Christ Church In Ann Street
( Originally Published 1921 )
There is a certain dignity attached to this street, a higher regard for its earlier history and traditions, when we are informed that it possessed the second Episcopal Church in the city. A reverence for the Almighty was never more ardently or fervently displayed than in the year 1793, when one William Post with 172 other fellow-worshippers of Trinity became dissatisfied with the conduct of things. They endeavored to persuade the church to establish a Sunday evening lecture, presenting a petition thereof in furtherance of their desires. Failing to convince the vestry that their petition should be granted, the signers decided to establish a church of their own, and shortly thereafter at No. 49 Ann Street, on the north side, a few doors east of Nassau Street. the first (and last) "Church in Ann Street" came into existence. Articles of incorporation were filed in the County Clerk's office in April, 1793. An edifice of stone was erected fronting 60 feet on Ann Street and extending back 80 feet, making a total area of 4,800 square feet, no inconsiderable building one hundred and twenty-six years since. The land had been conveyed to the church by George Warner, one of its earliest benefactors.
The first minister called to the pulpit, and whom the parishioners wanted as assistant at Trinity, was the Rev. Jos. Pilmore. He was born at Tadmouth, England, on October 31, 1739. At John Wesley's school in Kingswood, England, he undertook the work of an itinerant or lay preacher. Seeking broader fields, however, in 1769 he came to America for the purpose of establishing Methodism, and preached from the steps of the State House in Philadelphia, this being the first Methodist meeting in that city, where he also established the first church. After the Revolutionary War, however, he sought for orders in the Protestant Episcopal Church, being ordained deacon by Bishop Seabury, November 27, 1785, and priest a few days later. In 1793 he came to New York, where he became identified with the John Street Methodist Church, and from here he was called to Christ Church, remaining ten years. It was here, during the yellow fever epidemic in 1798, he "stood like a son of thunder, preaching every Saturday," defying, as it were, the terrible consequences the catching of that dread disease would entail. He resigned the charge on account of his wife's delicate health, succeeding Dr. Magaw at St. Paul's in Philadelphia. When he died there, July 24, 1825, one-half of his fortune was bequeathed to the Protestant Episcopal Church. During his rectorship, Christ Church made great progress, and at his leaving numbered 300 in communion. Through his efforts, too, the parish was admitted into union with the Convention in 1802; although through a misunderstanding between the officers of the parish and the ecclesiastical authorities of the diocese it had not been so favored until then.
Rev. Thos. Lyell was Pilmore's successor, who for 18 years conducted affairs with a great measure of success, but in March, 1823, a majority of the worshippers clamored for a removal to more spacious quarters, with the result that a new church was established at 81 Anthony (now Worth) Street, near Broadway. A number of the parishioners, however, objected, as they had thirty years before, and remained true to the old church, where, obtaining permission of Trinity, they organized "Christ Church in Ann Street," with Rev. John Sellon as rector, who also purchased the building, and had an assemblage of 120 members. It did not last long, however, for at the end of two years in 1825 he resigned and the congregation was scattered. This was the final chapter to a church which had started so valiantly thirty-two years before, but this was not to end the use of the building as a house of worship.
The Catholics were in need of an edifice, and the Rev. Felix Varela, a Cuban who had been assistant at St. Peter's in Barclay Street, purchased the building partly with his own funds and means lent to him by a Spanish merchant. The Church was solemnly dedicated July 15, 1827, where Varela displayed an ardent devotion to his duties. He had received his education at the Royal College of San Carlos at Havana, and afterward became a deputy from the island to the Cortes, but when the Constitution was overthrown, he was proscribed, came to Philadelphia, and started a periodical called "El Habanero." In 1825 he removed to New York, and having mastered the English language thoroughly was placed at St. Peter's, when Bishop DuBois assumed control of the diocese. From there he was ordained in the Ann Street Church, living at 45 Ann Street in close proximity to his church. Here the Catholics remained, prospering and spreading their gospel through the neighborhood, until the 12th of August, 1835. On that date a disastrous conflagration started at 115 Fulton Street, and before the flames could be effectively checked had burned both sides of Fulton and Ann Streets for nearly a block, destroying the house of worship. The Catholics then constructed another church on James Street, continuing the name "Christ Church." Another building was erected at No. 49 Ann Street, but this was again consumed by fire July 30, 1847.
