Lights and Shadows of New York Life - or, the Sights and Sensations of the Great City
by James D. McCabe
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Presently we emerged into a yard with a detestable pavement of broken bricks and mud, with high, towering houses surmounting it all around, and a number of broken outhouses and privies covering a large portion of the ground surface of the yard. Turning around, we could see the back of the tenement house from whose entry we had just emerged, with its numberless and wretched windows, shutting out the sky, or the fog, which was the only thing visible above us, and a cloud of clothes-lines stretched hither and thither, like a spider's web.

"There were eight privies in the yard, and we entered them. The night soil was within a foot and a half of the seats, and the odor was terrible. From these privies a drain passed under the surface of the muddy, sloppy yard, to the margin of the building, where a descent of perhaps four feet was obtained, at the bottom of which the basement floor was level with the windows, giving a sickly light, but no air or ventilation whatever, to the inhabitants of the cellar. But the worst is yet to be told. The drain from the privies connecting with the sewer in the street had a man-hole, which was open, at the place where the yard was broken for a descent into this infernal cellar. This man-hole was about four feet wide and three feet deep, forming a small table for a cataract of night soil and other fecal matter, which poured over this artificial table in a miniature and loathsome Niagara and into a cesspool at the bottom, and from thence was conducted under the rotten boards of the cellar through a brick drain, a few inches below the board flooring, to the main sewer in the street. The bottom of the windows in this house are on a dead level with this horrid cesspool, so that a man sitting on a chair at the window would not have only the odor, but also the view of this loathsome matter circulating at his feet in the pool below. We entered the back cellar after knocking at the door a few minutes, and a man, poverty-stricken and wretched in appearance, of the laboring class, came with a candle to let us in. The room was in a filthy condition, ten by twenty-two and a half feet, with a ceiling of six feet three inches elevation from the floor. A woman, wretched and woe-begone as the man, rose suddenly from a dirty bed at the back of the room, and bade us welcome civilly enough, in her night clothing, which was scanty.

"'And are yees the Boord of Helth, sure. Well it isn't much we have to show thin, but yees can see it all without any charge at all, at all.'

"'How much rent do you pay here?' asked the writer of the man with the candle.

"'Is it rint ye mane? Nyah, its $6 a munth, shure, and glad to get it, and if we don't pay it, it's the little time we'll get from Burke, but out on the street wid us, like pigs, and the divil resave the bit of sattysfaction we'll get from him than ye would from the Lord Palmershtown, Nyah!'

"'How do you live?'

"'Shure, I put in coal now and thin, whin I can get it to put, and that's not often, God knows, alanna!'

"'How much do you earn?'

"'Is it earn d'ye say? Sometimes fifty cents a day, sometimes two dollars a week; and thin it's good times wid me.'

"The Woman of the House.—'Don't mind him, man, what he's saying. Shure he niver earns two dollars a week at all. That id be a good week faix for me. Two dollars indade!'

"'Have you any children?'

"'We have one dauther, a girl—a fine, big girl.'

"'How old is she?'

"'Well, I suppose she's twenty-two next Mikilmas.'

"Woman.—'Indade she's not, shure. She's only a slip of a gerrul, fifteen or sixteen years of age, goin' on.'

"While the parents were arguing the age of their daughter, who, it seems, worked as a servant girl in some private residence, and only slept here when out of employment, the Health Officer was testing the condition of the walls by poking his umbrella at the base under the window and directly over the cess-pool. The point of the umbrella, which was tipped with a thin sheet of brass, made ready entrance into the walls, which were so soft and damp that the point of the umbrella when drawn out left each time a deep circular mark behind, as if it had been drawn from a rotten or decomposed cheese in summer.

"'Take up a board from the floor,' said the Health Officer. The man, who informed us that his name was William McNamara, 'from Innis, in the County Clare, siventeen miles beyand Limerick,' readily complied, and taking an axe dug up a board without much trouble, as the boards were decayed, and right underneath we found the top of the brick drain, in a bad state of repair, the fecal matter oozing up with a rank stench. Every one stooped down to look at this proof of sanitary disregard, and while this entire party were on their knees, looking at the broken drain, two large rats ran across the floor, and nestling in a rather familiar manner between the legs of Mr. McNamara for an instant, frisked out of the dreary, dirty room into the luxurious cesspool.

"The physician asked, 'Are those rats?' of Mr. McNamara.

"'Rats is it? endade they were. It's nothing out of the way here to see thim. Shure some of thim are as big as cats. And why wouldn't they—they have no wurrok or nothing else to do.'"


There are now three thriving and much-needed Missions in the district, to which I have applied the general name of the Five Points. These are the Five Points Mission, the Five Points House of Industry, and the Howard Mission, or Home for Little Wanderers.

The Five Points Mission is the oldest. It is conducted by the "Ladies' Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church," and as has been stated, occupies the site of the "Old Brewery." I have already described the "Old Brewery" as it existed twenty years ago. Few decent people ever ventured near it at that time, and even the missionaries felt that they were incurring a risk in venturing into it.

A number of Christian women of position and means, who knew the locality only by reputation, determined, with a courage peculiar to their sex, to break up this den, and make it a stronghold of religion and virtue. Their plan was regarded by the public as chimerical, but they persevered in its execution, trusting in the help of Him in whose cause they were laboring. A school was opened in Park street, immediately facing the "Old Brewery," and was placed in charge of the Rev. L. M. Pease, of the Methodist Church. This school at once gathered in the ragged and dirty children of the neighborhood, and at first it seemed impossible to do anything with them. Patience and energy triumphed at last. The school became a success, and the ladies who had projected it resolved to enlarge it. In 1852 the "Old Brewery" building was purchased and pulled down, and in June, 1853, the present commodious and handsome Mission building was opened. Since then constant success has crowned the efforts of the Ladies' Society. Their property is now valued at $100,000.


The Mission is at present in charge of the Rev. James N. Shaffer. It receives a small appropriation from the State for the support of its day-school, but is mainly dependent upon voluntary contributions for its support. Food, clothing, money, in short, everything that can be useful in the establishment, are given it. Donations come to it from all parts of the country, for the Mission is widely known, and thousands of Christian people give it their assistance. The railroad and express companies forward, without charge, all packages designed for it.

Children are the chief care of the Mission. Those in charge of it believe that first impressions are the strongest and most lasting. They take young children away from the haunts of vice and crime, and clothe and care for them. They are regularly and carefully instructed in the rudiments of an English education, and are trained to serve the Lord. At a proper age they are provided with homes, or with respectable employment, and are placed in a way to become useful Christian men and women. Year after year the work goes on. Children are taken in every day, if there is room for them, and are trained in virtue and intelligence, and every year the "Home," as its inmates love to call it, sends out a band of brave, bright, useful young people into the world. But for its blessed aid they would have been so many more vagrants and criminals.

The school averages about 450 pupils. In the twenty years of the career of the Mission thousands have been educated by it. As I passed through the various class-rooms I found children of all ages. In the infant-class were little ones who were simply kept warm and amused. The amusement was instructive, as well, as they were taught to recognize various objects by the young lady in charge of them. They all bore evidences of the greatest poverty, but they were unquestionably happy and contented.

"Do you find harshness necessary?" I asked of the lady principal, who was my guide.

"No," was the reply. "We rely upon kindness. If they do not wish to stay with us, we let them go away in peace. They are mostly good children," she added, "and they really love the school."

A little curly-headed girl came up to her as she was speaking:

"What does Louisa want, now?" she asked, encouraging the child with a kind smile.

"Please, Mrs. Van Aiken," said the child, "Nelly Jackson wants another cake."

Nelly Jackson was one of the tiniest and plumpest of the infant class I had just inspected, and I had found her with a cake in hand at the time of my visit. Mrs. Van Aiken hesitated a moment, and then gave the desired permission.

"Cakes," she added, turning to me, "constitute one of our rewards of merit for the little ones. When they are very good we give them doll-babies at Christmas."

