SOHO – In 1819 the “canal” which gave Canal Street its name was covered over, creating an especially wide thoroughfare. Isaac Lawrence recognized the potential and in 1821 erected a row of brick-faced Federal style homes on the northern side of the block between Mercer and Greene Streets.
Like their identical neighbors, Nos. 20 and 22 were three and a half stories tall and three bays wide. Lawrence appears to have initially leased the homes and on May 1, 1825 his most celebrated tenant moved into No. 20. Samuel F. B. Morse paid $400 a year for the house–about $850 a month today.
A letter in American Jupiter: Letters and Journals of Samuel F. B. Morse reveals that he installed his studio here as well. “My new establishment will be very commodious for my professional studies, and I do not think its being so far ‘up town’ will, on the whole, be any disadvantage to settled and begin to feel at home in my new establishment.”
In 1826 Morse helped found the National Academy of Design in New York City and served as its president from 1826 to 1845. It is unclear how long Morse remained in the Canal Street house, but he was definitely gone by 1830 when he traveled and studied art in Europe. Later, of course, he would invent the telegraph (with others), the ground-breaking device that would forever overshadow his art.