Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The 1840 Asaph Stone House -- No. 107 Waverly Place

In 1839 wealthy merchant Asaph Stone began construction of five upscale rowhouses just steps from Washington Square.   A few years earlier the large park had been rapidly encircled by brick-faced mansions of some of the city’s wealthiest citizens.  Stone would have to be content with Waverley Place addresses for his speculative project—the fashionable Washington Square North street changed its name when it crossed Macdougal Street, the park’s western border.

No doubt hoping that the exclusive tone of Washington Square would spill over onto Waverley Place, Stone erected mansions nearly equal to those on the park.   The nearly-identical Greek Revival homes were a spacious, 25-feet wide.   One of them, No. 107, would stand apart.

Asaph Stone intended this house for himself and it boasted a few more bells and whistles than its neighbors.  Most evident of these was the astonishing cast ironwork that made up the fencing, stoop railing, and parlor-level balcony.  Crossed arrows, faces, and filigree work reflected superb quality and craftsmanship.  Unusual for the style were the double entrance doors, decorated with carved anthemions—a highly popular motif at the time.  Stone added another detail to his own house to separate it from the others—the incised lines carved into the pilasters that slightly suggested fluting.

The ironwork was the product of a master craftsman.

Stone was a highly-regarded businessman,a director of the Merchants’ Fire Insurance Co. and had served on the building committee of the Second Congregational Unitarian Church a decade earlier.  He married Jane McFarlane on May 20, 1810 in Boston, where his business was located at the time.   The couple had 12 children, the youngest of whom, Mary Faulke Stone, was born in 1836, four years before the family moved into No. 107 Waverley Place.

The entrance featured unusual double doors and incised pilasters.

Asaph and Jane Stone filled their home with artwork, as was expected of moneyed homeowners.   Oil paintings of classical and religious subjects, some which The New York Times would later deem “enormities,” hung on the walls.  Among the many sculptures was one with an unusually American theme—a bust of Pochahontas executed by Joseph Mozier.

As their youngest child, Mary, reached her teens, she was sent to Paris to be schooled.   In 1854 as her education drew to an end Asaph and Jane sailed to Europe to see their cultured young daughter be introduced at the French Court. 

The family traveled to England in September and boarded the steamship Arctic at Liverpool to return to New York.  The vessel was noted not only for its speed, but for the luxurious accommodations enjoyed by its passengers.

None of them would return to No. 107 Waverley Place.

On October 11, 1854 The New York Times wrote “At a late hour last night we received terrible news of the steamship Arctic.  We hope it is unfounded, but still the reports that reached us were so straightforward as to justify the most serious apprehensions.”

The news came a full two weeks after the catastrophe at sea.  On September 27 the ship was enveloped by thick fog when it ran into a French propeller-driven ship, the Vesta off the Newfoundland coast.   The Times cited a survivor’s account.  “The passengers had not time to escape from the cabinets; for although the catastrophe occurred at midday the fog was so dense as to render objects imperceptible at the shortest distance.”

What was not included in the survivor’s report was that the Arctic’s lifeboats could accommodate only 180 persons.  Including crew there were at least 400 souls aboard.  The panicked passengers fought for the few seats and of the 85 survivors 61 were crew members and 24 were male passengers.  Every woman and child on the ship perished.  Included on the death list were Asaph, Jane and Mary Faulke Stone.

An artist depicted the sinking S.S. Arctic in 1854.  The 75 people on the raft at the left side of the ship were reported swept away by a large wave.  Library of Congress
The nation was stunned by the horrible disaster.  It was remembered by poet Eleazar Parmly in his “Loss of the Arctic,” which included the verses:

A kinder parent, truer friend,
In social life I’ve never known,
A more companionable man
I never saw than Asaph Stone.

Who, with his wife and one loved child,
In hopeful life and healthful bloom,
Has, in this sad and direful hour,
Descended to an ocean-tomb.

On April 6, 1855 The New York Times reported on the partial liquidation of the Stone estate.  “Statuary, bronzes, works of art, costly paintings &c., forming a portion of the personal estate of the late Asaph Stone, Esq.; (whose fate, together with that of his wife and daughter, forms an episode in the tragic history of the loss of the Arctic,) were sold at public auction yesterday and on the preceding day."

Included in the sale were two Caravaggios and a Renaissance period “Madonna and Child” in a heavily carved Florentine frame.  The sale, held in the Waverley Place house, “was attended by a crowd of ladies,” said the newspaper.  While the paintings seemed to bring good prices, the critic writing for The Times was surprised at the low bids on the sculptures.  “The statuary was really fine and was worth more than it realized.”

