Helstonia – The Cornish Hotels of New York City
THE CORNISH HOTELS OF NEW YORK CITY
Some time ago, while researching in the Cornish Studies Library at Redruth into the history of an old Cornish public house, I encountered on microfilm copies of the West Briton newspaper’s shipping columns dating from the 1890s a series of advertisements connecting the area of Lower Manhattan where I spent my childhood and youth with the old mining district of West Cornwall where I now live.
The following advertisement first appeared in the West Briton of 7th December 1893 and continued to be run in subsequent editions for many months afterward:
Removed Removed Removed
Removed to 67 Clarkson Street
(late Miners’ Arms)
Established 1846 by Simmons at No. 2 Front Street
Known for many years as “The only Cornish Hotel in New York”
The Hotel is again in the hands of Cornishmen
Come “One and All” and see us.
We are ticket agents for all steamboats &c.
English money bought and sold for guests at highest rate of exchange.
Cornish papers always on file. Don’t forget.
Star Hotel, 67, Clarkson Street, New York
Stevens & Veal, proprietors.
On September 1st 1942 my parents and I moved into an apartment comprising the second floor of 29 Bethune Street, located a New York City block and a half east and ten blocks north of 67 Clarkson Street – a distance of slightly over half a mile. I was 79 days old at the time; it was my second Greenwich Village address and I continued to live there for the next eighteen years.
In August 2000 my wife and I moved into a house in Wendron Street, one of the four compass point thoroughfares radiating from the centre of the ancient Cornish Borough of Helston. The coincidence of my now living in Cornwall and the location of an establishment catering for Cornish immigrants in the same Hudson River waterfront neighbourhood in which I grew up made an immediate appeal to both of my local historian’s characteristics of Nosey-Parkerism and self-importance.
In what follows I have tried to piece together some of the history of the houses that solicited the patronage of Cornish men and women passing through New York City while travelling both to the Americas or returning home again to Cornwall. At various times the concerns operated in four different locations and under the successive names of The Miners’ Arms, The Star Hotel and The Cornish Arms Hotel. For some years under the latter two official names the establishment was popularly known as Blake’s Hotel.
Contrary to a Tripod website concerning the Blake proprietorship, and a recent book, Titanic Survivors… by Richard Davenport-Hines, Clarkson Street is not in Brooklyn. There is no Clarkson Street in that borough. There is a Clarkson Avenue near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park but that is a long way from any waterfront. In another, possibly inadvertent, inaccuracy A.C. Todd in his 1967 book Cornish Miners in America, refers to a “hotel managed with indifferent success by people from St. Austell” and separately to Blake’s Hotel, which he locates on Carson [sic] Street. Again, there is no Carson Street in Manhattan; although the confusion is understandable in a non-native. Todd did not seem to have realized that these two establishments were one and the same. Similar confusions and inaccuracies occur in other books concerning Cornish immigrants to America.
Manhattan’s Clarkson Street runs west for four blocks from Seventh Avenue South to West Street and the Hudson River waterfront, and No. 67, is a few doors east of the junction with West Street, which passes directly opposite the Hudson River docks.
I have also attempted to put some biographical flesh and personality bone on and into the names that feature in the history of New York’s leading Cornish hostelries. I say leading advisedly, for the establishments were often rivals and the advertising columns of the West Briton and its contemporaries attest to how fierce the competition for the Cornish immigrant trade could be, and the way in which these rivalries, and some dramatic events surrounding them, led to a series of mergers and takeovers that eventually saw the elimination of all but one of New York’s Cornish hotels.
The following, dating from the West Briton shipping columns of 28th December 1870, is the earliest advertisement yet found concerning these establishments.
“1846 Established 1846
The oldest and best-conducted English house in America.
Parties contemplating emigrating to America will do
well, on their arrival in New York, to stop at
Simmons’ Miners’ Arms, No. 2 Front Street, New York.
This well-known house is the resort of Cornish miners
from all parts of the States, Canada, Mexico and South America.
