Monday, May 23, 2022

The Lost Society Library - 109 University Place

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

In 1754 the New York Society Library was formed.  It occupied rooms in City Hall (later Federal Hall), nearly side-by-side with the earlier The Public Library, 
founded in 1700 under the administration of the Earl of Bellomont.  (That library was housed in Trinity Church.)

The New York Society Library's first permanent home was erected at 33 Nassau Street in 1795.  It remained there until 1836 when its magnificent Greek Revival building on Broadway at Leonard Street and Catherine Lane was completed.

The first and second New York Society Library buildings.  History of the New York Society Library, 1908 (copyright expired)

The constant northward movement of Manhattan's residential neighborhoods forced a third move.  Austin Baxter Keep, in his 1908 History of the New York Society Library, wrote, "By 1854 plans were well under way for a new location for the Library."  The previous year, three plots had been purchased from Adeline E. Schermerhorn, widow of Peter Augustus Schermerhorn, for $18,650 (about $593,000 in 2022).  

They were situated on the east side of University Avenue (later University Place), between 12th and 13th Streets.  The neighborhood was filling with refined homes, and the vacant parcel came with detailed restrictions.  Only a building of "brick or stone of at least two stories in height" could be built, and the purchaser could not "erect, permit or suffer upon the said premises or any part thereof any public school, theatre, or other place for public amusement, or any other place for any other trade, business or occupation dangerous, noxious or offense to the neighbouring inhabitants."

In March 1855 the trustees approved the firm of T. Thomas & Son as the architects of the new library.  The cornerstone was laid that summer, and on April 28, 1856 the trustees met in "the almost finished structure," as worded by Austin Baxter Keep.  The Italianate style brick-and-stone structure was 52-feet-wide at the property line, allowing for extra light and ventilation inside.  Towards the back, it spread out to engulf the entire width of the parcel.

Architects Thomas Thomas and his son, Griffith Thomas, arranged the facade in three vertical and two horizonal sections.  The entrance was centered within the rusticated stone base.  At the second floor, arched openings crowned with Renaissance inspired pediments flanked a Palladian-style group of windows.  they were surmounted by a carved entablature announcing "Founded A. D. 1754."  A second carved plaque, directly above, read "Society Library."  A hefty cast iron cornice was crowned with a handsome Italianate balustrade.

Valentine's Manual of the City of New York in 1856 wrote:

On entering the front door, the visitor finds himself in a hall forty-seven feet long and twelve wide, handsomely paved with tessalated [i.e., colorful, geometric tiled] pavement.  On the left hand is a comfortable room for a ladies' reading room, sixteen feet by thirty.  A similar room on the right is used as a conversation room.  At the end of the hall are folding doors opening into the large reading room, thirty-one feet by seventy-three, well lights and well furnished with papers and periodicals.

It was the second floor that was the most impressive.  A flight of stairs led to the library proper, described by Valentine's Manual as "a noble apartment."  The great room engulfed the entire second floor, its ceiling rising 35-feet to an oblong glass dome.  The space was girded by two galleries which, like the main floor, contained "quiet alcoves."  The library was designed to hold 100,000 volumes.

The cost of construction had added another $55,560, bringing the total expenditure to about $2.36 million by today's standards.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Sixteen years after the opening of the new building, it was the scene of the library's centennial.  On November 10, 1872, The New York Times reported that the anniversary "was celebrated last evening in the hall of the New-York Historical Society building...At 7-1/2 o'clock a brilliant assemblage of ladies and gentlemen--many of them literary lights--occupied the seats in the main hall."  The current president of the board of trustees, Dr. Frederic De Peyster, gave the main address, which focused on the history of the institution.

Surprisingly, the trustees of the New York Society Library were duped in 1880 when they rented a room to Albert Welles's American College of Heraldry.  On February 6, 1881, the New-York Tribune reported, "A large gilt sign over a window of the building No. 67 University-place, displays the words 'American College of Heraldry.'  Near the top of the building cut in stone are the words 'Society Library.'  This latter sign, however, is not conspicuous, and strangers unfamiliar with the building suppose it to be devoted to the purposes of the College of Heraldry."

The newspaper had done an investigation and concluded the college "which is using the names of many prominent citizens as regents and life members, is a pretentious sham."  Welles, said the article, was not only the president, but the entire faculty, and he had "succeeded by ingenious devices in getting $50 each from these regents and life members, who have no duties and no privileges of any value."  Understandably, the college was soon gone from the Society Library building.

On the evening of August 31, 1883 the janitor, C. William Ormsby, was going through the rooms, closing the shutters for the night when he "surprised a man in one of the rooms on the second floor endeavoring to pry open a drawer in one of the desks which contained some money and rare coins," according to The New York Times.  Ormsby detained the intruder and summoned a policeman.  At his hearing, 26-year-old Paul H. Rieve explained that he was a machinist out of work and was simply in the building looking for employment.  The judge was not convinced and Rieve was held on $1,000 bail awaiting trial.

