Two Mechanics in Old New York

Mechanics playing cards, circa 1702, New York Public Library.

In 1788, New York City celebrated the the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, and the artisans of the city participated in one of the parades. In an article for the journal Material Culture, Thomas J. Schlereth wrote, “…the city’s shipwrights constructed floats mounted on wheels and outfitted to look like full-rigged vessels. Blacksmiths shops atop wagons carried working smiths toiling at their anvils and forge fires. Carpenters, instrument-makers, and printers demonstrated to all who lined the parade route the manual and muscular dimensions of their crafts.”*

The Carpenter on the Lower West Side

2-5 Hudson St., 1865, photo by Marcus Ormsbee, New York Historical Society.

This is a photo that makes the hearts of many woodworkers go a-flutter. Amidst the signs and the assembled men one figure stands out: the strapping carpenter with mutton-chop whiskers and wooden plane in hand framed by the open doorway on the second floor of 3 Hudson St. It looks as though he has the carpenter’s square paper hat pushed back on his head, and unlike some of the other business owners in formal suits and top hats, he wears his shop apron. When this picture-taking business is over he will get back to work.

There isn’t a tremendous amount of information about J.V. Outcalt but there are a few details, and we can get an idea of the nature of his working neighborhood.

Circa 1857, New York Public Library.

Numbers 1-5 Hudson St. are a short block, perhaps all of 165 feet, at the convergence of Hudson, Chambers and West Broadway (the 1865 photo was taken from Chambers Street looking down Hudson).

1851, Museum of the City of New York.

In the autumn of 1851, the Hudson Railroad Depot opened (on the map it is in the bottom, middle). The Girard House Hotel is the large building in the drawing. Horse-drawn traffic was heavy in this area with carts and carriages, and horses pulling arriving train carriages to the next station on the rail line. A photo from the other side of the street provides a better idea of the appearance of the area.

Dated between 1857-1860, New York Public Library.

On the other side of that nice and clean pastel drawing is our block on Hudson Street. It is easy to imagine how busy this area would have been with goods moving by carts and people moving on horse-drawn trolley cars on grade-level tracks. Let’s not think too much about the amount of manure on the street, in the summer, the heat and humidity…

Left: 1896, New York Historical Society. Right, top: 1875, Museum of the City of New York; bottom: 1865, NY Public Library.

Moving from left to right in the photo, there is Ridley’s Candy (established in 1806) on Chambers Street (second entrance faces Hudson). Next, is the five-story brick building at 1 Hudson St. occupied by wholesale druggists Harral, Risley & Kitchen. In the 1865 photo we only see a small slice of this building on the far left.

The vacant lot and 3 Hudson St. NY Public Library.

Until a found a photo with higher resolution turned up it was impossible to figure out the name of the carpenter at 3 Hudson St. This second photo tells us J.V. Outcalt was occupying this property sometime between 1857 and 1860. What exactly is in the empty lot between numbers 1 and 3 Hudson? It could be anything from a small shop used by a tradesman to an outhouse, it’s hard to tell. It is not apparent if another business occupies the ground floor of 3 Hudson or if Outcalt has the entire building. On the far right is one edge of 5 Hudson and the occupant is a house and sign painter. It is likely the same business as seen in the 1865 photo.

In 1865 this short block had the addition of 2 Hudson where Henry Croker, Jr. opened his printing business. How was an even numbered address put on this odd-numbered block? First, there is no Hudson Street across the street, it’s West Broadway over there. Second, this was New York in the 1860s, so what are you going to do about it?

John Peake, the druggist, now occupies the ground floor of No. 3 and Leonard Ring (established 1848) has his house and sign painting business on the upper floors of No. 5. Using a jeweler’s loupe revealed the Sample Room on the ground floor of No. 5 was not part of the painting business. It is O’Brien’s Sample Room (just visible on the awning), where according to the sign behind the left-side door, one could sample ale and probably spirits. Well, that explains the barrel at curbside and the jugs arranged under the window.

Based on a poster advertising Aug. 3, 1865, as the date for the annual picnic of the Mutual Society Club we have an approximate date of the photo. The Civil War was over and New York, already experiencing a steady population growth, was about to take off. In 1840, the population count was around 313,000, by 1850 it was 516,00, by 1860 814,000 and in 1870 it was 942,000. Around the time of the 1865 photo the west side of Lower Manhattan had a population per square mile density of 93,500. People lived and worked cheek by jowl. Lower Manhattan was dense with businesses and boarding houses.

In 1854, No. 3 Hudson St. was occupied by Allen & MacDowell, carpenters. They don’t show up in later business directories. Peter Bertine, carpenter, is listed at 3 Hudson in the 1856/57 directory. J.V. Outcalt seems to be the next occupant, but is not found in the available city directories until the 1862/63 edition. There were competing city directories and he could be listed in an other edition.

In a later listing he uses his first name, John, and in the 1871/72 city directory his full name, John Voorhees Outcalt, is given and he has formed a partnership with George Youngs, a builder.