Latest mining news obtained from proprietors, who are
always in attendance at Castle Gardens on arrival of all Liverpool steamers.
Parties proceeding to California, Lake Superior and Western States
will do well to defer buying tickets by rail or water until they have
consulted the Subscribers, and thereby secure the cheapest and most direct routes.
Drafts from £1 upwards, payable in England, Ireland and Scotland,
or the Continent at lowest rates for sale.”
This advertisement – with some variations – continued to appear in the West Briton through the early 1870s.
Front Street is adjacent to New York’s East River in the Old City at the southern end of Manhattan Island. In the mid-19th century this area was a vortex of New York maritime life. Most of the main transatlantic and other international, domestic and coastal shipping used the docks and piers along this section of the harbour front. The Castle Gardens referred to in the above ad was from 1847 the principal landing stage for emigrant ships. It was located immediately to the northwest of the Battery, the southern tip of Manhattan Island and where the confluence of the East and Hudson Rivers flows into the greater harbour of New York. A few blocks to the west of Front Street the financial district centred in and adjacent to Wall Street had already taken root. The area was becoming steadily less residential, particularly following outbreaks of cholera, smallpox and typhoid in the 1820s, ‘30s and ‘40s, driving the poor to slums further north along the East River and the more well-to-do both northwest to Greenwich Village and Chelsea and northeast to Gramercy Park, Murray Hill and what is now the Upper East Side. My childhood home on Bethune Street – part of a “Greek revival” row – is old by New York standards, having been built as an “uptown speculation” in 1836, and would at the time have been intended as a desirable suburban family home.
At the same time this area of Lower Manhattan also contained various enterprises, including mercantile exchanges, tanneries, coffee-roasting plants and incorporating the fish market based around Fulton Street a few blocks north.
At the foot of Fulton Street also stood the terminal landing shed of the principal Manhattan-to-Brooklyn ferry; the main connection between what were then two separate cities, and before the public opening in 1883 of the Brooklyn Bridge and the other later East River bridges.
The Front Street location, in short, was ideal for an establishment catering for transatlantic immigrants, as every ship – sail or steamer – coming into New York from British, Irish and Continental ports would dock within walking distance of The Miners’ Arms.
The earliest editorial (not advertisement) reference to The Miners’ Arms that I have found dates from September 1857 and is connected with the worst American maritime tragedy of the nineteenth century. While en route from Havannah – as then spelt – to New York the mail ship S.S. Central America foundered in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Over 400 lives were lost along with gold specie being transported from California and valued at between one and two-million dollars – thus its subsequent sobriquet the “Ship of Gold”. The loss of this money caused a panic in the New York and other financial markets. A number of the 100 or so survivors of the disaster eventually arrived in New York. It was reported that when the City’s prestigious Astor House hotel refused accommodation to any of these survivors some did find shelter in Mr. Simmons’s Front Street establishment, The Miners’ Arms.
In December 1875 proprietorship of The Miners’ Arms changed hands. The original advertisement cited above continued to appear although the proprietors are now named as Williams & Hughes. At the same time an item headed “Special Notice” began to appear in the West Briton shipping columns announcing that H. Simmons, former proprietor of The Miners’ Arms had disposed of his interest to Messrs Williams and Hughes (whom he cheerfully recommended) and that those of his old friends and patrons who had outstanding accounts with him or simply wished to see him, could find him at the offices of Williams & Guion Shipping Co. at 29 Broadway. Further changes in the ownership of The Miners’ Arms were indicated by this addendum to the regular advertisement that began to appear in the West Briton in the autumn of 1883:
“… Daniel Hamilton, formerly in partnership with Mr. Alfred Williams at the above
house, having purchased the Williams interest, has associated himself with
his son-in-law, Robert Banks, a native of Newlyn East, Cornwall,
and is prepared to sustain the high reputation this popular house has always enjoyed.
