Archive for the ‘Horse Tales’ Category

In my last post, I introduced you to Morgan L. Phillips, an old circus man who lived in a tent at 40 Cherry Street in New York City with his wife, their grandson, a horse, and some dogs. In this post, I’ll tell you the beginning and the end of Morgan’s story, and explore the history of 40 Cherry Street.

CherryStreet1891_HatchingCatNYCMorgan and Clarissa S. Phillips lived at 40 Cherry Street — the white  rectangular lot south of Roosevelt Street in this 1891 atlas of Manhattan. Just to the left is the massive Gotham Court Tenement, constructed in 1850. The long, narrow alleyways West Gotham Place and East Gotham Place are on either side.

The Beginning of the End

On August 22, 1892, a young man was found lying in the street at the corner of Market Street and East Broadway. According to news reports, he was taken to Gouverneur Hospital, where, just before he died, he said his name was Albert and that he lived at 30 Monroe Street. Shortly thereafter, an unidentified elderly man called at the hospital and said the young man was his son, Albert Phillips.

This elderly man was no doubt Morgan L. Phillips.

On Wednesday, June 7, 1893, less than a year after their son’s death,  Morgan and Clarissa moved their small red-striped canvas tent from the vacant lot at 30 Monroe Street to the fenced-in lot at 40 Cherry Street.

MonroeStreet1891_HatchingCatNYCThe Phillips were living in a tent in a vacant lot at 30 Monroe Street (the white lot just above the bend in Hamilton Street) when Albert died in August 1892. Today, this square block between Cherry, Market, Catherine, and Monroe streets is the site of the Knickerbocker Village housing development, erected in 1933-34.

According to an article in the New York Herald on June 12, 1893, the family had been living rent-free at 30 Monroe Street for quite a few years when they were forced to find a new home. Apparently, one of the heirs of the estate passed away, and the surviving property owners wanted to erect a four-story tenement on the small lot.

Although they reportedly had several grown children who begged them to find a real home, Morgan and Clarissa moved to 40 Cherry Street, where their tent served as a parlor and dining room, and an old Tally-Ho stagecoach served as their bedroom. Two “large, fierce dogs” and a big bay horse shared the lot with the couple and their grandson (possibly one of Albert’s two sons).

MonroeStreet2_HatchingCatNYC.jpgIn 1934, when this photograph  was taken, 30 Monroe Street was once again an empty lot, so to speak; the four-story tenement built in 1893 had already been demolished to make way for the new Knickerbocker Village under construction. NYPL Digital Collections

The Passing of Clarissa

In the fall of 1893, 76-year-old Clarissa visited a daughter who lived in Seneca Falls, New York. Shortly after returning to New York City in January, she developed pneumonia. Since she was not fit to sleep outdoors, the couple rented two squalid back rooms on the third floor of a four-story pre-Old Law tenement building at 33 Cherry Street.

On February 13, 1894, Morgan Phillips said goodbye to his wife of over 40 years. Heartbroken and confused, Morgan failed to call for an undertaker. Neighbors who had heard Clarissa groaning, and who had seen Morgan kneeling next to her motionless body in the bedroom through a common hallway window, thought he had killed her and called for the police.

33CherryStreet_HatchingCatNYC.jpgClarissa Phillips died at 33 Cherry Street, seen from the back in this photo taken from Water Street in 1936 (farthest windows on right). When the block was demolished as part of a slum clearance project, it was discovered that No. 29-29½, the squat, 2-story building in the shadows, was an old Dutch-style townhouse that once housed the officers of George Washington’s staff. Efforts to save “the oldest house left in Manhattan” were unsuccessful.  NYPL Digital Collections

When Policeman O’Connor, Roundsman Wilbur, and Officer Bowen of the Oak Street police station arrived at the apartment, they had to force open the door. Morgan told them he did not answer the door because he was frightened and thought he might be harmed. He explained what had happened to his wife and then told them the story of his life.

On February 14, Morgan got a burial permit from the Board of Health. Many neighbors attended her funeral services the next day.

When Policeman O’Connor came to check on Morgan’s welfare after the funeral – to make sure that he hadn’t froze to death – Morgan was wrapped in blankets and surrounded by straw. He said he could not bear going back to the apartment where his wife had died. Policeman O’Connor said there was no law against sleeping in the open air, so he let him be.

