Lawrence Fay – the Bridge Back to Brooklyn

        As you might recall  Lawrence Fay had married Julia Fogarty in October of 1870. He had opened a retail liquor store (a saloon) at 448 Van Brunt, adjacent to the docks on the Erie Basin. However he and Julia set up housekeeping in the neighboring building at 446 Van Brunt.

        In the 1860’s and 1870’s Red Hook was the home of sailors and “working class” laborers. It was also the home of small business men and local politicians. The population was predominately Irish and German, both of whom  had reputations as “drinkers”.  From its inception Red Hook was a port city, which meant that seamen from around the world stopped at its shores and also visited its saloons, eateries and boarding houses. The population of the 12th ward expanded from about 11,107 in 1860 to 18,360  in 1870 – an increase of almost 65%.  In 1860 the Census for Ward 12 indicated only 27 people who gave their occupation as liquor dealers,  however by 1870 124 liquor licences had been granted.  Having a liquor licence appeared to have been a lucrative business venture, and Lawrence Fay was quick to take advantage of that fact.

        Lawrence and Julia’s first child, a boy named William after Lawrence’s father, was born around 1871 but did not survive long. Their second son  John, named after Julia’s father, was born in 1873. A third son, Thomas, was born September 8, 1875. Unfortunately these children were to also fall prey to the unsanitary conditions of Redhook, where sickness and disease was rampant.  Both boys died within a day of each other, on Feb. 12 and 13 of 1877.

       Conditions in Redhook were appalling. These excerpts from an article in the Brooklyn Eagle on May 9, 1885 described what it was like.

       “The Second Sanitary District rivals the first as a breeder and preserver of nuisances… It has the Sixth and Twelfth wards within its limits and among the feathers in its cap are Slab City, Red Hook Point, Smoky Hollow and an Italian quarter. .. Many of the sewerless streets of this district are densely populated. In Hamilton avenue, between Ninth and Court streets, the sewage goes to vaults and cess pools…  In this part the ground is so much lower than the street that it is impossible to properly connect the vaults. Waste water here with all kinds of refuse in it is thrown into the street gutter and empties into the Columbia street basin… Richards street has a defective sewer, and away down on the Point are Wolcott, Elizabeth, Fern, Delevan, Browne and Tremont street, and also part of Conover street, all sadly in need of sewers and pavement.

       It is only fair to say that these defects are in a part of the city which was, not long ago, all under water and which, were it not for the streets and breakwater, would be buried out of sight at high tide. The East Basin, the Brooklyn Basin and the Atlantic Basin with their piers and breakwaters, first bid defiance to the flood. Behind these entrenchments the city advanced lines of streets parallel with narrow Red Hook, and raised thirty feet above the level of the marsh. As the streets advanced the dumps followed and in the wake of the dumps came the shanty dwellers who have now – in the square mile of territory between Hamilton avenue on the east and the East River channel and Gowanus Bay on the north, west and south – over 350 shanties, with upward of 2,000 inhabitants, exclusive of fully 1,000 goats and great herds of pigs, flocks of geese and ducks. The filth of this part of the city is indescribable…

       The dwellers in “Slab City” – as this shanty town is called, possess superior natural advantages for being dirty. For instance, all dry spots here are raised heaps of ashes and refuse. With their dwellings built up by refuse heaps and the aforesaid immense pig wallows at their backs, and another big pig wallow across the street from them, the “Slab City” people can get along very nicely and never find it necessary to go to Saratoga or the South or the mountain regions to restore their health.

       A sunken lot, in which the contractor’s carts are dumping ashes and the mixed refuse which people put in with them, presents a very busy scene. Goats, old women and little boys and girls mingle with the men and horses engaged in many strange occupations. Here, for instance, is one engaged in collecting cinders and coal either for her own home or for sale to her neighbors, for “Slab City” people have sworn not only not to pay rent, but also not to patronize the coalmen. Here is a group of little girls piling up fruit cans. When their fathers come home from driving teams or working along shore or doing something similar they will well a little space of ground in and put a wire netting over it and start a fire under the netting, and when they have got a very good fire they will pike the fruit and tomato cans upon the netting and then solder from them will all drip through while the tin will remain above and the cinders will float on top of the solder and they will skim the cinders off and let the solder cook, and when this is done they have a big slab of solder to sell and the cost of it will fill many a “growler”. Rag and bone picking are carried on to a great extent by some of these shanty people and they have other strange trades too numerous to mention, by which the dumps help them to a livelihood if not competency…

            Two pork factories were inspected in this district, BAXTER’s in Degraw street, near Van Brunt, and GORMAN’s, Nos. 150 to 156 Columbia street. In GORMAN’s, which is much the larger establishment and which some times packs fifteen hundred hogs a day, the floors are wooden. The rendering  room had a smell that seemed to be worse than anything the writer had experienced in the way of bad odors. The disposition made of waste matter is not good. A man was observed throwing something out of the second story gangway door, for instance, as the writer and his companion approached. The matter was examined and found to be “scrap” — not a peculiarly nice article to throw upon the public street…”

       Whether because of the surrounding conditions, or perhaps the loss of his first child, Lawrence Fay tried to sell his liquor store the fall of 1873, as evidenced by these advertisements in the Brooklyn Eagle.