Around 1896 University Place was renumbered, giving the New York Society Library the new address of 109.

When this photograph was taken in 1906, commercial buildings had begun to populate the area.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The year 1914 was remarkable for the New York Society Library for two very different reasons.  At some point between 1840 and 1854, the original parchment charter, granted by George III in 1772, had disappeared.  At the annual shareholders' meeting on April 28, 1914, it was announced that the venerable document "was restored to the library by a resident of Brooklyn."

An equally surprising story affected the janitor's family that year.  John McCarthy, his wife, and their children lived in a small apartment in the rear of the building.  In January, Anita Faithful McCarthy read in the newspapers that William Smith, a "recluse on the Bowery," had died, leaving a $200,000 estate (roughly $5.34 million today).  Smith was the assumed name of Dudley Jardine, son of a millionaire organ builder.  Anita knew immediately that Jardine, alias Smith, was her father.

Jardine had married Anita Blackwell following the Civil War, "but lived away from her most of the time, explaining that he was doing private detective work," said The Evening World on October 23, 1914.  "While he was living this dual life the child Anita Faithful Smith was born, and shortly afterward Jardine left the little family and took up his above in a lodging house."

Anita told a reporter from The Sun, "My father deserted my mother.  I supported her from the time I was 16 years old except one year, when my father let my brother and me stay in the Juvenile Asylum."  Anita's mother had died in 1911, and now she went to court to claim her share of her father's fortune.

On October 23 The Evening World reported, "There are five children romping with joy to-day around a smiling woman of middle age in a rear apartment at No. 109 University place, and their lives hereafter will be blessed with the good things of life, while yesterday they were the children of a poor janitor."  Anita's long fought battle resulted in a decision that "she and her children are to share largely" in the estate.

By the Depression years, once again the northward movement of society caused the New York Society Library to rethink its location.  On May 3, 1936, the Chicago Tribune reported, "The New York Society Library, one of New York's hoariest social institutes, is moving.  For years it has stood on University place, grimly ignoring the onslaught of lofty buildings and second-hand shops.  Now the library can no longer take it, and its officials have purchased the residence of Mrs. John S. Rogers on East 79th street."

The T. Thomas & Son structure was demolished in 1939, replaced by an six-story apartment building designed by H. L. Feldman, which survives.

image via has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The 1891 Prospect Hill Apartments - 26 East 91st Street


image via

Among the Upper Manhattan's elegant country mansions in the 18th century was Prospect Hall,  located at approximately what is today Park Avenue and 93rd Street.  The estate took its name from the area called Prospect Hill.  A letter to the editor of The New York Times on February 9, 1913 recalled, "The situation was a very fine one.  Prospect Hill, the name still given to that part of the city, was much higher than any part of the city south of Washington Heights.  From the front of Prospect Hall there was a fine view of the East River and Long Island."

By 1890, the days of summer estates and Dutch farms had long passed, as houses, stores and apartment buildings rose along the Upper East Side streets.  That year developer John Livingston hired the architectural firm of A. B. Ogden & Sons to design a sprawling flat, or apartment, building at the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 91st Street.

Completed the following year, John Livingston called his new six-story building the Prospect Hill.  The architects had faced the Renaissance Revival style building in brick, trimmed in brownstone.  A box stoop led to the entrance, centered on Madison Avenue, which sat within a majestic two-story arch containing an oval stained glass window.  The corner was rounded above the first floor, providing a charming balcony to the second floor corner apartment.  An ornate pressed metal frieze ran below the cornice, which A. B. Ogden & Sons garnished with balustrades and triangular pediments.  Below street level were two stores, "suitable for a druggist and barber," according to the Real Estate Record & Guide.

Real Estate Record & Guide, May 30, 1891 (copyright expired)

The lobby was meant to impress.  The floor was tiled with marble and the wainscoting was mahogany.  A floor-to-ceiling console mirror "gives a brilliant reflection of every objects to the east," said the Record & Guide.  "There are picturesque seats in bamboo and mahogany, and a handsome lamp is suspended from the ceiling."

There were three apartments per floor, of either seven rooms and a bath, or eight rooms and bath.  "Each suite of apartments has a parlor, music-room and dining-room, which can be separated by sliding doors or portieres, or, when occasion demands, thrown into one."  The critic of the Record & Guide felt the ability to combine all three principal rooms was ingenious, "a desideratum which cannot too frequently be commended in these days of social intercourse."

The parlors and music rooms were trimmed in cherry, while the dining rooms were done in oak.  Residents would enjoy up-to-date amenities, like "a handsome and spacious elevator of the safety type," steam heat, "electric bells, fine plumbing, etc."  (The electric bells were for summoning domestic help.)

