Sunday, April 13, 2014

Genin's Bridge Over Broadway

This lovely engraving from 1852 shows the proposed bridge over Broadway at Fulton Street, that a hatter named J.N. Genin wanted to build. This was so that customers could cross from St. Paul's Chapel to his store in comfort, above the dust and dirt of the street.

John Nicholas Genin (1819-1878) was probably the best known hatter in New York in the mid nineteenth century. Genin was chiefly known for his hats, but Genin's Bazaar, located at 513 Broadway (between Broome and Spring Streets), in the St. Nicholas Hotel, sold not only hats but clothing for men, women and children. In the late 1850s he added a hat emporium, also at the St. Nicholas, at 214 Broadway.

Also known as Genin the Hatter, his fame spread beyond New York City in the fall of 1850, when Jenny Lind came to America and gave her famous concert at Castle Garden. Several New York business men bid at auction for the privilege of buying the very first ticket.  John Genin won with a bid of $225. This was reported in papers "throughout the United States" and people asked "Who is Genin, the Hatter?" According to the New York Mercury (as quoted in the Geneva [NY] Gazette), "Every man involuntarily examined his hat, to see if it was made by Genin; and an Iowa editor declared that one of his neighbors discovered the name Genin in his old hat, and immediately announced front of the Post Office." The man then sold his Genin hat at auction for the princely sum of $14.

1855 portrait of John N. Genin [eBay and NYPL]
In October 1851 the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer reported that J.N. Genin had petitioned the City for

permission to construct an oriental, single arch bridge over Broadway, from St. Paul's Church to opposite his store, at his own expense for the accomodation of pedestrians: dimensions 16 feet from lower part of the bridge to the ground, width of bridge 5 feet 6 inches, do [ditto] of stairs 3 feet 9 inches.

The petition was approved and the bridge built. Genin's bridge was completed by early 1852. The Morning Courier noted in February 1852, that it was very useful on a wet winter day:

Yesterday, the pavement that fronts the block in which GENIN'S store is situated was as clean as if it had been newly scoured, while the rest of the street - thanks to the proverbial neglect of the Street Commissioners - was encrusted with half-crisped mud to the depth of several inches. We pay some $200,000 a year for public street-cleaning, and yet the only passible portion of Broadway, during the late muddy weather, was "Genin's bridge."

Unfortunately in 1859 business setbacks forced Genin to close the hat store; the bazaar closed soon after that. The trouble was the high rents charged by "Broadway unscrupulous and unconscionable set of harpies." The Troy Daily Whig noted that Genin's rent at the St. Nicholas for the two stores was "not a cent less than $18,600 per annum" - an incredible amount in the 1850s, especially in the aftermath of the 1857 economic panic.

Museum of the City of New York
The image on the right is the "Broadway Bridge" from 1870, which spanned Broadway between St. Paul's Chapel and Quinlan's Hat Store. I suspect that this is the Loew's Bridge or Fulton Street Bridge built in 1866-67, which replaced the original early 1850s Genin's Bridge. Now the Trinity Bridge is there, and you can read more about both bridges here at Forgotten New York.

There's plenty more that we could talk about - other pedestrian bridges in New York, the poem written by Mary Tucker in the 1860s about Loew's Bridge (at the Wired New York link there's a good discussion of this). But instead, I'd like to end with a hat. One of Genin's hats, that is. I was delighted to see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has one of his hats in the Costume Institute (jolly Mr. Genin would be pleased, too).  And what a magnificent thing it is - a jaunt, cafĂ© au lait colored stovepipe hat with attitude to spare. At the link you can see an image of the hat label, too -  probably very similar to the one the Iowa gentleman showed to all his friends in front of the local Post Office back when Jenny Lind sang at Castle Garden in 1850.

Image of 1852 bridge from Museum of the City of New York; Genin's Bazaar ad from The Jewish Messenger, ca 1857, at Fulton History (which is also the source of the other newspapers).

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nerve Corns and Cancer Warts

Brooklyn Daily Eagle ad, 1881
What did my 3rd great uncle - a hot-tempered photographer from the Eastern District of Brooklyn in the 1880s -  have in common with Ulysses S. Grant's mother?

They both were the grateful patients of a certain Dr. L. Kimbell (or sometimes Kimball) who treated corns, warts, and other dreadful skin afflictions.

