Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The name

Crosby Street is named for William Bedlow Crosby (1786-1865). He never played at Woodstock.

Here's his story:

Crosby's English ancestors belonged to "the best class of land-owning yeomanry," and had substantial property holdings as far back as the 15th century. They lived in York County, where Simon Crosby first heard of the Puritan settlements in New England.

In May, 1635, Simon boarded the Susan and Ellyn and departed England with his wife and infant son. Three months later, they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and other relatives soon followed. The Crosby family remained in Massachusetts for several generations, attaining prominence as clergy, judges, and landowners.

In 1777, Ebenezer Crosby graduated from Harvard College and served as a surgeon to George Washington's guards in the Revolutionary War. After the war, he married Catherine Bedlow of New York City, a descendant of Dutch settlers, and they lived in Manhattan. Ebenezer and Catherine had three children together, but Ebenezer fell ill in 1787 and died the next year at age thirty-four. Catherine died seven months after her husband, at thirty.

Orphaned at age two, William Bedlow Crosby went to live with Colonel Henry Rutgers, his mother's uncle and a prominent New York landowner. When Rutgers died in 1830, William inherited the entire Seventh Ward of Lower Manhattan - all the land from Division Street (now East Broadway) to the East River, between Catherine Street and Grand Street.

Crosby married Harriet Clarkson of Philadelphia in 1807, and they had twelve children together. Their eleventh son, Howard, was a noted clergyman and president of New York University.

More has been written about Ebenezer and Howard than about William, but contemporary biographies indicate that he devoted much time to charity - notably the Bible Society, the Seaman's Friend Society, and the Reformed Dutch church. Additionally, though the Seventh Ward was a notorious slum, William performed good deeds around the neighborhood.

Crosby Street lies about a mile northwest of the old Seventh Ward, and William Crosby never owned the land which bears his name. In 1882, seventeen years after Crosby's death, his former pastor remembered him this way...

In the middle aisle, every Sabbath (storm or shine), sat William B. Crosby, lord of the manor, and heir of his uncle, Col. Rutgers. He had the stately figure and the air of an English duke; but those of us that knew him best knew well that a more genial, humble, devout, and benevolent heart could not be found in a Sabbath day's journey... [He] kept unspotted from the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Faded things are usually authentic things. You have your faded jeans, muted sweatshirts, desaturated films set before 1950, scratches on an old record, or a cracked old photograph - washed with dust and blurred at the edges. When the color goes, it's easy to know that it's old.

But look up there at that brilliant red. Actually, look down the block and see the succession of brilliant colors, all rich reds, occasionally a deep black. Underneath, these are former sweatshops, little apartments that housed hundreds of lives, factories packed with people whose grim photographic poses formed our impression of the past.

In the bustling days before million dollar apartments in Soho, the colors must have been just as bright. Maybe they faded when the shops closed and the money dried up, but the new cash flow keeps things bright and brilliant. It's a little precious right here, but no more vivid than those photos before they faded.