Prospect Hill residents were well-heeled.  Among them in the first years of the 20th century were James S. Cushman and his wife, the former Vera Scott.  Cushman was descended from two Mayflower passengers, Thomas Cushman and Mary Allerton.

His grandfather was the wealthy real estate man Don Alonzo Cushman, who had been highly responsible for the development of the Chelsea district.  Although Cushman was president of Cushman & Denison Manufacturing Company, a stationery firm, he, too, was involved in real estate.  In 1916 he founded the Allerton chain of "club hotels" for professional men and women (named after his Mayflower ancestor).  The New York Times said, "He was regarded as a pioneer in improving the New York skyline because the Allerton structures were built so as to hide their water towers."

Vera Cushman was nearly as active as her husband.  On April 17, 1918, the New York Herald reported that a cable message had arrived at the National Board of the Young Women's Christian Association, "announcing the safe arrival at a French port of Mrs. James S. Cushman, and seven other American women of prominence who have gone to France to work under the auspices of the association."  For years Vera had been president of the association, and was now chairman of its War Work Council, as well.

The wedding of Charles Cook Ransom and Emma Peabody on May 6, 1920 was a socially visible affair.  The bride was the daughter of the Stephen and Cornelia Haven Peabody, and the granddaughter of millionaire George Griswold Haven.  The newlyweds moved into the Prospect Hill, where a daughter, Emma Marie, was born in June 1922.

By the time of baby Emma's arrive, things were changing in the neighborhood.  Madison Avenue had become increasingly commercial, and Victorian apartment houses were falling from favor.  In 1930, architect Robert T. Lyons was commissioned to modernize the Prospect Hill.  The stoop was removed and the entrance moved to 26 East 91st Street, stores were installed along Madison Avenue, and A. B. Ogden & Sons' cornice was stripped down.

The changing neighborhood and outdated architecture of the building did not diminish the prominence of the Prospect Hill residents, however.  The family of A. Alexander Thomas were among the first residents following the renovations.  Thomas's wife was the former Helen Rowe.  Their daughters, Adi-Kent and Helen Elizabeth, enjoyed a privileged upbringing.  Both, of course, attended exclusive schools (The New York Sun mentioned that Helen Elizabeth "was educated abroad and at the Spence School here.  She also attended the Fermata School at Aiker, S.C., and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts of New York.), and both young women were formally introduced to society.

Such was the case with another young resident, Julia Bliss Halsted.   She graduated from St. Catherine's School in Richmond, Virginia in 1939 and went on to Finch Junior College.  On November 29, 1939, The New York Sun reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Halsted of 26 East Ninth-first street, will introduce their daughter, Miss Julis Bliss Halsted, at a dinner to be given on December 22, at the Plaza."

Living here in the early 1980's was the no-nonsense State Supreme Court justice James J. Leff.  At around 6:30 on the morning of November 6, 1981, according to The New York Times, "the early-morning quiet was shattered by two 'explosion-like sounds' that seemed to come from the Sweet Suite, a shop on Madison Avenue directly below his second-floor apartment."

Judge Leff rushed to his window to see a man running to a gray van, carrying a piece of equipment (it turned out to be a t-shirt imprinting machine stolen from a different shop in the building).  Leff reached for his totebag, pulled out his .38-caliber Colt "detective's special," and fired three shots at the van.  The vehicle sped off with two men inside.

Leff notified police, who were obligated to temporarily confiscate the fired weapon.  He told a reporter, "I guess I can manage without it.  The average citizen does.  But I feel more comfortable with it."

image via

A renovation completed in 1983 resulted in four apartments per floor.  The brick and brownstone have been painted, obscuring A. B. Ogden & Sons' purposeful contrast of brick and stone.  And while the cornice decorations and magnificent Madison Avenue entrance have been lost, the charming corner balcony happily survives. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Hotel Wellington - 871 Seventh Avenue


On March 2, 1901 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Charles F. Rogers had leased "the new hotel building...on the east side of 7th av." midblock between 55th and 56th Street to hotelier Arthur W. Eager.  The article noted, "Mr. Eager will conduct the new building, to be known as the Hotel Wellington, in conjunction with his other houses," the Schuyler and Orleans Hotels.  
Interestingly, ground had not yet been broken for the structure.  

Charles F. Rogers acted as his own architect.  His 12-story Hotel Wellington was completed in 1902.  Faced in red brick, the Renaissance Revival design included a faux balcony at the fourth floor, and a full-width stone balcony at the tenth.  Rogers gave the ground floor a welcoming, almost cottage-like entrance above brick steps, flanked by flower boxes.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

A residential hotel, the Wellington accepted both permanent and transient guests.  It became a favorite among theatrical circles and among the initial residents was actress Julie Opp.  The year she moved in, she co-starred with the handsome and popular William Faversham in The Royal Rival.  She was married at the time to British actor Robert Loraine.

