Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? Part Four

View Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four of the Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? series.

Welcome to the fourth and final part of the “Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street?” series. Over the course of this series, we’ve overviewed the origins of Stuyvesant Square from its earliest days through to the 1840s (Part One), read about the district’s most active period of development in the 1850s through to the early 1880s (Part Two), and learnt more about the enormous influence one reforming rector at St. George’s Church had on the district in the late 1880s and 1890s (Part Three). In this final blog of the series, we will be discussing why Caleb Carr might have selected the location as the home for his protagonist before briefly touching on how the district continued to develop in the early 20th century.

Why might Caleb Carr have chosen 283 East 17th Street as Dr. Kreizler’s residence?

1891-westI feel it’s important to start this blog by stating the obvious: as I am not the author, I can only hypothesize as to why he may have chosen the fictional address of 283 East 17th Street as the home for his protagonist–and, yes, it is a fictional address. As can be seen in the 1891 maps of the district to the right and below, the section of 17th Street overlooking the park that was described as the location for Doctor’s home is bisected by Second Avenue. On the western side of Second Avenue, lot numbers ended at No. 251 (originally the Hamilton Fish mansion, later turned New York Lying-In Hospital; see below), while on the eastern side of Second Avenue, lot numbers started again at No. 301. Nevertheless, by examining the district’s composition in the 1890s, as well as overviewing the proximity of the neighborhood to other locations of importance in the Alienist books, we can start to theorize about why Caleb Carr might have selected the location. In addition, as Mr. Carr had his own connections to the district in his youth, it seems likely that this may have also played a role in his choice of Stuyvesant Square as the Doctor’s home. | Continue reading →

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? Part Three

View Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four of the Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? series.

Welcome to Part Three of the “Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street?” series. In Part One, we overviewed the early development of Stuyvesant Square from its rural origins to the start of construction in the district in the 1840s. In Part Two, we overviewed the greatest periods of growth in the district, the 1850s to early 1880s, and learnt about the first owner-occupants of the houses in the neighborhood, many of whom were successful merchants, along with the tenants of the district’s first apartment houses who were predominantly writers and theater people. In Part Three, we will learn more about Stuyvesant Square as it was during the critical periods for Alienist books, the 1880s and 1890s, and will focus our attention on some of the most prominent characters that contributed to the shaping of the district’s character during this period.

Stuyvesant Square’s fall from grace in the early 1880s

Even though the architectural charm of Stuyvesant Square had been established thirty years earlier with the building of handsome residential and religious buildings around the district’s attractively landscaped public park, by the early 1880s the district was becoming a shadow of its former self. Tenement populations were now encroaching on the neighborhood, and the district’s wealthier residents had begun to move further uptown in response. Although the park itself was still frequented by neighborhood children, the neglected park’s grass was no longer receiving any maintenance, its flowers had all but disappeared, and its two large fountains were filled with rubbish from the streets rather than water. One contemporary even recalled seeing “dead cats and empty tomato cans” piled in the fountain basins.

At the same time, the district’s iconic St. George’s Episcopal Church that had once drawn some of the largest congregation numbers of any religious institution in New York was also in the process of an equally sharp decline. Congregation numbers had started to fall while under the pastorship of the aging Rev. Dr. Tying in the early 1870s, and numbers had dropped still further following his death. During this period, St. George’s was funded by pew holders, of which there were few remaining due to the wealthy parishioners migrating uptown, and had accumulated $35,000 in floating debt. The financial situation had reached such a precarious point by the late 1870s that there were even reports that the Roman Catholic Church had been approached by members of the vestry to take the church over as a mission. Although members of St. George’s had tried on several occasions to build their numbers up through outreach to the poor, all attempts had been unsuccessful and were eventually abandoned.

When St. George’s attendance numbers reached their bleakest point in the early 1880s, the extremely conservative wardens and vestrymen of the church made a radical decision to approach the passionate reformer, the Rev. Dr. William S. Rainsford, to take over pastorship of the church. Although a surprising choice for an old-fashioned church, this decision would prove to not only turn around the fortune of the failing church but would help to shape the character of the district as a whole in the years to come. | Continue reading →

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? Part Two

View Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four of the Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? series.

