Friday, July 15, 2022

The 1843 Isaac F. Jones House - 262 East 7th Street


Around 1849 a row of 22-foot-wide, brick-faced homes was completed on East 7th Street, between Avenues C and D.  While overall Greek Revival in style--with simple dentiled cornices above broad fascia boards, for instance--they hinted at the rising Italianate style, with bracketed window sills and molded lintels.  That they were intended for financially-comfortable families was reflected in the elaborate ironwork of the stoops, which rolled at the top like a breaking wave.

The family of Isaac F. Jones moved into 262 Seventh Street (the "East" would come decades later).  A commission merchant at 52 Ann Street, he was politically active.  In 1845 he ran for assistant alderman on the Whig ticket, and the following year sat on the New-York Whig General Committee and attended the Congressional Convention.

The Joneses, like many families took in boarders.  The house sat within the Dry Dock District, so-named for the shipbuilding industry on the East River, a situation reflected over the years in the professions of a few of the boarders.  Shipjoiner Edmund Plass lived here in 1851-'52, for instance, and John Boole, a shipwright, boarded with the Joneses in 1853.

Around 1860 the William and Mary C. Brinckerhoff replaced the Joneses in the house.  The seemingly busy William E. Brinckerhoff was a coppersmith and engineer who worked on the steam works of the ships built nearby.  But in 1861 he also listed his professions as real estate agent and commissioner of deeds.  He was, as well, a member of Company A of the National Guard.

Brinckerhoff's expertise was called upon after a fatal accident on February 14, 1863.  With the Civil War raging, military boats were being constructed in the Dry Dock District.  The New York Times reported, "About 1-1/2 o'clock yesterday morning, a serious explosion occurred on board the Government iron-clad gunboat Keokuk, lying in the dock at the foot of Eleventh-street, East River.  The steam-pipe of the boat exploded, instantly scalding to death four of the men on board of her, and seriously injuring one other person."

The possibility that rushed work had resulted in the tragedy was considered.  The New York Times noted, "A short time since explicit orders came from the Navy Department at Washington, to have all the iron-clads now in course of construction in this city, ready for sea within a given time."  The men working on the Keokuk, said the article, had been working "night and day, Sundays as well as week days, with a view to complete her at the time required by the Department."

Coroner Ranney immediately pulled together a coroner's jury at the 11th Precinct Stationhouse, composed of shipbuilding engineers.  Although Brinckerhoff had not worked on that particular ship, he was sent to examine it and testify.  He and the other engineers were perplexed.  Among his comments during the testimony was, "I cannot account for this accident, nor can I see any cause for its bursting."

In the fall of 1863 Brinckerhoff's wife, Ann, fell ill.  She did not recover and died soon afterward, on October 30.  She was just 32 years old.  Her funeral was held in the parlor on November 1.

Jacob Spiero, who listed his profession as "news agent," leased 262 East 7th Street by 1871.  Born in 1818, he and his wife, the former Babette Frankenbach, had five children, Amelia Clara, Isaac, Bertha, Esther, and Caesar.

The Spiero family had an interesting boarder in the late 1870's.  An advertisement in the New York Dispatch on March 3, 1878 read, "Electricity Scientifically Applied by Dr. Stites, No. 262 Seventh street.  Fee $1."  The exact purpose of having the doctor apply electricity to the patient is unclear, but the fee would equal about $25 today.

After Jacob Spiero's death, Babette continued to lease the house, living here with Isaac, his wife Betsy, and their two children Moses and Louisa.  In the mid-1880's Isaac was a partner in Spiero & Fleck, tax examiners, at 199 Centre Street.

It was around this time that three of the houses on the row, including 262, got a make-over.  Modern paneled double entrance doors with transoms were installed, and up-to-date neo-Grec style metal lintels and sills were placed over the brownstone originals.  For some reason, while its neighbor next door at 264 received an impressive cast metal cornice, 262 did not.  Its handsome iron stoop railings, too, were preserved.

By 1893 Kate M. Bowe, the widow of Thomas Bowe, lived here.  She had earlier broke into a male-dominated sphere by being appointed Inspector of Common Schools.  Upon her reappointment in 1895, the New York Herald called her "a pioneer in her district, the Fourth, being the first woman inspector appointed there."

Like her predecessors in the house, Kate took in a boarder.  In 1896 it was John Cusick.  On the afternoon September 29 that year he went to the matinee at the People's Theatre on the Bowery.  The World reported, "John Cusick, forty-five years old, of No. 262 Seventh street, fell dead from his chair during a performance at Milner's Bowery Theatre."  The article noted, "Death, it is supposed, was due to heart disease."

Kate Bowe remained here until at least 1910.  The house would see a string of physicians over the succeeding decades.  By 1918 it was home to Dr. William Grossman, a graduate of Cornell Medical College.  He was connected with the Post Graduate and Philanthropic Hospital.  He was followed in the house by Dr. Abram Schwager, an eye specialist educated at Bellevue Medical School, here in the 1920's.

Renting a room here in 1927 was Ellen Gilmour.  A trip to Atlantic City that fall resulted in the 20-year-old's becoming a hero.   She was swimming near the Garden Pier "when she heard cries for help from the breakers close to shore," according to The Newburgh News on October 22.  Two boys were struggling in what today we know as a rip tide.  The New York Sun reported that it "started to carry them out."  Ellen Gilmour swam to them.  "The lads were clinging to each other and were hard to handle, but she brought them in before life guards arrived."  Possibly embarrassed at being saved by a female, "the two who were rescued ran off without identifying themselves."

Another doctor, Benjamin Escoe, lived at 262 East 7th Street during the Depression years.  He died in the house on September 21, 1940.

In 2016, 262 and the four neighboring rowhouses were threatened.  The house next door, 264 East 7th Street, had been purchased for around $3.8 million and on September 1 the new owners applied for a demolition permit.  Only six days later preservationists sent a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, pleading to have 264 considered for landmark designation, while also urging that a historic district be created for the five homes (thereby warding off future threats to those structures).

The Landmarks Preservation Commission responded saying that 264 East 7th Street "does not rise to the level of an individual landmark," and the row did "not rise to the level of a historic district."  Ironically, it was the 1880's updating that put off the LPC.  The New York Times noted on November 25, "The commission...found that alterations done to the facade of 264 East Seventh Street were too extensive for the building to warrant landmark designation."

Locals and preservationists took the cause into their own hands, gathering before the charming row with signs saying "Mayor De Blasio Where Are You?" and "Save Our Neighborhood."  And the protests worked.   The owner, Elaine Hsu, president of GlobalServ Property One, instead beautifully restored the facade of 264 East 7th Street, and thereby preserved the continuity of the circa 1843 row.

Although the blue-green paint on the Isaac Jones house is flaking off, and unsightly 20th century fire escapes mar the facade, it and its immediate neighbors are rare survivors of the early 19th century along the block.

photograph by the author
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