D. Hamilton, Robt. Banks Proprietors”
Below this appeared a slightly reworded version of H. Simmons’s Special Notice, again cheerfully recommending the house under its present proprietorship and informing “any of his old patrons and friends desiring to see him for old acquaintance sake” that he could still be found at the Broadway offices of the Guion Line Steamship Co
By 1889 Mr. Hamilton, who seems to have severed at least his business connection with his son-in-law, would boast “Over half a million Cornish people have made this popular house their home while in New York.” He had also taken to referring to the house as “Hamilton’s (formerly Simmons’s) Miners’ Arms”.
At this period the New York waterfront was undergoing notable changes. New docks were being constructed along the Hudson River on the opposite, west, side of the island with larger and more modern piers designed to accommodate the growth in both volume and size of transatlantic ships and shipping. Daniel Hamilton was obviously alert to these movements and placed the following advertisement which first appeared in the West Briton of 16th April 1891:
“Notice of Removal
Begs to inform his numerous friends that he
has REMOVED the business of
The Miner’s Arms Hotel
and railway and steamship ticket office from
No. 2 Front Street, to his new building
No. 67 Clarkson Street, New York City.
This hotel is entirely new, has all modern improvements, and is in
close proximity to all the different steamship piers, being within
a stone’s throw of the Inman, Guion, Cunard, White Star and
Anchor docks, which, together with our increased facilities in the
way of Money Exchange, Postal, Telegraph, Telephone and
American Express, for which latter company we are agents, makes
us a desirable place for people to stop who are en route to the West.
Daniel Hamilton, proprietor
And what of the competition? The West Briton shipping columns reflect the intense rivalry between various hotels located in my old Lower West Side neighbourhood, each of which claimed to be the most authentically Cornish establishment in the city. As early as March 1887 an ad appeared for the Western Union Hotel, 113 West Street, $7 a week. ‘The only Cornish in this line of business in New York.’ Wm. Martin, prop.” This establishment, a bit further downtown than the others, would have been situated adjacent to the site of the World Trade Center, known since 9/11 as “Ground Zero”.
In November 1889 – while The Miners’ Arms was still in its East Side location – ads began to appear for The Star Hotel, at 443 Hudson Street. This establishment would have been located two blocks north of Clarkson Street at the corner of Morton [not Moreton] Street and three blocks east of the West Side waterfront only a few minute’s walk from the future location of The Miners’ Arms. The aggressive tone of the Star’s advertising may be gauged from this notice that appeared regularly in the West Briton shipping columns of the early 1890s:
“The Cornishman’s Home in
is at the
443 Hudson Street
Read this “One and All”
We, the proprietors, are now the only two Cornishmen in business in
New York, and we are now cutting railroad rates to all Western States,
Colorado, Montana, California, Idaho &c. We do not
give cabmen and runners and stewards on the boats 50 cents each to
bring passengers to us like some of the so-called Cornish hotels are
doing, and then make passengers and others pay more to make up what they
pay to have them brought to their hotels. We give our people the benefit of cheap
rooms and board at low rates.
Tickets to all Western States. We give Cornish miners and others all
information how and where to find work. Be sure to write to the
Star Hotel, 443 Hudson Street, before leaving home and
the Proprietors will meet you on your arrival in New York.
English sovereigns bought and sold. The West Briton
and other Cornish papers on file. Give us a call boys
and we can do you good, and spend your own money!
Trunks and boxes do not get lost if left in our care.
J. Stevens (from Liskeard)
S. Veal (from St. Just) Proprietors.”
The proprietors of The Star Hotel also advertised in the Cornishman newspaper, this notice appearing the edition of 21st January 1892:
“The Home For Cornishmen
Arrival at New York
Is at the
443 Hudson-street, corner of Mor[e]ton-street
Two minutes walk from Inman Steamship Co.’s docks.
Cornishmen and others before leaving home will do
well and save money by writing the proprietors to meet them on their
arrival from any line of steamers. They will also supply tickets, at
greatly reduced rates, to all western cities and states.
English money bought at the highest rate of exchange.