These days, I usually write about Victorian patent medicine over at The Doubletake. But I'm making an exception for this ad from the Long Island Daily Star of July 1881 because it lists several Brooklyn residents who were cured by it - and one of them appears to be a relative of mine, my 3rd great uncle L.S. [Lemuel Stephen] Hicks. I am not allowed to reproduce the ad but you can see it here at the fabulous Fulton History site.

The ad on the left is from a Brooklyn Eagle*, also dating from the summer of 1881. The Long Island Star advertisement, which takes up almost a full column, is from "the Well-Known Dr. L. Kimball" who was temporarily at 100 Fourth Street, Brooklyn, which was a Williamsburgh hotel called the Wall House. According to Edwin Armbruster in The Eastern District of Brooklyn, the Williamsburgh post office was located there in the early 1870s. By the 1890s it had been renamed the Hotel Boswyck. Lemuel Hicks' photographic studio was at 158 Grand Street.  Google Maps estimates that it's a 5 minute walk from 158 Grand to 100 South Fourth.

Hannah S. Grant
By July 1881, Dr. Kimbell had been practising for several weeks in "Parlor No. 19, up one flight of stairs" at the Wall House. Although he was primarily chiropodist, he also treated ailments elsewhere on the body with "a new liquid process...only known to Dr. Kimball." Among his grateful patients - most of whom were local to Greenpoint and Williamsburgh, Brooklyn - was "Ex-President Grant's aged mother [who was cured of] terrible nerve bunions and nerve corns." It was called Doctor Kimball's Magic Oil and cost a dollar a bottle He also made several more specific remedies including a Wart Banisher (this may have been what Jacob and L.S. availed themselves of), and a Chiropodian Remedy.

Hannah Simpson Grant (1798-1883) was the Pennsylvania-born mother of ex-President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1879 she was living in Jersey City and granted a rare interview to the New York Graphic, a transcription of which is at the link. There is a Hannah Grant, born in Pennsylvania in 1798, living in Jersey City in 1880 (according to the link under her photo, she died there in 1883). So geographically, it is possible that she was treated by Dr. Kimbell.

Anyway, among the local patients listed in the 1881 Long Island Daily Star ad, I noticed "Jacob Morch and L.S. Hicks [who] had cancer warts exterminated from their faces." Unfortunately, unlike some of the other people, Jacob and L.S. did not provide their addresses. So how can I know for sure that the L.S. Hicks of this ad is my particular L.S. Hicks? Well, I can't be 100% sure. But as far as I can determine, I think that it probably is.

For one thing, I haven't found any other L.S. Hickses in Brooklyn in the early 1880s (with the exception of Lemuel's namesake son). The Brooklyn Public Library is digitizing their collection of city directories, which is great news for anyone who has Brooklyn ancestors. I checked the directories closest to the year 1881, which confirmed my recollection of not finding any other L.S. Hicks in the 1850-1900 period in Brooklyn except Uncle Lemuel (and his son, who was 10 years old in 1881):

1880 Brooklyn directory [link here] : Lemuel S. Hicks is the only L.S. Hicks listed
1883 Brooklyn directory [link here] : same as 1880

Dr. Kimbell seems to have travelled to several cities from the 1860s through the 1880s, usually seeing patients in a hotel. In 1885, for example, he was in Norwich, Connecticut; the Norwich Day ran this long-winded ad (two columns long) offering free exams from 9am to 4:30pm at the Crocker House. He specialized in corns and "nerve excresences" of the feet, as well as "excessive perspiration," chilblains, boils and "all kinds of Cancers [and] Cancer Warts." And there is a wonderful ad in the Hartford (Conn.) Morning Record of Oct. 31, 1892 which quotes a lady with the memorable name Mrs. Pliny Jewell, who was cured of a horrifying number of corns by Dr. Kimbell.

All of which goes to show that anything can be a family history resource (and local history resource) - even an old patent medicine ad.

* Lemuel Hicks is not among the eminent patients in this and other Eagle ads for Dr. Kimbell. It's probably just because the Star ad is miles longer. But it's also a fact that the name L.S. Hicks was well known to Eagle readers from his acrimonious divorce, his angry outbursts to photographic subjects (tough to be fair this was not until 1883), and his connection to an infamous Brooklyn murder case as the outspoken brother-in-law of the perpetrator.