The house was briefly home to George G. Williams, treasurer of the Sixth Avenue Railroad Company; but by 1863 it the Lynch family was living here.   That year, on August 20, young Thomas Lynch was drafted into the Union Army.

While Washington Square retained its affluent status even as wealthy Fifth Avenue residents inched northward; the blocks branching off the park slowly declined.  By the end of the Civil War it appears that No. 107 was operated as a boarding house.  And not all the residents were entirely reputable.

Michael B. Cline was living here on September 17, 1865 when, according to The Times, “Mr. Cline and a friend went on a tour of bibulous recreation, and in their travels took up [George Goodwin] Baker, and with him drove about town until a late hour.”  Baker was a person of known low character and the newspaper called him “one of the statues that adorned the sidewalks at the intersection of Broadway and Houston-street until the police authorities made an order clearing thieves and prostitutes off the street-corners.”

The trio traveled from one dive to another until Michael Cline was too inebriated to make it home.  Baker took him to the St. Charles Hotel and put him to bed.  He then took “for safe keeping” Cline’s wallet containing $3,883.38 in Treasury notes and currency.  The astounding amount would be equivalent to more than $57,000 today.

After waking and regaining his senses, Michael Cline filed an affidavit and Baker was arrested.  “The police describe Baker as "the smoothest-tongued, best dressed, and smartest of the thieves that infest the neighborhood of Houston-street and Broadway.” 

But suddenly the accuser became the accused.   Within the month and before his case came to court, Cline was arrested on October 17.  “The petition alleges the Michael B. Cline was lately in the custody of a guard in the City of Richmond, Va. for an alleged debt; that he escaped the guard, and came to this city, where he was arrested.”

With more twists than a mystery novel, Cline’s odyssey changed again when two days later he produced witnesses who swore that he had paid in full the $1,500 he owed in Richmond.  The judge could find no cause to continue holding him as prisoner and he was discharged.  He now turned his attention back to George Baker.  On November 4 they were both in the Jefferson Mark Police Court where Baker, “whom the police describe as one of the swell mob,” said The Times, was committed.

Not all the boarders in No. 107 were shady.  Augusta V. Hanson lived her for several years in the 1870s while she taught in the Primary Department of Grammar School No. 16 on 18th Street near Seventh Avenue.  And in 1871 Dr. King practiced here.  His advertisements promised “Cures certain cases in 48 hours, or no pay.  Consultation free.”

Hugh Lackey, Jr., however, was another story.  The family lived in No. 107 in the 1880s.  Lackey’s father was a “well –to-do coal merchant,” broker and bondsman--a seemingly respectable citizen.  Lackey, Jr., who listed his profession as a coffee and tea dealer, was anything but that.

On August 14, 1885 the New York Evening Post reported “former City Librarian James Barclay, who now keeps a saloon in Sixth Avenue and Tenth Street, opposite Jefferson Market, got into a little trouble yesterday morning with Hugh Lackey, of 107 Waverley Place.”  Newspapers and police were already well aware of the notorious Lackey.

“But Barclay ought to have enough regard for the dignity of his former office not to get into trouble in the streets with Hugh Lackey.  It appears that he received a black eye from Lackey, and in return chastised him with a gold-headed cane, but lost the gold head in the encounter.”

A few months later, on January 20, Lackey was before Justice Duffy at the Jefferson Market Police Court charged with “mayhem.”   According to the complaint of William Cannon, “a hall boy,” Lackey had forced him to drink liquor at a saloon at 9th Street and Sixth Avenue “and then in an assault upon him bit off a portion of his left ear.”  Lackey’s father gave him the $2,000 bail.

But in December that year he appears to have gone too far.   He was in “Tommy” Lynch’s saloon (one wonders if it is the same Thomas Lynch who was drafted 22 years earlier) at Macdougal and Third Streets.  He attempted to cut the throat of Harry Seymour, a Customs House officer.  Seymour did not report the assault to police, preferring instead to “punish Lackey as he deserved.”  The Times said “He hunted him up and thrashed him in 60 seconds.”

A week later Lackey was back in Lynch’s saloon and boasted that he was an Englishman and then attacked a man who disputed that.  When Daniel O’Connell, a junkman, came to the man’s defense, Lackey “cut him several times in the face.”  O’Connell had the wounds dressed, but on January 4 an acute infection set in.

Hugh Lackey, Jr. was arrested once again.  The New York Times predicted that this may be his undoing.  “Hugh Lackey has been in many serious scrapes; and escaped punishment, but he is now in custody, and may have to answer a charge of homicide.”

It was about this time that Fannie Cary and R. C. Cary operated their “household furniture” store from the lower level of the house.  The suites of rooms offered to boarders in the house proper were rather commodious. An advertisement appearing in The Evening World on October 3, 1894 offered the “First flat, eight rooms, 25x105; all improvements; first-class order; low rent; dwelling or light business.”