Officer Alonzo S. Evans of the SPCA also came out to check on him and found that the horse and dogs were fine. Officer Evans reported that the tent afforded good protection from the weather for both man and beast, although the roof leaked a little.

The Final Straw on Cherry Street


For weeks after Clarissa’s death, the young hoodlums of Cherry Street tormented Morgan by throwing stones at his property and tearing up his tent. On March 4, 1894, they hung an effigy made of straw-stuffed corduroy pants, coat, and hat from a telegraph pole on the lot. Morgan discovered the effigy upon returning home from a visit with his daughter-in-law, who was living at 6 Clarkson Street.

On March 7, 1894, three days after the Cherry Hill boys hung an effigy from a telepgraph pole on his lot, Morgan Phillips died at Bellvue Hospital at the age of 76 (give or take a year). The New York press said he died from pneumonia. We all know that he died of a broken heart.

A Brief History of 40 Cherry Street

This concludes the story of Morgan L. Phillips. (I regret that I do not know what became of the grandson, the horse, or the dogs.) If you like to explore New York City history, you may enjoy the following about Cherry Street.

In my last post, I wrote about Donald Burns, an animal dealer who lived and sold wild animals on Roosevelt Street in New York City’s deep Lower East Side. While doing research for this story, I came across an article in The New York Times about Morgan L. Phillips, the Gypsy of Cherry Street.

According to the article, Morgan Phillips was an old circus man who lived in a canvas tent in an empty lot at 40 Cherry Street, just south of Roosevelt Street. For over a year, he had been living there with his wife, their grandson, a horse, and some dogs. Given the interesting history of 40 Cherry Street (and the street in general), I couldn’t resist learning more about this man and telling his story.

Although he has short hair and looks well dressed in this illustration, according to an article in The New York Herald on March 5, 1894, Morgan L. Phillips was clean shaven with a grey goatee. His clothes were rough and shabby and covered with patches, and his hair was long and badly tangled.

In June 1893, Morgan L. Phillips and his wife, Clarissa, pitched a tent in an empty lot at 40 Cherry Street, adjacent to the large Gotham Court tenement complex. Here they lived for about eight months with their grandson, a horse, and a few dogs. On February 14, 1894, Morgan Phillips told his life story to a newspaper reporter and Policeman O’Connor of the Fourth Precinct police station on Oak Street.

Oak Street station house of the 4th Police Precinct

In 1870, the Fourth Precinct station house, which was one of the oldest in New York City, was replaced by a new station house at 9–11 Oak Street, near Roosevelt Street. The complex included a four-story main building and two-story rear building for housing prisoners and vagrants. The station house, seen standing alone around 1949, was among the last structures to be demolished when the neighborhood was demolished to make way for the Governor Alfred E. Smith Houses. (Museum of the City of New York Collections)

Captain Morgan L. Phillips and the Erie Canal

Born in New York City around 1817, Morgan L. Phillips reportedly spent much of his young adulthood on the road. During the 1840s, he owned a fleet of Erie Canal packet boats and was captain of the Jesse Hawley. He was very successful in this business before the railroads took over, carrying as many as 100 passengers between Buffalo and Albany on a regular basis and charging $7 per trip.

“I could have been mayor of Buffalo if I’d wanted,” Morgan told a reporter for the New York World in June 1893.



I cannot confirm that Morgan Phillips was captain of a packet boat called the Jesse Hawley, but Hawley, a flour merchant from Canandaigua, New York, was the first to propose the construction of a canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The Erie Canal, running 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo, opened in 1825. Hawley died in 1842, so it’s very possible that a canal boat was named in his honor. And it’s just as probable that Morgan Phillips was the captain of this boat.


After the railroads were completed, Morgan invested his earnings in a traveling circus, which is how he met his Canadian wife, Clarissa (a circus equestrian rider), and adapted to living in tents. During this time – the late 1840s and early 1850s—his brother supposedly made a fortune as a 49er in the California Gold Rush.

In 1852, give or take a year, Morgan settled back down in New York City and resumed working with horses. According to an article in the New York Herald in March 1894, Morgan once owned the New York Bazaar, a stable at 40 New Bowery (present-day St. James Place), from which he operated a livery business.


