Archive for October, 2015

George Techow trained cats

Herr George Techow’s trained felines could walk on their front feet, jump through hoops of fire, jump over each other on a tightrope, and perform other acts that astonished vaudeville audiences in the late 1890s and early 1900s. In later years, George’s daughter, Alice, took over the act.

“His collection of tabbies is the only show made up entirely of feline soubrettes that was ever organized in the world. Everything they do is performed with the upmost grace. They are as clever as any trick dogs or monkeys and much more entertaining to watch.” – Los Angeles Herald, September 6, 1896

A Vagrant Catch is the Easiest to Teach

In the winter of 1895, about 18 trained cats dubbed “the latest sensation in European music halls” by the Philadelphia Times in October of that year made their New York City debut at Oscar Hammerstein’s Olympia Theatre Music Hall on Broadway.

Under the care of trainer Herr Professor George Techow of Hamburg, Germany, these performing felines could walk on their front feet, jump through hoops of fire, jump over each other on a tightrope, and perform other acts that astonished vaudeville audiences.

Herr George Techow's performing cats

Herr George Techow’s performing cats in March 1901 (San Francisco Call). Muller is all the way at the right, wearing his hat and Judy collar.

Herr Techow had been working as an animal trainer at Hagenbach, Germany, when it occurred him that the first person to successfully train cats to perform would be a big hit. He also realized it would take an immense amount of time and patience, but he was determined to give it a try.

Angora and Persian cats were all the rage at this time, so Techow got 10 of the prettiest Angoras he could find. He tried, for over a year, to teach them a few simple tricks, without success. As Techow often told the press – and as was later recalled in the book Concerning Cats: My Own and Some Others — the Angora cats had been bred simply for their good looks. They were lazy, he said, and as a result of inbreeding and generations living with rich folk, they had become “stupid and inert.”

Herr Techow trained cats

“I cannot teach a kitten. I take them from a year to two or three years old, and train them three years longer before it is safe to put them on the stage with confidence in their performing the tricks they may have mastered.” — Herr Techow

“Only one of the 10 showed any intelligence,” Herr Techow said. “I realized I’d have to use cats from the streets, ownerless felines.” He explained that he “picked street cats that had a bad reputation in the quarter where they prowled, cats that were adept at stealing food from kitchens and butcher shops, for I knew these were unusually intelligent.

“A vagrant cat is the easiest to teach, the quickest to learn,” Techow explained. “Just as a street gamin gets his wits sharpened by his vagrant life, the stray, half-starved cat, forced to defend himself from foes and to snatch his living where he can, has his perceptive faculties quickened and his brain-cells enlarged.”

Herr Techow was always quick to point out that he never whipped his cats (although he sometimes tapped a whip on the ground as a signal), because fear and punishment do not work with cats. They simply do not understand the purpose of punishment, and, as he told the press, a cat never forgets a blow, nor licks the boot that has kicked him. Although the cats would often misbehave as cats are wan to do, once they got on stage they were all business.

“It can take years to train a cat,” Techow told The New York Times in 1903. “I can train 12 dogs to perform a number of tricks in the same time it takes to train one cat to perform the simplest act.”

According to Helen Maria Winslow, author of the aforementioned book, the cats were quite fond of their trainer, and would welcome him into a room with purrs and meows. Each cat had a little wire cage for traveling filled with a layer of hay and sawdust, and when Techow opened the cages, the cats would scramble all over him. (At home they slept in an enormous wicker basket with eight compartments. While on stage, the cats occupied little compartments or tables while awaiting their turn to perform.)

Techow's Cats

“They are exceedingly well trained little beasts, even if not particularly intelligent, and they do with moderately well-concealed reluctance many things that are wonderful in that they are directly opposed to all feline methods and principles.” The New York Times, May 19, 1896

Herr Techow’s Trained Cats Wow New York City Audiences

Following their European tour, including some performances at the Empire Theatre and London Pavilion in London, Herr Techow’s trained cats came to America to wow audiences in cities like Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York. The cat’s first tour took place in 1895, but according to news reports, it looks like they came back a few times in 1902 and 1905.