Clean beds and wholesome food, and a
COMFORTABLE HOME guaranteed. Note this – We are the only
Cornishmen who are in business in New York City.
Testimonials and references given
Proprietors messrs Veal & Stephens [sic], 443
The same issue of the Cornishman also reported that the second annual New York Cornish Christmas dinner had taken place at The Star Hotel the previous month.
Meanwhile ads from late 1891 indicate that a Mr. John W. Morgan operated The Universal Hotel at 75 Clarkson Street, on the corner of West Street, a few doors from The Miners’ Arms. Something or someone was bound to give. One hint can be found in this notice in the West Briton of 6th May 1892:
Miners’ Arms Hotel
67 and 75 Clarkson Street
Mr. John W. Morgan
Begs to inform his numerous Cornish friends
that he has purchased the
Miners’ Arms Hotel,
the well-known Cornish head-quarters in America and
has spared no expense in making it one of the
most elegant as well as the most comfortable and
convenient hotels in New York.
Steam heat and Electric lights.
Sitting rooms and bathrooms &c on each floor.
Large waiting rooms, railroad and
steamship ticket office
where every information can be obtained as to
travelling, employment &c.
All steamers will be met on arrival by
Mr. Daniel Hamilton
who has charge of this department, and will render all
possible assistance to patrons.
Cornishmen, this is the age of progress. Travel in
comfort. It will be no more at my hotel than at
ramshackle accommodation offered elsewhere. Write me before leaving home.
John W. Morgan”
The above ad last appeared in August 1892. The ad of 7th December 1893 notifying the removal of The Star Hotel to 67 Clarkson Street confirms that in the battle of the Cornish hotels the thrusting (and certifiably Cornish) Messrs Stevens and Veal had finally swallowed up the opposition. The same ad appeared regularly until February 1895 when the establishment’s ad was reworded to run:
(late Miners’ Arms)
67 Clarkson Street, New York
is the oldest English house in New York
and the Proprietors are still ticket agents for
all steamships and railroads to any part of
the World at reduced rates; and all parties should
get our prices before they buy their tickets
for we can do you good and
Save Your Money.
All parties that buy their railroad tickets from us
can have their luggage checked through to any place
in the West free of charge.
Don’t forget this,
“One and All” is our motto.
English money bought and sold
Cornish papers always on file.
Don’t forget the number
67, Clarkson Street, New York
opposite Cunard dock.
Stevens and Veal, proprietors.
This version of the ad (with its suspiciously home-baked sounding syntax) ran in every number of the West Briton through 26th December 1895 whereupon it abruptly disappears. However, Messrs Stevens & Veal continued to advertise in the Cornishman, this notice appearing regularly through [at least] 1901:
“Established 1842 [sic]
67, Clarkson Street
Opp. Cunard dock (late Miners’ Arms) New York
near West Street.
American and European plan
—– : o : —–
Travel Agents for all steamships
Foreign money bought and sold.
J. Stevens, (from Liskeard)
S. Veal, (from St. Just)
The only Cornish house in New York
So, what of the individuals named in these intriguing advertisements? Which were genuinely Cornish, and who among them were not but simply solicited the obviously profitable Cornish immigrant trade? Of the eight Simmons, Banks, Stevens and Veal are verifiably Cornish-born. William Martin claims to be Cornish and Alfred Williams may well have been. It would seem from the vitriol of his competitors’ ads that Daniel Hamilton was not Cornish. However a Daniel Hamilton is recorded to have been born in Cornwall c.1820 and is listed as having sailed to America in 1841. In news items to be discussed later, Daniel Hamilton of The Miners’ Arms is said in 1892 to have been a Cornishman and to have been over seventy. Of all the named proprietors John W. Morgan seems the least likely to have been Cornish-born; although he may have had Cornish connections.
