|The Architectural Record, July 1896 (copyright expired)|
Born in Walton, New York on June 15, 1805, William Butler Ogden would have a varied and impressive life. Upon his father's death he took over the running of the family real estate business while still a teenager. At the age of 30 he was elected to the New York State Assembly; but following his one-year term went west to Chicago. In 1838 he became that frontier town's first mayor.
Ogden was highly instrumental in connecting Chicago to the East, promoting and investing in the Illinois and Michigan Canal; then founding the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. He later become president of the Union Pacific Railroad which linked Chicago to the West coast.
Following the Civil War Ogden purchased an estate in New York as a second home. Ogden family historian Laura Wheeler explained in 1907 "Mr. Ogden's business interests causing him to spend so much time in New York, he determined upon possessing an eastern residence. This was consummated in the spring of 1866 when he purchased of J. Kennedy Smyth a handsome Gothic villa called 'Boscobel' at Fordham Heights, Westchester Co., N.Y. and adjoining High Bridge." The High Bridge, a graceful Roman style aqueduct designed by James Renwick, Jr. and completed in 1848, was a popular destination for weekend promenades with its stunning river views and natural landscape.
Ogden added to the property, extending it to ten acres, landscaped it and added a conservatory, stables and greenhouses. The fruit orchards and flowerbeds at his Chicago estate, Ogden Grove, were duplicated. Laura Wheeler wrote "The many gabled house is of blue-stone, with Ohio freestone trimmings, and surrounded by broad verandas, from which well-shaven lawns slope down the hill."
Frequent guests at both Villa Boscobel and Ogden Grove were Ogden's close friend, John Arnot, his wife Harriet, and their grown children John, Jr. and Marianna. Ogden was a life-long bachelor and when there, Marianna often acted as hostess to his other guests (like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Samuel J. Tilden).
Not long after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Ogden became "weary of business," according to Wheeler, and "retired to 'Boscobel' to spend the remaining years of his life, and enjoy a well-earned repose." Now in his early 70's, the bachelor finally turned his focus from business to romance.
On February 9, 1875 he married Marianna Tuttle Arnot. The 50-year-old bride was 20 years younger than the groom. Theirs would be a short marriage. At 2:00 on the morning of August 3, 1877, William Butler Ogden died at Villa Boscobel. The Chicago Inter Ocean reported "His physicians informed him his death was at hand--not more than a few hours. The dying man received the last sacrament of the Church, and quietly awaited his end."
Marianna lived on in Villa Boscobel. In 1888 she erected the Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital in Elmira, New York, where she was born, as a memorial to her father and her late husband.
The wealthy dowager was not sequestered from society in her suburban estate. She annually leased a cottage in Newport, for instance.
But then in 1893 she stepped into the Manhattan limelight. Marianna purchased the vintage home of Dr. Cornelius R. Agnew at the northwest corner of Madison Avenue and 39th Street and hired the Boston firm of Peabody & Stearns to design an up-to-date replacement.
Completed in 1894, its entrance was on 39th Street above a sideways stoop. A deep light moat which provided light to the basement was protected by a solid stone wall. The rusticated limestone base was sparsely decorated, with only a few carvings on the understated entrance. The second and third floors were clad in brick and trimmed in stone. A Palladian window on the Madison Avenue side boasted Renaissance carvings and a deeply-recessed shell within the arch. In stark contrast to the 18th century inspired lower floors, the top floor behind a handsome stone balustrade took the form of a French mansard.
The firm of Davis, Reid & Alexander had handled the interior decorations. The Real Estate Record & Guide reported on November 24 "One of the details especially noticeable is the introduction of Venetian glass mosaic for mantle facings."
The Architectural Record called the house "most original" and "certainly quite typical of the good modern house of our Eastern cities."
Marianna's decision to built in the city was most likely prompted by the erection of the Washington Bridge. Opened on December 1, 1888 it connected Manhattan and The Bronx at 181st Street. Suddenly Villa Boscobel was less tranquil and bucolic.