As the Morning Telegraph reported on April 6, 1905:

It is usually considered that the cat, while a useful as well as ornamental feature in domestic life, is rather difficult to train, but George Techow has succeeded in bringing fifteen or twenty of these midnight prowlers to a point where they are really cultured animals and capable of furnishing no end of amusement. To be sure, many of the feats partake of the usual stunts on the back fence, but they are quite cultivated in spite of that and show the care taken in their education.

Herr Techow's cats

Before coming to America, Herr Techow’s cats amazed audiences in London and other European cities.

In October 1895, the performing cats took the stage for the first time in New York City at Oscar Hammerstein’s Olympia Theatre Music Hall on Broadway. One of the stars of the show was Muller, the clown cat, who always brought down the house with his antics. Muller wore a hat and a “Judy collar,” and would run circles around his feline co-stars in the way a circus clown would run around the elephants to get a few laughs.

Other stars of the show included Fuchs, a ginger cat from Switzerland who could box with his master or turn a spinning wheel (when he had enough of spinning the wheel, he’d scratch Herr Techow as if so say, “I’ve had enough.”) Peter and Paul from Saxony performed on a trapeze, and other cats like Angot, a white cat from Paris, Bossy, Max (angry but clever) Mietze, and Muller’s son, took part in other various stunts.

Herr Techow's trained cats

Several cats were trained to walk across a tightrope, which they did easily by using their tails like balancing poles. Herr Techow said he tried to teach some cats to do somersaults, but that just made them go crazy.

Cat on a Cool Roof at the Olympia Theatre

In the summer of 1886, Herr Techow’s cats were invited to perform at Oscar Hammerstein’s Olympia Theatre roof garden. At 44th and Broadway, the Olympia Theatre took up an entire city block and was covered with a 65-foot high frosted-glass roof. The roof garden was lit with 3,000 electric lights (this illumination initiated a trend that would transform the emerging theater district into the Great White Way), and water pumped from a refrigerated tank in the basement flowed through pipes in the roof to keep it cool.

Olympia Theatre

The massive, block-wide structure of Indiana limestone was designed by J. B. McElfatrick & Son. When it opened on November 25, 1895, the Olympia Theatre was only the second theater to open in what is now known as the Theater District. The first was the Empire Theatre, on the southeast corner of 40th Street and Broadway, which opened in 1893. Museum of the City of New York Collections

The cats must have been very tempted to break free from their performance and explore the roof’s rustic alpine features. The roof featured rock crags and a stream that flowed into a 40-foot-long lake. Not unlike Hammerstein’s “Dutch farm” atop his Paradise Roof Garden at 42nd Street and 7th Avenue, the roof garden at the Olympia had live swans imported from Russia, South American monkeys, a duck pond, little cabins, gardens, and a wooden bridge. There was also a promenade around the building that provided views of New Jersey and beyond Central Park.

Oscar Hammerstein's Olympia Theatre

The Olympia Theatre, also known as Hammerstein’s Olympia, was located at 1514-16 Broadway, at 44th Street. The theater complex, built for use by Oscar Hammerstein I in what was then called Longacre Square (today’s Times Square), featured two main auditoriums (Lyric and Music Hall), two small theaters (Concert Hall and Roof Garden), an Oriental café, billiards and bowling facilities. One 50-cent ticket admitted patrons to the entire entertainment complex.

Unfortunately, the giant theater complex proved a quick failure and bankrupted Oscar Hammerstein (although he quickly re-established himself at the aforementioned theater on 42nd Street). On June 29, 1898, the debt-laden Olympia was auctioned off to new owners, who remodeled the Olympia into three theaters:

The 2,800-seat Olympia Music Hall was reduced to a 1,675-seat playhouse called the New York Theatre. The Olympia’s other playhouse, the 1,700-seat Lyric, was reduced to about 900 seats and renamed the Criterion, and the roof garden was enclosed into a conventional 925-seat theater called Jardin de Paris.

The Olympia Theatre Music Hall,

The Olympia Theatre Music Hall, where Techow’s trained cats once performed, featured six tiers of box seats and five balconies. In 1899, it was reduced to a 1,675-seat playhouse called the New York Theatre.

For a brief time the New York Theatre operated as the Moulin Rouge (1912), but it reverted to the New York Theatre a year later. In 1915, a young Marcus Loew took over the New York Theatre and the roof theater, and converted them into movie cinemas. Admission prices were the lowest on Broadway – just 10 or 15 cents depending on time of day.