John T. Blake, who appears to have acquired The Star Hotel from Messrs Stevens and Veal at some time circa 1910, was born at St. Stephens, near St. Austell. His son, Sidney – contrary to the brief account in Philip Peyton’s The Cornish Overseas – was born not in or near St. Austell but in New York City in 1890, and was to be the salient figure in the management of the hotel during the years leading up to and following World War I. This period included the opening early in 1914, initially as a new branch of Blake’s Star Hotel, of The Cornish Arms Hotel at 441-443 West Twenty-third Street. I was recently somewhat surprised to find an entry on the Ancestry website concerning one Ernest Sydney Grierson Graham, aka Syd Blake, who, according to his 1917 Draft Registration Card was born in 1881 and is listed as “Hotel Owner” at 443 West Twenty-third Street. Until the mystery of these possibly two Sid Blakes is solved this study will continue to assume that the Sid said to be the son of John T. Blake is the one to follow. (The identical Hudson and West Twenty-third Street numbers are assumed to be coincidental.) The 441-443 West Twenty-third Street location, however, was not to be the final address of the house founded as H. Simmons’ Miners’ Arms at No. 2 Front Street in 1846. In examining this question one needs to be aware of the basic house numbering system for mid-Manhattan’s cross-town streets which is as follows: west numbers 1-thru-99 are between Fifth and Sixth Avenues; 100-thru-199 between Sixth and Seventh Avenues; 200-thru-299 between Seventh and Eighth Avenues; 300-thru-399 between Eighth and Ninth Avenues; 400-thru-499 between Ninth and Tenth; and so on thru to Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues to the Hudson River. Even numbers are on the south or downtown side of the street, odd numbers on the north or uptown side. Thus the 443 West Twenty-third Street address places the establishment between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, in fairly close proximity to the Hudson River waterfront piers. It seems probable that the 441-443 building was part of a “Greek Revival” row, called London Terrace, demolished to make way for the present housing complex, also called London Terrace which was completed in 1930. The original London Terrace, dating from 1846. was known as “Millionaires’ Row” and its doormen were dressed as English ‘bobbies’. According to one of Sid Blake’s New York Letters the 441-443 building had a lawn. The final Cornish Arms Hotel opened on 5th December 1926 in a larger, newly-completed thirteen-storey building a block and a half east at 315 West Twenty-third Street. This building is just west of the site of the Grand Opera House at the corner of Twenty-third street and Eighth Avenue bought in 1869, a few years after its erection, by the New York City Gilded Age high-binders Jay Gould and Jim Fisk. It was later a vaudeville theatre and during my youth it was the RKO 23rd Street motion picture theatre until it was destroyed by fire in 1960. In 1925 a case came before the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court. The case involved the 23rd Street Amusement Corporation Vs. Cornish Arms Hotel Co. Inc. Without knowing the details of the case it may be guessed that the owners of the then-vaudeville theatre had some objection to the large new building being erected next door. In any case the motion was denied with $10.00 costs
Post cards of the hotel at both the West Twenty-third Street locations are advertised for sale on the internet.
For a short time the Blake family continued to operate the two hotels until the Clarkson Street house was finally closed in July 1914, the feeling being that the neighbourhood was becoming rather disreputable and too shabbily waterfront. While still operating their Star Hotel at Clarkson Street, the Blake family initiated a new method of keeping in touch with the Old Country through a weekly newsletter regularly inserted in various Cornish newspapers listing the names, destinations and home places of those passing through the hotel; reporting the activities of New York’s permanent and semi-permanent Cornish community; and giving current news of weather and business conditions, both in the city and in the mining districts further west. The Cornubian newspaper in the years leading up to World War I carried regular ads for the Star Hotel and, after its opening, the Cornish Arms Hotel, naming John T. Blake & Son Sidney as proprietors. The paper also had a regular column, headed Cornishmen Abroad, which reprinted items of Cornish interest from local newspapers, most prominently the Tribune Review of Butte, Montana.