The business is Youngs & Outcalt, Builders. The 1871/72 directory included an advertisement for the business. In the city directories George Youngs also has his own listing with both addresses.

Wilsons City Directory, 1871/72, NY Public Library.

George Youngs began his listings in the city directory around the same time as Outcalt. Another change for Outcalt was his home address, moving from East Seventh to West 55th Street. He may have gotten married, or was already married and with business more successful was able to move.

Looking down Hudson Street, 1870, NY Public Library.

This photo was taken the year prior to the Outcalt and Youngs partership and was taken at the front of our Hudson Street block. It gives a better idea of the street traffic running at the front of the building. The triangle on the lower right is now the present-day Bogardus Garden.

In the 1875/76 city directory a Peter I.V. Outcalt, with no occupation noted, is listed directly below John V. Outcalt. This may be his son working at 3 Hudson. In the next year’s directory Peter I.V. is listed as a builder and he continues to be listed until 1880.

The 1877/78 directory has the last listing for J.V. Outcalt, carpenter, with the Hudson and Seventh Street addresses. He is not listed in the 1878/79 directory, however George Youngs is, but not Youngs & Outcalt. It is likely John V. Outcalt died sometime in 1878 or 1879 (city business directories run from June to the following May). In the 1880/81 directory there is a listing for Mary H. Outcalt, widow of John. As a side note, in all the directories checked no other John or J. Outcalt was listed. Based on the photo dated between 1857-1860 and the city business listings John Voorhees Outcalt had his shop at 3 Hudson St. for somewhere between 18-22 years. That’s a long run in a city changing at a rapid pace.

Another thing of note is Leonard Ring, the house and sign painter at 5 Hudson, was listed at a different address in the 1875/76 directory and in the 1877/78 and 1878/79 directories he is not found. His business was started in 1848 and it is quite possible he died within a year or two of Outcalt.

Get your hankies out for this next part. Sometime in the late 1890s Ridley’s Candy and the building at 1 Hudson St. were gone and in their place the Irving National Bank was built.

Finished in 1903, NY Public Library.

An additional change for the area was the elevation of the train tracks (dismantled decades later) and I decided to not make you depressed by showing you any more photos of what replaced Nos. 3 and 5 in later decades, or today. The Irving National Bank building eventually took on other names and today is One Hudson and filled with luxurious TriBeCa condos.

Let’s cheer up and go over to the Lower East Side and meet the other Mechanic.

The Ship Joiner on the Lower East Side

1865, photo by Marcus Ormsby, New York Historical Society.

Daniel Coger was listed as a shipbuilder at 184 Front St. in the 1855/56 directory. The following year he (as a joiner) and Thomas Hanes (carpenter) were now at 480 Water St. and this probably marked the year he first owned his shop. Did he buy the shop with the ship’s wheel on the roof or did he put it there himself?

Daniel Coger is the only Coger listed at 480 Water St. until his son, John Jr. joins the business as a joiner in the 1864/1865 city directory. The photo above, taken in 1865, may mark the year the business became Daniel Coger & Son, certainly an important event for the family. Thomas Hanes is pictured to the left in the photo, at the front of the small brick shop.

These photos of workman assembled before their shops were a true event and possibly the only time they would have their photo taken, something that can be hard to believe in today’s selfie-drenched world. An effort was made to turn up in your best clothes and that might entail adding a vest over your work shirt and dusting down your trousers. The proprietor might but on a jacket and top hat. Shop goods would be positioned at the front door and if you had a wagon it was cleaned up ready to be photographed. The photographer would sell the photos on cartes-de-visite to be used as advertisements. And what must it have felt like when the photographer arrived with the finished product and for the first time seeing oneself in a photograph?

1857, NY Public Library.

The shop at 480 Water St. (marked with the ship’s wheel) and its adjacent lumberyard are close to the Pike Slip that ran down to the water. A portion of the lumberyard can be seen on the right in the photo.

Shipbuilders, circa 1860. University of Maryland Digital Collections.

The group photo of 1865 may also mark the 30th year (possibly more) of Daniel Coger’s work as a ship joiner, for there is a Daniel Coger listed in Longworth’s Directory in the 1835/36 edition.

Coenties Slip, 1871, New York Historical Society.

I couldn’t find a photo of the Pike Slip but did come across one of the Coenties Slip, which was further down the waterfront and near the Battery. It provides a glimpse of the kind and number of ships on the waterfront and where Coger & Son worked when 0utside of their shop.

Another view of the Coenties Slip, 1876, NY Public Library.

Daniel Coger is listed in the city directories through the 1878/79 edition. In the following year only John Jr. is found. It is likely Daniel died. If so, he was a business owner for at least 22 years and before owning his shop he would have apprenticed and worked for others. Altogether he could have easily worked for 40 or more years along the waterfront, living long enough for his son to join the business and succeed him.

John Jr. is listed as a joiner and remains at 480 Water St. through 1883. In the 1884/85 city directory, he is at the same address but is now listed as a truckman. When he joined his father’s business the population of New York was around 814,000 and 20 years later, when he was no longer or could no longer be a ship joiner, the city population was 1.2 million. He saw the growth of Brooklyn shipyards shift work away from Lower Manhattan and at the same time great changes in the modes of transportation.