Julie Opp.  Country Life magazine, May 12, 1900 (copyright expired)

Julie Opp's stay at the Hotel Wellington would be short, indeed.  Although her co-star was married to socialite Edith Campbell, a romance blossomed off stage.   Both divorced their spouses and on December 29, 1902 The Evening World reported, "Miss Julie Opp left her apartments in the Hotel Wellington to-day and, accompanied by her mother, went to Greenwich, Conn., where she was married at noon to William Faversham."  (The couple had to marry there because Faversham's divorce decree forbade him to remarry in the state of New York.)

The couple moved into Faversham's apartment in the Milano on West 58th Street.  The Evening World commented, "Before Miss Opp was married to-day her maid carried several bags and boxes from the Hotel Wellington to the Milano."

The hotel's entrance was quite English and equally charming.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Another actress living here at the time was Etta Butler.  She had first stepped onto the stage at the age of 19 in San Francisco.  She was featured in Charles Frohman's comedies, and landed a long-term contract with David Belasco.  In 1902, the year she moved into the Hotel Wellington, she was among original cast of the Liberty Belles.  

Etta Butler, from the collection of the New York Public Library

On December 1, 1902, Etta fell ill with typhoid fever and was taken to a private room in Roosevelt Hospital.  The Evening World reported, "Miss Butler's parents, who reside in California, were notified of her critical condition and hundreds of sympathetic friends constantly inquired about her at the hospital."  The parents boarded a train in San Francisco, "hoping to see Miss Butler before she died."  But they were too late.  The popular actress died on January 6, 1903 at the age of 24.

The lobby and dining room of the original hotel.  photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Among the well-heeled permanent residents in 1909 was  bachelor Frederic C. Osborne, who worked as a salesman for the International Bank Note Company.  An associate, G. D. Webber said he was "known among his business associates as 'Earnest' Osborne, and was one of the highest paid salesmen in the bank note industry."

Although he had no financial worries, Osborne was suffering from what his brother said was a "chronic malady" which had "greatly depressed him."  When Osborne did not answer a telephone call on January 20, 1909, a bellboy was sent up to check on him.  The Evening World reported he "found Mr. Osborne dead on the floor.  The room was full of gas and every fixture in the room was wide open."

His brother, L. A. Osborne, attributed his death to "the cheerlessness of life in a hotel" and said, "He had often threatened to take his own life unless he could find a more cheerful way of living."  

Two views of the upscale parlors in the original hotel, one even furnished with a piano.  photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Several of the tenants used their apartments both as living quarters and artistic studios.  In 1915, for instance, the studio of Ellmer Zoller, a pianist and accompanist, was in his apartment; as was that of William Reddick, and Alise Nielsen, also pianists, accompanists, and teachers.  Voice coach Adreinne Remenyi-Von Ende's "residence studio" was in the building by 1921.

In 1929 The New York Times headlined and article, "Hotel Wellington to Have Annex," and reported, "A twenty-five story structure to be erected at the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street as an annex to the thirteen-story Hotel Wellington, adjoining on the north, will cost $850,000."  That figure would amount to $12.8 million today.  The Hotel Wellington's owners, the 817 Seventh Avenue Hotel Corporation, had no way of knowing that the Stock Market would crash six months later, initiating the Great Depression.

The addition, designed by Robert T. Lyons, greatly overshadowed the original building.  Its Art Deco mass rose high above the Charles F. Rogers structure, making it merely a footnote.  

As seen in this postcard, the original building was modernized as well.  The balconies were stripped off and a modern marquee installed.  

A much different type of resident arrived in 1938.  General Alexander Orlov had played a major role in the Soviet Union's intelligence operations in England and in Spain.  Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he convinced the Spanish Government to relocated nearly 500 tons of gold--the fourth largest reserve in the world--to Moscow for "safekeeping."

Alexander Orlov's photo for a fraudulent passport. (image in public domain)

But despite his achievements, he was ordered back to Moscow from Spain in July 1938 at the pinnacle of Joseph Stalin's political and military purges.  Rather than obey and be executed, he embezzled between $22,000 and $60,000 in Soviet cash and fled with his family to Canada, leaving behind a letter to Stalin saying he would reveal everything he knew about Soviet intelligence if he were followed.

From Canada, he slipped south to New York City and registered at the Hotel Wellington as Leon Koornick.  The world-class spy managed to avoid discovery by either the Soviets or the FBI.   He left the Wellington eventually, moving ever westward.   He remained reclusive until a month after Stalin's death when he published an article, "The Ghastly Secrets of Stalin's Power" in the April 6, 1953 issue of Life magazine.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the Hotel Wellington suffered from old age.  Claire Berman, writing in the October 12, 1970 issue of New York Magazine, said:

In Hilton country and immediately opposite the Park Sheraton sit the Wellington, an undistinguished building containing 838 rooms--all with combination tub and shower, TV, air conditioning.  In short, the basics are here, but little else.  The rooms are decorated with dime-store art and other touches from the same school of design.  Nevertheless, they are cheerier than, say, those at the Commodore, and you will be able to stay here in comfort if not in style.