There seems to have been several incarnations of a New York Cornish Association. Of interest perhaps to Helston people was a report of a dinner given in 1910 by the New York Cornish Association where the guest of honour was Sir William Treloar, one-time Lord Mayor of London, whose photograph leading the Midday Furry Dance on Flora Day 1907 is familiar to many. However in a letter-report of the Association’s recent Christmas dinner, published in the Cornishman newspaper of 8th January 1914 it is stated that the Association was formed in August 1912. As with competing New York Cornish hotels, there appears to have been rival associations, a fact that was to have a bearing on the ending of the Blake proprietorship to be examined in the second part of this study.
A selection of Sid Blake’s New York Letters have been collected and microfilmed by Mr. George Pritchard and may be seen at the Morrab Library, Penzance. In an echo of the 1857 S.S. Central America tragedy, in 1912 several of the Blake Letters refer to the sinking of the Titanic. Some Cornish survivors of that disaster stayed at the Clarkson Street Star Hotel upon arriving in New York.
Intriguing to me was the discovery that in the Cornubian at this period, appearing along with the ads for the Star and Cornish Arms hotels were ones of a similar size for the Abingdon Hotel, located at 7-9 Abingdon Square. This would place the establishment two minutes walk around the corner from the house, as previously mentioned, in which I grew up. The ads were headed “Important for Travellers to the United States and Canada”. They offered more or less the same range of services as did the other hotels catering to the Cornish emigrant trade and as outlined in the previously quoted advertisements. The house made no claim to be specifically Cornish and the name of its proprietor, M.B. Goldberger, is not redolent of The Dutchy. That notwithstanding, Mr. Goldberger obviously felt it was worth his while to place regular prominent ads in a Cornish newspaper.
The founder of The Miners’ Arms was almost certainly born in Cornwall. In 1869 Harry Simmons was naturalized as an American citizen. His address is given as 2 Front Street, N.Y.C. Frustratingly his naturalization certificate gives no occupation or date of birth but lists his former nationality as English. The witness to the naturalization was one Arthur Boyce, address 49 Whitehall Street [a few minutes walk from Front Street, also in the Old City] and city directories of the period and the 1860 New York Census list his occupation (rather ambiguously) as “liquor”. Assuming that when he disposed of The Miner’s Arms to Messrs Williams and Hughes in 1875 it might be guessed that – taking account of his personal ads addressed to old patrons and friends – he may well have been of about retirement age, making him ten or so years older than Mr. Hamilton.
It would appear that Daniel Hamilton was a relatively prominent figure in the New York City of the 1880s and ‘90s. His appearances in the (New York as distinct from Cornish) press of the period range from the comical to the apparently criminal. The following item appeared in the New York Times of September 19th 1887:
“PASSED THROUGH MANY HANDS
A week ago Daniel Hamilton, proprietor of the
Miners’ Arms, 2 Front-street, lost a noble St. Bernard dog worth $200. Saturday evening John D.
Hooper of 171 Broadway, who knew the animal, saw it at Fourteenth-street and Sixth Avenue, led by
August Picardi, and caused his arrest. At the Jefferson Market Police Court yesterday Picardi
proved that he led the dog for Elijah Ronci, who bought it of Frederick Riagert, of 23 West Third-
street, for $5. Riagert proved that he obtained it from Simon Loed, of the chorus of Grant’s French
opera troupe, and that gentleman and his wife proved that the dog was given to her at the Battery
by a stranger because she admired it, but her husband gave it to Riagert because her landlord
objected to her keeping it.
Justice Gorman said he felt tired and returned the dog to Hamiliton.”
The Jefferson Market Police Court was located at the corner of Tenth Street and Sixth Avenue. The building still stands, now housing a public library, and with its distinctive clock tower is a notable Greenwich Village landmark. On another personal connection note, my late parents’ last home in New York was at 44 West Tenth Street, a half a block east of the Jefferson Market building. My mother – herself a retired librarian and voracious reader – was a regular user of the library.