Two months later a single room was available.  “Opposite Washington Park—Furnished room; all conveniences; reasonable; private family; pleasant.”  The boarding house was owned and operated by Rosanna Smith at the time.

By the turn of the century Greenwich Village and the Washington Square area in particular had become New York City’s Bohemia.  Poets, writers, musicians and artists sought out its quaint streets and subterranean cafes.  Author Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg was among the first of the literary types to move into No. 107The bachelor journalist and writer had lived here since 1876; writing for the New York World among other publications.  In 1900 he was still a resident of the house.

Poet Ridgeley Torrence lived in the building as early as 1917 when he served in the Army Field Service.  He was still here in 1920 when he met a more temporary resident, Robert Frost.  While living in the building that same year, Frost met another poet, Percy MacKaye.  It was through this change meeting that MacKaye informed Frost of the possibility of a fellowship with Miami University at Ohio.

In 1924 No. 107 Waverly Street (at some point the second “e” was dropped from the spelling) was listed as a “tenement house” on Department of Buildings records.  The artsy tone of the building continued, however, and by 1936 Remo Bufano, “sculptor and puppeteer,” and his wife Florence Koehler Bufano operated a marionette theater in the basement.

In 1938 year Italians of New York, a work by the Federal Writers’ Project noted “Today there is only one permanent marionette theater in New York City, at 107 Waverly Place…The theater is shabby and has a home-made air about it, but what it lacks in elegance is more than compensated by the quaint charm of its entertainment.  It has a seating capacity of 300, and in spite of its high artistic standard there is an admission price of only 25c!”

Another sculptor, Florence Malcom Darnault had her studio in the building at the same time.

Remo Bufano, “who was widely known,” according to The New York Times later, was killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania on June 17, 1948.  It also took the life of producer Earl Carroll and other notables.  Florence Bufano died at the age of 56 on February 26, 1954.  Her obituary remembered that she “was American promotional secretary for Anatolia and Athens Colleges, Greece, and had previously served with the Greek War Relief in raising funds for Greek institutions damaged during World War II.”

The century-old house was chosen as the site for the “Interior of the Year” in 1954.  More than 50 manufacturers came together to create the model 1954 apartment.  Ted Materna, who arranged the exhibition, told reporters “It will be redecorated yearly and all of its furnishings may be ordered through decorators there.”

Jane and Asaph Stone, who lived amid mahogany pocket doors, imported Italian mantels and elaborate plaster ceilings, would not have recognized their redone interiors.  “Furniture and shelves of aluminum, designed by Patricia Harvey, appear in her bedroom setting.  The bed headboard is made of aluminum sheeting similar to that used for a shelf unit in one corner of the room.  Framed in black lacquered wood it is decorate with raised geometric motifs made of a DuPont plastic sheeting that simulates black patent leather.  The bed has a coverlet of gray plastic, with a black patent plastic dust ruffle and pillows,” reported The New York Times.

The decorator had to deal with the high 1830s ceilings.  So she covered it with “a new acoustical woven wood tiling in a blue and white checkerboard pattern.”

Amazingly, throughout the decades and the many uses of No. 107 Waverly Place, the magnificent façade escaped brutal change.  At some point in the latter half of the 19th century the attic was raised to a full floor and a bracketed Victorian cornice added.  Sadly, the brownstone lintels were shaved flat.  But the extraordinary entrance doors and the breathtaking ironwork survive beautifully intact.

photo http://www.chromaad.net/portfolio/107wav.php

In 2001 a gut renovation was begun to bring the house back to a single family residence.  Completed in 2005, it left little to remind the visitor of the house Asaph and Jane Stone moved into in 1840 (although, to be fair, there may have been little left to work with).  But the exterior is a priceless snapshot of  the early years of the Washington Square area.

non-credited photographs by the author


  1. I just bought a silver sauce pan (maker Hugh Wishart, NY, circa 1800) that is inscribed "Helen Stone English/from her Grandfather/Asaph Stone March 1st, 1843." Fun that it will "come back" to the Village as I live just a few blocks from 107 Waverly!

    1. Hi. Asaph Stone is my great great great grandfather.
      His daughter Harriet Helen Stone married George Branner
      English. Their first child was named Helen Stone English and
      she was born February 14, 1843. So your sauce pan is
      a baby present, I guess. They called her Nelly. She died of
      scarlet fever on April 18, 1845. Harriet and George English had
      several other younger children one of whom is Amy Brown English,
      my great grandmother. It'd be interesting to see of photo of your sauce