Says the Secretary in her last Report of the work of the Mission: "These children have quick perceptions and warm hearts, and they are not unworthy of the confidence placed in them by their teachers. All their happy moments come to them through the Mission School, and kind hearts and willing hands occasionally prepare for them a little festival or excursion, enjoyed with a zest unknown to more prosperous children. . . . An excursion to Central Park was arranged for them one summer afternoon. The sight of the animals, the run over the soft green grass, so grateful to eye and touch, the sail on the lake, their sweet songs keeping time with the stroke of the oar—all this was a bit of fairy land to a childhood of so few pleasures. Then the evening of the Fourth of July spent on the roof of the Mission House, enjoying the display of fireworks, and singing patriotic songs. One kind friend makes a winter evening marvellous to childish eyes by the varied scenes, historic, scriptural, poetic, of the magic lantern."

If the Mission did no more than give these little ones a warm shelter during the day, and provide for them such pleasures as cakes, doll-babies, excursions, and magic lanterns, it would still be doing a noble work, for these children are dwellers in the Five Points, a locality where pleasure is almost unknown. The Mission does more, however, it educates the children; it provides them with the clothes they wear, and gives each child a lunch at midday. It also gives clothing, bedding and food to the parents of the children where they need it. It is provided with a tasteful chapel, in which religious services are held on Sunday and during the week. The Sunday-school is large, and provides religious instruction for the attendants. A "Free Library and Reading-room" has been opened in the basement, for the use of all who will avail themselves of it. It is open every night, and it is well patronized by the adult population of the vicinity. The homeless and friendless, who are simply unfortunate, are sheltered, as far as the accommodations will permit, and are provided with homes and employment. The work of the Mission, apart from its schools, for the year ending May 1st, 1871, is thus summed up by the Secretary: "The following statistics do not include coal nor medicine, which are very considerable items: 5197 pieces of clothing, including pairs of shoes and bed-quilts, have been distributed from the wardrobes, and 1293 through the office, making a total of 6490; 122,113 rations of food have been given to the needy; 4 infants have been adopted; 66 children have been provided with homes; and 119 adults have been sent to places of employment."

The Treasurer states that during the same period $3004 were given away in "direct charities."

The Five Points House of Industry is situated on Worth street, diagonally opposite the Home Mission. It consists of two large brick edifices, covering an area about 100 feet square. This Mission was begun by the Rev. L. M. Pease, the same gentleman who was in charge of the Home Mission at the time of the purchase of the "Old Brewery." He conceived a different plan for the management of the Home Mission from that determined upon by the ladies, and finding cooperation impossible, resigned his position, and began his labors afresh, according to his own plan, and trusting entirely to the generosity of the public for his support. He was ably assisted by his good wife in carrying out his plan. He began with one room, and in 1853 was able to hire five houses, which he filled with the occupants of the wretched hovels in the vicinity. He procured work for them, such as needle-work, basket-making, baking, straw-work, shoe-making, etc. He made himself personally responsible to the persons giving the work for its safe return. The expenses of the Mission were then, as now, paid from the profits of this work, and the donations of persons interested in the scheme. Five hundred persons were thus supported. Schools were opened, children were taught, clothed and fed, and religious services were regularly conducted.

In 1854, the health of Mr. Pease began to fail under his herculean labors. He had carried his enterprise to a successful issue, however. He had done good to thousands, and had won friends for the institution, who were resolved, and possessed of the means, to carry it on. A Society was incorporated for the conduct of the Mission, and, in 1856, the larger of the present buildings was erected. In 1869, the edifice was increased to its present size. Heavy donations were made to the institution by Mr. Sickles, who gave $20,000, and Mr. Chauncy Rose, who gave $10,000, and it was constantly in receipt of smaller sums, which made up an aggregate sufficient to provide for its wants. Its progress has been onward and upward, and it is a noble monument to the energy and Christian charity of Mr. Pease, its founder.

The main work of the Mission is with the children, but it also looks after the adults of the wretched quarter in which it is located. There are about two hundred children residing in the building. These have been taken from the cellars and garrets of the Five Points. Two hundred more, children of the very poor, are in attendance upon the schools. All are clothed and fed here. Besides being educated, they are taught useful trades. The House is supported partly by voluntary contributions and partly by the labor of its inmates.

Besides the children, there are always about forty destitute women, who would otherwise be homeless, residing in the building. The annual number thus sheltered is about six hundred. They are provided with situations as servants as rapidly as possible. Since its opening, sixteen years ago, the House has sheltered and provided for 20,000 persons. The number of lodgings furnished yearly is about 90,000, and the daily number of meals averages 1000. Since 1856, 4,135,218 meals have been given to the poor. No one is ever turned away hungry, and sometimes as many as 150 persons, men and women, driven to the doors of the House by hunger, may be seen seated at its table at the dinner hour.

The Howard Mission and Home for Little Wanderers is situated in the heart of the Fourth Ward, in one of the most wretched quarters of the city. Here the inhabitants are packed into their dirty dwellings at the rate of 290,000 persons to the square mile. The dirt and the wretchedness of this part of the city are terrible to behold, the sufferings of the people are very great, and the mortality is heavy. Sailors' lodging houses of the lowest character, dance houses, rum shops, and thieves' cribs are numerous, and the moral condition of the Ward is worse than the sanitary.

In May, 1861, the Rev. W. C. Van Meter organized a Mission in the very heart of this locality, to which he gave the name of the Howard Mission and Home for Little Wanderers. For three years it was maintained by his individual exertions, but, in 1864, Mr. Van Meter having secured for it wealthy and powerful friends, it was regularly incorporated, and placed under the control of a Board of Managers, Mr. Van Meter still continuing to act as Superintendent. Since then, comfortable and tasteful brick buildings have been erected for the Mission, and it is succeeding now beyond the first hopes of its founder. Our engraving shows the New Bowery front as it will appear when completed.

The Mission is located in the New Bowery, just below its junction with Chatham Square. It extends back to Roosevelt street, upon which thoroughfare there is an entrance. The erection of the buildings on the New Bowery will about double the size of the Mission, and proportionately increase its capacity for doing good. It is entirely dependent upon voluntary contributions for its support.


"Our object," says Mr. Van Meter, "is to do all the good we can to the souls and bodies of all whom we can reach." It may be added, that the prime object of the Mission is to care for neglected and abused children, whether orphans or not, and also for the children of honest and struggling poverty. It further undertakes to aid and comfort the sick, to furnish food, shelter, and clothing to the destitute, to procure work for the unemployed, and to impart intellectual, moral, and religious instruction to all who are willing to receive it.

"Our field," says Mr. Van Meter, "is the very concentration of all evil and the headquarters of the most desperate and degraded representatives of many nations. It swarms with poor little helpless victims, who are born in sin and shame, nursed in misery, want, and woe, and carefully trained to all manner of degradation, vice, and crime. The packing of these poor creatures is incredible. In this ward there are less than two dwelling houses for each low rum hole, gambling house, and den of infamy. Near us, on a small lot, but 150 by 240 feet, are twenty tenant houses, 111 families, 5 stables, a soap and candle factory, and a tan yard. On four blocks, close to the Mission, are 517 children, 318 Roman Catholic and 10 Protestant families, 35 rum holes, and 18 brothels. In No. 14 Baxter street, but three or four blocks from us, are 92 families, consisting of 92 men, 81 women, 54 boys and 53 girls. Of these, 151 are Italians, 92 Irish, 28 Chinese, 3 English, 2 Africans, 2 Jews, 1 German, and but 7 Americans.

"Our work," he says, "is chiefly with the children. These are divided into three classes, consisting of, I. Those placed under our care to be sent to homes and situations. II. Those whom we are not authorized to send to homes, but who need a temporary shelter until their friends can provide for them or surrender them to us. These two classes remain day and night in the Mission. III. Those who have homes or places in which to sleep. These enjoy the benefits of the wardrobe, dining and school rooms, but do not sleep in the Mission.

"Food, fuel and clothing are given to the poor, after a careful inspection of their condition. Mothers leave their small children in the day nursery during the day while they go out to work. The sick are visited, assisted, and comforted. Work is sought for the unemployed. We help the poor to help themselves.