To pick up again on Thomas Schlereth’s Material Culture article, wheres the artisans of New York participated in and were honored in the 1788 celebrations things were vastly different in the 1853 New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of Art, Sciences, and Manufactures,  “…President Franklin Pierce opened the fair but the many artisans who had constructed the fair site and crafted the objects on display were not, as Horace Greeley observed, invited to share in the inaugural ceremonies in any appropriate or official way. Their products and processes were celebrated, but not their persons. By the 1850s industrialization had begun its impact…”

John V. Outcalt and Daniel Coger both came up in their trades during the 1850s and by the mid-1860s owned their own shops. They worked as they were taught and followed long-held traditions in a world that was rapidly changing. On the door steps of their shops they saw carriages replaced with trolleys, rail lines that ran to the state capital, sail competing with steam and metal replacing wood. The city directories indicate they had relatively long and stable business lives, but they were close to the end of the line.

These old photos intrigue us and make us yearn to know more. We have just a few details about their work-carpenter, builder, joiner, shipwright and where they worked. We want to visit their shops, the lumberyards, hear their stories and ask loads of questions. And we want to know the individual.

Suzanne Ellison

*”The New York Artisan in the Early Republic: A Portrait from Graphic Evidence, 1787-1853” by Thomas J. Schlereth, Modern Culture, Vol.20, No.1.

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20 Responses to Two Mechanics in Old New York

  1. Tom OBrien says:

    Thank you for the history walk. I would bet that the sign painter was as busy as any man on the block. I listened carefully during the history walk, and I’d almost swear that I heard accents of Irish, Scots, Welsh, German, and perhaps bits of French and Italian.


    • Richard Mahler says:

      I have antique tools made by immigrant New York toolmakers who plied their trade to the carpenters, boat joiners, builders and cabinetmakers such as the ones in this article. Of the many planes, not only their makers’ marks but the styles of the tools themselves are clues to the countries, and sometimes even the cities, they came from. With some research, one may even know within a few years of when they were made and sold.


    • saucyindexer says:

      Thanks, Tom!


  2. Richard Mahler says:

    This is a fascinating craftsmans’ history and right up my alley! I have been an antique photo collector for nearly 50 years with around 2000 in my collection, nearly all from 1840 to 1920. As a photographer and artist, I began collecting from an interest in the history of photography and as away to preserve images that were likely one of a kind and in danger of being thrown away and forever lost. About 20 years ago with the advent of the internet the interest in collecting began in earnest and now there are fewer and fewer images of real historical interest and subject matter available; I am glad I started when I did. I have hundreds of store and business photos with owners, employees, customers and neighborhood bystanders lined up for the photographer. One day I will leave the collection to a library or museum to ensure survival.

    I have been scanning photos at ultra-high resolutions of 1200 pixels per inch so I can restore damage at the paper fiber/emulsion level, many of them blogged on my antique photo site to provide photographic technique and anything I have managed to discover about them: is the address. Kudos for the remarkable research you have done on the workers, photos and geography of the city in this article! I never get enough of this kind of thing.


  3. Aquila says:

    John Voorhees Outcalt was born in New Brunswick, Middlesex county, New Jersey in 1840, married Mary Helen Youngs and died on 27 November 1877, 36-37 years of age and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings county, New York ( Mary Helen Youngs was George B. Youngs daughter, born in January 1842 and died 23 February 1923 ( George B. Youngs was born 25 January 1802 and died 1 January 1880 at 77 years of age (
    There are 4 listings for Daniel Coger, 3 of whom are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery and one in Cypress Hills Cemetery, both in Brooklyn, Kings county, New York (


  4. Peter Brandes says:

    That was fascinating! Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to flesh out that small, but important, piece of history.


  5. tpobrienjr says:

    The Power of the Blog is not to be trifled with.


  6. John Gonzales says:

    Fascinating. Thank you for going through the time and effort to make this available to us all.


  7. Paul Londo says:

    Just think how long the people in these photographs had to stand and pose for these photos. That is one of the reasons people didn’t smile in photos because it took so long and it hurts to smile that long. (I know this because I’ve been a Santa for 45 years and I spend a lot of time smiling!)


    • saucyindexer says:

      Santa! I knew you were real! I had similar thoughts about how long it took to get the photo and also how many nipped into the Sample Room to recover.


  8. Jim Hall says:

    Thanks for the story and the photos, it was very interesting.


  9. Jim Higginbottom says:

    Your historical detective work has pulled two otherwise forgotten artisans out of the fog of history so part of their story can be remembered! Thanks for a great story! I really enjoyed it!


    • saucyindexer says:

      That’s a very good way to sum up this post. We don’t have great detail about Outcalt and Cogen, but now we have more, and Aquila’s comment gave us a bit more.


  10. Richard Mahler says:

    Thanks for the heads up on Schlereth’s material culture writings. I am getting my hands on what I can!


  11. mobilemechanic4 says:

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    Tow Truck


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