A later appearance by Daniel Hamilton in the New York press was rather less comical than was the St. Bernard imbroglio and throws some light on the probable impetus behind the Stevens/Veal acquisition of The Miners’ Arms and its amalgamation into their Star Hotel. Less than a year after the removal of The Miners’ Arms from Front Street to Clarkson Street the following report appeared in the New York Times of 12th January 1892:
“DANIEL HAMILTON MISSING
CORNISHMEN SAY THAT HE HAS MONEY
BELONGING TO THEM
Daniel Hamilton, better known as “Dad” Hamilton,
kept the Miners’ Arms Hotel at
2 Front Street for many years. He was a Cornishman,
and his hotel was patronized largely by
Cornishmen when on their way to or from the country.
It was at the Miners’ Arms that Wright and Ruttinger stopped last
winter. Ruttinger drowned himself at Tottenville, S.I., and Wright – or Evans – cut
his throat at the Astor House. Hamilton also boarded many second-class
steamship passengers, and he was the best-known man in the city in his line of business. He was
popular, and was reputed to be worth a good
deal of money. He lived with his family at New Dorp, S.I .
Nine months ago Hamilton moved to 67 Clarkson
Street, near the Cunard steamship Pier, and
opened a much more pretentious place. He did a small banking business in
connection with his hotel, and took into partnership with W.D. Hanbury, a young
Californian. Cornishmen on their way home would stop at his place and leave their
money with him on trust, getting in return a draft on a Liverpool banking concern.
He would turn this money over to advantage and then cable it to Liverpool on the
day the holders of the drafts were due there. In the middle of December forty
Cornish miners from the West stopped with Hamilton and put money in his hands
aggregating $8,000. They got drafts and sailed on the Umbria departing with the Majestic Dec. 16.
Sunday four of these Cornishmen, named Ball, Yarnell, Pugh and Wallwood, came
back on the Adriatic and alleged that Hamilton had kept the $8,000 and had
failed to honor their drafts. They inquired for him in vain at his hotel.
Hamilton has not been seen at the hotel since Jan. 1, and his partner,
Hanbury, said last night that he had no idea of his whereabouts.
“Hamilton had been hard up for money for some time,” he said.
“Recently he lost $30,000 in a printing press invention.
He was here on Jan. 1, but I have not seen him since. I put $500 in the
safe that day, and the next day Hamilton and the money had vanished. The banking
business had no connection with the hotel, which was recently
chartered as a stock concern, with Hamilton
as President and me as Secretary and Treasurer. There
are no claims against the hotel. Three weeks ago Hamilton
took $8,000 from forty Cornishmen and failed to cable money to honor their
drafts. He succeeded in borrowing £300 and cabled that over, and our
bankers have used that to aid the Cornishmen and help them back to America.
Hamilton used the $8,000 to pay off some of his old debts. Four of the
Cornishmen have returned and I expect the other thirty-six back on every
steamer. No warrant has been issued for Hamilton’s arrest, and
no charges have been made against him at the
Charles Street [a few minutes walk from Clarkson Street] Station.
The four Cornishmen are stopping at Hamilton’s hotel.”
In the wake of this the following report appeared in the New York Times of 14th February:
EDWARD D. HAMILTON ARRESTED
Charged With Selling Worthless
Drafts To Cornishmen.
Edward D. Hamilton, the son of the absconded Daniel Hamilton, the proprietor of
Hamilton’s Hotel, at 67 Clarkson Street,
was arrested last evening on a warrant issued by Justice Divver charging
him with grand larceny. The complainant in the case is William G. Jeffrey, a Cornish miner,
who on the 11th of December came to stay in this city from Delamar, Idaho, en route for England.
He put up at Hamilton’s Hotel. He had with him a check for $688 issued by the Boise City
Bank and payable at the office of Wells Fargo & Co in this city. He told young Hamilton
that he had this money and that he wanted it exchanged for a draft on an English
bank. In exchange for his check a draft for £138 on Marrick & Warring, bankers
at 1 Galton Street, London, was given him.
When Jeffrey presented this draft the London banking house it was dishonoured, as there were
no funds to meet it. While in London, Jeffrey met Edwin Bull, another Cornishman, who was in a similar plight.
He had given Daniel Hamilton, the proprietor of the hotel, a check for $729 and had received
a worthless draft in exchange for it.