In 1935, the buildings were demolished to make way for a new cinema built by B.S. Moss called the Criterion, plus retail stores and a dance hall called the International Casino nightclub (historians are unclear as to whether some or all buildings in the complex were demolished and rebuilt, or the shells were gutted and remodeled). The 1,700-seat Criterion Theatre opened in September 1936 and was later leased to Loew’s for about 20 years.

The Criterion Theatre at the northeast corner of Broadway and 44th Street

The Criterion Theatre at the northeast corner of Broadway and 44th Street in 1920.

In March 1980, the Criterion Theatre was converted into five large movie screens. The theater — named the Criterion Center Stage Right in 1988 — continued to operate in the seedy Times Square district until the spring of 2000, when it was gutted to become the massive Toys R Us flagship store with 60-foot Ferris wheel we know today.

As for Herr Techow’s cats, they went on to continue performing with George’s daughter, Alice, until about 1925. More recently, the Moscow Cats Theatre made its debut in New York City — I had a chance to attend this show, and although it certainly made me laugh, I do have to wonder if the cats are being treated humanely.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the show when it came to the United States, you can check out this and other videos–or should I say videows –on You Tube.

If you ever have a chance to visit the Toys 'R Us on Broadway, think about Muller the clown cat and all the other cats that once performed where this Ferris Wheel now stands.

If you ever have a chance to visit the Toys ‘R Us on Broadway, think about Muller the clown cat and all the other cats that once performed where this Ferris Wheel now stands.

Giraffes at P.T. Barnum

In September 1853, two giraffes that had been captured in Africa for the Royal Menagerie of Cairo appeared at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. The male, Colossal, was 17 feet tall, and the female, Cleopatra, was 15½ feet tall. Barnum advertised the pair as “The Only Giraffes in America.”

When most of us hear the name P.T. Barnum, we automatically think of the circus and “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But many years before P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus made its debut in 1870 — and 40 years before he partnered with James A. Bailey – Phineas Taylor Barnum rose to fame with a very large collection of artificial and natural curiosities from around the world that he displayed at his American Museum in New York City.

P. T. Barnum's American Museum

P.T. Barnum’s American Museum occupied a large, 5-story marble building on the southeast corner of Broadway and Ann Street from 1841 to 1865.

In Part I of the American Museum story, I wrote about the history of the museum, which once stood at the southeast corner of Ann Street and Broadway. Then in Part II, I explored the fascinating history behind the land at this famous Manhattan intersection. In this final post, I write about the animals at Barnum’s museum — including the whales and the Happy Family — and the horrendous fire that took their lives in 1865.

Whale Watching on Broadway

On July 1, 1861, the New York City Board of Alderman granted permission for Phineas T. Barnum to lay a six-inch cast-iron pipe from the corner of Broadway and Ann Street, down Fulton Street, under the Washington Market, and into what was then called the North River (Hudson). The work, which was supervised by the Croton Aqueduct Department, cost Mr. Barnum $7,000.

Looking at the whale

Although the Beluga whales were originally kept in a large “pool” in the basement, P.T. Barnum later put his whales on display in a large tank on the second floor of his museum so that it would be easier for the people to observe them. The tank was about 25 feet long and six feet deep.

When it was completed, the pipe allowed Barnum to use a powerful steam engine to pump salt water – at the rate of 300 gallons per minute – into a large Beluga whale tank on the second floor of his American Museum.

Beluga whale in tank Boston Aquaria Gardens

P.T. Barnum got his idea to bring live whales to his American Museum after watching a young girl being pulled around in a clam-shell boat by a Beluga whale in a large tank at the Boston Aquarial Gardens sometime around 1860.

Barnum’s original plan was to keep his live whales in a “pool” that he and his partner, Professor Henry D. Butler, built in the basement of the large five-story marble building. The first whale to use this pool was a nine-foot Beluga from Isle Aux Coudres on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. The whale was transported to New York in a refrigerated train car and lived just nine months in captivity.

According to Professor Butler, who spoke to The New York Times in 1897 about his whaling adventures, Barnum later moved the whales to the second floor, where he installed a large 25-foot tank that he had purchased from the Boston Aquarial Gardens. All total, the American Museum spent $17,000 in 1861 in attempt to exhibit a living whale.