Welcome to the second post in the “Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street?” series. In Part One, we started to outline the historical context of the square, starting with the park as a gift from the Stuyvesant family before moving onto the development of the district in the 1840s with the arrival of the neighborhood’s first residents and religious institutions. In Part Two, we continue to track the development of the district from the 1850s through to the 1880s, before we reach the critical period for the books, the 1890s.

A district under construction in the 1850s and ‘60s

Although building in the district had begun in the 1840s with a number of unpretentious Greek Revival style residences, store-residences, and churches constructed around Peter Gerard Stuyvesant’s generously donated tract of parkland, the steady migration northward of New York’s middle and upper classes during the mid-19th century meant that the 1850s and ‘60s represented the greatest period of growth for the district. While the wealthiest members of the upper classes were building newly fashionable Italianate brownstone mansions and French chateaux in Fifth Avenue, districts such as Stuyvesant Square were attracting a burgeoning successful merchant class who also wanted to make their mark on the city with still fashionable but less extravagant late Greek Revival, Italianate, Anglo-Italianate, and transitional style row houses.

Unlike the previous decade in which most of the properties built in the Stuyvesant Square district were modest three-story brick dwellings, the 1850s and ‘60s saw the construction of predominantly four-story brick and brownstone homes. Most lots were purchased or leased during this period by a small number of builders on the condition that a suitable residential property would be erected on the land before being sold on to their first owner-occupants. As an example, Robert Voorhies, a prominent builder in the district, purchased eight lots on East 16th Street for $16,800 in January of 1852, developed all eight lots by November of the same year, and sold the completed homes for $11,000 each by the end of the year, providing him with a healthy profit and the district with eight new residents. | Continue reading →

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? Part One

View Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four of the Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? series.

It seemed appropriate to begin our travels into the past with the location that inspired the name of the website, so over the next few posts I’ve decided to address a question I’ve been frequently asked in the past: “Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street?” On the surface, this is an easy one to answer: “No, Dr. Kreizler is a fictional character so he did not really live anywhere.” But fact can often be more interesting than fiction, and this certainly proved to be the case for this question when I delved a little deeper. Do you know, for instance, who the real notable residents of East 17th Street and the Stuyvesant Square district were throughout the 19th century? Do you know why Caleb Carr might have selected the location? Before we dive straight in to addressing some of these questions, today’s post will provide a brief outline of the historical context of the square, starting with the park as a gift from the Stuyvesant family before moving onto the development and demographic composition of the district in its earliest days.

A gift from the Stuyvesant family

Stuyvesant_Square_Historic_District_2The origin of the Stuyvesant Square district traces back to the square’s namesake, Peter Stuyvesant, the famed mid-17th century Governor of New Amsterdam (New York) who purchased the land that Stuyvesant Square now occupies from the Dutch West India Company in 1651. The Governor’s land purchase was expansive and encompassed Bouwerij 1 (“Bouwerij” being the 17th century Dutch term for “farm”) which was usually reserved for each succeeding Director General, the pastureland north of Bouwerij 1, and part of Bouwerij 2. In later years, he went on to purchase the remainder of Bouwerij 2 and part of Bouwerij 3.

Stuyvesant’s property passed to his descendants following his death and in the mid-18th century his great-grandson, Petrus Stuyvesant, inherited most of the land encompassing the Stuyvesant Bouwerij. In 1787, Petrus extended, widened, and named “Stuyvesant Street,” the road that divided Bouwerij 1 and 2, and chose to live north of Stuyvesant Street in “Petersfield,” a farm located in the vicinity of the present 16th Street near Stuyvesant Square that had an uninterrupted view of the East River. Upon Petrus’s death in 1805, his two sons and daughters inherited the various farms that encompassed the original land of Governor Stuyvesant, with the Bowery farm located south of Stuyvesant Street inherited by his son Nicholas William, the “Leanderts” farm inherited by his daughters, and the Petersfield farm inherited by his son Peter Gerard Stuyvesant. | Continue reading →

What do you think? Leave a comment!