Nonetheless, there were still those who were permanent residents.  Among them was summer theater impresario Milton Stiefel, whose other home was in Essex, Connecticut.  It was at his Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut that Katharine Hepburn made her professional debut in 1930.  Stiefel died of a heart attack in his apartment in the Hotel Wellington on November 18, 1983, at the age of 83.

Three years later, in September, Federal agents arrested four members of a foreign heroin ring in the hotel, seizing more than half a million dollars in cash.  Much of the information that led to the bust had come from the Royal Thai Police. 

On December 5, 2021 Steve Cuozzo, writing in the New York Post, said, "The Wellington Hotel, a tourist landmark at 871 Seventh Ave. and West 55th St. since 1902, appears headed for its final check-out."  The building's owner, Richad Born, had invoked a demolition clause to evict four retail tenants, including the Greek restaurant Molyvos, which had been in the hotel since about 1997.

image via

And yet, according to Cuozzo, "Born's plans remain a mystery.  Neither demolition nor construction plans have yet been filed with the Department of Buildings."  Despite it all, the Hotel Wellington is still accepting reservations, so its fate seems to be undecided.

many thanks to reader Keith Leong for requesting this post.
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The 1854 Former Twins at 446 and 448 West 22nd Street


In 1854 developer William Berrian's vacant, 32-foot-wide parcel on the south side of West 22nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues provided him with an option.  He could erect one mansion or two skinny houses, each just over 15 feet wide.  He chose the latter.

Completed within the year, the mirror-image homes were designed in the Anglo-Italianate style.  Short stoops, three steps high, led to the double-doored entrances within a rusticated brownstone base.  The three upper floors were clad in warm red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The full-height windows at the second floor may have been fronted by cast iron balconies.

The Swift family moved into 306 West 22nd Street (renumbered 446 in 1868).  Charles Swift was a carriage maker whose business was at 44 Mercer Street.  There is little doubt that his son, Charles, Jr., learned his trade from him, but for some reason the two did not initially work together.  Charles Swift, Jr. was listed in directories in 1860 as "coachmaker" with a business address of 372 Broome Street.  They would join forces by 1867, however, operating as Charles Swift & Son at the Mercer Street location.

By then the Swifts had been gone from West 22nd Street for three years.  The house was now home to Eliza Milne Chandler, whose husband, Adoniram Chandler, had died in 1854.  Widows often took in boarders for extra income, but that was not the case with Eliza, who lived here alone with her small staff of servants.  Her husband had apparently left her a sufficient estate upon which to live.

Eliza's husband, Adoniram Chandler, died ten years before she moved into the West 22nd Street house.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Adoniram had been highly involved in politics and was a Whig candidate for State Assembly at least once.  He was a Legal Collector of Arrears of Taxes for the city, with an office in the Old Alms House.

In the meantime, the house next door was initially home to Hamilton R. Searles, who listed his occupation as "mirrors" at 57 White Street in 1859.  By the following year he had opened a second store at 62 West 13th Street, and had expanded into "frames."

John C. Brampton and his wife moved into that house in 1864.  He was a real estate agent and it appears his wife helped out in the business, as well.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on April 28, 1866, for instance, read:

Country board can be obtained at the house on Greenwich Point, Long Island Sound, near the water; fine salt water bathing; healthy location; adults preferred; steamboat and cars; stable for horses...for further information call on Mrs. Brampton, at 308 West Twenty-second street.

Martin Fox purchased the Brampton house (now renumbered 448 West 22nd Street) in 1871.  He ran a store at the corner of 37th Street and Ninth Avenue until 1877, when it appears he retired.  He remained in the house until June 1885, when he sold it to Ernestena C. Unger for $12,500, just under $350,000 today.

Around 1895 Dr. C. Kierstedt and his family moved into 446 West 22nd Street.  He came from a long tradition of physicians, the first Dr. Kierstedt arriving in New Amsterdam in the 17th century.  The Kiersteds' daughter was a member of the Children of the Holland Dames of the New Netherlands and the house was several times the scene of the group's meetings.

The grade school aged members had serious business to attend to.  At a meeting here on April 4, 1898, for instance, the children addressed the on-going Spanish-American War.  Nine-year-old Sarah Bancker Trafton entrusted a letter to a reporter from The World to be sent abroad.  The succinct and straight-forward message read:

To Alfonso XIII, King of Spain:

Please have this war stopped at once.  I don't like it.

    Sarah Bancker Trafton
    Regent of children of Holland Dames of the New Netherlands.

And after the agenda points had been taken care of at the meeting a month later, Sarah asked, "Any new business?"  Mai Moore stood up and said, "I move that we look after the war correspondents.  They're just as much heroes as soldiers are."