In the 1850s, Morgan Phillips reportedly owned a stable at 40 New Bowery called the New York Bazaar. The stable was replaced by the Howard Mission and Home for Little Wanderers in 1867 (the cornerstone was laid on May 15, 1867). The mission, a successor to the Fourth Ward Mission, cared for destitute children by providing clothing, food, and lessons in reading and singing. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)

According to the 1855 Census, Morgan and Clarissa lived in an apartment on or near Canal Street with their one-year-old son, Albert. Morgan’s occupation was listed as “coachman.” Then in 1857, according to a news article about a hack driver who had assaulted Morgan Phillips, the family was living at 116 Mercer Street.

M.L. Phillips and the New York Olympic Circus


In the 1860s, Morgan L. Phillips was manager of Tom King’s Olympic Circus. According to advertisements in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in October 1863 and August 1867, the circus had afternoon and evening performances at the “Old Circus Lot” in Macomber Square at the corner of Fulton Avenue and DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn. Equestrian acts, clowns, gymnasts, and a performing dog named Jeff were some of the highlights of the Olympic Circus.


In the 1850s and 1860s, Macomber Square, at the junction of Fulton Street and DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, was the site of a circus lot and pavilion, where circus men like Dan Rice, Tom King, and Morgan Phillips would pitch their tents for a week or two as they made their way across America with their traveling circuses. Pictured here is John Vandergaw’s wagon and carriage business (22 DeKalb Avenue), on land that is now occupied by the old Dime Savings Bank, and the old Fleet Street Methodist Church, constructed in 1852-53.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Morgan returned to the livery business. According to the 1880 Census, he and his wife lived at 90 Doyers Street with their son Albert, his wife, Emma, and their two young sons, Albert and Freddy. Morgan listed his occupation as a “stableman” and Albert as “hack driver” (he probably worked for his father’s livery business). Morgan stored his old circus paraphernalia on the property and entertained the neighbors – who called him Buffalo Jack — with his two trick horses.


At some point during the 1880s, Morgan and Clarissa moved into an apartment at 11 Doyers Street in New York’s Chinatown, pictured here at the bend in the road (the Mandarin Garden). The lower two floors of this building are still standing and are today occupied by a hair salon and the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the oldest dim sum parlor in New York City. The top two floors were demolished following a deadly fire that killed seven people at 11-17 Doyer Street in 1939.

The Gypsy of Cherry Street

In June 1893, Morgan Phillips got permission from former New York City Mayor Smith Ely (1887-1888) to occupy the fenced-in lot at 40 Cherry Street. (Smith Ely had purchased the lot in 1890.) There, he set up a half tent/half shanty with a separate stall for his horse and dogs. All around him were brick tenement buildings, like the massive Gotham Court.

Morgan’s neighbors included everyone who lived on Cherry Hill in the Gotham Court tenement complex. This “model tenement” developed in 1850 by Quaker philanthropist Silas Wood comprised two rows of six, five-story tenements standing back to back and extending 234 feet back from Cherry Street. This photo of Gotham Court at 38 Cherry Street was taken by Richard Hoe Lawrence around 1885. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)

According to neighbors, every night around midnight Morgan would harness his horse to an old hack cab and drive to Union Square, where he worked as a cab man. He’d return in early morning and retire to the tent with his horse until noon. In the afternoon, he’d tinker in the lot, mending pushcarts and carriages or watching over the paraphernalia that he stored for other circus men and showmen.



For many months, the neighborhood ruffians — like these pictured in Blind Man’s Alley at 26 Cherry Street in 1890 — taunted Morgan Phillips by throwing rocks at his tent and his dogs. The boys called him the Gypsy of Cherry Hill. The mothers were all afraid of him, and often accused him of kidnapping their children. Policeman O’Connor came to his rescue on several occasions, until it all came to a sudden end in the winter of 1894. 


Next: Part II, the Final Straw on Cherry Street

In Part II of this old New York tale, I’ll share the sad conclusion to this story and explore the fascinating history of 40 Cherry Street.