      1873 September, for sale – a liquor store with three years lease, the first house from the docks 448 Van Brunt.

     1873 October, for sale – a liquor store doing a good business at 448 Van Brunt, next door to shipping house, good reason for selling.

446 Van Brunt St. – Lawrence Fay’s (circa 1940)


       Apparently the attempt did not meet with success, because Lawrence continued with his enterprise, though moving it over to 446 Van Brunt, where he was residing . As proprietor of a saloon, Lawrence was naturally drawn into local affairs and politics. By 1873 the Irish population of Brooklyn, instead of crossing the river to Manhattan for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day parade, had started celebrating on their home turf. That year Lawrence was mentioned as a special aide to the parade’s Grand Marshall.

        In August of 1876  Lawrence Fay was elected vice president of the Lawrence Garahan Workingmen’s Association, which was urging working men to organized for protection against the oppression of the politicians and wealthy contractors.  In 1877  he was on a committee for the Church of the Visitation picnic at Schuetzen Park (raising money for a new church), and in 1878  it was noted that he became a collector for the mayor’s committee for Irish relief.

        In October of 1878 the following add appeared in The Brooklyn Eagle:

        It appears that most of the participants in this organization were friends and acquaintances of Lawrence’s.  Martin Healey was a laborer boarding at 448 Van Brunt. The Lawrence Lyons cited was not the familiar uncle that had greeted the Fays on their arrival in Brooklyn, but most likely a second cousin, the son of James Lyons (b. 1811) who was Elizabeth (Lyons) Fay’s cousin.


   This Lawrence Lyons (b. 1844) emigrated to the States before 1872. He first appeared in the 1872 Brooklyn Directory living on Sackett St., at the top of Van Brunt Street. Lawrence found work building the docks along the Redhook waterfront. He married Mary (Bridget) McCormick around 1874  and they had their first son James in 1875, then Thomas about three years later. In 1880 they were living at 448 Van Brunt next to Lawrence Fay. In fact in 1878 Lawrence Fay had sponsored his “cousin” at the latter’s naturalization hearing.   

       By 1879 Lawrence was a 12th  ward delegate to the Democratic General committee along with, Michael Collins and John Curran. In 1880 he was elected treasure of the 12th Ward Hancock club  (organized once again at 446 Van Brunt) –intended to promote the election of Winifred Scott Hancock in the presidential race against James Garfield.

      Although he definitely was a champion of the workingman, apparently Lawrence made room for less serious challenges as well, as evidenced by this posting found  in The Eagle.

       In October of 1879 Lawrence and Julia had another child, a daughter they christened  Elizabeth Marie,  after each of their mothers. She was however to go by the name of Lillian. Two years later a son was born on Dec. 9 of 1881 and he was named Lawrence. Fortunately both managed to make it into adulthood.

       Another interesting tidbit from Lawrence’s life was illuminated in another Eagle article from February of 1881 reporting on an inquest into the death of three men killed in an accident on one of the docks while attempting to replace a rotten mast on the schooner Cleopatra.  Lawrence was impaneled as one of the jurors.

        Interestingly one of the other jurors was Martin Delaney who lived at 448 Van Brunt. In the 1880 Census he is listed as working in a Liquor Saloon – so he was probably an employee of Lawrence’s .

       In 1884 the Fays had another daughter – Julia . Born in February, she lived only till August.  Her funeral was announced in the Brooklyn Eagle – probably a sign of the extensive community connections that Lawrence had made. It was only four years later that the Eagle ran an announcement  of the passing of Lawrence himself.

          Back in Rathcogue, Westmeath the Fay patriarch , William Fay, had died earlier that same year. When his wife Elizabeth set out his gravestone the following year she included a line for her son Lawrence.

        Lawrence’s wife Julia continued operating the liquor store for about another five years, although in the 1892  census she reported she was running a hotel – perhaps renting out the rooms above the saloon. In 1894 she gave up the business, relocating variously to Coffey St., Van Brunt,  or Dikeman St. over the next 15 years. Her children, Lillian and Lawrence,  never married and continued to live with their mother. Lillian found lifelong employment as a bookkeeper and Lawrence Jr. found work as a clerk in an insurance company. He eventually became an agent, then by 1920 a partner in an insurance company with an office on John St. in New York City.

        By 1910 the Fays had  moved out of Redhook and relocated first on 15th St., and later on in 1920 at 1608 11th Ave. Both were very nice row houses on the western edge of Prospect Park. Better salaries brought better living conditions.

       Julia finally died on Dec 17th , 1927, at 80 years of age. Lawrence Jr. and his sister continued to live together in the 11th Ave. apartment, which they owned, till his death in 1933. Lillian finally departed this world on August 11, 1955. She was laid to rest in Holy Cross cemetery beside her parents and all of her siblings.