Meanwhile the members of the church, who had removed uptown to Anthony Street, consecrated and completed their church, formerly a theater, on June 29, 1849. It was here they had a great measure of success, remaining until 1854. From here they removed to West 18th Street, occupying St. Ann's Church. In 1859 a church was secured from the Baptists at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 35th Street, where they remained for thirty years. A tablet was erected here to the memory of Dr. Lyell. At this juncture a new building was erected at 2061 Broadway (71st Street) where the church still remains. Among the prominent rectors were F. C. Ewer, Hugh M. Thompson and William McVickar.
In 1795 the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, of which Matthew Clarkson was President, instituted a new school for the education of negro children at 60 Ann Street under the direction of Cornelius Davis.
In the early 1800's, the street was a mecca for a short while of seafaring men. They swarmed here, after their ships touched port, and no doubt visited the various taverns, and after spending their stipends withdrew. This condition of affairs existed for a short while only, and the men of the sea frequented other parts of town, nearer the water-fronts.
In 1803 Andrew Hopper had an attractive residence where the St. Paul building now stands, amid spacious grounds on the block which extends from Ann to Fulton streets on Broadway. He afterward had a dry goods store on this block occupying a building in conjunction. with John Scoles, the engraver and bookseller, about the year 1805. Their house number was 222 Broadway, which was the corner of Ann Street. A few years later Jotham Smith also had a large dry goods store on this corner, where a majority of the ladies of town did their purchasing. Smith afterward removed to the Astor House site.
Ann Street in 1805 became the home of Jonas Humbert's distinguished cracker and cake bakery, having re-moved to No. 33 Ann Street from the Bowery. Here he remained for a number of years, baking those justly celebrated cakes and crackers, which were prized by the people of over one hundred years ago.
In 1830 Ann Street was improved and widened from Broadway to Nassau Street, and on March 26, 1832, it was widened from Nassau to William Streets-at a cost of $22,697. These improvements provoked much praise, particularly from the editors of the New York Mirror, who had the following notice in their issue of Saturday, Sept. 14, 1833: "Improvements of the city—Ann Street is quite revolutionized. No one who has not seen it for two years would know it, it is so much improved. It is now worthy of being in the neighborhood of our august presence—before it was not—and its friends and owners perceiving the indecorum of having shabby houses, and an insignificant street in our vicinity, with becoming spirit, for which they deserve the public thanks, resolved on a change. These remarks, be it known, however, do not apply to every part of Ann Street, for there are certain little wooden houses just opposite to us, that we are very anxious to see prostrated, for indeed they are no ornament at present but afford a first-class site for the erection of buildings suitable for this part of the town in general, and its proximity to us in particular." The New York Mirror was published at the northwest corner of Ann and Nassau Streets in the new Franklin Building.
In 1867 the authorities again talked of widening the street; a resolution being passed authorizing the work, but there was some disagreement, and another resolution was adopted rescinding the original one.
In the 1850's Ann Street was a gathering place for many sharpers and gamblers, who came from all over the country to fleece the unwary countryman. A small band of Chinamen operated a number of gambling houses where "fake" games were run night and day. These were scattered over the block from Park Row to Nassau Street, particularly being at numbers 1, 11, 13 and 15. Some of these places flourished until recent years.
The street was a "hang-out" in this period for the volunteer fireladdies, who also took a turn at the cards and "the wheel." The famous "Honey-Bee" fire-engine and Company were quartered at 61 Ann Street, as well as Southwark Engine Co. No. 38 and Humane Hose Co. No. 20, both at 28 Ann Street. Many races were held between the rival fire companies; wagers being laid frequently on the merits of each company, and Ann Street, Broadway and the adjacent thoroughfares resounded with their good-natured banterings. These days are gone forever, never to return.
In the late 1840's, the corner of Park Row and Ann Street was a "standing post" or day station for policemen of the Second Ward, used one-half hour after sunrise until sunset.