The Museum having expended altogether a sum not much less than $17,000 in the whaling business, this is probably the last attempt that will be made to exhibit a living whale in connection with the other expensive attractions of the Museum for only twenty-five cents. With these remarks, I leave this monster leviathan to do his own “spouting,” not doubting that the public will embrace the earliest moment (before it is forever too late) to witness the most novel and extraordinary exhibition ever offered them in this City. — P.T. Barnum, November 1861

Between 1861 and 1865, at least nine known whales were placed into captivity and put on display at the American Museum. The last two whales arrived on June 26, 1865, as was announced in The New York Times.

The Aquaria

In addition to whales, Barnum’s American Museum featured a second-floor Aquaria with about 40 large tanks made of marble, glass, and iron that contained turtles, eels, alligators, crocodiles, snakes, and an “educated seal” named Ned (Ned lived in an small tank on a sand bank surrounded by bird cages).

The Happy Family

While traveling in Scotland sometime in the 1850s, P.T. Barnum visited an exhibition called The Happy Family, which featured about 200 birds and animals, including predators and prey, supposedly living in harmony in one cage. Barnum bought the exhibition and installed it in his American Museum. The Happy Family suggested that love really could conquer all, and was designed to demonstrate how so many different species could dwell together in peace and unity.

Considered one of the most interesting of the many curiosities exhibited at the museum, the Happy Family was located on the third floor, south side of the building, and consisted of a long wire cage, about 10 x 5 feet. Inside were dogs, cats, monkeys, anteaters, squirrels, mice and rats, parrots, chickens, ducks, turkeys, quails and pheasants, guinea pigs, rabbits, turtles, snakes, frogs, robins, pigeons, and more.

P.T. Barnum's Happy Family

The Happy Family was described in An Illustrated Catalogue and Guide Book To Barnum’s American Museum (1860) as “a miscellaneous collection of beasts and birds (upwards of sixty in number), living together harmoniously in one large cage, each of them being the mortal enemy of every other, but contentedly playing and frolicking together, without injury or discord.”

The Great Fire of 1865

Those animals and other creatures may have been happy, but they didn’t smell nicely; they doubtless lived respectable, but…to tell the truth, they frequently fought fiercely, and were badly beaten for it. However, they are gone; all burned to death, roasted whole, with stuffing au naturel, and in view of their lamentable end we may well say, “Peace to their ashes.” — The New York Times, July 14, 1865

On July 13, 1865, Thomas Floyd-Jones, the assistant foreman of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Hose Company No. 1, happened to be on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane when he saw flames shooting out from the front of the museum. Floyd-Jones later wrote about the American Museum fire in his book Backward Glances, Reminiscences of an Old New Yorker.

The fire had reportedly started in the basement engine room, which was used to produce the steam to pump fresh air into the Aquaria and propel the fans that kept the halls cool. By the time Mr. Tiffany, the treasurer, had run to the roof to open a large water tank, flames were bursting through the second floor and observed on the third floor near the stage. The water tank in which the whales were kept was reportedly broken in attempt to flood the floor and extinguish the fire.

American Museum fire

The American Museum burned to the ground on July 13, 1865. Museum of the City of New York Collections

At this time, the New York Fire Department was in the process of merging into a paid system. Although many of the volunteer firemen were disgruntled, several of the old volunteer companies stepped in to help out at the fire, including a few companies from the Brooklyn Volunteer Fire Department, which responded by way of the Fulton Ferry.

Alfred Dorlon

Alfred Dorlon was known as the Great Oysterman of Fulton Market. I imagine Ned the seal considered himself very lucky to escape the fire and land in a giant fish tank filled with oysters.

The fire burned the whole front on Broadway between Ann and Fulton, including Knox’s and White’s hat stores, and destroyed all the buildings down Fulton Street, nearly reaching the New York Herald offices at Nassau Street. The fire also took the lives of all the animals in the Happy Family exhibit and all the fish and other creatures in the Aquaria, including the two new whales that had just arrived two weeks before (one whale carcass was reportedly left to rot on Broadway for several days after the conflagration).

