widows and orphans of their surplus wealth. On one occasion Barker and two or three associates were indicted for conspiracy to defraud. Scorning the services of counsel, he conducted his own defense and was promptly convicted, but the court evidently took pity on him for he was granted a new trial. This time he had better success and managed to have the indictment quashed. Jacob Barker was also Fitz-Greene Halleck’s first employer when the future poet came to New York in 1811. At the period depicted by the view, No. 29 was Mrs. Jane Smith’s boarding-house and also contained the office of Cadwallader D. Colden, counsellor, who was mayor of the city in 1818, ’19 and ’20. No. 31, on the corner of William Street, now No. 46, was leased by the Bank of New York about 1798 as the residence of its cashier, Charles Wilkes, and here was passed the early childhood of Charles Wilkes, junior, who, as Captain Wilkes of the U. S. Navy, became famous in the .Civil War for the seizure of Mason and Slidell, Confederate commissioners to Great Britain. After the Wilkes family moved to Hammond Street, now a part of West Eleventh Street, the house became the bookstore of Isaac Riley & Company, but in 1812 it was leased for $2,000 per annum to the Bank of America, which continued to pay the same rental until it purchased the property in 1831.

On the south side of the street the building at the corner of Broadway existed until 1906, when it was demolished to make way for the present fourteen-story structure. On the same site, originally No. 67 Wall Street, was the residence of Major Nathaniel Pendleton, of the Continental Army, who was one of General Hamilton’s seconds at the fatal duel with Burr. Later it was the residence of another Revolutionary soldier, Colonel George Turnbull. From 1797 to 1804 the old house contained the law office of Daniel D. Tompkins, who was elected governor of the state in 1807, ’09, ’11, ’13 and ’15, and vice-president of the United States in 1816 and ’20. For several years, beginning with 1803, the surrogate’s court was in the same house, as was also the office of Pierre C. Van Wyck, counsellor at law, and in the 1812 directory we find “Keese, widow Rosa, boarding-house 1 Wall.” The building shown is believed to have been erected some time between 1825 and 1830, and at the period depicted it contained the lottery office of R. H. Cuming.

Before 1845 the numbering on the south side between Broad Street and No. 1 Wall Street was so confused, and the buildings had such a shifting tenantry, that only a few can be identified with certainty. The two-story buildings west of New Street (three are shown, but the westerly pair were in fact one) were all No. 3, but some-times the one on the corner is referred to as No. 4. The east corner of New Street was also No. 3 in early days, and later it seems to have been 4%, 5 and 6. The Broad Street corner was No. 2 Broad Street and at the same time Nos. 10 and 11 Wall Street, the latter being the address of S. M. Isaacks & Co., brokers, in 1830. Next door west was No. 9, occupied by Charles Pool, barometer and mathematical instrument maker, who advertises in 1827 that he “has moved from 280 Broadway to. 9 Wall Street, opposite the Presbyterian Church,” and in a con-temporary view his sign appears on the building. The adjoining house was probably No. 8 and the little two-story buildings 7 and 6 respectively. Before 1800 No. 5 was the “counting house” of Jacob LeRoy & Son.

It is not generally known that Washington Irving was a lawyer, but a full-fledged attorney he was, having received his training in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman. He and his brother, John T. Irving, had an office in the building on the east corner of New Street for several years and at the same address is found another brother, Dr. Peter Irving, M. D. This was in 1807, ’08, ’09 and ’10. A few years later one of the New Street corners, probably the same building, was the bookstore of Charles Wiley & Company, a favorite resort of Halleck, Bryant, Paulding and other literary men of the time. In the con-temporary view lithographed by Peter Maverick about 1830, the little buildings west of New Street are covered with engravers’ signs, advertising them as “fashionable establishments.” These engravers were Joseph Lewis and John B. Stout & Company. The first building erected on the west corner of Broad Street was a Dutch house with a gable toward the street, from the stoop of which in 1795 Alexander Hamilton made a speech advocating the Jay treaty with England, but evidently with less persuasiveness than usual, for the applause he received was a shower of stones. The building in the view was erected early in the last century and was a favorite habitat of stationers and booksellers, among them being M. Ward & Company, Gould, Banks & Gould, and Peter Burtsell.

The corner of Broad Street being close to the City Hall and therefore a convenient location for police headquarters, the “watch house” was built on the east corner, in 1731. The old building was demolished in 1789 and the one shown in the view was erected for the same purpose. At that time the high constable was James Culbertson. He was succeeded about 1800 by John Delamater, who was followed in 1802 by Jacob Hays. From the prominence of his position and the remarkable vigor and judgment with which he discharged the duties of his office, High Constable Hays became the best known citizen of New York. He is often portrayed as a comic figure, but such characterization is unjust, for not only did he enjoy universal respect, from the law-abiding and from the criminal as well, but he also possessed (and deserved) an international reputation as the ablest police officer in America and the equal of any in Europe. Appointed by Mayor Livingston in 1802 he was reappointed by each succeeding mayor till his death in 1850 at the age of 78, when the office died with him.

