On the Block: 50-85 Mott

Nos. 50-85 Mott Street, between Bayard and Walker Streets

by Marion R. Casey, Glucksman Ireland House, New York University.

(c) 2017.  All Rights Reserved.

Horizontal and vertical recreations of this particular block yield different impressions of its ethnicity.  At street level, German businesses dominated at the same time that the tenement population was heavily Irish.

 

 

Except for three Irish-run porterhouses, the rest of this block was dominated by German businesses at mid-century, according to Wilson’s Business Directory of New York City for 1856-1857. Perris Fire Insurance Map (1852), NYPL Map Division, annotated by Marion R. Casey, Spring 2017.

According to Tyler Anbinder, “few whole blocks were ethnically homogeneous” in the Sixth Ward.  Mott Street between Bayard and Walker is representative in this respect.  Even though there seems to have been a distinct ethnic preference for a particular side of the street (the east side of the block was mainly German and the west side mainly Irish), the fact remains that this was a multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-racial part of the neighborhood.

 

Residents of 15 buildings (representing 133 households) on the west side of Mott Street, between Bayard and Walker streets, 1860, by Nativity. Each address is represented by 2 columns; the left represents the male head of the household, the right represents his spouse. If the household was headed by a widowed man or woman, both columns represent that person’s nativity. A gap indicates a rear tenement at Nos. 59, 63, 65, 67 and 71 Mott Street. Chart based on the 1860 United States Federal Census for New York County, 6th Ward, E.D. 3, created by Marion R. Casey, New York University (Spring 2017).

 

At seven stories high, the front structure at No. 65 Mott Street towered over every other building on this block.  The rear structure was five stories. Together, there were at least 34 apartments (24 in the front, 10 in the rear) available for rent on this 25′ x 100′ foot lot.[1]

There were eleven people living in the front building in 1855 who listed an occupation in the city directory compared with eight in the rear dwelling.  In 1859 there were six listings for the front versus two for the rear; in 1860 it was twelve for the front and five for the rear. The street level business was Martin H. Murphy’s saloon until James Mahon took it over in 1860.

Alcohol was still being sold at No. 65 Mott Street when the neighborhood was becoming Italian.
Advertisement, Progresso Italo-Americano (NY), 11 December 1889.

Although not the original tenement on the site, the current building at No. 65 Mott Street is still seven stories high. (2012)

In general, No. 65 Mott street was an Irish building. Among the Emigrant Savings Bank depositors who gave this address were Catherine Sullivan Lynch and her brother Timothy Sullivan.  Both were Kerry natives who emigrated to New York on the Hemisphere in 1851.  In 1857 they opened Account Nos. 13829 and 13499.  The Lynches had two children and the Sullivans had seven.[2]  Neither family was living in the building when the 1860 census was taken.

Among the longest residents of No. 65 Mott Street was Bridget Murtha, a washerwoman from Co. Cavan, who moved in around 1853.  In 1860 she and her seven-year-old son were boarding with the Rooney family in the rear tenement, colloquially known as the ‘White House’.  When fire broke out in there in the middle of a cold night in December 1883, “families on the upper floors of the rear house had narrow escapes from death.” The New York Tribune reported, “Smoke filled the hallways quickly, and the flames took possession of the stairs on the second floor soon after the occupants of that floor were awakened….Bridget Murtha, an old Irishwoman who had lived in the house for thirty years, went down the stairs from the third floor in the face of the flames followed by an old man named Sheehan.  Both were burned slightly on their faces and hands.”[3]  Murtha was about 63 years old at the time and may have had difficulty regrouping after this because, in the fall of 1891, she was admitted to the New York City Almshouse.  Officials recorded her as homeless, destitute, and suffering from dyspepsia and old age.[4]

No. 65 Mott was still a site for socializing after the fire. Advertisement, New York Herald, 3 September 1868.

In the summer of 1862 this block of Mott Street had been swept by a large fire that affected Nos. 75-79 Mott Street in particular.  The New York Tribune carried the story, including the extent of damage and the insurance claims made, revealing how immigration, poverty, commerce, and real estate intertwined at the local level in New York City’s Sixth Ward.

Detail from the 1862 Perris Fire Insurance map clearly depicts the skylighted bakery located at the rear of 75-79 Mott Street. NYPL Map Division, ID 1268302.

New York Tribune, 2 July 1862.

Scott’s bakery, with four ovens and 17 male employees, had been producing 10,000 barrels of crackers and biscuits valued at $40,000 in 1860.   It was arguably the largest manufacturing plant on this block; seventeen year old Michael Kelly (No. 79 Mott) and twenty-eight year old James Thompson (No. 77 Mott), both listed as bakers in the 1860 census, may have worked there.  Scott resumed operations on Mott Street but moved his young family to South 8th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Correlating this 1862 report of the fire with the 1860 census for District 3 in the Sixth Ward and Trow’s directory for 1861-1862, among the sixteen families burnt out of No. 75 Mott Street were about seven headed by tailors from continental Europe. Isaac Dlee from Poland, who had account no. 20202 with Emigrant Savings Bank, gave his occupation as tailor at No. 75 Mott to the census-taker (June 1860) but as capmaker to the bank’s accountant (June 1859).  He reported two employees according to the 1860 industrial census; at the time of the fire, these were more than likely his fifteen year old son, Levi, and their twenty year old Irish-born neighbor Kate Sullivan.  Michael Duffy, a labourer who lived in the rear building at No. 73 Mott according to the 1861-1862 directory, was certainly one of those immediately made homeless by the fire along with his wife Delia and their young children, Maryann, age 5, and Michael, age 4.  Among the tenants at No. 75 Mott Street were two Irish families, the Nugents and the Brennans.  At No. 79 Mott Street, there may have been as many as five Irish families affected: the Grimeses, the Kellys, the Murphys, the McCulloughs, and the Donahues.[5]

 

[1] Tyler Anbinder, Five Points (New York: Plume Books, 2002), pp. 81-82, 454n27.

[2] New York Emigrant Savings Bank, Ancestry.com.

[3] “Alarm in a Tenement House,” New York Tribune, 7 December 1883;  “Panic in a Tenement House,” New York Times, 7 December 1883; “Casualties,” Daily Nonpareil (Council Bluffs, Iowa), 7 December 1883.

[4] New York, Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses, 1830-1920.  Ancestry.com.

[5] 1860 Industry Schedule for Ward 6, District 3, U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880, Ancestry.com; 1860 United States Federal Census, 6th Ward, District 3, Ancestry.com; Trow’s New York City Directory for 1861-1862.