"The children over whom we can get legal control are placed in carefully selected Christian families, chiefly in the country, either for adoption or as members of the families. . . They receive a good common school education, or are trained to some useful business, trade, or profession, and are thus fitted for the great duties of mature life. We know that our work prevents crime; keeps hundreds of children out of the streets, keeps boys out of bar-rooms, gambling houses, and prisons, and girls out of concert saloons, dance houses, and other avenues that lead down to death; and that it makes hundreds of cellar and attic homes more cleanly, more healthy, and more happy, and less wretched, wicked, and hopeless. We never turn a homeless child from our door. From past experience we are warranted in saying that one dollar a week will keep a well filled plate on our table for any little wanderer, and secure to it all the benefits of the Mission. Ten dollars will pay the average cost of placing a child in a good home."

During the ten years of its existence, the Mission has received more than 10,000 children into its day and Sunday schools. Hundreds of these have been provided with good homes. Thousands of poor women have left their little ones here while they were at their daily work, knowing that their babies are cared for with kindness and intelligence. The famous nurseries of Paris exact a fee of four cents, American money, per head for taking care of the children during the day, but at the Little Wanderers' Home, this service is rendered to the mother and child without charge.

Yet in spite of the great work which the Missions are carrying on, the wretchedness, the suffering, the vice and the crime of the Five Points are appalling. All these establishments need all the assistance and encouragement that can possibly be given them. More workers are needed, and more means to sustain them. "The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few."


The city is very proud of its military organization, and both the Municipal and State Governments contribute liberally to its support. This organization consists of the First Division of the National Guard of the State of New York. The law creating this division was passed in 1862, when the old volunteer system was entirely reorganized. Previous to this, the volunteers had borne their entire expenses, and had controlled their affairs in their own way. By the new law important changes were introduced.

The division consists of four brigades, and numbers about 13,000 men. The regiments comprising it are as follows: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Twenty-second, Thirty-seventh, Fifty-fifth, Sixty-ninth, Seventy-first, Seventy-ninth, Ninety-sixth, Washington Grays (cavalry), First Cavalry, Second Cavalry, and First Artillery. The United States provides the arms and uniforms when required. These, when furnished by the General Government, are such as are prescribed by law for the Regular Army. The best regiments, however, prefer a handsomer dress, and provide their own uniforms. The city makes an appropriation of $500 per annum for each regiment, for an armory. The other expenses, such as parades, music, etc., are borne by the regiment itself. Each regiment has its armory, in which are deposited its arms and valuable property. An armorer is in charge of the building, and it is his duty to keep the guns in good order. A reading-room and library are attached to some of the armories, and are used as places of social reunion for the members of the command. Drills are held at stated times, and a rigid discipline is maintained. The men, as a general rule, are proud of their organizations, and are enthusiastic in military matters. They are all well drilled, and will compare favorably with any troops in the world, in both appearance and efficiency. Nearly all saw service during the late war, and there is not a regiment but treasures some smoke-begrimed, bullet-rent flag, as its most precious possession. Out of the 13,000 men comprising the force, 9000 were in the field in active service, at one time during the war, and the division gave the country 3780 officers for the struggle. The total force furnished by the city of New York during the war was 100,000 men. Of these 9000 were killed or wounded, and 37,000 were officers at some period of the war.

The most popular and efficient regiments are the Seventh, Ninth, and Twenty-second. The Seventh and Ninth are the best known. The latter has the finest band in the city, and one of the best in the world.

The parade of the entire division is a sight worth seeing, and always brings a crowd upon the streets. Every available place for viewing the march is eagerly sought. The shop-keepers along the route of the procession find it an easy matter to rent their windows and balconies at large prices. Even the housetops are filled with spectators, and the sidewalks are "jammed."

Each regiment as it passes is greeted with greater or less applause, according to its popularity. The day is a sort of holiday in the city, and the parade is one of the sights of the New World, for New York is the only city in the country which can put so large and splendid a force of troops in the field in a mere parade.

But the First Division is not a holiday force, and parades and receptions are not the only occasions which bring it upon the streets. The city of New York contains a population hard to manage, and which can be controlled only by a strong, firm hand. The police force, about 2000 in number, is utterly inadequate to the repression of an uprising of the criminal class of the city, and the scoundrels know it. The police have never been lacking in emergencies, but their task is wonderfully lightened by the knowledge that behind them stand 13,000 disciplined and well-equipped troops to support them if the task of enforcing the law proves too great for them. The roughs of New York know that they are no match for such an army as this, and they are influenced greatly by this knowledge. The respectable class, the men of property, and the heads of families find no little comfort in this certainty of protection. They know they can trust to the troops, for the members of the National Guard represent the best part of the population of New York, and are to a man directly interested in preserving the peace and prosperity of the city.

The troops are always ready for duty. They are scattered all over the city, pursuing various useful callings, but at a certain signal sounded from the City Hall bell, they will rally at their armories, and in an hour there will be a strong body of trained troops ready to enforce the law in any emergency. No one can doubt that the summons will be obeyed, for the past history of the division proves that even the men who are careless about attending parades, etc., are very careful to be at their posts in the hour of danger.

The employment of this force is not open to the objections that are brought against the use of the military in a free country. These men are not mercenaries, but are useful and honorable citizens and members of society. They have a good record, and the history of the city contains several conspicuous instances of their gallantry and devotion. In 1837, when the banks suspended specie payments, they alone prevented a terrible and destructive riot. In 1849, they promptly suppressed the Astor Place Riot, which was brought about by a disgraceful attempt on the part of a band of ruffians to mob the English actor Macready, who was then playing at the Astor Place Opera House. They prevented a serious riot at the time of the creation of the Metropolitan Police Force, compelled Mayor Wood and his partisans to yield obedience to the laws they had sworn to disregard, and put down the disturbances which afterward occurred. In 1863, when the famous Draft Riots commenced, they were absent from the city, having been sent to meet Lee at Gettysburg. They were summoned back by telegraph, and returned in time to take up the battle which had been for two days so gallantly fought by the police. They made short work of the mob, and soon restored order. In July, 1871, they were called on by the City Authorities to protect the Orange Lodges in their right to parade. An ignorant, brutal mob declared that the parade should not take place because it was offensive to them, and made preparations to stop it by force. The Mayor of the city tamely yielded to the threats and demands of the mob, and forbade the parade. Fortunately for the credit of the city, fortunately for the moral power of the law, the Governor of the State revoked the order of the Mayor, and assured the Orangemen of full protection in their right to parade. The city, which had rung with indignant cries at the cowardly surrender of the Mayor to the mob, was now jubilant. The regiments ordered on duty by the Governor for the protection of the procession responded with alacrity, and came out with full ranks. The mob, still defiant, still thinking themselves masters of the situation, made an attack on the procession and its military escort. The troops submitted in silence, until some of their number were shot down in the ranks. Then wheeling suddenly, they poured a fatal volley into the midst of the rioters, who broke and fled in dismay. There was no further attempt at violence. The lesson was a useful one, and the effect fully worth the valuable lives that were laid down in the defence of the law.


If you will go to the southern extremity of Printing House Square, on the east side of the City Hall Park, you will see the opening of a narrow street between the offices of the Tribune and Times newspapers. This is Nassau street. It runs parallel with Broadway, and terminates at Wall street. It is about half a mile in length, and is one of the narrowest and most inconvenient streets in the city, being less than fifty feet in width. The houses on each side are tall and sombre looking, and the street is almost always in the shadow. The roadway is hardly wide enough for two vehicles to pass abreast, and the sidewalks could never by any possible chance contain a crowd. Indeed, the street is seldom thronged, and the people you meet there seem to be possessed of but one desire—to get out of it as fast as possible. A stranger would, at the first glance, unhesitatingly pronounce it an inconvenient as well as a disagreeable thoroughfare, and yet the truth is that it is one of the most important streets in the city in respect of the amount and variety of the traffic carried on within its limits.

It would be hard to describe its architecture. Scarcely any two houses are built alike. At the lower end, in the vicinity of Wall street, iron, marble, and brown stone structures flourish, but above the Post-office the buildings are a study. The most of them are old, but all show signs of vigorous life, and from cellar to attic they are jammed full of busy, scheming, toiling men.


