There are times I feel sorry for the people who run the huge online archives that we use for research. They have to deal with thousands (or tens of thousands, or more) resources – usually individual files in multiple formats – on hundreds or thousands of topics. And if they make a mistake, someone like me comes along to point it out. It’s particularly unfair because the people nit-picking, including me, have some expertise in small areas of the archive, and know much more about our areas than the archivists possible can about all the areas.
Case in point: the Hoffman House, a hotel on the west side of Broadway at 25th Street, where Broadway is crossing Fifth Avenue adjacent to Madison Square. The image above is from the New York Public Library’s digital collection and is, I believe, an appointment card for Mr. Caddagan. It might be a reservation card. It is listed in the archive as being from 1864, but that is definitely wrong. The only reason I know that is I researched the building on the far right of the engraving, the one directly above the word “fire.” That was the new Hoffman House, built in 1896, and the building to its left (the shorter one with a flagpole) is the old Hoffman House.
The very short version: the original 1864 hotel is the building in the middle up to the cornice, i.e., without the hip roof and two setback floors below it. A few years later, a similar but more nondescript annex was constructed on the site to the north, where the building on the right is in the picture. In the late 1890s, the annex was demolished for the new building and the upper floors added to the original building. The original building was demolished and replaced by a modern wing in 1907, shortly before the hotel went bankrupt. The entire blockfront between 24th Street and 25th Street was demolished in the 1910s, replaced by the two loft buildings that are there now.
The lesson here is not that the NYPL doesn’t know what they’re doing. Their online archive is an incredible resource. The lesson is an old one: when you’re doing historical research, you have to check your sources and what you believe to be your facts. Taking one source – the metadata for the image above – as definitive fact about the hotel is an error in research. All sources contain errors, and by comparing them against one another you can usually get a decent picture of reality.