Home News A Tiny House in Manhattan Has a Link to the Underground Railroad

A Tiny House in Manhattan Has a Link to the Underground Railroad

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In a city of glamorous skyscrapers rising higher and higher for attention, the charming little brick and wood house at 2 White Street in Tribeca is just as striking in its understated scale and design.

Built in 1809 by school commissioner Gideon Tucker, who ran a nearby plaster mill, the two-story Federal-style corner house is one of the surviving Manhattan homes with a pitched gambrel roof and original dormer windows. Very rare. over two centuries.

The ground floor of the small house was divided into multiple storefronts. In the 20th century, various privately owned shops served the working-class neighborhood known as Washington’s Market until the 1970s. There are poles, a cigar shop, a liquor store, a travel agency, a footwear store, and a distinctive shoe-shaped sign suspended above West Broadway. Now consolidated into a single store, the current retail space retains rough details from the liquor store days, including retro red and blue neon signs and period gold leaf windows advertising cognac and cordial.

Over the past 14 years, the building has become a fashion destination as two haberdashers (first J. Crew and now Todd Snyder) sell men’s clothing from their evocative corner storefront .

But what’s lesser known is the pre-Civil War incarnation of 2 White Street, a destination of a very different kind. The mansion of a prominent black abolitionist and possibly a stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of black and white activists who aided the escape of African Americans. Slavery in the South before the Civil War. From 1842 until his death in 1847, Reverend Theodore S. Wright lived in this house and helped lead fugitives to freedom in Canada and northern Canada.

2 White Street was designated a separate landmark by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966 and later designated as a Tribeca East Historic District in 1992, although both designation reports do not include Wright. was not mentioned. Since then, the minister’s ambiguity has continued. In interviews, three of his tenants, who have operated the corner storefront for most of the past 28 years, said they had never heard of Wright or the building’s abolitionist history until informed by a reporter. I was.

“I get goosebumps,” says menswear designer Todd Snyder, who opened his own boutique in the building in 2019 after overseeing the J. Crew store that opened in 2008.

Born free in Rhode Island in 1797, Wright was educated at the Free African School in New York City and graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1828.

As pastor of New York City’s first Colored Presbyterian Church, which gathered in classrooms near Duane and Hudson streets and built a church on Frankfort Street, Wright denounced slavery from the pulpit and defended its civil liberties. relentlessly organized the black community.

In the 1830s he served on the first Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society and was one of the early members of the New York Vigilance Commission. The New York Vigilance Commission actively assisted those escaping slavery and hired lawyers to ensure that the kidnappers were not coerced in court. Free black Americans into slavery. In the 1840s, while White lived in his streets, he served as president of the group.

“For me, Wright is really one of the founders of the Underground Railroad.” To Canada where they can be free.”

By 1841, the New York Board of Vigilance claimed to have aided over 1,000 fugitives. This was an important task at a time when the city was run by a pro-Southern government and was economically intertwined with the slaver South through the cotton trade.

Foner said Wright was probably hiding a fugitive from slavery in his home.

“We know from some of the correspondence that he was in contact with a branch of the Underground Railroad, such as Boston. We exchanged letters saying they had sent a fugitive,” he said. “There weren’t many places to hide fugitives in New York, so I think it’s likely that Wright’s house was used as a hideout.”

Deeply committed to the principle of passive resistance, Wright was “an early giant of the civil rights movement, the Martin Luther King of his day,” co-authored with Don Papson in The Secret Lives of the Underground. co-author Tom Carralco said. New York City Railroad. ”

When he was severely beaten by white anti-slavery activists at a Princeton event in 1836, the minister did not fight back.

After Wright’s death, the Broadway funeral procession was a quarter mile long, and “throughout the route” the sidewalks “filled with women belonging to the city’s congregations of color,” said a white abolitionist. The leader, Lewis Tappan, writes: in the Emancipator and Republican newspapers of the time.

Wright’s White Street house has a special meaning. 18 city sites with landmark protection related to abolitionism or Underground Railroad.

