Archive for July, 2013

Cow Hunter's Point

This photo (circa about 1900) shows the view of Hunter’s Point in Long Island City from Sunnyside, Queens, which is just across from Greenpoint on the north side of the Newtown Creek. Photo from the book “300 Years of Long Island City”; in memoriam of Vincent Seyfried, prolific historian and author.

Part I of a Brooklyn Cow Tale

Some suggest that animals have a greater sense of imminent danger than people do. Did the cow in this true New York story have a sixth sense that allowed her to predict her sorrowful future, and thus, take action to try to prevent the final outcome?

The story begins on November 30, 1901, in Greenpoint, the northernmost neighborhood of Brooklyn. Although the town had already become more industrial by this time — with rope factories, glass works, lumber yards and maritime industries lining the East River and Newtown Creek — the interior section of the Greenpoint peninsula still had its share of stables and cows in the early 1900s.

On this particular morning, Patrick McCarthy was leading a cow from her bucolic home in Greenpoint to Eastman’s slaughter house on 11th Avenue at 59th Street in Manhattan. The first part of the trip, from a stroll through Greenpoint streets, over the swing bridge connecting Manhattan Avenue to Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, across the six tracks of the busy Long Island Railroad, and then down Borden Avenue to the Hunt’s Point Ferry, was seemingly peaceful. Published reports even note that the cow seemed to enjoy the ferry ride to East 34th Street in Manhattan.

Hunter's Point ferry terminal

The Hunter’s Point ferry terminal was made obsolete by the Queensboro Bridge and rail tunnels under the East River. It closed in 1925. Photo: Greater Astoria Historical Society

But trouble began when man and bovine reached the corner of 34th and Fifth Avenue…

The Manhattan Avenue Swing Bridge

The bridge that Patrick McCarthy and his cow crossed in 1901 was a 168-foot wrought iron and wood high-truss swing bridge built by the King Iron Bridge and Manufacturing Company in 1880. By 1895, the archaic movable bridge, which was rusting and rotting, was the only one of its size and importance that was operated manually. According to The New York Times, “three stalwart men and an old army veteran” used an upright iron rod and two oak bars, each about nine feet long, to open and close the bridge. The men would walk in a circle nine times to open or close it, which took about seven minutes. The bridge was opened about 140 times a day, so each man walked about 11 miles a day. Although an electric motor was installed at one point, it failed the first time it was used.

In 1894, the United States War Department gave Kings and Queens counties an order to take action regarding the structure of a new bridge. For two years the War Department threatened to demolish the bridge unless it was replaced with a more modern structure. The new bridge, called the Vernon Avenue Bridge, was finally opened October 18, 1905, for pedestrian and trolley traffic.

Swing Bridge Manhattan Avenue Vernon Avenue

The Manhattan Avenue Bridge in the late 1800s.

Unfortunately, as early as 1916 there were complaints that the safety of the bridge was being compromised by the heavy truck and car traffic it was carrying. The bridge was rebuilt several times over the years, and was finally removed in 1954 when the nearby $11 million Pulaski Bridge opened. This bridge was also to be called the Vernon Avenue Bridge, but in recognition of Greenpoint’s large Polish-American population, it was named for the Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski, who fought and died in the Revolutionary War.

Vernon Avenue Bridge

The new 1905 drawbridge carried Manhattan Avenue vehicle and trolley traffic to Vernon Avenue in Long Island City on the Queens side of Newtown Creek, with the turnaround barn for the trolley directly across the street from the Chelsea Fiber Mills (today known as the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center).

Recently, the non-profit Brooklyn Greenway Initiative proposed a Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge Study Project to give people an alternate route for crossing the Newtown Creek between Manhattan Avenue and Vernon Boulevard. The study is part of a large capital project to implement a 14-mile Brooklyn waterfront greenway stretching from Newtown Creek to Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge.

The Trouble on Fifth Avenue

Now back our story…
With a loud Moo-oo, Patrick McCarthy’s cow broke from her halter and started to run. “Stop her!” Patrick cried. “Head her off!” he shouted while dodging pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages. The cow charged at Patrick, turned onto Fifth Avenue, and ran a zig-zag course until ramming her head through the side door of a horse-drawn cab in front of the Waldorf-Astoria.