One of the animals that was rescued from the fire was Ned, the learned seal. Ned was quite popular with the public for his ability to “play” the hand organ, and had performed for many visitors over the years, including Abraham and Mary Lincoln and their sons Robert, Todd, Willie, and Thomas (they visited in February 1860), and Joseph F. Smith, who was very impressed with Ned when he saw him in July 1863.

According to Thomas Floyd-Jones, Ned was saved by Clifford C. Pearson, a member of the Atlantic Hose Co. No 1. Pearson reportedly took the seal under his arm, placed him in a basket, and pulled him by cart to the Fulton Street Market, where he placed him in Alfred P. Dorlon’s fish trough.

Fireman's Hall, Henry Street, Brooklyn

One of the companies that responded to the American Museum fire was the Atlantic Hose Company No. 1, the oldest hose company in Brooklyn. Organized as the Atlantic Hose and Relief Company on November 27, 1835, in a vacant store at 132½ Fulton Street, the company was made up of merchants, lawyers, and other professionals. Its first headquarters was a shed on High Street, but in 1836 it moved to the old Firemen’s Hall on Poplar Street. In 1851 the company moved to the new Firemen’s Hall on Henry Street, pictured here, and later, it was stationed at 12 High Street. The company remained active until 1869, when Brooklyn’s first paid professional Fire Department went into operation and the volunteer system was disbanded.

In addition to Ned the seal, two bears also reportedly survived the fire. Samson, a grizzly bear, had been removed just before the fire began, and another large bear was reportedly lowered down from a fire escape by a chain. Some news reports tell of of a polar bear that escaped and walked down the street to the Custom House (where it then fell from a balcony and broke its neck), and of animals jumping from windows to escape the flames.

The ruins of P.T. Barnum American Museum

The remains of several animals were reportedly discovered in the ruins, including a whale and a crocodile. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Barnum’s New American Museum at 539-541 Broadway

Not easily defeated, Barnum quickly picked up the pieces and began looking for new curiosities to replace those he lost in order to fill his new museum at the old Chinese Museum building at 539-541 Broadway, between Prince and Spring streets.

As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on July 15, 1865:

“He is already in negotiation with the leaders of the Republican party, who are expected to be a welcome substitute for the Happy Family. The man who tamed that cat so that it took the rat to its embrace, is confident that he can keep the discordant leaders of the Republican ranks quiet in the same cage.”

Maybe today’s Republican Party would be open to a similar suggestion…

Barnum's New American Museum

Barnum reopened his museum in the old Chinese Rooms, formerly known as Buckley’s Opera House, home of Buckley’s Serenaders, a famous minstrel troupe in the 1850s. The museum featured a large lecture hall, pictured here.

In addition to setting up shop at a new location, Barnum was also able to quickly sell his land lease for $200,000 to James Gordon Bennett, who bought the property from Olmstead for $500,000. Out of the ashes of the old museum then arose the new marble building of The New York Herald.

In May 1895, the New York Herald building was razed to make way for a skyscraper built by Henry Osborne Havermeyer, the president of the Sugar Trust, who had reportedly purchased the property for about $900,000. Called the St. Paul building, the skyscraper stood at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street from 1899 until 1958, when it too was razed in the name of progress to make way for the Wester Electric Building, which still stands today at 222 Broadway.

The New York Herald Building around 1875.

The New York Herald Building around 1875.

St. Paul Building, New York

At 315 feet tall, the St. Paul Building was one if the tallest buildings at the time when it was completed in 1899.

Incidentally, P.T. Barnum’s New American Museum was destroyed by fire in 1868. I’ll save that for another story some other time.

Smit's Vly

Two hundred years before P.T. Barnum opened his American Museum at Broadway and Ann Street, there was a large saltwater meadow bounded by the East River and Broadway north of Wall Street called Smit’s Vly (or Fly), for “blacksmith’s valley” T. Smit had a forge in this meadow near the foot of Maagde Paegje (Maiden’s Path), where a ferry to Long Island — actually a canoe — was operated by Cornelius Dircksen. This illustration shows Smit’s Vly and the forge at the foot of Maagde Paegje. That may even be Dircksen’s canoe at the dock or on shore. Museum of the City of New York Collections

When most of us hear the name P.T. Barnum, we automatically think of the circus and “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But many years before P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus made its debut in 1870 — and 40 years before he partnered with James A. Bailey – P.T. Barnum rose to fame with a very large collection of artificial and natural curiosities from around the world that he displayed at his American Museum in New York City.

