Few people passing along present day 13th and West Streets could imagine that this area, now covered by abandoned or semi-abandoned, graffiti-sprayed commercial buildings, was once the center of a thriving and productive industrial complex, producing material for a growing nation and city. The area is now quiet, except for noise from local traffic but once, more than a century past, there was the clamor of steam hammers, sawmills, and the cries of men at work on vessels moored along piers and wharves, their boilers being repaired, machinery attached. Yet all was once so, the Delamater Iron Works being a good example of this industrial activity. It was here in Greenwich Village, home of poets and artists, that, perhaps, Cornelius H. Delamater was also an artist of a different kind.
After the War of 1812, the need for iron was obvious as New York replaced its colonial brick and wood construction with more substantial iron-supported structures, which enabled merchants to exhibit their wares more openly as exterior walls, which now had no need to bear weight, allowed the use of large glass display windows. Buildings could now be taller, stronger, and more fireproof. Iron also changed ship design, as iron hulls, steam boilers, and propellers replaced canvas and wood.
[caption id="attachment_271" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Delamater Iron Works at 13th and West Streets circa 1870"]Delamater Iron Works at 13th and West Streets circa 1870
There had been iron foundries in 18th century New York. In lower Manhattan, the McQueen works on Duane Street, in the area around City Hall is an example. As the City grew, however, real estate values escalated the need for business and housing properties and such industries were forced northward along the East and Hudson Rivers. In 1841, Cornelius H. Delamater, a member of an old New York family, established the Delamater Works.
Here in this area of the Village were a number of other such firms like the Empire City Iron Works and the Eagle Iron Foundry, as well as numerous lumberyards and sawmills. A major impact of the Delamater company on history was its connection to John Ericsson, the Swedish engineer who arrived in New York in 1839, his head full of ideas involving naval design. He quickly established relations with Delamater, who became a close business and social partner. Ericsson provided the designs and the ideas and "Henry", as Ericsson called Delameter, the working models and mechanical realization. Delamater also supplied the necessary capital-often covering all financial expenses. Among Ericsson's designs was one for the Princeton, one of the first steam-presented crafts for the United States Navy. Delamater built the model engines. It was Ericsson's design for the Monitor, a "floating battery," that made history. Shortly after the start of the Civil War in October, 1861, Ericsson's plan for an all iron, all steam warship, the "Monitor," was accepted by the government. Within 100 working days-surely a record in engineering-the vessel sailed from New York Harbor on March 6, 1862. It was built at the Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but the steam engines, propeller and other machinery were constructed at the Delamater plant. With its innovative rotating turret, the Monitor arrived at Hampton Roads, Virginia on March 9, just in time to defeat the iron-clad Confederate warship the Virginia, popularly known as the Merrimac. It was a critical battle which preserved the Union blockade and possibly the Union.
After the war, Delamater and Ericsson continued their close relationship involving the implementation of many novel ideas, among them new warships for the Spanish Navy and a hot-air engine to lift water to the highest floors of buildings. Delamater died in 1889. His home was at 509 Washington Street, while Ericsson lived at nearby 36 Beach Street. After Delameter's death, the area slowly changed. Iron was replaced by steel and the foundry business moved west to places like Pittsburgh.
[caption id="attachment_724" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="13th and West Streets in the West Village of Manhattan circa 2000, former location of the Delamater Iron Works"]13th and West Streets in the West Village of Manhattan circa 2000, former location of the Delamater Iron Works
This West Village area along the Hudson became increasingly commercial or residential, and the quiet somewhat desolate place of the present. But, for a time, it was a center of the heavy machinery of an industrial New York and an industrial Greenwich Village. With new high-rise buildings slowly being erected, what will the area look like in ten or twenty years? The echoes of the Delamater Works can still be heard, its past very much part of the present and future.
One more thought: the story of West Street has been almost entirely overlooked by history and historians. The image of the Works presented here is shown for one of the first, if not the first time.