Asked what they could possibly do, Mai answered, "Why, if they get sick and need things in hospitals, or clothes, they could just let us know.  And if they were in prison, maybe we could help them out.  I prayed for the two that were shut up in Havana, and now they're out."  The group voted to adopt the "looking out for poor war correspondents" as a priority.

The Kierstedt family remained in the house at least through the first months of 1902, after which it appears to have been operated as a boarding house.  Among the initial tenants was Orrin J. Ford, whose business was on West 29th Street.  Drinking during business hours was not a problem for Ford, but it nearly cost him his life on August 23, 1902.

The 64-year-old placed his whisky bottle on a window sill, and shortly afterward, someone placed a bottle of muriatic acid next to it.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said, "The two bottles looked alike and Ford took up the wrong one."  He drank a mouthful of the acid, spilling part of the bottle over his chin and beard, and collapsed on the floor.  The newspaper said "his cries of agony attracted the attention of his son, William Ford, who ran to his assistance."  A policeman ran to a nearby grocery store and returned with two quarts of milk, which he "poured down the man's throat."  Ford was taken to the New York Hospital where it was deemed the prompt administration of the milk saved his life.

Among the boarders in 446 West 22nd in 1908 was Helen V. McCourt.  That year she passed the civil service test for the position of telephone operator.

Living next door at 448 was the family of Charles Bryant Overton, who had moved in around 1892.   Overton and his wife, the former Carolina Augusta Unger, had five grown daughters, Caroline, Katherine Louise, Carrie H., Elizabeth, and Edith May.  

Caroline, Katherine Louise, and Edith May were unmarried and lived their their parents.  Both Katherine Louise and Edith May were teachers.  Caroline seems to have been a bit more progressive.  In 1905 she was the corresponding secretary of the Daughters of the Lafayette Post.  He father, who was now 67 years old, was a veteran of the Civil War.  The purpose of Caroline's group was "to perpetuate the memory of their fathers who fought in the Civil War."

Caroline's modern bent was much more apparent when The American Stationer reported on December 19, 1914 that the "stationary and bookstore of Caroline H. Overton, at 450 Bedford avenue, Brooklyn...will be opened on January 1."

On April 4, 1920 an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald offering 446 West 22nd Street for sale at $12,500 (about $161,000 in today's money).   It was sold within the month and on May 16 the New-York Tribune reported, "The purchaser will make extensive improvements."

Those improvements included removing the upper floor openings and replacing them with centered, paired windows.  The architect gingerly attempted to match the original brownstone lintels and sills seen next door.  A cast iron balcony fronted the French doors of the second floor.

Author and journalist Marguerite L. Glentworth purchased 446 West 22nd Street in 1926.  It was the setting of meetings and social events for women writers, such as the reception for the League of American Pen Women on April 22, 1926.  Marguerite Glentworth was a member of the New York Woman's Press Club, as well.

Equally interesting was Marguerite's spiritual side.  She claimed to have a "sixth sense" and could foretell coming events or the contents of sealed letters.  She told a journalist from The Forum that she had had "several manifestations of persons who have been out of the world many years--and seen them so clearly that I described peculiarities of their expression and articles of jewelry I had never seen or heard about."  Among those spirts were her great-grandmother and the deceased father of a close friend.

In 1945 446 West 22nd Street was converted to a two-family home with duplexes on the first and second, and the third and fourth floors.  An identical conversion happened next door in 1948.  A subsequent renovation to 446, completed in 2006, resulted in an apartment on the first floor and a single family residence on the floors above.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The 1856 John Cameron Stone House-- 15 West 9th Street


James Franklin Doughty Lanier founded the banking firm Winslow, Lanier & Co.  He had an impressive American pedigree, his earliest ancestor, Thomas Lanier, having arrived with his friend, John Washington, in Virginia in 1655.  James F. D. Lanier owned much Greenwich Village land, and would erect a "terrace" of elegant homes along the south side of West 10th Street in 1856.

A year before starting that project, he leased the three plots on the north side side of the street, Nos. 11 to 15 West 9th, to Henry Pierson, a wealthy iron merchant.  Pierson constructed three handsome Anglo-Italianate homes on the site.  The identical, four-story houses sat upon rusticated brownstone bases.  Their arched doorways, above a short stoop, were perfectly balanced by windows of the same proportions.  Full-width cast iron balconies fronted the second floor French windows and a single bracketed cornice unified the trio of homes.

On October 25, 1856, the year the houses were completed, James F. D. Lanier's daughter Mary was married to John Cameron Stone.  The bride was 22 years old and the groom 30.  Mary was Stone's second wife.  Adeline Emma Bridge Stone had died the previous year, on June 9.  Stone brought two children to the marriage, Lewis Bridge, who was 9 years old, and Adeline Emma, who was 7.

The newlyweds moved into 15 West 9th Street, where they would have two more children.  Elizabeth Gardner was born on March 6, 1859, and Mary Louisa arrived the following year. 