According to the tale, William Mackey, an actor, was in the cab in front of the hotel when the cow decided to “hail” the same cab. William was reading the newspaper when he heard a crash and saw the cow’s small horns protrude through the door. He quickly moved over the other door, yelling, “Help! Help!” while jumping out of the cab.

Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

The 13-story, 450-room Waldorf Hotel opened in 1893 on Fifth Avenue at 33rd Street. The Astoria combined with the Waldorf in 1897 to form the Waldorf-Astoria. In 1929, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was demolished to begin construction of the Empire State Building.

Patrick Darcy, the cab driver, jumped down from the box and excitedly tugged at the cow’s tail in an effort to save his cab from being demolished. Darcy should have known it’s not such a good idea to pull a cow’s tail: This action only made her ram her head further into the cab and destroy it even more.

There were several cabs and carriages in front of the Waldorf-Astoria at the time, and a few of the coachmen and footmen came to Darcy’s assistance after leading their own teams out of danger. Some police officers also tried to help, but everyone’s efforts were all for naught. Patrick McCarthy was finally able to get inside the cab and tap the end of his whip on the cow’s nose, causing her to back out of the wrecked cab. Unfortunately for both the cow and the driver, this story does not have a happy ending: The cow eventually made it to the slaughter-house and Darcy’s cab was totaled.

Mr. Mackey and the Greenwich Wheelmen

Just five months before his near brush with death in front of the Waldorf-Astoria, Mr. Mackey was involved in another accident, this one involving bicycles. William and Miss Angela Knowlton, both members of the Greenwich Wheelmen, were riding their bicycles home from Central Park one June evening when they collided with another woman on bicycle at 34th Street and Broadway (The New York Times actually wrote that this was a colored woman). Both women were thrown to the pavement. Before he could stop, Mr. Mackey ran into the tangle and was also thrown from his bike. Miss Knowlton was treated for a slight scalp wound at a nearby drugstore, but the other woman was not hurt. Mr. Mackey was only slightly bruised.

In 1880, the League of American Wheelmen was formed to promote bicyclists’ interests. Over the next decade, local clubs of cyclists or “wheelmen” formed throughout the country. Although most of the members were men, many clubs also admitted women. Susan B. Anthony was in fact a big proponent of women cyclists:

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”—The New York World, 1896

Greenwich Village Wheelmen

Although many wheelmen clubs participated in bicycle racing and large rallies, most were formed as social clubs, with dining and drinking just as important as cycling.

William Mackey and Angela Knowlton were members of the Greenwich Wheelmen bicycle club, which was organized on May 11, 1892, by G. De Shay, H.C. Reynolds, C. Scheier, W. Whelpley, J. Thompson, and G. Lippmann. These men were all descendents of the original inhabitants of Greenwich Village – hence, the club’s name. The club first met in a basement at 17 Abingdon Square, but then moved to an old factory building at 66 Charles Street as the club continued to grow in leaps and bounds. By 1894, the club was headquartered in a three-story brownstone at 509 Hudson Street. This building featured a large double parlor, a room for storing wheels, a training room, card room, and secretary’s room.

509 Hudson Street

The Federal townhouse at 509 Hudson Street served as headquarters for the Greenwich Wheelmen in the 1890s.

509 Hudson Street and the Amos Farm

The Federal style townhouse at 509 Hudson Street was built in 1828 for Richard Amos, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a prominent early property owner in Greenwich Village. In 1788 Amos purchased a large plot from Willoughby Bertie, the 4th Earl of Abingdon, England. The Earl had inherited the land from his father-in-law, Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Warren, a British naval officer who owned a 300-acre estate and large mansion at the present intersection of Charles and Bleecker streets. The Amos property, which extended from Washington Street to Bleecker Street and from Charles to Christopher Streets, was later known as the Amos Farm.

Peter Warren Estate

The summer estate of Sir Peter Warren, The Manse, was built in 1744 and demolished in 1865.

Today the building at 509 Hudson Street is an upscale co-op with a rooftop terrace. Although the building is pet-friendly, I don’t believe any cows currently reside there.

If you enjoyed this story, you may also like When the Waldorf-Astoria Went to the Dogs.

Part I of a Parkville Precinct Puppy Tale

Belgian Sheepdog

In 1907 the Police Department of the City of New York, under the command of Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham, sent Inspector George R. Wakefield to Paris and Ghent, Belgium, to look into acquiring some police dogs. Police dogs had been gaining popularity in Europe since their first introduction in Ghent in the late 1800s, and many periodicals were touting the benefits of adding dogs to police forces in rural areas.

