New Yorkers know William Street. For years, it has been an insurance and finance center in Manhattan. Over its long history, from Dutch days through today, it has had a variety of names.
The section north of Maiden Lane once was known as Horse and Cart Lane after a tavern by that name located between John and Fulton streets. The section extending in the other direction was Smee Straat (Smith Street) and later called Shoemaker’s Street before it obtained its current name of William Street after William III of England (1650-1702).
During earlier days, William Street housed taverns such as The Black Horse Inn, the Knight of St. George, The Three Pigeons, The Dog’s head-in-the-Porridge-pot, The Blue Boar and the Bunch of Grapes. Later on, the street featured other businesses.
A Frenchman, Francis Adonis, lived at 80 William Street. He displayed a sign that read “Hairdresser from Paris.” His customers primarily were French refugees, and he claimed once to have been the hairdresser of Louis XVI. General James Robertson, a past commandant of the city, lived on this roadway as did author Washington Irving, who was born at the house at number 131 but whose family soon moved across the street to number 128 William Street.
Irving and Poe
Irving was known for boyhood mischief. One story has Irving and friends lassoing a watchbox in which a ‘leatherhead” (policeman) slept. They dragged the box with the occupant screaming down the street. Around this time, part of the street was a market for drygoods and considered “the proper Bond Street for the beaux and shopping belles.”
Years later, Carlton House stood at the northeast corner with Frankfort Street. It was built on the site of the Lutheran Church and the graveyard that held a number of Hessian officers from the war. Edgar Allen Poe is reported to have lived there for a time.
A respectable hotel at first, the reputation of the Carlton House became soiled with tall tales. During 1884, as workmen cleaned a subcellar, they found the mouldering skeleton of a woman. Around the neck was a strangling band of calico and a stone covered the face. Benjamin Gray, who was in prison for the attempted murder of another woman, was considered to be the murderer of this unfortunate victim. However, the case could not be substantiated.