In Part I of the American Museum story, I wrote about the history of the museum, which once stood at the southeast corner of Ann Street and Broadway. In this post, I’ll explore some of the fascinating history behind the land at this famous Manhattan intersection.

The Cows on Maiden Lane

Once upon a time in New Amsterdam, in other words, around the 1630s, all of the land bounded by Broadway (Heere Wagh), the East River, Maiden Lane, and present-day Ann Street was farmland owned by Anthony Jansen van Salee, the Turk, who arrived in New Amsterdam about 1633. This part of lower Manhattan along the East River north of Wall Street was called Smit’s Vly (aka Smit’s Fly or Smith’s Valley).

Maiden Lane and Pearl Street

Cornelius Van Tienhoven’s homestead was near the intersection of present-day Front Street and Maiden Lane, pictured here in 1816 when it was the site of the Fly Market, the predecessor to the Fulton Street Market. Before it was laid out and cobbled in 1698, Maiden Lane was a footpath along a pebbled freshwater brook that ran from Nassau Street to the East River. Van Tienhoven often led his cows up Maiden Lane to the common pasturage on Broadway.

Anthony Jansen Van Salee, a troublemaker who was married to Grietse Reyniers (dubbed Manhattan’s first “lady of the night”), and whose descendants include Cornelius Vanderbilt, reportedly acquired the land in 1638 and named the farm “Wallenstein” in memory of Albert van Wallenstein, a Bohemian military leader and politician. Van Salee transferred the deed to this land the following year.

According to historical records, the next owner of record was Cornelius Van Tienhoven, a womanizer and embezzler — or so they say. Born in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 1601, Van Tienhoven came to New Amsterdam as a Dutch West Indies Company accountant in 1633. He was promoted to schout-fiscaal (secretary) with the arrival of Director Willem Kieft in 1638, and later named receiver general under Peter Stuyvesant in 1651.

Ann Street, New York

If you’ve ever walked down the narrow part of Ann Street between William and Gold streets — as I did to take this photo — you would have walked over the old Van Tienhoven farm lane. This was also the site of Ann Kilmaster’s school (31 Ann Street), which is the school Washington Irving attended in 1786. Although the city widened most of Ann Street in 1830, for some reason this section was not included in the plans.

There was at this time a narrow lane that ran north through Van Tienhoven’s farm from about today’s Fulton and Gold streets to present-day Ann Street (where there stood a great tree), and then westward to Broadway. Van Tienhoven’s Lane, as it was called, was not carefully laid out, but was merely an access lane through underbrush and woodland to the triangular pasture where City Hall now stands.

(As an aside, for a very short time around 1690, part of today’s Pine Street between Pearl Street and Broadway was called Tienhoven Street. Tienhoven Street was absorbed by King Street in 1691, which was renamed Pine Street in 1694.)

Following Van Tienhoven’s death (murder?) in November 1656 – his hat and cane were found in the North River (Hudson), but his body was never recovered — the farm was sold to glassmaker Johannes (Jan) Smedes, who owned a glassworks on Glass Makers Street (today’s South William Street.)

Fast-forward 20 years to the Bolting Act of 1676, which forbade tanners, butchers, and shoemakers to operate within the walled city limits (south of Wall Street). At that time, Coenraet Ten Eyck, a tanner and shoemaker, owned a parcel of swampy land west of Broad Street (Heere Graft) and north of Beaver Street (a former sheep pasture). He and several other tanners and shoemakers operated the tanning pits at the intersection of Broad Street and Exchange Place (Prince Graft).

Map of Shoemakers' Pasture

Shoemakers’ Pasture is #7 on this 1852 map of New York City farms. The Vandercliff Farm was east of the Shoemakers’ Pasture (#8), and Beeckman’s Pasture (#10) and the Commons (#11) were to the north. The small triangular lot south of Park Row was owned by Andrew Hopper, who had a store on this site in the late 1700s.