The Stones were among the most socially prominent families in New York and Lenox, Massachusetts where they maintained their summer estate.  A hint of the costly furnishings and artwork within their town home can be gleaned by a single sentence published in The Crayon in April 1857.  "J. Cameron Stone, Esq., has purchased, at Rome, Mozier's statue of 'Rebecca.'"

Joseph Mozier's Rebecca At The Well, now in the Chrysler Museum of Art, sat within the West 9th Street house.  image via

On June 6, 1862 John Cameron Stone died at the age of 36.  His funeral was held in the drawing room four days later.  Mary Lanier Stone was now a 28-year-old widow and single mother of four.

Lewis Bridge Stone graduated from Yale University in 1868.  The young gentleman embarked on an ambitious trip around the world alone (no doubt with, at least, his valet).  He set off for California, then to Japan, China, and Europe.  In his absence, Adeline was married to Dr. Richard Cranch Greenleaf on June 21, 1870.  The couple traveled to Europe for their extended honeymoon, and made plans to meet with Lewis there.

Mary Lanier Stone received troubling news not long after the wedding.  Lewis had "contracted the malarial fever in Rome," as later reported in the Yale University Biographical Record.  He was too ill to return home, and eventually died there on November 9, 1871 at the age of 24.  The Evening Post reported, "His sister, Mrs. Dr. Greenleaf, of Boston, was with him at his death."

Elizabeth was married to William Benjamin Bacon, Jr. in Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox on September 28, 1882.  The following year, on March 29, Mary Louisa was married in the West 9th Street house to J. Frederic Schenck.

Mary continued her social routine.  On June 10, 1888, for instance, the New York Herald announced, "Mrs. J. Cameron Stone, No. 15 West Ninth street, has gone abroad, to remain until the autumn."

On December 30, 1893, The New York Times reported on the socially important wedding of Mary's granddaughter, Alice Greenleaf to William Adams, which was to take place in Trinity Church in Lenox on New Year's Day.  The article said the guests "have been arriving ever since Tuesday of this week...Nearly a hundred guests are at the hotel and the cottages near at hand."  The article noted that Alice's parents "formerly lived in Boston, but...have recently made Lenox their home, excepting when in town.  There they stop at Mrs. Stone's house, 15 West Ninth Street."

Mary Lanier Stone was in Lenox in June 1909 when she fell ill.  She died there on July 2, 1909, a little more than a month before her 75th birthday.  Her body was brought back to New York City, and her funeral held in the Church of the Ascension, around the corner from the house that had been her home for essentially her entire adult life.  

The following year, on March 22, 1910, Mary's estate sold the house to John J. Bogert and his wife, the former Eliza Horler, "as tenants by entirety," indicating that the Lanier family still owned the land on which the residence stood.  

Originally all identical, the two houses to the right retain their rusticated bases.  Only 15 West 9th Street still has its second floor balcony, and sadly all have lost their carved window surrounds.

Born in 1846, Bogert had been in the real estate business before his retirement in 1897.  He and Eliza updated the aging house in 1911 by hiring architect J. H. Knubel to install modern plumbing, and new stairs.  Their residency would be relatively short-lived, however.  They sold the house to Cortlandt Edward Palmer in April 1911 and moved two doors away to 17 West 9th Street where John J. Bogert died on October 6, 1927.

According to the Columbia Alumni News, Palmer was "one of our most active operating and consulting mining engineers."  He and his wife, musician Katherine Van Arnhem Palmer, maintained a summer home in Arlington, Vermont.  The couple's relationship became strained not long after purchasing the West 9th Street house.  

Although no legal separation papers were ever filed, Palmer almost immediately began living entirely at the Arlington house.  Katherine later said they lived apart because they were "temperamentally unsuited."  In Vermont, Palmer was close friends with Mr. and Mrs. Halley Phillips Gilchrist--so close that the couple reportedly moved into his home.  But circumstances would later reveal that it was, in fact, only Mrs. Gilchrist who shared the house with Palmer.

He died of a heart attack there on September 2, 1917.  The terms of his will, published in the Bennington Evening Banner on October 23 were shocking.  He left 40 percent of his estate, valued at more than $3 million in today's money, to Mrs. Gilchrist and and equal amount to Katherine.  The will also left Mrs. Gilchrist "my body as soon as I shall be dead, to be disposed of as she may see fit."

The newspaper noted, "Mrs. Palmer announced yesterday that she would contest the will because she felt that to permit it to be probated would 'legalize his manner of living with the woman who supplanted me in his affections."

Katherine Palmer leased the house on May 1, 1918 to J. D. Trenholm, a real estate operator at $1,500 per year (around $25,800 today).   She allowed him to "remodel or repair" the property.  The extent of his renovations is unknown.

