Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Italianate 1853 No. 58 West 9th Street

photo by Alice Lum
When builder Reuben R. Wood constructed the three matching brownstone homes at 54 to 58 West 9th Street in 1853, the area was just emerging as a fashionable neighborhood. The four-story residences were intended to attract high-end buyers. While other homes of the period were fronted with steep stone stoops, the entrances here were just three shallow steps off the sidewalk.

Arched openings marked the first floor, above which a cast iron balcony ran the length of the three buildings. Tall French doors opened onto the balconies allowing cooling breezes to wash through on sultry summer nights. The Italianate dwellings were the last word in comfortable merchant class homes.

Over the years, updating resulted in three different cast iron railings along the once-consistent balcony -- photo by Alice Lum

Fourteen years before the houses were completed, Edmund Carleton was born in Littleton, New Hampshire, the son of Judge Edmund Carleton who was a strong opponent of slavery. As the boy grew up famous abolitionists like Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison in his home and his father became active in the underground railroad.

When the Civil War erupted, Edmund joined the Union Army as a dispatch bearer and participated in thirteen battles. After the war, although he had been educated in law, he entered the medical profession. By the middle of the 1870s the highly-esteemed doctor was living at No. 58, having earned positions as Treasurer and Professor of Surgery at the Medical College for Women and Emeritus Professor of Homoeopathic Philosphy at New York Medical College and Flower Hospital.

The deeply recessed entranceway creates an intimate sitting area overlooking the street -- photo The New York Times
The doctor lived here with his wife and two children--a son and daughter--for over a decade. During that time some untidy business ensued when he was forced to take the actress and singer Lillian Russell to court. In November 1882 Dr. Carleton paid several visits to the entertainer and supplied her with medications.

According to The Evening World six years later, “The fair defendant agreed, promised to pay the amount, but though the doctor tired himself out by writing many notes and making personal application he could not get any of his money.”

The newspaper went on to say “It took five years and seven months to tire out the doctor’s patience; but he went to Court determined to recover the money with costs.”

The popular Ms. Russell owed Dr. Carleton $39. Rather than submit to the humiliation of a public trial, she settled.

Original first floor detailing like marble mantles and sculptured woodwork remain -- photo
Following the trend of many of the socially prominent, Dr. and Mrs. Carleton eventually moved north to a house just off 5th Avenue at 53 West 45th Street. The wealthy widow Mrs. John Bleecker Miller and her daughter Maria Duane Bleecker Miller moved into No. 58. Mrs. Miller was an active member of the State Charities Aid Association and was a close friend of another member, Mrs. F. E. Chadwick.

The recessed, double doors and the egg-and-dart and rope moldings create an elegant entrance -- photo by Alice Lum

Mrs. Chadwick’s husband, Navy Commander French Ensor Chadwick, had been Rear Admiral Sampson’s Chief of Staff during the Spanish- American War and would eventually reach the rank of rear admiral himself. The Chadwicks divided their time between Washington, DC, Newport, and New York; depending on the Captain’s availability and duties.

While in New York the couple stayed at the Miller residence on West 9th Street.

On the afternoon after Christmas in 1896 the parlor was the setting for Maria’s marriage to Wilmot Townsend Cox. The Times called it “a pretty house wedding.” The room was decorated with evergreens, palms and other potted plants and the bride wore white moirĂ©. Among the guests at the reception were prominent New York names such as Beekman, Irving, Townsend and Valentine.

Cox was well-respected lawyer who was graduated from Harvard and the Columbia Law School. The newlyweds would remain at No. 58 and would have two children here – a son, Townsend, and a daughter, Anna Helme Townsend Cox. The attorney, who had offices at 51 Wall Street, served as President of the Washington Square Home for Friendless Girls and was a member of the school board.

Following in her mother’s and Mrs. Chadwick’s footsteps, Maria Cox became a member of the State Charities Aid Association, as well.

The family would remain in the house at least until World War I.

photo by Alice Lum

Tragedy visited No. 58 West 9th Street on February 17, 1924. The house was owned by Dr. Ettora Perrone, who lived here with his wife and 8-year old daughter, Rose. Mrs. Porteus Harrington also lived in the house with her 2-year old son, Donald. Because her husband, a World War I invalid, was in Cleveland undergoing treatment for shell shock, Dorothy Harrington had temporarily taken the fourth floor of the house.

The 30-year old Dorothy was well respected, the daughter of the former rector of Grace Church, Reverend E. W. Worthington, and the niece of Supreme Court Justice Vernon M. Davis.That night she had an appointment with her uncle to go over legal papers regarding the transfer of some of her property. The nursemaid was off that day. Feeling that the baby would be safe with the Perrone family at home, she left him alone for what she considered “a brief absence.”

Dr. Perrone was in his study when he noticed fire trucks on the street outside. When he rushed into the hallway, he found it filled with smoke and heard the cries of young Rose, who was in bed with tonsillitis. As he carried the girl out of the burning house, he told the fire fighters he had seen Dorothy leave and that the 2-year old may be alone upstairs.

Although the fire had not reached the fourth floor, the rooms were smoke-filled when a fireman reached the baby’s room. Finding the boy by groping about with his hands, he rushed down the stairs and into the fresh air with the toddler; but it was too late. The child had suffocated

The fire damaged the second and third floors, causing $8000 in damage.

Members of the Perrone family, including Captain Hector Perrone, were still living here by the middle of the century.

The gracious home survived as a single-family residence and was updated and restored around the turn of the 21st century. It was put on the market in 2011 for $8.75 million.  Although some of the exterior architectural details have been stripped off, the dignified house at No. 58 West 9th Street is a well-preserved page from Greenwich Village history.

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