Along the street are some of the best known and most trusted banking houses of the city, and millions of dollars are represented in their daily transactions. The great Post-office receives and sends out whole tons of matter every twenty-four hours. The bulk of the periodical, and a large part of the book-trade are carried on here through the agency of the great news companies. Real estate men flourish here. Struggling lawyers seem to think this street the road to success, for here they cluster by the score. You may buy here diamonds of the purest water, and others that had better be kept out of water. The most valuable of watches may be obtained here; also the most genuine pinchbeck timepieces. If one is a judge of the article he is buying, he may frequently purchase to advantage in Nassau street, but as a rule he must examine his purchase closely before paying for it, and be sure he receives what he has selected. The variety of the pursuits carried on here may be ascertained only by a diligent perusal of the signs that line the street. Perhaps in no other thoroughfare is there to be seen such a multitude of signs. The fronts of the houses are covered with them. They appear in nearly every window, and the walls of the halls of the buildings, and even the steps themselves are covered with them. Every device of the sign maker has been exhausted here, and they tell their stories with more or less emphasis, according to the ingenuity exercised upon them. They tell you of "Counsellors at Law," Publishers, Artists, Dealers in Foreign and American Engravings, Jewellers, Engravers on Wood and Steel, Printers, Stock Brokers, Gold Beaters, Restaurant Keepers, Dealers in Cheap Watches, Agents of Literary Bureaux, Translators of Foreign Languages, Fruit Sellers, Boarding House Brokers, Matrimonial Agents, Book Sellers, Dealers in Indecent Publications, and a host of others too numerous to mention.

Go into one of the numerous buildings, and a surprise awaits you. You might spend half a day in exploring it. It rivals the Tower of Babel in height, and is alive with little closets called "offices." How people doing business here are ever found by those having dealings with them is a mystery. Many, indeed, come here to avoid being found, for Nassau street is the headquarters of those who carry on their business by circulars, and under assumed names. It is a good hiding place, and one in which a culprit might safely defy the far-reaching arm of Justice.

Along the street, and mostly in the cellars, cluster the "Old Book Stores" of New York, of which I shall have more to say hereafter, and they add not a little to the singular character of the street. The proprietors are generally men who have been here for years, and who know the locality well. Many curious tales could they tell of their cramped and dingy thoroughfare, tales that in vivid interest and dramatic force would set up half a dozen novelists.

The Post-office draws all sorts of people into the street, and it is interesting to watch them as they come and go. But, as has been said, no one stays here long; no one thinks of lounging in Nassau street. Every one goes at the top of his speed, and bumps and thumps are given and taken with a coolness and patience known only to the New Yorker. You may even knock a man off his legs, and send him rolling into the gutter, and he will smile, pick himself up again, and think no more of the matter. On Broadway the same man would not fail to resent such an assault as an intentional insult. Every one here is full of unrest; every one seems pre-occupied with his own affairs, and totally oblivious to all that is passing around him. In no part of the great city are you so fully impressed with the shortness and value of time. Even in the eating houses, where the denizens of the street seek their noontide meal, you see the same haste that is manifest on the street. The waiters seem terribly agitated and excited, they fairly fly to do your bidding, pushing and bumping each other with a force that often sends their loads of dishes clattering to the floor. The man at the desk can hardly count your change fast enough. The guests bolt their food, gulp their liquors, and dart through the green baize doors as if their lives depended upon their speed.

So all day long they pour in and out of the marble banks, in and out of the great Post-office, in and out of the dingy offices—the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the honest dealer and the sharper. Few know their neighbors here, fewer care for them; and gigantic successes and dreary failures find their way into the street, adding year by year to its romance and to its mystery. At night the street is dark and deserted. Yet away up in some of the lofty buildings, the lights shining through the dingy windows tell you that some busy brain is still scheming and struggling—whether honestly or dishonestly, who can tell?


The history of New York has been marked by a series of terrible fires, which have destroyed many lives and swept away millions of dollars worth of property. In 1741 the first of these conflagrations swept over the lower part of the city, consuming many houses, among them the old Dutch fort and church. On the 21st of September, 1776, during the occupation of the city by the British, 493 houses were burned, and great distress entailed in consequence upon the people. On the 9th of August, 1778, a third fire destroyed nearly 300 buildings east of Broadway and below Pearl street. In May, 1811, a fourth fire broke out in Chatham street and consumed nearly 100 houses. In 1828 a fifth fire destroyed about a million of dollars worth of property. On the 16th of December, 1835, began the sixth and most disastrous of these conflagrations. It raged for three days and nights continuously, swept over an area of 45 acres, destroyed 648 buildings, and entailed upon the citizens a loss of $18,000,000. In the face of this great disaster the insurance companies unanimously suspended. On the 19th of July, 1845, the seventh and last fire broke out in New street, near Wall street, and swept in a southerly direction, destroying 345 buildings. The loss was $5,000,000.

As a matter of course, a city that has suffered so much from fires is in especial need of the best known means of preventing and suppressing them. Since the year 1653 there has been a Fire Department in New York, and it would be an interesting task to review its history had we the space to do so. In its early days it was considered an honor to be a member of a fire company, and some of the best of the old-time citizens were to be found in the ranks of the various organizations. The city took care to keep the force provided with the most improved machines, and every effort was made to render it as efficient as possible. As the city increased in wealth and population the character of the firemen changed. The respectable men left the organization, and their places were filled with men who were drawn into it by the excitement which was to be found in such a life. Soon the department passed entirely into the hands of the Bowery boys and other disreputable characters. The engine houses were rallying places for the worst characters of the vicinity, who amused themselves in their leisure hours by fighting among themselves, or by assaulting respectable passers-by. A fire was the dread of the city, not only for the damage the conflagration was sure to do, but for the disturbance it brought about on the streets. As soon as an alarm was sounded the streets were filled with a yelling, reckless crowd, through which the engines and hose-carriages dashed, regardless of those who were run over. Pandemonium seemed to have broken loose and taken possession of the great thoroughfares. If two rival companies met on the streets they would leave the fire to work its will and fight their battle then and there. There was scarcely a fire without its accompanying riot. The fires themselves were disastrous. Very little good was accomplished by the firemen, and the losses were tremendous. Adjoining buildings were often broken open and robbed under pretence of saving them from the flames. In short, the whole department was a nuisance, and thinking men saw that it was a great nursery of criminals and blackguards. Efforts were made to remedy the evil, but without success. The members of the department were volunteers, and were particularly impatient of control. Many of the companies owned their own engines and other apparatus, and refused to submit to any sort of restraint. There was but one way to bring good out of this evil, and at length the best men of the city determined upon abolishing the old system entirely. The demand for a change grew stronger every day, and at last the Legislature of the State set on foot measures for the abolition of the volunteer system and the substitution of a paid force.

In March, 1865, the Legislature passed the bill creating the Metropolitan Fire Department, and it at once received the Executive signature. The friends of the old system resolved to resist the attempt to overthrow it. A case involving the constitutionality of the bill was brought before the Court of Appeals, which body sustained the law. Efforts were made by the newly-appointed Commissioners to get the new system at work as soon as possible; but in the meanwhile the partizans of the old system endeavored to be revenged by disbanding the old force and leaving the city without any means of extinguishing fires. The danger was great, but it was averted by detailing a force from the police to act as firemen in case of necessity. By November, 1865, the new system was thoroughly organized and fairly at work. Each succeeding year has witnessed some fresh improvement, and at present New York has the best appointed and most efficient Fire Department in the Union.

The force, as at present organized, is under the control of five commissioners, appointed by the Mayor of the city. They make rules and regulations for the government of the force, exercise a general supervision over its affairs, and are responsible to the municipal government for their acts. The force consists of a chief engineer, an assistant engineer, ten district engineers, and 587 officers and men. Each company consists of twelve persons, viz.: a foreman, assistant foreman, engineer of steamer, a stoker, a driver, and seven firemen. Each company is provided with a house, with engine room, stables, quarters for the men, and rooms for study, drill, etc. The basement contains a furnace, by means of which the building is warmed and the water in the engine kept hot. Everything is kept in perfect order. The houses are clean and neat, and the engines and hose-carriages shine like gold and silver.