And the precise location may have been prompted by its proximity to the home of her sister, Fannie, who was married to millionaire George G. Haven. The Haven family lived at Nos. 24-26 East 39th Street, essentially across the avenue from Marianna's new home.
The Madison Avenue mansion, like Villa Boscobel had been, was closed late every spring as Marianna traveled to her homes at Newport and Lenox. She was at Newport on September 16, 1900 when the New-York Tribune reported "Mr. and Mrs. George Griswold Haven have deferred their departure for Lenox owing to the illness of Mrs. Haven's sister, Mrs. William B. Ogden, who is seriously sick at her cottage."
About three weeks later, on October 7, the newspaper reported "Mrs. William B. Ogden, who has been quite ill here for some weeks, was able to return to her New-York residence this week, travelling in a special car."
Marianna arrived in Lenox from Newport around September 14, 1904. After taking a short drive on the 27th, she complained of trouble breathing. The New-York Tribune wrote "A physician was summoned and her sister, Mrs. George Griswold Haven, was called." The following morning she seemed to have rallied. But then, "as Mrs. Ogden was about to take some nourishment, she suddenly expired." The 84-year-old had suffered a heart attack.
In reporting her death The New York Times mentioned "After Washington Bridge was opened Mrs. Ogden lived but little at Boscobel, preferring her residence at 266 Madison Avenue."
The bulk of her estimated $20 million estate was left to Fannie. But, possibly because she anticipated that her favorite niece, Marion Haven, would soon marry, she left the Madison Avenue mansion to her. On November 2 the New-York Tribune reported "Mr. and Mrs. George G. Haven and Miss Marion Haven arrived in town from Lenox yesterday, and are at Mrs. William B. Ogden's house."
Marion Arnot Haven's engagement to Forsyth Wickes was announced not long after, on January 21, 1905. The ceremony in St. Bartholomew's Church took place on April 27. It was a social event. The New York Times reported "The wedding was one of the most largely attended of the year, over 1,000 invitations having been issued for the church ceremony." The Sun rather coarsely added that Marian "was the richest bride of the season."
The newlyweds spent two months at Tuxedo, New York, then sailed for Europe for the summer. The New York Times advised "next Winter they will occupy the house at 266 Madison Avenue, inherited by Mrs. Wickes from her aunt, Mrs. W. B. Ogden."
The long honeymoon was advantageous, since the New-York Tribune advised on March 16 that the mansion "will be entirely refurnished and redecorated and will probably not be ready for the young people until the autumn."
Forsyth Wickes had spent much of his youth in France. He had graduated from Yale in 1898 and Columbia Law School two years later. He would become senior partner in the legal firm of Wickes, Riddell, Bloomer, Jacobi and Mcguire.
|When the newlyweds moved in, as seen in this 1905 photograph, nothing about the mansion had changed outside. The American Architect and Building News, April 22, 1905 (copyright expired)|
A cultured and avid collector of 18th century French paintings and porcelain, he filled the Madison Avenue house with treasures. Decades later his collection was listed among the 26 "most outstanding" in the world.
But by the time Forsyth returned from the war, the Madison Avenue neighborhood was noticeably changing from an upscale residential enclave to a commercial thoroughfare. On November 15, 1919 the Record & Guide reported "The Forsyth Wickes residence a four story building at 266 Madison av...with a two-story stable in the rear has been leased for twenty-one years for business purposes." The lease came with a $13,000 per year rent--just under $190,000 today. The deal was possible only because, as pointed out by the New-York Tribune, "The house is outside the Murray Hill restricted zone."
Amazingly, however, nothing was changed to the exterior of the mansion. It retained the appearance of a private residence while firms like Roberts & Thompson, silk merchants, and the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce operated from within.
|In 1923 there was little hint that the former mansion was anything but a residence. On 39th Street is Marianna Ogden's former stable. photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library|