Saturday, September 26, 2009

Valentines in Williamsburg

Uncle Lew Valentine holding his hat while
Watching LaGuardia smash slot machines

Anna Valentine McNally had three brothers and a sister. The eldest, Lewis Joseph Valentine (1882-1946), became famous as "New York's top cop", the Police Commissioner under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia between 1934 and 1945.

In 1939 Lowell M. Limpus published Honest Cop, Lewis J. Valentine: Being a Chronicle of the Commissioner's Thirty-six Years in the New York Police Department. After Valentine retired he wrote an autobiography Night Stick: The Autobiography of Lewis J. Valentine. Neither book nor the many newspaper and magazine articles about him contain much about his youth. But through his story we learn a little about his sister, our Grandma McNally, and their parents John and Elizabeth Daly Valentine.
Uncle Lew was born March 19, 1882 (hence his middle name---March 19th is St. Joseph's day). A 1936 New Yorker magazine profile says he was born

"on Troutman Street, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. His father, John Valentine, who was of Alsatian descent, was the proprietor of a small fruit store. His mother, whose maiden name was Daly, was a native of County Wexford, Ireland…. He attended public and parochial schools and served as altar boy at St. Bridget's Church.… His father's business failed [about 1898] and Valentine had to leave school and help support the family."

Brooklyn in 1879

Although the biographies call it St. Bridget's--- it's St. Brigid's. The church and school are still there although both have been rebuilt since the Valentine children's day. The new church, shown in this photo from about 1940, replaced their frame church, demolished in 1921.

From Limpett's Honest Cop:
"He was born in a little frame house on Trautman Street [it's Troutman], in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. His father was John Valentine, who owned a little fruit store, and his mother had been Miss Elizabeth Daly, a pretty Irish girl from County Wexford. John Valentine himself was half German and half Irish, but he had been born in Brooklyn. Little Miss Daly, who first saw the light of day on July 6, 1861, had accompanied her parents to America when she was thirteen. They settled in an Irish community in the Long Island metropolis and there John Valentine came courting a few years later.

Troutman Street today. Few frame houses survive.

"Five children resulted from that union, the oldest being Lewis. He had two younger brothers, Will and John, and two sisters, Anne [her name was Anna] and Elizabeth. And they proved to be a very happy family.

The Valentine youngsters grew up in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, which was then an independent city in its own right…. John Valentine had begun to branch out a little: he had established himself as a small commission merchant, and he and his wife decided to move farther into the city so that the head of the family could be nearer his business.

They selected another Irish community which was springing up in the Bushwick neighborhood, and settled down at 142 Adelphi Street. The children were enrolled at Public School 26 on Gates Avenue, near by. For the rest of their lives they were to refer to it as "the old Gates Avenue school." And for a long time it combined with the church to constitute the boundaries of their everyday existence.

The elder Valentines were devout Catholics, and they had made their home in a deeply religious community. Religion, consequently, became a very vital influence…The Valentines attended St. Bridget's Church….

['Irishtown' had] almost a small-town environment, this localized community life of the 1890's. Brooklyn itself was a huge congregation of small towns, each with its own school and church and tiny business section. Barefoot boys and girls cavorted in the streets….And everybody knew everybody else."

Bushwick is in the lower right corner of this map of Williamsburg. Troutman Street runs two blocks northwest of the green rectangle Bushwick Park. The Valentine house was just about under the point of the red arrow. Click here to see an arial view today:


---Lowell M. Limpus, Honest Cop, Lewis J. Valentine, being a chronicle of the Commissioner's thirty-six years in the New York Police Department (N.Y. E.P. Dutton & Co., 1939) pp 18-19.
---"Profiles: Independent Cop," New Yorker, October 3, 10 & 17, 1936, # 1 pg 21-2
---Lewis J. Valentine, Night Stick: The Autobiography of Lewis J. Valentine (N.Y.: The Dial Press, 1947)

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