“It is believed there is no track in the country so popular as that of the Coney Island Jockey Club, which lies almost in hearing distance of the ever-sounding seas…The drive to the track through Prospect Park and Ocean Parkway in itself is sufficient to put any one in good humor with himself and the world passing as it goes through tree-embowered glades and along lake-fringed paths and then past country villages and low-eaved farm-houses surrounded by evidences of plentiful comfort.” — Chicago Daily News, 1894

Hindoo Race Horse, Dwyer Stables

Hindoo, a bay colt foaled in 1878, was the most noted racehorse of the American turf in the late 1800s. Owned by Phil and Mike Dwyer of Brooklyn, and stabled at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, he was inducted in the National Museum of Racing’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1955.

Once the site of a large Canarsee Indian village, Sheepshead Bay was still very much undeveloped 150 years after Europeans first settled in Gravesend in 1645. Even though the area attracted visitors during the summer months following the Civil War, Sheepshead Bay was mostly occupied by farmers, fishermen, and a few roadhouse keepers as recently as 1875. That year, in fact, only about 30 families called this large section of Brooklyn their home.

Although Sheepshead Bay was still a sleepy village in 1875, Coney Island – and in particular, Norton’s Point — was on the verge of becoming a major summer resort for New Yorkers. Recognizing the need for an equestrian race track near the Brooklyn seashore, several prominent members of the American Jockey Club decided to form a jockey club to serve this part of Brooklyn. The Coney Island Jockey Club was organized on July 4, 1878, with Leonard Walter Jerome elected president and John G. Heckscher elected secretary and treasurer. William Kissam Vanderbilt, a good friend of Jerome’s, was also a founding member of the club.

Leonard Jerome

Leonard W. Jerome, the grandfather of Winston Churchill, was a successful stock speculator known as “The King of Wall Street.” An avid sportsman, he helped build the Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx (site of the first Belmont Stakes in 1867) and was one of the founders of the Coney Island Jockey Club. Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, Jerome Avenue in Brooklyn, Jerome Park Reservoir, and the Jerome Stakes are all named after him.

The Prospect Park Fair Grounds

In its first season, as the men made plans to construct a track and clubhouse closer to the surf in Sheepshead Bay, the Coney Island Jockey Club held its races at the Prospect Park Fair Grounds in Gravesend.

The fair grounds had been established in 1868 when a group of Brooklyn businessmen acquired the old Nicholas Stillwell and Jacobus Cropsey farms. Located opposite the Hubbard House (still standing today at 2138 McDonald Avenue), the Prospect Park Fair Grounds comprised a half-mile track for saddle and harness racing, a clubhouse, and the Hotel Gravesend (aka Brettells Hotel).

Prospect Park Fair Grounds

The Prospect Park Fair Grounds were not in Prospect Park, but in Gravesend, bounded by Ocean Parkway, McDonald (Gravesend) Avenue, Kings Highway, and Avenue T.

During its heydays, some considered the Prospect Park Fair Grounds to be the finest race track in the country. But as the newer mile-long tracks rose in popularity, the half-mile track — and harness racing in general — began to lose its appeal. In 1886, the Brooklyn Jockey Club replaced the Prospect Park Fair Grounds with the much larger Gravesend Race Track in order to accommodate thoroughbred racing.

The Sheepshead Bay Race Track

On June 19, 1880, the Coney Island Jockey Club initiated its second season at its new course near Sheepshead Bay. Carved out of a thick patch of woods on 2200 acres, the Sheepshead Bay track was unique in that it had both a standard dirt track and an English-style turf (grass) track, making it the first of its kind in the United States.

Prospect Park Fair Grounds

In addition to harness racing, the Prospect Park Fair Grounds also served as a venue for a variety of other attractions such as agricultural fairs, boxing matches, medieval-style tournaments, and even a beautiful baby contest. NYPL Digital Collections

The new track was bounded by Ocean Avenue, Jerome Avenue, Avenue W, and Norstrand Avenue. It featured a large grandstand near today’s Avenue X and East 23rd Street, a betting pavilion on Avenue X, and a judge’s stand right about where the basketball courts are now, at the northwest corner of the Bill Brown Playground.

The Dwyer Brothers’ Stables

One of the most famous and successful stables at the Sheepshead Bay Race Track was owned by Philip J. Dwyer and his brother Michael F. Dwyer. The Dwyer brothers had a butcher shop on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street, but they made their fortune in the meat packing industry, supplying butcher shops, eating establishments and hotels.