Inspector Wakefield was most impressed with the dogs in Ghent, who were trained to trust only men in uniform – and to distrust any man lying down or crouching. In order to test them out, he donned a Ghent patrol uniform and walked the streets of the city at night with a dog. Wakefield brought back five young Belgian sheepdogs, each about a year old. The five pups — Jim, Nogi, Lady, Donna, and Max — made up the first genuine canine squad in New York City and, in fact, all of America.*

Parkville police dogs Rap and Nogi.

A Parkville police officer with New York Police Department second-generation police dogs Rap and Nogi, around 1915.

The total cost of the trip and acquisition was $364.84, which included $50 for all five dogs; $132 for fare to and from Belgium; $48 for board; $3 for cabs; $25.60 for incidental expenses incurred while looking for the dogs; $6.60 for three crates; $50 for freight; $10 for duty; and $2.65 for a book on training police dogs. Herman A. Metz, Controller of the City of New York, said Wakefield’s trip was the cheapest of its kind on record. Even the customs inspectors questioned the paperwork, believing the dogs should have cost $1,000 each.

“Men in uniforms are friends – all others are possible enemies”

Upon arriving in New York, the dogs were placed in the department’s kennels near Fort Washington Point, at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Depot Lane (aka, Road to Depot; today’s W. 177th Street). Under Inspector Wakefield’s direction, the five canines received about three months of special training. According to Walter A. Dyer, author of A Police Dog in America (1915), the dogs were trained to obey fundamental commands and to recognize men in uniforms as friends (and all others as possible enemies), to answer at once to the police whistle or the rap of the stick, to hurl themselves upon someone attacking a policeman, to pursue and throw a fleeing criminal, to search around buildings at night, and to signal bark in of the presence of persons lurking in the shadows.

The police pups arrive in Parkville

Following their intense training, the five canines were declared fit for service in January 1908 and placed in the 72nd Precinct in Parkville, Brooklyn. The residential village on the west side of Flatbush had been the scene of numerous night burglaries; hence, the Police Department chose Parkville to experiment with the new canine patrol. One patrolman was placed in charge of the care and feeding of the dogs, and each dog was assigned to one of five policemen who were chosen because of their love for dogs and their interest in the work.

Webster Ave., Parkville, Brooklyn

Burglaries, hold-ups, and other crimes after 11 p.m. were reduced by about 50 percent in the bucolic neighborhood of Parkville after police dogs joined the force. (Webster Ave., 1905.)

The two-legged and four-legged partners teamed up for duty every nght from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The men would keep the dogs on leash going to and from their posts and then release the dogs once on patrol so they could check out the back of each property for marauders or thieves. The dogs often put in 25 or 30 miles during each seven-hour shift as they ran across fields and investigated the countryside of Parkville, Brooklyn.

Max to the rescue

During their first few days at the Parkville police station, the police dogs were kept on a leash at all times. On January 29, 1908, the leashes were put away on post and the dogs went to work. Thanks to this freedom, Max was able to make an incredible rescue and save a man he found freezing in the snow.

At about 8 p.m. that night, the officers heard a scratching on the station house door. Max bounded inside, ran past several plain-clothed officers, and headed to Lt. Frank Kelly. He began dragging Kelly by his coat to the door, which caught the attention of Acting Captain William H. Funston.

Parkville Police 70th Precinct

The “Parkville Police,” once reportedly located in the area of Ocean Parkway and Foster Avenue, is now the 70th Precinct at 154 Lawrence Ave. The 3-story building was constructed in 1933.

The captain, who was in plain clothes, tried to coax the dog outside, but Max refused to follow – the captain could have been an enemy, after all. Max did agree to leave with Officer Scally, who was in uniform, and once he was assured the men were following him, he bounded out of the station and started to run.

Max led the officers from the station at Ocean Parkway near Foster Avenue to a vacant lot at 37th Street and 15th Avenue, nearly a mile away. He waited for the officers to catch up, and then led them behind a snow bank, where they found a man half frozen and unconscious. The man was taken to the station in a patrol wagon and received medical treatment. He said he was Edward Connolly, a cook on the steamboat Robert M. Doyle, and had been drinking before he went into the lot. Mr. Connolly was locked up and charged with intoxication.