Jeffrey and Bull returned to this city for the purpose of recovering their money, but when
they arrived here they discovered that old Hamilton had absconded. Hamilton disappeared about the 1st ult. Young Hamilton,
it was learned, was in this city acting as agent for the sale of tickets on the West Shore Railway to immigrants on the steamship
piers. He lives at 16 Prince Street, Clifton, S.I. A warrant was obtained for his arrest and he
was locked up at Police Headquarters.
Daniel Hamilton, the absconded hotel keeper, is over seventy years old. He kept the hotel for
many years and acted as a banker for his guests, who were chiefly Cornish miners. It is
the custom of many of these men to spend the Christmas holidays at their former homes, and
Hamilton was in the habit of sending their money to England for them.
Just before Christmas some forty miners en route for Cornwall intrusted Hamilton with
various sums of money, amounting in all to $7,000, to be sent to their destinations. When
they reached their homes there was no money for them. In answer to their demands for
their money Hamilton told them that he had used it to pay some old
debts and he promised to cable the money to them when he raised a loan. He failed to raise
the whole amount, but sent over some $1,200. Some of the miners returned to this country
and demanded restitution and then Hamilton fled.
[The initials S.I. in the above reports refer to the New York borough of Staten Island. The 1891 Wright/Ruttinger case of suspected murder/suicide was a sensation in New York and Daniel Hamilton was called as a witness at the inquest. Accounts of the case may be found on the internet, as may more detailed descriptions of the “Ship of Gold”; both its loss and more recent attempts to recover the lost treasure.]
The quoted items concerning his disappearance set up a train of thought as to whether there was a connection between Daniel Hamilton and the American humorist author Mark Twain. The two men would have been contemporaries in the New York of the 1880s and ‘90s. Twain, although he resided primarily in Hartford, Connecticut, spent much time in the city, living – as a plaque on the house front attests – for a period in a dwelling in the same block of West Tenth Street as did my parents. He was a notably convivial man and it takes no stretch of the imagination to conjecture that he and a prominent hotelier might well have been acquainted. What particularly intrigues me, however, is the fact of Hamilton having lost a considerable sum invested in a printing process. It is also well-recorded that Mark Twain just about bankrupted himself through investing sums variously estimated to have been between $150,000 and $300,000 in printing processes, most notably Paige’s Compositor that failed commercially. Did Daniel Hamilton’s money go down the same drain?
End Part One
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Note: In my younger New York days I must have passed – oblivious of the interest it would have for me in later life – the 315 West Twenty-third Street frontage of The Cornish Arms Hotel many, many times. In addition to two movie houses on the same block – The Terrace and the aforementioned RKO 23rd Street, both of which I visited often – my childhood dentist had his office-surgery in a building on the opposite southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-third Street.
During my last visit to New York I walked through my old neighbourhood down to Clarkson Street. I found the block between Washington and West Streets much changed since my day – to say nothing of the Hamilton/Stevens & Veal/Blake period. Two-thirds of the northeastern side of the street, including the long-demolished hotel site, was now covered by a multi-storey garage/parking complex occupied by the Fed-Ex transport company. At the West Street end a few of the older buildings survive. One such housed something that described itself as an “Erotic Revue Bar”. I thought that if the present proprietors knew anything of the street’s old Cornish connection they might consider calling their establishment The Bal Maiden.
In Part Two of this account of the Cornish Hotels of New York City I intend to retail some of the information I have garnered concerning a few of the incidents, activities and individuals who feature in the history of the two later, West Twenty-third Street incarnations of the Cornish Arms Hotel, in the course of which the only thing that eventually remained specifically Cornish about the establishment was its name.
I am indebted in particular to the staff of the Cornish Studies Library, Redruth, also to the Morrab Library, Penzance, and to Mr. Dave Sugarbeet – a Premier (or Major) League Googler – for acquainting me with both the New York Times accounts of Daniel Hamilton and to the naturalization papers of Harry Simmons.