The men are all paid by the city. The firemen receive $1000 dollars per annum, and the officers a higher sum, according to their duties and responsibilities. The men undergo a rigid physical examination, and are required to present proofs of their good moral character before they are admitted to the force. The object is to have none but men perfectly sound and free from habits tending to impair their usefulness in the force. They are generally fine specimens of manhood, are noticeably neat in their dress and habits, and are just the opposite of the old-time volunteer firemen. Furthermore, they may be relied upon in any emergency.

There are thirty-seven steam-engines in the department. They are of the second class or size, and perfect in all their appointments. They were built by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and cost $4000 a-piece. There is also a powerful floating engine located on a steamboat, and used for extinguishing fires on the piers or on vessels in the harbor. It is kept near the Battery, so as to be convenient to points in either river. There are four hand engines, located in the upper part of the island, and twelve hook and ladder companies in the department. Several engines are kept in reserve, and are not counted in the active force.

The horses of the department are 156 in number. They are large and powerful animals, and are kept with the greatest care. They are groomed every day, and are fed punctually at six o'clock morning and evening. If not used on duty, they are exercised every day by being led to and fro in the streets adjoining the engine-house. They are thoroughly trained, and will stand with perfect steadiness under the most exciting circumstances. They know the sound of the alarm-bell as well as their driver, and the moment it strikes they exhibit an impatience to be off which is remarkable. They are kept harnessed constantly, and it takes but a few seconds to attach them to the engines.

The men are not allowed to have any other employment. The department claims their whole duty. A certain number are required to be always at the engine-house. In case of an alarm being sounded during the absence of a fireman from the engine-house he runs directly to the fire, where he is sure to find his company. A watch is always kept in the engine-room day and night. After ten at night the men are allowed to go to bed, but must so arrange matters beforehand that they shall lose no time in dressing. The horses stand harnessed in their stalls, the boiler is filled with hot water, and the furnaces are supplied with wood which burns at the touch of a match. It requires but fifteen seconds in the day and but one minute at night to be ready for action and on the way to the fire.

Scattered through the city are lofty towers, from which men keep a constant watch for fires. They are thoroughly acquainted with the various localities of New York, and can tell at a glance the exact neighborhood of the fire. From their lofty elevation they see the first cloud of smoke if it be day, or the first red glare if at night, and the next instant the alarm is sent over the city on the wings of electricity.

All signals and messages connected with the Fire Department are transmitted by telegraph, and for this purpose there is a distinct line through the city for the use of the department. By means of this line the various engine-houses are brought into communication with each other and with the central station and police headquarters. As the station-houses alone, however, would not suffice for the prompt communication of alarms, signal-boxes are scattered through the city at the most convenient points. These boxes are so situated that they may be reached from any point in a few minutes. They are several hundred in number, and are being multiplied as rapidly as possible. The engraving accompanying this chapter shows the appearance and mechanism of the signal box.

The box is attached to the telegraph pole, and is about twenty-four inches high, by twelve inches wide, and five inches deep. Every officer and member of the Fire Department, every officer and member of the Police Force, and every officer of the Fire Insurance Patrol is furnished with a key which will open all the boxes. A key is also deposited with the occupant of a building near the box, and a notice showing the location of this key is always placed in a glass case at the top of the box. Key-holders are cautioned not to open the box except in case of fire; not to give an alarm unless sure of a fire; not to give an alarm for a fire seen at a distance; not to pull down the hook more than once in giving an alarm; to be sure, after giving an alarm, that the door of the box is securely fastened; and not to let the key go out of their possession except when demanded by proper authority.


The engraving referred to will show the manner of giving an alarm. There are two doors to each box, an outer and an inner door, lettered respectively F and G in the engraving. The door G is to be kept closed unless it becomes necessary to repeat the alarm. The outer door, F, is opened, and the catch A is drawn down firmly. This winds up a spring, by means of the lever B, which sets in motion the wheel C, and strikes the number of the box on the gong D and on the instrument at the Fire Department headquarters. Should it be necessary to give a second or third alarm, the door G is opened and the Morse key E is struck ten times.

In this way all alarms are sent, first to the central office, and thence to the various engine-houses. The alarm from the central office is struck on a large gong placed in a conspicuous part of the engine-room of every engine or hook and ladder company. The locality, and often the precise site of the fire can be ascertained by means of these signals. For instance, the bell strikes 157 thus: one—a pause—five—another pause—seven. The indicator will show that this alarm-box is at the corner of the Bowery and Grand street. The fire is either at this point or within its immediate neighborhood. The signals are repeated on all the bells in the fire-towers of the city, and the citizens, by consulting their printed indicators, can inform themselves of the location of the fire. On an alarm of fire about one-sixth of the whole force goes to the place of danger. If the alarm be repeated the number is increased by another sixth, and so on until the necessary force is obtained. Each company is restricted to certain portions of the city, so that there is no confusion in sending out the proper force.

As soon as the sharp strokes of the gong give the signal of danger, and point out the locality, every man springs to his post. The horses are attached in a few seconds, the fire is lighted in the furnace, and the steamer and hose carriage start for the scene of action. The foreman runs on foot, ahead of his steamer, to clear the way, and the driver may keep up with him, but is not allowed to pass him. Only the engineer, his assistant, and the stoker are allowed to ride on the engine. The rest of the company go on foot. Fast driving is severely punished, and racing is absolutely prohibited. The men are required to be quiet and orderly in their deportment in going to and returning from fires. The engines have the right of way in all the streets. This is well understood, and it is astonishing to see the rapidity with which a route is cleared for them through the most crowded streets.

Upon reaching the fire, communication is made between the plug or hydrant and the engine, and the work begins. The chief engineer is required to attend all fires, and all orders proceed from him. The most rigid discipline is preserved, and the work goes on with a rapidity and precision which are in striking contrast to the noise and inefficiency of the old system.

A force of policemen is at once sent to a fire. They stretch ropes across the streets at proper distances from the burning buildings, and no one but the members of the Fire Department is allowed to pass these barriers. In this way the firemen have room for the performance of their duties, lookers-on are kept at a safe distance, and the movable property in the burning house is saved from thieves. Merchants and others have frequently given grateful testimony to the protection afforded their property by the firemen. Upon one occasion the members of the department had complete possession for several hours of every part of the building containing the immense and valuable stock of jewelry of Messrs. Tiffany & Co. This firm made a public declaration that after a rigid investigation they had not missed a penny's worth of their property, and gratefully acknowledged the protection afforded them. Under the old system Messrs. Tiffany & Co. would have been ruined.

[Picture: A FIRE IN NEW YORK.]

The life of a fireman is very arduous and dangerous, but the applicants for vacancies in the department are numerous. The men are often called upon not only to face great personal danger, but they are also subjected to a severe physical strain from the loss of rest, and fatigue. Sometimes they will be called out and worked hard every night in the week, and all the while they are required to be as prompt and active as though they had never lost a night's rest. They are constantly performing deeds of heroism, which pass unnoticed in the bustle and whirl of the busy life around them, but which are treasured up in the grateful heart of some mother, wife, or parent, whose loved ones owe their lives to the fireman's gallantry.

During the recent visit to New York of the Prince Alexis of Russia, a pleasing instance of the efficiency of the department was given. The Prince had just reviewed a detachment of the department, and had returned to his hotel (the Clarendon), in Fourth avenue, just out of Union Square. One of the Fire Commissioners proposed to him to test the efficiency of the force he had just inspected, and accompanied him to the alarm box at the corner of Fourth avenue and Seventeenth street, about half a block from the hotel. The box being opened, the Prince gave the signal, and immediately returned to his hotel. Before he had reached the balcony, the sharp clatter of wheels was heard in the distance, and in a few seconds several steamers clashed up, "breathing fire and smoke," followed by a hook and ladder detachment and the Insurance Patrol. Within three minutes after the alarm had been sounded, two streams were thrown on the Everett House, and within five minutes ladders were raised to the hotel windows, and the men were on the roofs of the adjoining buildings.

Thanks to the model department, New York feels a security from fires unknown until now. The hopes of the friends of the new system have been more than realized. The fire statistics speak more eloquently than words could, and they show a steady decrease of the loss by fire. In 1866, there were 796 fires, involving a loss of $6,428,000; in 1867, the number of fires was 873, and the loss $5,711,000; in 1868, the fires were 740 in number, and the loss was $4,342,371; and in 1869 there were 850 fires, with a loss of $2,626,393. In the last mentioned year, only 43 out of the 850 fires were communicated to the adjoining buildings, a fact which speaks volumes for the exertions of the department.