Following the rescue, Lt.Wakefield told the press, “Max was the most intelligent dog of the bunch.”

Now here’s the question: Was Max really smart enough to lead the officers to Edward Connolly because he knew the man was in trouble, or did he think the man was someone bad because he was lying down? Stay tuned for my next amazing rescue tale starring Max — it may lead you to believe that Max was very intuitive.

From Greenfield to Parkville

From 1851 to 1852, the United Freeman’s Association purchased the John Ditmas and Johnson Tredwell family farms in the Greenfield section of Flatbush – a total of 114 acres – for about $57,000. In 1853 the Association laid out a system of streets that intersect Brooklyn’s north-south street grid diagonally (which are still present today), making the village, with its detached frame houses, one of the most attractive suburbs in Brooklyn. In 1871 the name of the village changed to Parkville; completion of the northern section of Ocean Parkway in 1875 further spurred the neighborhood’s development.

Martense-Story House

The Martense-Story house, part of the estate of Marcia Story and Rachel Martense – members of two prominent Brooklyn families who were related by marriage – was located just outside the Parkville district at 21 Chester Avenue across from 35th Street. One can picture Max running through this yard on his way to finding Mr. Connolly two blocks away.

Rural Parkville goes urban

Although there were numerous vacant lots at the intersection of 37th Street and 15th Avenue around the turn of the 20th century – including a few large lots next to what was then the Flatbush Corporation Building — a 1917 map shows that much of the area was fully developed by this time. The fields, farms, dirt paths, and frame homes and stables belonging to prominent land owners like R. Hegeman, Colonel Joseph G. Story, and George Martense – all of which appear on an 1890 map of the same intersection – had been replaced by brick, concrete, asphalt, and industry.

If you enjoyed this story, read about the Parkville Police Dogs’ Debut at Madison Square Garden in Part II of the Parkville Precinct Puppy Tales.

Klein’s Real Kosher Ice Cream House.

Today, ironically, on what was once an empty lot where Edward Connolly almost froze to death in the snow in 1908, Klein’s Real Kosher Ice Cream House is winning rave reviews. The shop primarily serves the neighborhood’s Hassidic Jewish community (a sign on the door ask patrons to dress modestly).

*Except for tentative experiments made in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., New Haven, Conn., and Glen Ridge, N.J., New York was the first American municipality that made a fair test of a dog squad as a part of its police force.

Chelmsford dog kennels

Once upon a time, there was a cat and dog boarding house nestled in the thick woods near 49th Street and 10th Avenue, in what was then the town of New Utrecht, Brooklyn, in Kings County, New York. The kennels, advertised as the Chelmsford Stock Farm, were just a stone’s throw from Fort Hamilton Avenue (renamed Fort Hamilton Parkway in 1910), and only a few minutes’ walk from the “thickly settled” section of Borough Park. An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle coined the kennels a “Farm for City-Bred Cats” whose wealthy owners spend summers at the seashore.

The proprietor of the kennels was Frederick Webster, who owned a large, rhomboid-shaped, fenced-in lot along 10th Avenue from 49th to 51st streets. Webster operated the main branch of his Open Air Carpet Cleaning establishment on the site, and he also boarded horses in stables on the property. An 1890 Kings County map published by E. Robinson shows 11 dwellings on the property, including the carpet cleaning buildings and stables.

In the summer of 1899, 22 cats and 45 dogs were summering at Chelmsford Farm. They were all under the care of John Hughes, who had been a superintendent at the boarding facility for many years. One of John’s most valuable assistants was a small gray and white cat, who had wandered onto the property one day and immediately made friends with all the animals. Called Plain Bill, the feline assistant proved his worth by roaming the grounds and keeping unwanted intruders away from the cages.

Chelmsford Stock Farm cat and dogOn August 19, 1899, a reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle visited the kennels to check out some of the “fine feline specimens” who were boarding there, unbeknownst to most of the nearby residents and patrons on Fort Hamilton Ave. The reporter was quite pleasantly surprised by the “remarkably clean condition” and the impressive manners of the cats “who have been taught to behave themselves and to keep perfectly quiet.”

As the reporter described it, the dog kennels were located on one edge of the woods, and consisted of a house and a fenced-in area with a little door that allowed the dogs to go back and forth along an outdoor promenade. The cat kennels were located some distance from the dogs, and featured a large building with spacious cages for each feline boarder. The cats got exercise every morning and were allowed to sunbathe outdoors for a few hours each day.

M. Webster's Sons Open Air Carpet Cleaning

Fred Webster was quite the entrepreneur: In addition to the Chelmsford Kennels, he was president of the Open Air Carpet Cleaning Company (pictured here at Clinton and Degraw streets), and, along with his brother, Charles, he operated the Clinton Renovating Company, Good Care Storage Company, and Chelmsford Storage and Van Company.
From the Collection of P. Gavan

On the day of his visit, several cats greeted the reporter, including Barney, belonging to Miss Cochrane of 71 Hancock Street; Dewey, a maltese owned by police captain Charles H. Bedell of the Fourth Precinct; Billy, a large maltese who resided at 630 Flatbush Avenue with Mrs. William Moore; and Teddy, belonging to Samuel Redfern of 381 Weirfield Street.

St. Clair McKelway Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Isn’t it amazing that St. Clair McKelway (pictured here), editor-in-chief of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1884 to 1915, did not think it odd or dangerous to publish the names and addresses of wealthy and well-known residents on vacation?

“Send Your Valuable Dogs to Chelmsford”

In a May 1891 ad for his kennels, Frederick Webster invited people to send their “valuable dogs” to the Chelmsford Stock Farm before going to the country. The short classified ad stated the dogs would receive the best of care and be exercised every day. One such valuable dog that took advantage of the invitation was Lord Wilton, a prize-winning St. Bernard belonging to Mrs. Alexander Mackenzie Hughes of Amity Street, Brooklyn.

Lord Wilton, who in 1899 was listed as the oldest St. Bernard in the United States, was one of many of the St. Bernards exhibited by the New York St. Bernard Kennels, which were owned by New York newspaper mogul William C. Reick.

During the summer of 1895, Frederick Webster ran several ads announcing that the American Kennel Club stud was spending the summer at Chelmsford Farm.

Frederick Webster and the Knickerbocker Field Club

Fred Webster, the son of Michael and Mary Webster, was born in England on June 7, 1852, and arrived in New York in 1854. In 1879, Fred married Henrietta S. Merill, and the two resided at 359 Clinton Street in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, which was also the official address for the offices of M. Webster’s Sons (shown above).

Knickerbocker Field Club Flatbush

The 1893 clapboard clubhouse for the Knickerbocker Field Club of Flatbush was damaged by an arson fire in 1988 and razed in 1992 with the approval of the Landmark Preservation Commission due to lack of funds for restoration.

Fred was a very active member of the community, and was one of several prominent tennis enthusiasts who founded the Knickerbocker Field Club of Flatbush in the winter of 1889. The club was located just west of Tennis Court (love that street name!), between East 18th Street and the Brighton Beach Line of the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railway. It featured six outdoor courts (plus room for three more), a small structure that served as a clubhouse, and a bowling alley behind the service lines. In 1893, a two-story clubhouse was constructed, which featured an auditorium/gymnasium and library on the main floor, director’s room and billiards room upstairs, and four bowling lanes in the basement.

Knickerbocker Field Club bowling team 1905

Fred Webster was a member of the Knickerbocker Field Club inter-club bowling league. Perhaps he is one of the men shown here in this photo of the club’s 1905 bowling team (he would have been about 53 years old). Brooklyn Public Library

Although he was still advertising his kennels in 1901, by 1910 Fred was living at 101 Hillside Avenue in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Sometime between then and 1920 he passed away: The 1920 census lists his wife as a widow who was living with their daughter, Edna.

Today, where the Chelmsford kennels and farmland once existed, are brick apartment buildings, commercial buildings, and densely packed row houses.

The Knickerbocker Field Club (or The Knick) is still in operation on East 18th Street — unbeknownst to many neighborhood visitors, but not because of thick trees: Nowadays, the outdoor tennis courts are almost completely obscured by apartment buildings and the Brighton BMT line.

49th Street today

The Chelmsford Kennels were located at about this location, 951 49th Street, on the right.

Knickerbocker Field Club tennis courts.

An aerial view of the Knickerbocker Field Club tennis courts in Flatbush (bottom left).