Homes near two other major African-American Underground Railroad figures – David Ruggles, publisher and leader of the New York Vigilance Commission, on Rispenard Street (where the fugitive Frederick Douglass was hidden) and Louis Napoleon, the indomitable Underground Railroad conductor on Leonard Street—destroyed long ago.

Today, most people familiar with 2 White Street, also known as 235 West Broadway, associate it with one of several liquor-related incarnations.



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In 1994, Irish-born rock musician “roadie” Martin Sheridan opened Liquor Store Bar, renting the corner storefront for $2,000 a month. It was on West Broadway.

“I was riding the wave of downtown artists,” Sheridan recalls. “It was the last wave before they all moved to Brooklyn or something.”

Most of the bartenders at Mr. Sheridan’s Tavern Artists and musicians who lived in Tribeca filled the bar with a creative, neighborhood feel specific to the time and place.

Composer Charles Coleman, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1975, said: He and they created something out of nothing but the imagination.

“It’s great to discuss it,” he said. “Especially when beer is involved”.

Sheridan said the Liquor Store bar closed in 2004 and was unable to obtain lease renewals. The following year, Michele Angelosi, an Italian-born bartender at nearby Puffy’s Tavern, rented 2 White Street with the intention of opening an upgraded version of the popular hangout.

In the basement, Angelosi said, “I found an old alcohol bottle, probably from the 1920s. It almost looked like a pharmacy bottle.”

He poured $250,000 into this new venture, demolishing the wall that joined the building’s two storefronts, and spent about $40,000 installing a 49-foot mahogany bar adorned with elegant wraparound molding. Did.

However, no drinks were sold at that bar. When Angelosi applied for a liquor license, he was met with fierce opposition from some of his neighbors.

Prominent local residents, such as “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini, have written letters supporting his application, but New York state has no more than three businesses with full liquor licenses. decided that liquor stores had to be taciturn and refused Mr. Angelosi’s license. Within 500 feet. Mr. Angelosi was forced to give up his dream.

The custom mahogany bar he installed “was supposed to last 100 years and it’s still there,” lamented recently. “It’s beautiful and my heart tightens every time I go.”

J. Crew’s decision to open its first independent menswear store in the Liquor Store in 2008 was championed by marketing guru Andy Spade and pitched to J. Crew executives.

“Andy used to say, ‘A guy walks into a bar and comes out with a madras,'” said Snyder, J. Crew’s head of men’s design at the time.

The store became an incubator where the company tested many of the items that have become J. Crew staples.

It was a turning point for both the brand and Mr. Snyder.

“It was where I learned not only how to design apparel, but how to actually create the environment that apparel lives in,” he said. That’s when I decided to go.”

Snyder opened his first store in 2016, and after J. Crew left the Liquor Store in 2019, he jumped at the chance to put his store there, adding crown molding and a square ceiling soffit. Added and gave the space a clubby. old world style.

“I have always been inspired by British pubs and gentlemen’s clubs where people smoke and drink,” he explains.

Behind the store’s bar is a small framed portrait of Wright surrounded by bottles of whiskey. Snyder said he doesn’t know how he got there.

Ryan Taylor, who ran the store until he left in January to focus on his acting career, said he was the one who decided to honor Mr. Wright by displaying his portrait.

Taylor hadn’t heard of Wright in 2019. In 2019, Rabbi Andy, his director of the nearby Jewish Community Project Downtown, stopped by Mr. Backman to tell us about Mr. Wright. Rabbi Bachman gave Mr. Taylor a portrait of Wright, A community meeting was then held at the liquor store to discuss efforts to install plaques at locations in the city related to abolitionism as part of the Freedom Trail.

“Some of our African-American clients didn’t understand that history,” said Taylor, 54, who is also African-American. So when shoppers of all races come and ask about Wright’s portraits, Taylor made a point of telling them why they felt they were standing on “sacred ground.”

“There was a very powerful man in this building who risked his life to bring about change. He wasn’t safe, but he made it through,” Taylor said, adding: added like You drink whiskey when you buy a suit, your fiancée is standing there, and on Tuesday he’s dropping $4,000 to he’s $10,000.

Mr. Taylor’s voice reached its peak.

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