Friday, December 14, 2012

Those Amazing City Directories

City directories from the 19th and early 20th centuries are wonderful resources. Long before most people had telephones, these directories provided far more than an address and telephone number. They told you what a person did for a living. Not only that, in a time when most businesses were eponymous, the directories listed the address of someone's place of business and also of his home. This was the case not only for merchants but for doctors and lawyers as well.

Lately, I've been exploring the Hudson city directory for 1913 and came upon this entry:

I expect fresco painter is today's equivalent of sign maker, but doesn't fresco painter sound ever so much more romantic?      


  1. Seymour described himself as a house painter in the 1900 and 1910 censuses. But he seems to have been a bit more than a house painter based on these items from the Hudson Evening Register.

    Seymour Vincent, who has been engaged painting and kalsomining at the Laurel House, Catskill Mountains, has returned home for the season.

    Hudson Evening Register, 30 Jun 1882

    (Kalsomining seems to be a form of whitewashing.)

    A Neat Job of Painting.
    We had almost overlooked the tasty finish which Mr. Vincent of the Central House has been giving his hotel. The work adds greatly to the looks of the building and the colors are in good taste, and displays the judgment of Seymour Vincent the artist who did the job.

    Hudson Evening Register, 30 Sep 1882

    March 27, 1903 - Crawford E. Blake reached home this morning from New York, where he has been painting the night boats. DeWitt Miller. Edward Servens and Seymour Vincent are now at Catskill at work on the Onteora and Kaaterskill and tomorrow they will be joined by Mr. Blake, Arthur Hoffman and James Kells.

    Hudson Evening Register, 27 Mar 1943

  2. Thanks,Roy Clapper.That's very interesting ,about Mr Seymour.
    I appreciate it. Being a painter in the Painter's Union in NYC,I could call myself house painter,but also have been employed as a scenic, decorative,and sign painter, and also like Mr.Seymour,painted boats.Because you do not get electrocuted by lack of knowledge and improper use of paint and paint brush; I am always a little defensive about perceived notions of our profession and trade.
    To Gossips,thanks.
    It's so interesting reading directories,before phone directories.I have a collection of some Old NYC directories,I bought from a very old detective agency-where profession and address are listed.You can basically reconstruct residents of any building of that year, and what they did.Sometimes a single woman's name, is followed by "widow" They have J.D. Rockefeller listed as -Businessman and give business and home address. It's also interesting,to see the new waves of immigrants change, year to year, just by last names and locations.
    I learned alot from old Hudson directories, about who used to live in my house and what they did.