Jacob Street was a narrow, one-block street that connected Ferry and Frankfort Streets about two blocks north of the present Pearl Street. The street stood at the center of the city’s early tanning industry, and was originally called Leather Street in reference to the tanners and glovers who had operations in the area.
One of the more successful and resourceful tanners was Jacob Lorillard, after whom the street was named. In the 1820s, Lorillard discovered that a spring uncovered on his property along the street produced a bitter, sparkling water. He quickly obtained the endorsement of a chemist who claimed the water was medicinal and began selling it for six cents a glass. “Jacob’s Well,” as he called his miniature spa, was very profitable for a short time and Lorillard approached the city with the idea of contracting to supply the public from his spring. The popularity of the spa fell off suddenly and the city declined his offer. Charles Haswell explained why in his memoirs published in 1896:
In boring for water in Jacob Street during this year a moderately effervescing spring was struck, which, upon being submitted to chemical analysis by Dr. Chilton, was reported to possess medicinal elements. The owner of the property [Lorillard] forthwith furnished the first floor of the building with the instruments of a spa, and a stock company was organized. The water was sold at sixpence a glass, and for some weeks the receipts were very remunerative; but upon some one suggesting that, as the locality was surrounded by tan-pits, which had retained tan-bark, lime, and animal skins for half-a-century or more, the ground might have received and imparted to the spring water such a variety of elements as to give it effervescing or sparkling qualities, the business ceased, the siphons were removed, and the building was occupied for the purpose of other trade.
Lorillard’s setback was not permanent. He made millions in banking and became a prominent philanthropist. He was the son of Pierre Lorillard, founder of what would become the American Tobacco Company, but he did not go into the family business. Jacob Street was closed in the 1960s.
Haswell, Chas. H. 1896. Reminiscences of New York by an octogenarian (1816 to 1860). New York: Harper. pp. 158-59
Koeppel, Gerard T. 2000. Water for Gotham: a history. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 134