Sheepshead Bay Race Track

As you can see in this 1890 map, the course of the Sheepshead Bay Race Track ran right through Avenue X and Avenue Y. The cluster of buildings to the south and east of the track are all horse stables, including Pierre Lorillard’s stables and the Dwyer Brothers’ Stables on Haring Street, just south of Avenue X.

Although they didn’t have much knowledge of horses, they took an interest in racing and entered the horse business in 1874 — when Phil was 30 and Michael was 27 — by purchasing a horse named Rhadamanthus from August Belmont. The brothers earned their claim to fame in the sport of kings when they won the 1881 Kentucky Derby with future U.S. Hall of Fame colt Hindoo (they also finished second with Runnymede the following year).

Sheepshead Bay Race Track

The Sheepshead Bay Rack track was originally surrounded by dense trees and old farms. In 1879, the Manhattan Beach Improvement Company bought 108 acres of adjacent farmland from the Voorhies and Vanderveer families to be laid out in streets for development.

Hindoo, the Hall of Fame Racehorse

One of the greatest racehorses of the 19th century was Hindoo, a bay colt bred by Daniel Swigert at Stockwell Farm in Kentucky. Foaled in 1878, Hindoo took command of the racing scene immediately upon his arrival as a two-year-old in 1880. By the time he retired in 1882, Hindoo had won 30 of 35 starts — including 18 consecutive victories during his 3-year-old season and 26 stakes races — and established a new American record for career earnings at $71,875.

In 1880, Phil and Mike Dwyer purchased Hindoo from Daniel Swigert for $15,000. They turned him over to renowned trainer and jockey James Gorden Rowe (also a Hall-of-Fame member), who, at the age of 24, became the youngest trainer to win the 1½-mile Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1881.

Dwyer Brothers

The Dwyer Brothers’ trademark red jacket with blue sash was the envy of every horseman in the country.

After just two years of hard racing, Hindoo began to wear down from the grueling campaigns. The Dwyers had no interest in the breeding aspect of racing, so they sold Hindoo to Colonel Ezekiel F. Clay and Colonel Catesby Woodford or Paris, Kentucky. In return, the Dwyers received $7,000 and a 2-year-old filly named Miss Woodford, who became America’s first $100,000 earner and eventually a member of the Hall of Fame.

Hindoo enjoyed a successful stud career at Clay and Woodford’s Runnymede Farm. He sired such winners as future Hall of Fame member Hanover, stakes winners Hindoo Rose and Jim Gore, and . Preakness winner Buddhist, among others. He lived at Runnymede until his death in 1901 at the age of 23. In 1955, he was included in the National Museum of Racing’s inaugural Hall of Fame class.

Sheepshead Bay Race Track

In addition to thoroughbred races, the Sheepshead Bay Race Track also featured steeplechases (races that include obstacle jumping) and was used for fairs and other activities like clam bakes.

The End of an Era

In 1908, the administration of New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes signed the Hart-Agnew bill, which effectively banned all racetrack betting in New York State. A 1910 amendment to the legislation added further restrictions, and by 1911, all racetracks in the state ceased operations (the ban was lifted shortly for the 1913 racing season).

Phil Dwyer

Phil Dwyer

Michael Dwyer

Michael Dwyer

The Sheepshead Bay Race Track was sold to the Sheepshead Bay Speedway Corporation, which converted the horse track to an automobile race track. Several races were held from October 1915 through September 1919, including the Astor Cup Race and the Harkness Trophy Race (named for majority stockholder Harry Harkness). The property was eventually sold in 1923 for residential real estate development.

Calbraith Perry (“Cal”) Rodgers

On September 17, 1911, inexperienced daredevil pilot Calbraith Perry (“Cal”) Rodgers took off from the Sheepshead Bay Race Track in his “Vin Fiz Flyer,” a Wright Brothers Model EX pusher biplane, in a quest to make the first transcontinental flight across the United States. Following railroad tracks and trying to avoid mountains, storms, and other hazards, he landed about 70 times, which included at least 16 crashes. Damage to the Vin Fiz was so extensive that the plane had to be rebuilt at least twice. Only a very few pieces of the original Vin Fiz made the entire trip, including a vertical rudder and a couple of wing struts.