In May 1924 Katherine was still engaged in the court case concerning her husband's will.  In the meantime, she had sold the West 9th Street house a year earlier to a "Mr. Swann" for the equivalent of $500,000 today.   It was converted to a multiple-family home in 1957 with a duplex in the cellar and first floor, one apartment each on the second and third floors, and two apartments on the fourth.  It was likely at this time that the 1856 moldings around the windows were shaved off and a stucco-like substance slathered over the rusticated brownstone.  A subsequent renovation completed in 1977 resulted in a duplex on the third and fourth floors.

Although most of the original detailing has been lost, exquisite carved marble mantels like this one survive.  image via

In 2018 the house was returned to a single-family home.  

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The 1888 Edwin Ruthven Holden House - 311 West 82nd Street

Charles Berg was not only a real estate developer, he was a trained architect, as well.  With Edward H. Clark he formed the architectural firm of Berg & Clark.  In 1887 Berg began construction on a row of five upscale homes on the north side of West 82nd Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  Not surprisingly, Berg & Clark were the architects.  The plans projected the cost of construction of each of the homes at $15,000--about $421,000 in today's money.

There was apparently a deal struck between Berg and the builder, Charles T. Wills, for when Edwin Ruthven Holden purchased 311 West 82nd Street in June 1889, he acquired it from Wills.

Born in November 1835, Holden had entered the coal business in Syracuse, New York.  In 1867 he relocated to New York City to oversee the Eastern coal dealings of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Co.  Three years before purchasing the 82nd Street house, he was voted vice-president of the firm.  The Coal Trade Journal said of him, "Mr. Holden may rightly be regarded as the dean of the Anthracite coal trade."

Holden had married Emeline Theodosia Foreman on December 2, 1858 and had four grown children, Edith, Edwin Babcock, George Albert, and Jessie.  The family summered in Thousand Island Park, New York, where Holden had erected a home around 1882.  There Holden docked his steam yacht, the Lotus Seeker.

Edwin Babcock Holden had graduated from Columbia College in 1883, and in April 1889 he married Alice Cort.  He and his bride moved into 311 West 82nd Street with his parents.  In 1891, two years after moving into 311 West 82nd Street, Arthur C. Holden was born.  

Holden started out in the coal department of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, before forming the coal business William Home & Company with William Home in December 1889.  He would become best known, however, for his valuable collection of historic engravings of New York City, portraits of George Washington, and rare books.

Edwin Babcock Holden was as well-known as his father.  Foreman-Farman-Forman Genealogy, 1915 (copyright expired)

In 1892 a Congressional committee was formed to "probe the coal combine," as worded by The New York Times on November 27.  Edwin R. Holden proved of little help to the congressmen's investigation.  The New York Times said:

Edwin R. Holden, Second Vice President of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, whose flowing side whiskers formed such an important factor last Summer before the State Senate Committee which investigated the Reading coal deal, was the witness of the day.  He was troubled with the same complaint that afflicted him in the Summer--a complete loss of memory at the most critical periods in the hearing.

Edwin Ruthven Holden, The Coal Trade Journal, 1900 (copyright expired)

On February 12, 1900, The Evening News reported that Edwin Ruthven Babcock had resigned from the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Co.  The article stressed that his resignation "is entirely voluntary," saying it was prompted by his age (he was 65), and "the unsatisfactory condition of his health and a desire to withdraw from active business life."  The Coal Trade Journal added, "It is understood that Mr. Holden is a man of ample means."

In 1902 the Holden family left 311 West 82nd Street.  Edwin Babcock Holden erected "a beautiful residence on Riverside Drive," according to the Foreman-Farman-Forman Genealogy, "one floor of which was largely devoted to his exceptionally well selected library of over 10,000 volumes and rare historic collections." The family retained possession of the 82nd Street house, leasing it to Mrs. T. Tileston Greene, who moved her Montpelier Home School for Girls into the residence.  Her advertisement in Harper's Monthly that year noted, "Limited number of boarding and day scholars.  Summer session for Music and Art students."

The estate of Edwin Ruthven Holden sold the house in January 1915 to I. G. Waterman and his wife, Daisy.  They leased it for a number of years to Leon N. Adler, a chemist.  Then, in May 1925, both it and the house next door at 309 West 82nd Street were sold.  The New York Times remarked that the buyer "will occupy same after making extensive improvements."  While the remodeled houses were not joined internally, they were  now used as Miss Ferguson's Residence, a well-chaperoned boarding house for well-heeled young girls to live while in New York City.  An advertisement in House & Garden described it as, "A home of exclusive patronage for girl students attending school, college or special courses in New York."

A typical resident was Reba Hinsdale who lived here in 1935.  She had graduated from St. Mary's School in Raleigh, North Carolina a year earlier, and now the St. Mary's School Bulletin said that she "is studying fashion illustration in New York City."

A renovation completed in 1953 resulted in apartments and "Class B" rooms in the structure.  That configuration lasted until a 1972 remodeling.  There are now two apartments per floor in the former Holden house.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog