Archive for December, 2014


Last week I went to my neighborhood United States Post Office to mail some packages to family on the west coast. As I was deciding whether to use parcel post or priority service, the clerk asked me if the boxes contained anything that was liquid, fragile, or had batteries. The clerk did not, however, ask me if they contained a live kitten.

General Post Office, City Hall, 1875

Postal clerks load mail at the new General Post Office in 1875. The new post office moved from the former Middle Dutch Reformed Church on the corner of Liberty and Nassau streets to City Hall Park in 1875. NYPL digital collection.

On Saturday, December 23, 1906, more Christmas parcels were received at the New York Post Office than ever before in the history of any post office in the country. There was so much mail, in fact, that it was overflowing onto the sidewalks and streets adjacent to the postal substations throughout the city. Hundreds of extra postal clerks were hired during the holiday rush, and many of them were put to work sorting all the packages lining the sidewalks of 44th Street, Fourth Avenue, 88th Street, and other streets.

“The Entire Country Had Gone Mad”

The biggest rush was at the general City Hall Post Office in the second division, which handled all incoming and outgoing domestic mail. In addition to half a million letters from Europe that arrived on the Kaiser Wilhelm II and La Provence, an estimated 2 million Christmas parcels had been mailed from the General Post Office in a span of only three days. More than 500,000 domestic packages had also been received from around the country for distribution in the city.

In addition to traditional Christmas gifts such as jewelry and books, just about everything that could be mailed was shipped that holiday, including live alligators, mechanical toys, and large talking dolls that were all the rage during this era. As the night superintendent noted, “The entire country had gone mad on the subject of Christmas gifts.”

The Girl From Paris Talking Doll

Large mechanical talking dolls, like this one manufactured in Connecticut, were a very popular Christmas gift in the early 1900s. This doll was billed as “the only real talking doll in existence that can say pappa and mamma perfectly” — all one had to do was push the button under her arm.

Letters to Santa Claus were also in abundance, like this one note from Mini Borman that read:

“Deer Santa Clous,
Tell me your telephone number so I can order a ortomobeel for a poor boy what ain’t got no father on our street.”

A Kitten That Cries “Papa” in Yorkville

One New Yorker who had truly gone mad that Christmas was a man named Uncle Jack. This man took the prize for pushing the parcel post envelope with his rather unique gift in 1906.

Jack apparently thought it would be OK to send his niece (or nephew) a kitten via the U.S. Post Office. (Maybe he had heard about the cat that was sent through the New York Post Office’s pneumatic tube system in 1897?)

As the story goes, a clerk at Station K, a New York postal substation located in Yorkville at 202-204 East 88th Street (Third Avenue), was startled when he saw movement in one of his sacks. He carried the sack to the sorting table and dumped out the contents. As the packages were falling onto the table, he heard a voice cry out, “Papa! Papa!”

Fifth Avenue 88th Street

When Fifth Avenue first appeared on the Commissioners’ Map of 1811, it was only a country road to Yorkville (then a self-contained village). This photograph was taken at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 88th Street 100 years later in 1911. Postal Station K, where Uncle Jack tried to mail a kitten, was just four blocks east of this location. NYPL digital collection

The clerk examined every package until he found the one that had moved. Inside, he found a live kitten packed inside a small birdcage. The kitten was wearing a pink ribbon, and attached to the ribbon was a card that said, “A Merry Christmas from Uncle Jack.”

Could this kitten have cried Papa? the clerk wondered. The mystery was solved when he found a nearby package containing a mechanical doll with blond curls – he had apparently squeezed the doll while examining the package, which caused the doll to cry out.

Keep in mind that Station K was a distributing center only for the general post office — that means that this kitten traveled by mail at least as far as from City Hall to Yorkville! Who knows where this poor kitten started her postal journey.

A Brief History of the Talking Doll in New York

Thomas Edison talking doll

Edison’s talking doll was an historic step in phonograph history, as this was the first phonograph with a prerecorded cylinder marketed for home entertainment. The doll was 22″ high and weighed 4 pounds, with a metal body, articulated wooden limbs, and an imported bisque head.

Thomas Edison envisioned a talking doll as early as 1877, but it was another inventor, William W. Jacques, who first developed a prototype based on Edison’s original tinfoil phonograph. Jacques and his partner, Lowell Briggs, founded the Edison Phonograph Toy Manufacturing Company in 1887. The company was incorporated in Maine, but had offices in Boston and in New York at 138 Fifth Avenue.

(Although Edison originally agreed to lend his name in return for royalties and stock ownership, before production began, he took over the company and demoted the founder, leading to years of ill-will and lawsuits.)

Thomas Edison Talking Doll

Top operate the doll, children had to turn the crank by hand at a steady speed. Unfortunately the delicate mechanism was too fragile for rough usage, and the steel stylus caused the wax record to wear out extremely rapidly.

The first dolls were presented on April 7, 1890, at the Edison electric exhibition at the Lenox Lyceum at 623 Madison Avenue. The ten dolls on exhibit recited phrases to nursery rhymes such as “Mary had a little lamb” and “Twinkle twinkle little star.”

Although an article in the New York Evening Post said the voices were squeaky but the words were plain, Edison was later quoted as admitting that “the voices of the little monsters were exceedingly unpleasant to hear.” Click here to listen to an actual recording from one of these historic dolls.

Edison Talking Doll

Each doll cost $10 with a simple chemise, or $20 to $25 with full dress. The dolls featured a tiny phonograph inside the body, with a small horn pointing up toward holes in the doll’s chest. The cylinders were not interchangeable and there was no spring motor, so the child had to turn the crank by hand at a steady speed in order for the doll to recite the prerecorded nursery rhyme.

Making Edison Talking Doll

Workers assemble the Edison Talking Dolls in New York City in 1890.

Despite several years of experimentation and development, the Edison Talking Doll was a dismal failure.

Although 2,500 had been shipped by Edison to the Toy Manufacturing Company in March, less than 500 completed dolls were actually sold — most of those were returned by unhappy customers. Production stopped at the beginning of May 1890 and the dolls were removed from the market.

138 Fifth Avenue, New York

The Edison Phonograph Toy Manufacturing Company operated out of a four-story brownstone in Union Square at 138 Fifth Avenue. The original house was constructed in the 1840s and first converted for commercial use in 1886. Today the modernized structure is home to several shops and a yoga studio.

Alas, I do not know what happened to the poor parcel-post kitty in this story, but it is nice to know that today, “with a few exceptions,” pets and warm-blooded animals such as cats, gerbils, hamsters, mice, and dogs can’t go in the mail. Mechanical talking dolls, however, are okay to mail, as long as you let the clerk know about the batteries.

Rex Moore Apartments

Rex Moore, a large St. Bernard, has been gracing the entrance and lobby at 2500 University Avenue in the Bronx since 1922. Photo by P. Gavan

“Rex Moore died at his post. July 30, 1919, age 7. Always a most faithful and loyal friend to his master.” – Headstone for Rex Moore, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

Ever since the apartment boom of the late 1800s, New York City architects and builders have been assigning names to apartment buildings.

According to Elizabeth Hawes, the author of “New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869-1930),” building names in Old New York added respectability to what was considered a radical new way of city living. After all, it wasn’t so bad if you didn’t have a mansion but could at least say you lived at the Eldorado or San Remo.

Many apartment names reflect their surroundings or neighborhoods, while others have been inspired by favorite places. For example, Edward Clark named his famous apartment building The Dakota because he was reportedly fond of the “well sounding names” of the new western states and territories.

The Rex Moore, 2500 University Avenue

The Rex Moore is a five-story building with 52 apartments. William Moore also built the adjoining apartment at 60 West 190th Street, Derwig Arms, in 1922. Photo, P. Gavan

And then there is the Rex Moore, a five-story brick apartment building at 2500 University Avenue in the Fordham Manor neighborhood of the Bronx.

I can’t prove it, but I have a feeling this may be the only apartment building in New York City named for a dog – or at the very least, the only apartment in New York named after a Saint Bernard.

On the outside, the Rex Moore looks like every other cookie-cutter apartment building in the neighborhood. But look closely above the entrance-way, and you’ll see a St. Bernard panel in high relief. Walk into the lobby, and there you’ll find the same sculpture of Rex watching over a decorative fireplace. I wonder if anyone who has lived here or passed by this otherwise plain building ever questioned the dog, or even knows that the building is called the Rex Moore?

Rex Moore, 2500 University Avenue

Rex Moore also stands guard over the decorative fireplace in the building’s lobby. Photo, P. Gavan

William M. Moore Takes Over University Avenue

University Avenue takes its name from the hill on which New York University’s Bronx campus was built in 1894 (today’s Bronx Community College).

From about 1886 to 1913, the northern portion of the avenue was known as Aqueduct Avenue, in honor of the Croton Aqueduct constructed between 1837 and 1842. Other stretches of the road were at times known as Ridge Road and Lind Avenue.

Once occupied by large farms, suburban villas, and a few large mansions, Fordham Manor and the neighboring University Heights rapidly developed into an urban community of low-rise apartment buildings for the middle class when the IRT Jerome Avenue line began shuttle service between 149th Street and Kingsbridge Road in 1917.

University Avenue 1914

Several mansions and villas were still standing on University Avenue when this photo was taken just north of Burnside Avenue in 1914. Museum of the City of New York Collection

One of the men responsible for developing this section of the West Bronx was William M. Moore, a millionaire real estate developer and builder who constructed numerous five- and six-story brick walkup apartments.

Numerous apartments along University Avenue from West 190th Street to Kingsbridge Avenue are William M. Moore buildings; he also built a few apartments in northern Manhattan and other sections of the Bronx.

William M. Moore was born in Baltimore in July 1872. Although no records of his early life exist in public archives, it is reported that he married Isabelle O. Gingell – who was nine years his senior – in 1895.


William M. Moore. Photo courtesy of his great-granddaughter, Pam Pearce

William and Isabelle had three children: Louise I. (Beezie) was born in 1897 in Baltimore, Elsia M. (Elsie) was born in New York in 1899, and Edna May was also born in New York in 1901.

According to the 1900 census, the family resided at 185 West 102nd Street. During this time, William was working as a “boss mason.”

Sometime around 1902, Isabelle passed away. A few years later, Bill married Martha Elizabeth Hentz.

University Avenue 1917

University Avenue was just starting to be developed when this photo was taken in 1917. New York Public Library Digital Collections

It’s not clear how William got his start in real estate, but one of his first recorded transactions was in 1909, when he purchased several vacant lots on West 139th Street in the Hamilton Heights section of Manhattan.

William constructed two six-story elevator apartments at 508-516 and 518-524 West 134th Street. He named these buildings the Marthmoore and the Billmoore. You can see the buildings on the top right corner of this 1924 map of Manhattan.

In April 1911, the William M. Moore Company sold the Billmoore to Oscar B. Thomas. In lieu of full payment, Oscar transferred to Martha Moore a large parcel of land at the northeast corner of University Avenue and 190th Street containing a three-story frame house and stable.

Soon thereafter, William and Martha moved into the home. It was from here that William earnestly began his real estate dynasty.

West 139th Street north of Amsterdam Avenue, 1905

In this 1905 photograph of West 139th Street, looking west from Amsterdam Avenue, there is a gap with vacant lots on the left where, in 1910, William Moore would construct the Billmoore and the Marthmoore. Museum of the City of New York Collections

A Brief History of University Avenue

The American history of University Avenue goes back as early as 1656, when the entire area of present-day West Bronx and Yonkers was owned by Adriaen van der Donck, one of the original Dutch patroons. Following his death, Adriaen’s widow, Mary, conveyed these lands to her brother, Elias Doughty. In 1666, Elias sold the land to Mr. John Archer, a Dutchman who had settled in the village of Westchester (today’s Westchester Square).

Adreien van der Donck

Adreien van der Donck (1615-1686)

On November 13, 1671, Governor Francis Lovelace gave John Archer a patent which made him “Lord of the Manor.” Archer borrowed money on mortgage from Cornelius Steenwyck, New York’s wealthiest merchant, and established Fordham Manor on 3,300 acres of land bounded by the Harlem and Bronx rivers, High Bridge Road (today’s Fordham Road), and Spuyten Duyvil.

A small number of Dutch families from the Harlem area crossed the shallow passage through the Harlem River and settled around this crossing in Fordham Manor (hence the name Fordham: houses near the shallow place).

Cornelius Steenwyck

Cornelius Steenwyck, 4th and 14th mayor of New York, served from 1668 to 1672 and again from 1682 to 1684. He was one of the richest men in New York of his time.

Because John Archer failed to make full payment before his death, all of the property reverted to Cornelius Steenwyck. Cornelius and his wife, Margaretta, later bequeathed all but 300 acres to the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in their joint will dated November 20, 1684. The remaining 300 acres were bequeathed to John Archer’s descendants.

In 1706, the first Reformed Dutch Church was built on the James Valentine farm just north of the intersection of today’s Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue. The old Valentine homestead, a stone building erected around 1702, served as a parsonage for the minister.

Webb Shipbuilding Academy and Home

In 1893, Webb’s Shipbuilding Academy and Home was constructed for veteran shipbuilder William Henry Webb on the former site of the first Reformed Dutch Church. Today this site is occupied by Fordham Hill Oval, a gated residential community. Museum of the City of New York Collections

The one stipulation of the Steenwyck will was that the church could not sell or dispose of the land. However, the “tenants” of Fordham did not like having the church as their landlord, and some refused to pay rent.

On November 21, 1753, the church petitioned the General Assembly to sell the land and give that money to the church minister.

The petition was granted and all the land – except one acre for the church – was sold over the next ten years to Lewis Morris, Theophilus Hunt, Oliver Delancey, Walter Briggs, John Delancey, Isaac Valentine, Isaac Varian, Jacob Dyckman, and others.

1868 West Farms, Bronx

In 1856, Moses Devoe moved into the old church parsonage near the intersection of today’s Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue (Devoe Park). The old Berrian burial ground is seen south of High Bridge Road in the bottom left corner on this 1868 map. These burial grounds were used by members of the Berrian, Valentine and Cromwell families (Oliver Cromwell was buried here in 1818).

Fast forward 100 years to 1856, when Moses Devoe, a wealthy Manhattan butcher, purchased a portion of the Valentine farm, once owned by his wife’s grandfather, Peter Valentine.

This land contained the old church parsonage, which had been enlarged in 1792. Moses improved this building and made it his home.

In 1903, about 125 lots of the Moses Devoe estate were auctioned off; 45 lots were sold to the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum while the rest were purchased by investors.

Frederick WIlliam Devoe

Frederick William Devoe was a senior member of F.W. Devoe & Co. paint and oil firm, located at Fulton and William streets in Manhattan. He and his brother Moses were descendants of Frederick Deveaux, a French Huguenot. Many of William Moore’s apartment buildings were constructed on the former Devoe estate.

The House on the Corner of West 190th Street

According to Cindy Moore, William Moore’s granddaughter, the frame house at 2508 University Avenue was quite beautiful. William kept several thoroughbred racehorses in the two-story frame stable, and he also had several dogs, including an Irish setter named Mickey Moore II, a black and tan dachshund, and Rex.

Bill Moore’s great-grandaughter, Pam Pearce, said that Rex was a much-loved dog among all the family members.

The Moores also had a cook, Rose Maxwell, and a servant, Mary McConnell. The frame house and stable, as well as the Rex Moore and Dan Moore apartment buildings, are shown on this 1923 map.

Sadly, just two years after he and Martha moved in, Martha passed away at the home on December 29, 1913.

In 1916, William married Adelaide Cary Smith, a young widow with four children. William and Adelaide also had two children: William M. was born in 1917 and Daniel B. was born in 1918. Willliam’s faithful dog, Rex, died a year later and was buried at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County.

190th Street Bronx

Known as Croton Avenue when it was opened from University to Jerome Avenue (and later as Pipe Street), the entire stretch of present-day 190th Street was renamed St. James Street in 1884 at the request of Frederick Devoe and other landowners. The name paid homage to the Protestant Episcopal church, which was built in 1864 on the northeast corner of Jerome and Croton Avenue. St. James Street is pictured here at the intersection of Kingsbridge Road in 1890. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Over the years, William Moore constructed numerous apartment buildings in the Bronx, including the Loumoore (1914) and Danmoore (1918)–named after his children–at 2512 and 2600 University Avenue; the BillZan apartments at 2725 Webb and 2719 Sedgwick Avenue (1925); 2714-2734 University Avenue; 104 West 190th (1915); 111 and 115 West 190th (now a parking lot); and several buildings on the former Ryan homestead on E. 184th Street between the Grand Concourse and Creston Avenue (1914), to name a few.

The Will Dan Court, 75 West 190th Street

Where the Moore’s frame house and stable once stood, William built the Will Dan Court at 75 West 190th Street. William also moved his offices to this building. Most of Moore’s apartments, including the Will Dan, are still providing housing for Bronx residents.

Sometime after 1926, William and Isabelle moved to 3031 Spuyten Duyvil Parkway (today’s Henry Hudson Parkway), where they lived with sons William and Daniel; Isabelle’s grown son, Richard Smith (a bricklayer); and two servants, Rose and Elizabeth Kern.

In his last few years of life, William enjoyed racing his horses, Lahor and Stretcher, at the Empire City Track (Yonkers Raceway). He died on August 3, 1934, leaving the business and his Bronx real estate legacy to his wife, sons, and sons-in-law.

The Moore Family

I recently received a note from Pam Pearce, William Moore’s great-granddaughter. Pam’s grandmother was Edna Moore — William’s third daughter with Isabelle Gingell — whom I did not know about until I received her note.

In her note, Pam wrote: “I’d love to be able to just see and even better to walk into that Rex Moore. I think that’s the one one my mother (Lucille) said they had to live in with other family members during the depression.”

Pam sent me several photos of her family, including the photo of William above, which I’d like to share here.


Edna May Moore, Pam’s grandmother


Elsie and Beezie Moore


Edna Moore and her husband Fred Erwig with their children Lucille (bow in hair), Doris, and Freddy.


Rex Moore, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

Rex Moore, the St. Bernard that stands guard on University Avenue, was buried at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. Unfortunately, no arrangements were made to maintain his grave site, and the monument was moved to the far edge of the cemetery. Photo, P. Gavan

©Copyright 2016. Peggy Gavan. All Rights Reserved.

Peter Goelet Mansion, Broadway and 19th Street, 1870s

The extraordinary spectacle of a cow, storks, guinea-pigs, and other animals, feeding quietly in the busiest and most bustling part of Broadway, was one that attracted every stranger’s curiosity, and during the fine days in Summer it was no uncommon thing to see a considerable crowd gathered in front of the house gazing through the iron railing at the unwonted sight within.” — The New York Times, November 22, 1879

This is a tale about the last of the great millionaires of Old New York, a man who not only outlived William B. Astor, A.T. Stuart, and Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, but who was once the wealthiest bachelor in New York State. It’s a true story about a man with the most expensive pasture in the world and the last cow to ever graze on Broadway.

When he died in November 1879, the New York press called Peter Goelet an eccentric millionaire and a miser who hoarded his fortune and substituted his farm animals and birds for a wife and children. But to his family and neighbors, he was Uncle Peter, a kind old man who milked his cow, collected eggs from his hens, mended his own clothes, tinkered in his basement metal shop, and refused to give up the simple farming life as the city built up all around him.

The Goelet Dynasty

Our story begins around 1676, when Francois Goelette, a Huguenot refugee, arrived in New Amsterdam with his 10-year-old son, Jacobus. Shortly after their arrival, Francois was reportedly lost at sea while returning to Holland. Jacobus was raised by Frederick Philipse, the Lord of Philipse Manor (today’s Westchester County), but retained the anglicized surname. Jacobus Goelet’s grandson Peter, one of 13 siblings, was born in 1727.

Pearl Street, 1600s New York

In the 1600s, Pearl Street was the shoreline of the east side of the island. With a boom in maritime trade, the city began a process of landfill to extend the island into the East River. By 1730, the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan reached Water Street; by 1780 it extended to Front Street. South Street was the last extension in 1800. NYPL Digital Collection

Peter Goelet was an ironmonger who used his profits from the Revolutionary War to buy real estate in Manhattan. As did the Astors, the Rhinelanders, and the Lorillards, Peter obtained much of his holdings through water grants (land under shallow water), which he purchased from corrupt city administrators.

Peter also ran a successful hardware business with Peter T. Curtenius in a little wooden building under the sign of the Golden Key at 48 Hanover Square. After their partnership dissolved, Peter moved his operations to his large residence at 113-115 Pearl Street, where he sold hardware, brushes, musical instruments, and cutlery.

On April 27, 1755, Peter married Elizabeth Ratsey, the daughter of another prominent New York merchant. Their son Peter P. (Peter #2) followed in his father’s footsteps as a merchant, selling fancy hats and bonnets at his shop at 63 Water Street.

In 1799, Peter #2 married Almy Buchanan, the daughter of Thomas Buchanan, a wealthy Scotch farmer who cultivated turnips, corn, and potatoes on 13 acres of land surrounding 45th Street and Third Avenue in what was then Manhattan’s northern wilderness. It was from this property that the Goelet family obtained much of its wealth.

Peter and Almy Goulet’s son Peter (Peter #3) arrived in January 1800.

The Tiebout Farm and Mansion

Before I tell you about Peter and his golden Jersey cow, I need to mention Cornelius Tiebout, a Dutch farmer and merchant who owned about 33 acres of land just south of the Gramercy Farm.

Laborers excavate Union Square south of 18th Street in 1832

Although Cornelius Tiebout Williams tried to prevent the opening of new streets through his property, the city seized a portion of his land in 1832 for a new public square called Union Place where Fourth Avenue met Broadway. This illustration depicts laborers excavating land just south of 18th Street (Broadway is on the right and Fourth Avenue is on the left). The Goulet mansion was located just one block north of this site.

When Cornelius Tiebout died in 1785, this property passed to his widow, Mary Magdalene Tiebout. Mary got busy right away and married Edward Williams that same year. Their son, Cornelius Tiebout Williams, eventually inherited the property.

Cornelius Tiebout and Peter Stuyvesant Farms, New York, 1830

Cornelius Tiebout’s estate, Roxborough, was bounded by the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway) and the Bowery Lane to the west, 20th Street, Third Avenue, and 14th Street (shown in dark green on this 1831 map). He purchased the land on September 20, 1748, for 250 pounds and built a farmhouse on the property near today’s 18th Street and Park Avenue.

In 1830, Cornelius Williams built a large, four-story Greek Revival mansion with a carriage house and stables on the northwest tip of his property, about three blocks north of Union Place (today’s Union Square). When he died five years later, all his heirs drew lots out of a hat. A daughter, Mrs. Julia C. Miner, drew the 96 x 168 foot lot with the mansion on 19th and Broadway. Peter Goelet paid $22,500 for the property on January 1, 1844.

The Goulet Mansion

The home at #890 Broadway was considered extremely elegant in its day. It had a peak copper roof – which Peter replaced with a flat roof — cast iron balconies along the parlor-floor windows, and a large glass-enclosed conservatory that extended into the back gardens.

Peter Goelet mansion, Broadway and 19th Street

The brick and brownstone Greek Revival mansion featured a glass-enclosed conservatory that extended into the back gardens. In cold-weather months, the conservatory housed Peter’s fine collection of peacocks, pheasants and guinea hens.

The mansion was surrounded by a grassy yard and gardens, which were under the care of Thomas Crimmins, Peter’s gardener. Peter filled the yards with exotic birds from around the world — Pheasants from India, storks from Egypt, birds of paradise, cranes, and other brilliantly plumed fowl with clipped wings would feed from his hand as New Yorkers and tourists alike gazed in astonishment through the iron fence. (It was a standing joke to tell passengers on the stages that the yard was an annex to the Central Park menagerie.) In winter, the cow and the birds would take shelter in the stone Gothic Revival carriage house.

One New Yorker who loved to watch Peter’s exotic birds was Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who lived with his family one block over at 28 East 20th Street. From their third-floor back porch, where Theodore and his siblings played, Theodore could look down over the private garden and watch Peter feed his birds and milk his cow.

1891 New York Map Goelet residence

This 1891 map shows the old Goelet mansion in an island surrounded by the large buildings of dry goods merchants.

In 1849, Peter’s sister Hannah Green Gerry lost her husband, Naval officer Theodore Russell Gerry. She and her twelve-year-old son, Elbridge, and her nine-year old daughter, Almy, moved from their home at 48 Broadway into the old house at 890 Broadway with their bachelor brother and uncle. Rural life went on as normal, save for during the Draft Riots of 1863, when Eldbridge reportedly ordered the family’s coachmen to pull all the feathers from the peacocks so as not to attract attention.

In the years that followed, particularly after the Civil War, many of the city’s dry goods and specialty merchants relocated to northern Broadway in the area of Union Square. They occupied brand-new buildings that were five and six stories tall with elaborately detailed facades, grand entrances, and large show windows to capture shoppers’ attention. Still, Peter continued to demonstrate that rural living was possible within a busy metropolis. (Some say he kept the cow and the birds in defiance to the encroachment of uptown improvements.)

890 Broadway, Goelet Mansion

The Goelet mansion at 890 Broadway was constructed of brick and brownstone. Along with the Henry Parish mansion at 17th Street and the Anson Phelps mansion at 15th Street, stood out among the row houses that were constructed on Broadway in the 1840s.

The End of an Era

“[The] once fanciful windows [of the carriage house] are shattered, its ornamented timbers are rotting and crumbling away, and the door on Nineteenth street has not swung on its hinges for a half dozen years or more.” –The Lewiston Daily Sun.

Peter Goelet died in his home on November 21, 1879. Although many of the peacocks and other birds had long disappeared, the cow and the remaining birds were allowed to live out their lives in the yard (the cow was last seen around 1886). Peter also stipulated in his will that the house should not be destroyed for as long as Hannah Gerry lived. The family did not pressure Hannah to leave and she remained on with her two servants.

29 East 19th Street

This 19th-century photo of 29 East 19th Street shows an empty lot to the left where the Goelet mansion once stood. Today this building is home to Manhattan Center for Kitchen and Bath. NYPL digital collection

Hannah passed away at the age of 89 on September 13, 1895. Her daughter, Almy Gallatin, now the wife of Frederick T. Gallatin, inherited the property. By that time, the stone carriage house had fallen into ruin, the iron fence was rusty and all the gates were held fast by rusted padlocks. The window panes in the stable where Peter once kept his horses were broken and the grass where cows and chickens once grazed was gone.

In April 1897, the Goelet mansion was demolished. A year later, in June 1898, plans were filed by Mrs. Gallatin for an eight-story brick structure on the site at 892 Broadway and 27 East 19th Street. The building’s earliest tenants included Mc Gibbon & Company, Linens and Upholstery, on the first two floors; and dealers in millinery goods, lace curtains, oriental rugs, and a corsets on the upper floors. Since 1986 it has been home to the Lawrence A. Wien Center for Dance and Theater.

890-892 Broadway

Today, 890-892 Broadway is home to the Lawrence A. Wien Center for Dance and Theater and a Loews movie theater. Photo, Peggy Gavan