The original number of the first three-story house east of Broad Street is not known with certainty, but was probably 60, the residence of Jonathan Burrall, who in 1812, then living in Pine Street, became the first cashier of the Bank of America. In 1795 it was Daniel Parker’s boarding-house and also contained the office of the supervisor, Colonel Nicholas Fish, and from 1803 to 1808 the office of Richard Riker, assistant attorney-general, who was recorder from 1816 to 1829. The house ad-joining on the east was probably the residence of William Irvin, who was commissioner of accounts in 1789.

The site of the next building is associated with one of the greatest of all New Yorkers, General Alexander Hamilton. He owned an L-shaped piece of land extending from No. 58 (now 33) Wall Street around into Broad Street. There is some dispute as to which street his residence fronted, but the General’s grandson and biographer; Dr. Allan McLane Hamilton, says Wall Street. About 1792 he sold the property, or at least the Wall Street part of it, to Gulian Verplanck, who built the house shown in the view and resided there till his death in 1799, at which time he was president of the Bank of New York. From 1805 it was the residence of John Low, then cashier of the Jersey Bank, of Jersey City, until it was taken by the Mechanics’ Bank in 1810. The United States Pension Office was in the same building.

The sixth building from Broad Street, next to the Hamilton-Verplanck site, is the old Ludlow mansion. Originally it was No. 56, now 35. After an occupancy of twenty-five years or more by the Ludlow family it was given over to business about 1815 and in 1839 became the first home of the American Exchange Bank. In the same year it contained the general office of the New York & Harlem Railroad Company, and at the period of the view (about 1830) Ephraim D. Brown, broker, Archibald G. Rogers and William Van Hook, attorneys, and Joseph Staffler, merchant, had offices in the building.

Adjoining the Ludlow house on the east is shown the Jauncey residence, built by William Jauncey soon after the Revolution. After the Jaunceys moved to 24 Broadway in 1815 or ’16, the house contained the picture gallery of M. Paff, better known as “Old Paff,” and the stationery store of Henry J. Megarey, who in 1834 published views of South Street, Broadway and Fulton Street, which are now rare and highly prized. At the period of the view Joseph D. Beers & Company, brokers, had their office in the building.

The little bank with the four Grecian columns in front stands on the site occupied as early as 1789 by the residence of Edmund Seaman, merchant, who had a sugar refinery at No. 29 Pine Street. In 1804 it was the residence of Wynant Van Zandt, Junior, who lived there till 1812 when it was taken by the Bank of the New York Manufacturing Company. This concern changed its name to the Phenix Bank in 1817 and later erected the building shown in the view.

The next house east of the Phenix Bank was the residence of Ralph Thurman as early as 1804. At the period of the view it was the home office of the Manhattan Insurance Company and in 1839 the North American Trust & Banking Company.

The second house from William Street was originally No. 52 and was then occupied by Colonel William S. Livingston. In May, 1786, it was taken by Colonel Richard Varick, recorder from 1783 to 1788 and mayor from 1789 to 1800. In 1794, as No. 28, it is given in the directory as the residence of William Maxwell, who was one of the founders of the Bank of New York ten years before. In 1816 and for more than thirty years after-ward it was the book and stationery store of Peter A. Mesier.

In 1789 the house on the southwest corner of William Street, then No. 8 Wall Street, was the New York post-office, and residence of the postmaster, Colonel Sebastian Bauman, a Revolutionary soldier, who received his appointment from President Washington. He held the office till 1803. In 1799, the postoffice having been moved to 29 William Street, corner of Garden Street (Exchange Place) we find the old building in the possession of B. M. Mumford, merchant. At the period of the view it was occupied by George W. Willis, watchmaker, Isaac M. Wooley, commission merchant, and Rufus L. Nevins, broker.

The First White Way

When William Niblo opened his new theater at Broadway and Prince Street back on Independence Day, 1828, he celebrated the double occasion by a patriotic display of gas lights which flaunted the name of “Niblo” far and wide and immortalized it in stage as well as gas history. An admiring public gasped from a respectful distance, watching the red, white and blue shadows cast by the rows of gas jets spelling the proprietor’s name.

Gas had been used for the first time in New York City five years before, but to the owner of Niblo’s Garden goes the credit of first using gas for illuminating a theater.—Gas Logic.