Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cheesy Elections; No, Not 2004

John Fowler Continues His tour of New York City in 1830

As John Fowler continues exploring downtown Manhattan in 1830 he’s forced to admit that none of the churches and chapels have quite the ancient grandeur of Britain’s. Still he can’t help being favorably impressed with several of the older such structures. While James Stuart has attended services at many of these churches this year he’s neglected to actually describe the buildings, being more interested in who is delivering the sermon.

Fowler presents us with the two jewels of Broadway, Trinity and St. Paul’s. Trinity Church impresses him due to its antiquity, although this is actually the second church on the spot, the first, built in 1696, having been destroyed by fire in 1776. The church will once again be replaced 16 years after Fowler’s visit. He obviously has asked a lot of questions because he informs us the steeple is 198 feet high and that it has the only set of church bells in the city. The surrounding churchyard contains the seemingly unbelievable total of 160,000 bodies. (Someone may just have been pulling Fowler’s leg, here; or perhaps a typo crept intro his report somewhere along the line).

Further up Broadway, a few blocks south of City Hall and the city hospital, sits St. Paul’s Chapel, looking pretty much as it does today, with its Ionic portico, its four fluted stone columns, and its monument to Revolutionary War general Richard Montgomery. Fowler calls the structure “superb”. He also gives brief descriptions of St. John’s Chapel over on Varick Street (near where traffic enters and exits the Holland Tunnel today) and the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott Street. (A fire will destroy this one in 1866, a replacement opens two years later. By that time construction is underway on the Fifth Avenue replacement we know today). Fowler also mentions in passing that the city now has close to a hundred churches and one synagogue.

Staying with friends, he has no need of hotels but he does mention the City Hotel, where Stuart first stayed, as well as the six-story Adelphi, the American (next door to former mayor Philip Hone’s residence), the newly-converted Mansion House, the Franklin House (handy to the lower Brooklyn ferry) the National, and the Washington Hall (host to James Fenimore Cooper’s 1824 Bread and Cheese Club - when you applied for membership current members would place either a piece if bread in the ballot box, if you were acceptable, or a piece of cheese if you were persona non grata - or perhaps persona non grated).

Open air markets were another source of interest to Fowler - he knows of at least twelve in the city, his favorite being the Fulton Market, site of today’s South Street Seaport. He quotes some prices - beef, 8 to 12 cents a pound; turkeys, 75 cents to a dollar-and-a-quarter each; potatoes anywhere from 30 to 70 cents a bushel, depending on the season; green and black teas, under a dollar a pound; inferior port wine, $2.50 to $4 a gallon; and beer, four to six dollars a barrel, or the average monthly wage of a house- or chamber maid).

Speaking of beef, when American friends ask him to compare theirs to British beef. he perhaps equivocates. “I could only confess myself not epicure enough to tell the difference.”

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