The Headquarters of the department are located at 127 Mercer street, in a handsome building known as Fireman's Hall. Here are the offices of the Commissioners, the Chief Engineer, Secretary, Medical officer, Telegraph Bureau, Bureau of Combustible materials, and Fireman's Lyceum. The Lyceum contains a library of over 4000 volumes, and a collection of engravings, documents, and relics relating to the old Fire Department. All fines exacted of firemen, and those imposed on citizens for violating the ordinances relating to hatchways and kerosene lamps, are paid into the treasury of the "Fire Department Relief Fund," for the maintenance of the widows and orphans of firemen.


New York is the commercial metropolis of the Union. Its local trade is immense, but its foreign trade and its trade with the rest of the country are much greater. The port is the American terminus of nearly all the steamship lines plying between the United States and foreign countries. About two-thirds of all the imports of the United States arrive in New York, and about forty per cent. of all the exports of the country are shipped from the same point. In 1870, the total imports amounted to $315,200,022. The Customs duties on these amounted to $135,310,995. The imports are given at their foreign cost in gold, and freight and duty are not included in this estimate. The exports for the same year (including $58,191,475 in specie) were worth $254,137,208. The total of imports and exports for that year was $569,337,230, the value of the foreign trade of New York.

The domestic trade is also immense. During the year 1864 some of the receipts of the port were as follows:

Barrels of wheat flour 3,967,717 Bushels of wheat 13,453,135 " oats 12,952,238 " corn 7,164,895 Packages of pork 332,454 " beef 209,664 " cut meats 268,417 " butter 551,153 " cheese 756,872 Tierces and barrels of lard 186,000 Kegs of lard 16,104 Barrels of whiskey 289,481 " petroleum 775,587

New York has many advantages over its rivals. Merchants find a better and a more extensive and varied market, and as they like to combine pleasure with business, find more attractions here than elsewhere. New York is emphatically a great city, and it is entirely free from provincialisms of any kind. The narrow notions of smaller places are quickly replaced here with metropolitan and cosmopolitan ideas, tastes and habits. Moreover, the city is the chief centre of wealth, of art, of talent, and of luxury. These things are too firmly secured to be taken away, and strangers must come here to enjoy them. Merchants from other States and cities like the liberal and enterprising spirit which characterizes the dealings of the New York merchants. They can buy here on better terms than elsewhere, and their relations with the merchants of this city are generally satisfactory and pleasant. Besides this, they find their visits here of real benefit to them in their own callings. The energy, or to use an American term, "the push" of New York exhilarates them, and shows them how easily difficulties, which in less enterprising places seem insurmountable, may be overcome. They go back home braced up to their work, and filled with new and larger ideas.

Between ten and fifteen millions of strangers annually visit New York for business and pleasure. All spend large sums of money during their stay, and a very large part of this finds its way into the pockets of the retail dealers of the city. The hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, livery stables, and places of amusement reap large profits from these visitors. Indeed, the whole city is benefited to a very great extent by them, and it thus enjoys a decided advantage over all its rivals.

Everything here gives way to business. The changes in the city are, perhaps, more strictly due to this than to the increase of the population. It is a common saying that "business is rapidly coming up town." Private neighborhoods disappear every year, and long lines of substantial and elegant warehouses take the places of the comfortable mansions of other days. The lower part of the city is taken up almost exclusively by wholesale and commission houses, and manufactories. The retail men and small dealers are being constantly forced higher up town. A few years ago the section of the city lying between Fourth and Twenty-third streets was almost exclusively a private quarter. Now it is being rapidly invaded by business houses. Broadway has scarcely a residence below the Park. The lower part of Fifth avenue is being swiftly converted into a region of stores and hotels, and residents are being steadily driven out of Washington and Union Squares. Even Madison Square is beginning to feel the change. But a few years ago it was regarded as the highest point that New York would ever reach in its upward growth.

Enterprise, talent, and energy are indispensable to any one who wishes to succeed in business in New York. Fortunes can he made legitimately here quicker than in many other places, but the worker must have patience. Fortune comes slowly everywhere if honestly sought. There is also another quality indispensable to a genuine success. It is honesty and integrity. Sharp practices abound in the city, but those who use them find their road a hard one. No man can acquire a good and steady credit—which credit is of more service to him here than in almost any other place in the world—without establishing a reputation for rigid integrity. The merchants of the city are keen judges of character, and they have no patience with sharpers. They will deal with them only on a strictly cash basis.

The city abounds in instances of the success which has attended honest, patient, and intelligent efforts. John Jacob Astor was a poor butcher's son. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a boatman. Daniel Drew was a drover. The Harpers and Appletons were printers' apprentices. A. T. Stewart was an humble, struggling shopkeeper. A well-known financier began by blacking a pair of boots. Opportunities as good as these men ever had are occurring every day. Those who are competent to seize them may do so, and rise to fortune and position.

Many of the colossal fortunes of the city have been created by the rise in the value of real estate. The rapid growth of the city during the past twelve years has greatly increased the value of property in the upper sections. Many persons who but a few years ago were owners of tracts which were simply burdensome by reason of the numerous and heavy assessments upon them, and for which no purchasers could be found, have become very wealthy by the rapid increase in the value of their property. Many persons owning property of this kind sold at a heavy advance during the real estate speculations that succeeded the war. Others leased their lands to parties wishing to build on them. Others still hold on for further improvement. The Astors, A. T. Stewart, Vanderbilt and others have made a large share of their money by their investments in real estate.

A farm near the Central Park, which could not find a purchaser in 1862, when it was offered at a few thousand dollars, sold in 1868 in building lots for almost as many millions.

In 1860 a gentleman purchased a handsome house in a fashionable neighborhood. It was a corner house and fronted on Fifth avenue. He paid $50,000 for it, and spent $25,000 more in fitting up and furnishing it. His friends shook their heads at his extravagance. Since then he has resided in the house, and each year his property has increased in value. In 1869 he was offered nearly $300,000 dollars for the house and furniture, but refused to sell at this price, believing that he would be able in a few years to command a still larger sum.


On Sunday morning New York puts on its holiday dress. The stores are closed, the streets have a deserted aspect, for the crowds of vehicles, animals and human beings that fill them on other days are absent. There are no signs of trade anywhere except in the Bowery and Chatham street. The city has an appearance of cleanliness and quietness pleasant to behold. The wharves are hushed and still, and the river and bay lie calm and bright in the light of the Sabbath sun. One misses the stages from Broadway, and a stranger at once credits the coachmen with a greater regard for the day than their brothers of the street cars. The fact is, however, that Jehu of the stagecoach rests on the Sabbath because his business would be unprofitable on that day. The people who patronize him in the week have no use for him on Sunday. The horse-cars make their trips as in the week. They are a necessity in so large a city. The distances one is compelled to pass over here, even on Sunday, are too great to be traversed on foot.

Towards ten o'clock the streets begin to fill up with churchgoers. The cars are crowded, and handsome carriages dash by conveying their owners to their places of worship. The uptown churches are the most fashionable, and are the best attended, but all the sacred edifices are well filled on Sunday morning. New York compromises with its conscience by a scrupulous attendance upon morning worship, and reserves the rest of the day for its own convenience. The up-town churches all strive to get in, or as near as possible to, the Fifth avenue. One reason for this is, doubtless, the desire that all well-to-do New Yorkers have to participate in the after-church promenade. The churches close their services near about the same hour, and then each pours its throng of fashionably dressed people into the avenue. The congregations of distant churches all find their way to the avenue, and for about an hour after church the splendid street presents a very attractive spectacle. The toilettes of the ladies show well here, and it is a pleasant place to meet one's acquaintances.

The majority of New Yorkers dine at one o'clock on Sunday, the object being to allow the servants the afternoon for themselves. After dinner your New Yorker, male or female, thinks of enjoyment. If the weather is fair the fashionables promenade the Fifth and Madison avenues, or drive in the park. The working classes fill the street-cars, and throng the Central Park. In the summer whole families of laboring people go to the park early in the morning, taking a lunch with them, and there spend the entire day. In the skating season the lakes are thronged with skaters. The church bells ring out mournfully towards three o'clock, but few persons answer the call. The afternoon congregations are wofully thin.

In the mild season, the adjacent rivers and the harbor are thronged with pleasure boats filled with excursionists, and the various horse and steam railway lines leading from the city to the sea-shore are well patronized.

Broadway wears a silent and deserted aspect all day long, but towards sunset the Bowery brightens up wonderfully, and after nightfall the street is ablaze with a thousand gaslights. The low class theatres and places of amusement in that thoroughfare are opened towards dark, and then vice reigns triumphant in the Bowery. The Bowery beer-gardens do a good business. The most of them are provided with orchestras or huge orchestrions, and these play music from the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church.

Until very recently the bar-rooms were closed from midnight on Saturday until midnight on Sunday, and during that period the sale of intoxicating liquors was prohibited. Now all this is changed. The bar-rooms do a good business on Sunday, and especially on Sunday night. The Monday morning papers tell a fearful tale of crimes committed on the holy day. Assaults, fights, murders, robberies, and minor offences are reported in considerable numbers. Drunkenness is very common, and the Monday Police Courts have plenty of work to do.

At night the churches are better attended than in the afternoon, but not as well as in the morning.

Sunday concerts, given at first-class places of amusement, are now quite common. The music consists of masses, and other sacred airs, varied with selections from popular operas. The performers are famous throughout the country for their musical skill, and the audiences are large and fashionable. No one seems to think it sinful thus to desecrate the Lord's Day; and it must be confessed that these concerts are the least objectionable Sunday amusements known to our people.

It must not be supposed that the dissipation of which we have spoken is confined exclusively to the rougher class. Old and young men of respectable position participate in it as well. Some are never called on to answer for it, others get into trouble with the police authorities. One reason for this dissipation is plain. People are so much engrossed in the pursuit of wealth that they really have no leisure time in the week. They must take Sunday for relaxation and recreation, and they grudge the few hours in the morning that decency requires them to pass in church.



Strange to say, the great metropolis, in which the largest postal business in the country is transacted, has never had a building for a Post-office, which was erected for that purpose. It has been compelled to put up with any temporary accommodation that could be obtained, and for many years past its Post-office has been simply a disgrace to the nation.

In the days of the Dutch, letters were brought over from Europe by the shipmasters and delivered to some coffee house keeper, who took charge of them until the persons to whom they were addressed could call for them. This custom was continued under the English until 1686, when the authorities required that all ship letters should be placed in charge of the Collector of the Port. In 1692, the city authorities established a Post-office, and in 1710, the Postmaster-General of Great Britain removed the headquarters of the postal service of the Colonies from Philadelphia to New York. The first city Post-office was located in Broadway opposite Beaver street. About the year 1804, the Post-office was removed to No. 29 William street, corner of Garden street, now Exchange Place, where it remained until 1825, when the Government leased the "Academy building" in Garden street, now Exchange Place, and opened it as a Post-office. In 1827, the office was transferred to the basement of the Merchants' Exchange, the site now occupied by the Custom House. Wall street was then just undergoing the change from private residences to bankers' and brokers' offices. The Merchants' Exchange was destroyed in the great fire of 1835, and the next day a Post-office was extemporized in a brick building in Pine, near Nassau street, and shortly after was transferred to the Rotunda, in the City Hall Park, which had been offered to the Government by the municipal authorities. The Rotunda, however, proved too small for the business of the department, which had been greatly increased by the establishment of lines of railways and steamboats between New York and the various parts of the country, and in 1845 the Post-office was removed to the Middle Dutch Church, in Nassau street, between Pine and Cedar streets, its present location, which was purchased by the Government for the sum of $350,000.


This building has always been entirely unsuited to the needs of a Post-office for such a city as New York. It was dedicated in 1732, and was used for worship by one of the Dutch congregations of the city. In 1776, the British having occupied the city, it was converted into a prison by the conquerors for the incarceration of their rebellious captives. It was subsequently used by them as a riding school for the instruction of cavalry. After the British evacuated the city, the congregation reoccupied it, and refitted it for religious worship. After paying for it the large sum mentioned above, the Government was compelled to make a further expenditure of $80,000, to fit it up for its new uses. Since then many changes, some involving a heavy outlay, have been made in the building, but even now it is not capable of meeting the demands upon it, and the Government is now engaged in the erection of a new building expressly designed for a Post-office.

The Pine street front is devoted to the reception and departure of the mails. The street is generally filled with wagons bearing the mystic words, "U.S. Mail." Some are single-horse vehicles, used for carrying the bags between the main office and the numerous stations scattered through the city; others are immense wagons, drawn by four and six horses, and carrying several tons of matter at a time. These are used for the great Eastern, Western, and Southern, and the Foreign Mails. The Pine street doors present a busy sight at all hours, and the duties of the men employed there are not light. Huge sacks from all parts of the world are arriving nearly every hour, and immense piles of similar sacks are dispatched with the regularity of clockwork.

The body of the building, by which is meant the old church room itself, is used for opening and making up the mails. This work is carried on on the main floor, and in the heavy, old-fashioned gallery which runs around three of the sides. Huge semi-circular forms are scattered about the floor, each divided into a number of open squares. From each of these squares hangs a mail bag, each square being marked with the name of the city or town to which the bag is to be sent. A clerk stands within the curve of the form, before a table filled with letters and papers, and tosses them one by one into the squares to which they belong. This is done with the utmost rapidity, and long practice has made the clerk so proficient that he never misses the proper square. The stamping of the office mark and cancelling of the postage stamps on letters to be sent away is incessant, and the room resounds with the heavy thud of the stamp. This is no slight work, as the clerks who perform it can testify. The upper floor is devoted to the use of the Post-Master and his Assistants, the Superintendent of the City Delivery, and the Money Order and Registered Letter Offices. A wooden corridor has been built along the side of the church along Nassau and Cedar streets, and here, on the street floor, are the box and general deliveries, and the stamp windows. This is the public portion of the office, and is always thronged.

The visitor will notice, in various parts of this corridor, the slides for the depositing of letters and papers intended for the mails. The accumulation of mail matter here is so great that it is necessary that letters designed for a certain part of the country should be deposited in one particular place. Letters for New England must be placed in a certain box, those for the Middle States in another, those for the Southern States in another, those for the West in another. The names of the States are painted conspicuously above each box, so that there may be no mistake on the part of strangers. Letters for the principal countries of Europe and Asia are posted in the same way. Newspapers and periodicals have a separate department. The mails of these journals are made up in the office of publication, according to certain instructions furnished by the Postmaster, and go to the Post-office properly assorted for distribution. This system of depositing mail matter saves an immense amount of labor on the part of the clerks, and also hastens the departure of the mails from the office.

The Box Delivery contains nearly seven thousand boxes, on each of which the enormous rent of $16 per annum is charged. Considering that the box system is quite as advantageous to the Government as to the box holder, this rent is simply extortionate.

The daily business of the New York Post-office is enormous, and is rapidly increasing. The letters received by mail steamers from foreign countries, partly for delivery in the city, and partly to be forwarded to other places, average about fifteen thousand daily. The number dispatched from this office by steamer to foreign countries is about seventeen thousand daily. The number of letters sent from New York to other offices in the United States is about one hundred and fifty-five thousand daily. The number received from domestic offices for delivery in the city is about one hundred and twenty-six thousand daily; in addition to about seventy-two thousand per day, which are to be forwarded to other offices. About one hundred thousand letters, and about twenty thousand printed circulars, are mailed every day in the city, for city delivery. The carriers deliver daily, to persons who do not hire boxes at the general office, about fifty-three thousand letters; and collect from the street boxes about one hundred and one thousand letters every twenty-four hours. About five hundred registered letters, of which about four hundred are for delivery in the city, are received, and about two hundred and fifty are dispatched, daily. About one thousand dollars are paid out daily on money orders, and a much larger amount is received for orders granted to applicants. The sales of postage stamps amount to about forty-four thousand dollars per week. About two hundred unstamped letters are deposited in the office daily, and about one hundred letters on which the name of the town or State is written improperly, or on which the address is illegible. These are all sent to the Dead Letter Office, in Washington.

