Waterfront Reformers

 

by Donald R. Ginty, Glucksman Ireland House, New York University

(c) 2016, Donald R. Ginty. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The next-door neighbor to big tenement at 238 Cherry Street was the new First Baptist Mariner’s Chapel at 234-236 Cherry Street.

First Baptist Mariners Chapel at 234-236 Cherry Street. (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art - lithograph https://archive.org/details/mma_baptist_mariners_chapel_new_york_352772)

First Baptist Mariners Chapel at 234-236 Cherry Street. (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art – lithograph https://archive.org/details/mma_baptist_mariners_chapel_new_york_352772)

A prime mover in the organization and fund-raising for the church was the New York Baptist Female Bethel Union. The Bethel movement had started in England in 1819 as a religious organization devoted to ministering to seafarers and had become an international movement. The New York Baptist Female Bethel Union was formed in 1841. Its 1852 Treasurer’s Report indicated that the revenues for the year exceeded $6 thousand apportioned among twelve churches, with more than 25% of the total dedicated to the construction of the Cherry Street church.

The Treasurer’s  Report describes the church this way:

Our building lot is 76 ½ feet wide and 100 deep and cost $11,000.(comparable to $348,000 in current dollars.)

Our Chapel, including projection of tower and rooms in the rear, is 95 feet deep and 60 feet wide. It is built of brick in a plain substantial manner with a plain iron fence in front. Under the whole building is a cellar, which we rent for $300 a year. On the first floor after passing the vestibule, is a Lecture Room 60 feet by 35. In rear of this is a Mariner’s Library and Reading Room about 18 by 25 feet; also two large and two small but comfortable rooms occupied by the Sexton, the rent of which pays his salary. There is also a spare room to be occupied by our sailor friends when sick and unable to provide for themselves. On the second floor is the main audience room, which will seat above and below 1,000 persons.

In rear of the pulpit are two Committee or dressing rooms connected with the baptistery; also a room in the tower, in the rear of the gallery for the Infant School.

The audience room is finished in a very plain manner, and yet the symmetry is such that many call it a beautiful house, by which they evidently mean, beautiful in its simplicity. [1]

According to Trow’s Directory of the City of New York for 1852-1853, the chapel’s sexton, George Davis, resided, not in the chapel,  but at 284 Cherry Street, and the first pastor, Rev. Ira R. Stewart resided at 148 Cherry Street.

The pastor, Rev. Stewart, was present at the October 17, 1852 Female Bethel Union meeting and reported that the church administered to congregants of 17 or 18 nations and has “a new company of seamen every Lord’s day the year round, which varies in number from 20 or 30 to 70 or 80, which amounts to several thousand in the course of a year who hear with great attention the glorious Gospel of the Blessed God.” [2]

Cover of the 1852 Annual Report of the N. Y. Baptist Female Bethel Union which describes the new Mariners Chapel. (Source: https://archive.org/details/eleventhannualre00newy)

Cover of the 1852 Annual Report of the N. Y. Baptist Female Bethel Union which describes the new Mariners Chapel. (Source: https://archive.org/details/eleventhannualre00newy)

Rev. Stewart was brought up a Connecticut Yankee in New London and had spent time at sea as a ship’s carpenter before his call to the ministry. As a youth he had a strong physical constitution and “he took great pains to invigorate his body and inure it to hardships. When he was fifteen years of age, just for the sake of the feat, he labored incessantly from Monday morning until Saturday night without sleep or rest.” [3] He would seem a fitting choice to lead a mission to merchant marine seamen in one of the world’s fastest growing ports.

Rev.Ira B. Stewart - First Pastor of the First Baptist Mariner's Chapel. As a youth he had a strong physical constitution and “he took great pains to invigorate his body and inure it to hardships. When he was fifteen years of age, just for the sake of the feat, he labored incessantly from Monday morning until Saturday night without sleep or rest.” Source: see footnote [3]

Rev.Ira B. Stewart – First Pastor of the First Baptist Mariner’s Chapel.
As a youth he had a strong physical constitution and “he took great pains to invigorate his body and inure it to hardships. When he was fifteen years of age, just for the sake of the feat, he labored incessantly from Monday morning until Saturday night without sleep or rest.” Source: see footnote [3]

Elsewhere in a “Sketch of Ira R. Stewart,” written by Stewart himself, he describes in a journal entry his reaction to the establishment of the French Second Republic in 1848:

In the Old World France has gained her freedom, from a despotism, and become a Republic. The struggle was short, it was like a “Nation born in a day.” The civil arm of the Pope has been broken, may it never be healed – his ecclesiastical power is weakened and all Europe seems to be struggling into Liberty. [4]

In this decidedly pre-ecumenical era, there is not much in Stewart’s sentiments to appeal to his Cherry Street Irish neighbors, who were likely to have been Roman Catholic. The two nearest churches to the Cherry Street neighborhood of the time would have been the Church of the Transfiguration (1837) at 29 Mott Street and St. Mary’s Church (1826) at Grand and Ridge Streets. The Bethel movement on behalf of transient mariners was led by Protestant ministries and there is no evidence of a corresponding Catholic outreach effort.

While the chapel would minister to the seaman’s spiritual needs, just a few blocks away stood the Sailor’s Home at 190 Cherry Street. The Home was a five story building that could accommodate 300 boarders. It contained a reading room, chapel, maritime museum and bowling alley. It had been developed by the American Seaman’s Friend Society in 1842. The Society had earlier built the Colored Sailor’s Home on John Street in 1829.

New York Times article, “The American Seamen’s Friend Society: Interesting Speeches –Prosperous Report,” from May 9, 1865 reported that the Sailor’s Home had housed 2,194 men in the prior year. It also noted that “In the Colored Sailor’s Home, 526 boarders have been received during the year, making 1,449 boarders during the 30 months of actual working time since 1862, the July riots having broken it up for a time.”

Cherry Street with Sailor's Home on the left. (from NYPL Digital Collections)

Cherry Street with Sailor’s Home on the left. (from NYPL Digital Collections)

The same Times article noted that the “board has been called to mourn the death of its Acting Vice-President, Wm. B. Crosby, Esq., for more than twenty years an active, highly esteemed and much beloved member.” Crosby, who had also served as a Trustee of the Society and was active in the American Tract Society, maintained a large house and a property of almost a square city block, bounded by Cherry, Monroe, Jefferson  and Clinton Streets.

Wm. B. Crosby, Esq. Home bounded by Monroe, Cherry, Jefferson and Clinton Streets. (NYPL Digital Collections)

Wm. B. Crosby, Esq. Home bounded by Monroe, Cherry, Jefferson and Clinton Streets. (NYPL Digital Collections)

 

1857 Perris map showing Crosby property bounded by Cherry, Monroe, Jefferson and Clinton Streets. (Source: nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-bf50-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.g-e1462398933352.jpg File type: image/jpeg

1857 Perris map showing Crosby property bounded by Cherry, Monroe, Jefferson and Clinton Streets.
(Source: nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-bf50-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.g-e1462398933352.jpg
File type: image/jpeg

[1] Bethel Union Annual Report October 17, 1852 p. 9.

[2] Ibid, p. 10.

[3] The New York Chronicle, Volume 1, editor Rev. Orrin B. Judd, Holman & Gray, New York, 1849, p. 66.

[4] Ibid, p. 84.