When the Bolting Act was passed under British control, Ten Eyck and his fellow shoemakers were forced to find another location for their tannery. Enter Jan Smedes.

At this very same time, in 1676, Governor Edmund Andros had directed all owners of vacant lots or ruinous lands to build upon or improve them under penalty of having them sold at auction. Smedes sold his farm to Coenraet Ten Eyck and three other shoemakers — John Harpendinck (aka Harpending or Herbendinck), Carsten Luersen and Jacob Abrahamson.

For 20 years, the shoemakers’ tannery, or “tan pitts,” operated on the marshy land near the southeast corner of Maiden Lane and William Street (right about where the Louise Nevelson Plaza is today). All the land including and surrounding the tannery — about 16 acres — became known as the Shoemakers’ Pasture (aka Shoemakers’ Meadow).

In 1695, Shoemaker’s Pasture was divided into lots, a majority of which were acquired by John Harpendinck. In 1720, Ann Street (Van Tienhoven’s lane), John Street (named in honor of Harpendinck), and Fulton Street were laid out through Shoemakers’ Pasture. Following Harpendinck’s death in 1724, all of his deeded land was bequeathed to the Consistory of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. The Consistory built the North Dutch Church in 1769 on the northwest side of Horse and Cart Lane (now William Street) at Fulton Street.

Old North Dutch Church

The North Dutch Church was built in 1769 on at the northwest side of Horse and Cart Lane at Fulton Street. During the Revolution, the church was used as a prison and a hospital. It was demolished in 1875 and replaced by shops. Today it is the site of apartments and a Chipolte Mexican Grill.

From about 1700 to 1770, the northwest corner of Shoemakers’ Pasture, bounded by Broadway, Nassau, Fulton and Ann streets, was occupied by the city’s first pleasure garden known as “Spring Garden.” The garden was lined with shade trees, and featured walkways and small grassy squares bordered by hedges. There was a large public house called Spring Garden House at the Ann Street corner, which was occupied by winemaker Thomas Scurlock (1739), and later by John Elkin (1760) and Henry Bicker (1770).

In March 1770, the Sons of Liberty persuaded Bicker to sell the house to them for use as their headquarters. They named it Hampden Hall, in memory of John Hampden, who had given his life in the struggle against arbitrary taxation 100 years earlier. Their first meeting here took place on March 19, 1770.

Following the Revolution, Ann Street had about 20 houses, most of them on the south side of the street. Mr. Ketchum lived at 22 Ann Street, where the Society of Peruke Makers and Hair Dressers met; St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1 occupied 2 Ann Street; Washington Irving lived at No. 40; Mrs. Ann Kilmaster’s school was at No. 13; Christ Church in Ann Street was at No. 49; and Johnathan Pearsee kept a tavern at No. 16.

Liberty Pole, New York

On May 21, 1766, the Sons of Liberty erected a Liberty Pole on the site of today’s City Hall Park in celebration of the repeal of the 1765 Stamp Act. Over the next four years, British solders chopped or burned the pole down many times, but each time the townsfolk would replace it. The final straw came on January 19, 1770, when the pole’s destruction set off a series of riots on John and William streets known as the Battle of Golden Hill. This battle, just six weeks before the Boston Massacre, was reportedly the first time blood was shed during the Revolution.

In 1803, the old Hampden Hall at the corner of Ann Street and Broadway was the town residence of Andrew Hopper. He also had a dry goods store on this block in a building at 222 Broadway that he shared with John Scoles, an engraver and bookseller. A few years later the site was occupied by Jotham Smith, who also operated a large dry goods store on this corner.

In 1825, Nos. 220 and 222 Broadway — now occupied by the stores of John Vreeland and others — was sold at auction by the estate of Andrew Hopper. The land was purchased by Francis W. Olmstead, who constructed a large, 5-story marble building on the site. John Scudder opened the American Museum in this building in 1830. P.T. Barnum entered the picture in December 1841.

And so we’ve come full circle. In Part III, I’ll tell you about the animals at Barnum’s museum and the horrendous fire that took their lives.

Broadway and Ann Street

Broadway, looking north from Ann Street, was very serene in 1819 when this illustration was drawn. St. Paul’s Church is to the left, and 220-222 Broadway, a dry goods store, would have been just to the right. Museum of the City of New York Collections