The number of persons employed as clerks, porters, etc., in the general office and the various stations, is 715.

The city is too large to admit of the transaction of all its business by the general office. To meet the necessities of the town, and to insure the rapid dispatch of the postal business, about 700 "lamp-post boxes," or iron boxes attached to the posts of the street lamps, are scattered through the city. Letters for the mails and for delivery in the city are deposited in these boxes, from which they are collected by the letter-carriers nine times each day, except Sunday, between the hours of seven A.M. and seven P.M. The Sunday collection is made once, at seven in the evening.

There are fourteen branch or Sub-Post-offices, designated as "Stations," located in convenient parts of the city, north of the general office. They are named from the letters of the alphabet, and are known as "Stations A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J, K, L, M, N, and O." They are designed to serve as distributing centres for certain sections of the city. They receive from the general office all letters and papers for delivery in their sections, and to them the carriers bring all the matter collected from the lamp-boxes. There is no delivery from them except through the carriers. They dispatch to the general office, at stated times throughout the day, all matter deposited in their boxes or collected from the lamp-boxes by the carriers.

A recent writer thus relates some of the gossip connected with the office:

"People who come to the Post-office and make complaints of being robbed, when they discover that they were mistaken never call and make reparation, or relieve the department of the charge made against its employes. A merchant, much excited, complained that a letter sent to him 'by a most responsible house,' containing $500, had not been received. This charge was fortified by showing a letter from the postmaster who mailed the missing letter, certifying that it was forwarded, and contained the $500. Detectives were at once set to work to unravel the iniquity, but all efforts proved unavailing. Finally the Post-office authorities, after weeks of hard work, called on the complaining merchant and asked if he had heard anything about the missing money. 'Oh,' replied the gentleman, with great vivacity, 'that's all right; by mistake that letter was thrown into the safe, and remained unopened nearly four weeks. Funny, wasn't it?' Not even an apology was made for charging the Post-office with purloining the money, or for giving its officers so much unnecessary trouble.

"Charges of dishonesty against the Post-office are made where nobody but 'extraordinary circumstances' are to blame. A letter containing two $1000 bills in it was delivered by the carrier, who, according to custom (ignorant of its contents, of course), at the house of its owner, shoved it into the hallway, under the door. The letter was missing. Complaint was made at the Post-office; evidence was produced that the money had been forwarded. The detectives were set to work to trace out the robbery. The poor carrier, and the clerks in the office who handled the letter were placed under surveillance. The clerks where the letter was mailed were 'shadowed.' Every dollar they expended after the probable robbery was secretly inquired into, to see if any of them had been at any given time, after the letter was lost, unusually 'flush;' but all signs failed. After a long time the floor covering of the hall was taken up, and there was the letter, 'safe and sound;' the unfortunate carrier had thrust it under, instead of over, the oilcloth.

"The misdirection of letters is the cause of serious charges against the Post-office. A letter containing $700 was mailed from Albany to New York. It was sent from a well-known person, and the package which was supposed to contain the letter, made up in Albany, was not opened until it reached New York. Both ends of the line were under suspicion. It was stated that the letter was addressed to Mr. —- —-, Broadway, New York. After a long search it was found that the letter had never left Albany at all, being directed by mistake, Mr. —- —-, Broadway, Albany, and the faithful clerks had thrown it into their own city delivery box instead of forwarding it to New York. The confusion in the mind of the writer grew out of the fact that there is a Broadway in both cities, and from force of habit he wrote the wrong address.

"Miserable chirography is one of the most prolific causes of Post-office inefficiency. It is safe to say that unmistakably written directions would remove nine-tenths of the complaints. What is a non-plussed clerk to do with letters addressed to 'Mahara Seney,' 'Old Cort,' or 'Cow House,' when Morrisonia, Olcott, and Cohoes were really intended?

"One day, possibly four years ago, Mr. Kelly was sitting in his private office opening his personal letters, and enjoying the delusion that everything was working satisfactorily, when, to his surprise, he found one letter from Washington calling his especial attention to the 'inclosed editorial,' cut from the Tribune, in which the carelessness of his clerks, and the generally unsatisfactory manner with which he carried on his business, were dilated upon, ending with the startling announcement that, under the present management of the department, it took four days to get a letter from New York to Chappaqua, distance about thirty miles, and made literally no distance by a fast railway! Consternation ensued, and Mr. Kelly, to commence examination into these serious charges, sent a special agent to Chappaqua for the envelope of said delayed letter. At the place named the official fortunately not only found what he went after (the envelope), but also Mr. Greeley and 'Miles O'Reilly.' After due explanations, the envelope was handed to Miles O'Reilly, with the query of what he thought was the meaning of the superscription.

"Why,' said that genial wit, who had once been a deputy postmaster, 'the devil himself couldn't make it out.'

"The envelope was then brought to the attention of the berated clerks, who looked at it with glazed eyes, the hieroglyphics suggesting somewhat the same intellectual speculation that would result from studying the footprints of a gigantic spider that had, after wading knee-deep in ink, retreated hastily across the paper.

"At the Post-office, when they distribute letters, those on which the direction is not instantly made out, to save time, are thrown in a pile for especial examination; if a second and more careful study fails, they are consigned to an especial clerk, who is denominated the chief of the bureau of 'hards.' To this important functionary the envelope of Chappaqua was at last referred. He examined it a moment, and his eye flashed with the expression of recognizing an old acquaintance. 'This thing,' said he, holding up the envelope with the tip ends of his fingers, 'came to me some days ago along with the other "hards." I studied the superscription at my leisure a whole day, but couldn't make it out. I then showed it to the best experts in handwriting attached to the office, and called on outsiders to test their skill; but what the writing meant, if it was writing, was a conundrum that we all gave up. Finally, in desperation, it was suggested, as a last resort, to send it to Chappaqua, which happened to be its place of destination.' Such is the literal history of the reason of an earnestly written denunciation of the inefficiency of the city post."


In 1869, the General Government decided to depart from the niggardly policy it had hitherto pursued towards the City of New York, and to take steps toward the erection of a Post-office adequate to the needs of the great and growing community which demanded this act of justice at its hands. It was decided to erect an edifice which should be an ornament to the city, and capable of accommodating the City Postal service for generations to come. The Municipal Authorities, in order to secure the erection of the building in the most convenient part of the city, offered to sell to the General Government the lower end of the City Hall Park. The offer was accepted, and the land was purchased by the Government. The corner stone was laid in June, 1869. At the present writing (January, 1872,) the first story has been finished. It will probably require several years to complete the edifice. The price paid for the land was $500,000, a merely nominal sum. It is expected that the building will cost about $4,000,000.

"The exterior walls are to be of Dix Island granite, and the dimensions of the four fronts are severally as follows: the northerly side (toward the City Hall) is about 300 feet; the Broadway and Park Row fronts, respectively, 270 feet; and the southerly part, 130 feet.


"The difficulty of laying the foundations may be judged from the following facts: The depth of excavation over the entire plot was over thirty feet, and the material to be removed was entirely loose sand, while the traffic in Broadway and Park Row, including railroad cars and omnibuses, was enormous, involving the danger of a caving-in of both streets! The trenches in which the retaining walls and pier foundations were to be laid had to be completely incased in sheet-piling, shored across with timbers, under the protection of which the excavation was carried on and the masonry laid. The excavation was done mostly at night, the ground being illuminated by magnesium light. The outer walls, and those of the court, and the foundations of the interior columns are based on huge granite blocks, the granite being laid on massive beds of concrete. One hundred and fifty-nine iron columns in the basement, and 117 in the first story, support the walls and floors. The piers of the cellar are of granite, or arcaded brick and iron; the stairs are of stone and iron; the chimneys, of stone; the roof and its ornaments, of iron, covered with slate and copper. Four large low-pressure boilers supply the steam for heating the entire building. The roofs of the corner pavilions rise 107 feet above the sidewalk. The cellar is a little more than seven feet in the clear; the basement, sixteen feet; the first corridor, fourteen feet; and the half-story above it—both completing the first story—also fourteen feet. The entire circuit of the building is over one-fifth of a mile.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17     Next Part
Home - Random Browse