Beekman was a dry goods merchant and a descendant of William Beekman who was highly involved in the governing of New Amsterdam, alongside Governor Peter Stuyvesant. His city house was at 240 Queen Street (now Pearl Street), but during the oppressive summer months the family escaped to the open countryside of Mount Pleasant.
Beekman had the exterior of the mansion designed to reflect the old Dutch colonial manses of a century earlier. It was constructed of thick wooden planks and brick, two stories tall with a basement and attic under a Dutch-style hipped roof. As The New York Times described it in 1872, “he chose to indulge the whim of uniting the homely Dutch cottage of his forefathers with all that the world then presented of luxury and comfort.” Formal gardens wrapped around the mansion which had the first greenhouse in America which contained orange trees and oleander among other scarce plants.
|Four of these 18th Century panels were removed from the house by the Beekman family before the demolition.|
|D. T. Valentine's 1861 Manual depicted the "Blue Room" as the artist envisioned it around the time of the Revolution -- NYPL Collection|
Here the Beekmans entertained their neighbors. It was an elite and close-knit group. Historian Martha Joanna Lamb in her 1877 “History of the City of New York” pointed out “Drawing-rooms were not filled to suffocation by a promiscuous crowd unknown to each other and scarcely known to the host and hostess. The guests were all of one class, and personally acquainted. The majority of them were related by blood and marriage.”
|James Beekman and his family traveled from their city house to Mount Pleasant in this carriage -- New York Historical Society|
Two years after the house was completed, Beekman added the attached kitchen. But within a decade the idyllic life at Mount Pleasant was shattered by the American Revolution. As Washington retreated from the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, he stopped at the mansion for a few hours and, from here, issued orders for the Continental Army to take up positions at Harlem. The General warned the Beekman family of the impending danger and prompted them to flee.
Rushing to evacuate before the British arrived, the family gathered their valuable household goods like the silver plate and flatware and stashed them in a secret closet built into an upstairs room. As Washington left, so did the Beekmans; unsure if they would ever see Mount Pleasant again.
The mansion was taken over as headquarters of General William Howe. Here in an upstairs bedroom John Andre slept before sneaking off to meet Benedict Arnold; the mission that would cost him his life.
|Nearly a century later, D. T. Valentine's 1861 Manual depicted Andre in his room at Mount Pleasant -- NYPL Collection|
Later, Nathan Hale was arrested in Huntington, Long Island and brought to Mount Pleasant on September 21, 1776. General Howe dispensed with a court martial, telling Hale that he would be executed in the morning. Howe gave the revolutionist the opportunity to write letters to his mother and sister.
Hale spent the night in one of the bedrooms and in the morning was executed and he was hanged from a butternut tree on the property. The provost-marshal, Captain Cunningham, refused him the services of a clergyman, denied his the use of a Bible, and while Hale watched he destroyed the letters the doomed man had written to his family.
In 1780 the English Governor Sir Henry Clinton turned the house over to Baroness Reidesel, the wife of the Major General of the Hessians who was being held prisoner at Saratoga. The Baroness wrote extensively of the estate, describing the beauties of the farm with its peaches, grapes and apricots, and of the renowned gardens and the well-appointed interiors. The home, she said “left nothing for a tenant to desire.”
Finally, in November 1783, the Beekmans returned to Mount Pleasant. Despite the many people who had used it, it was perfectly intact. Beekman and his wife rushed to the hidden upstairs closet where, to their delight, all their costly treasures were still untouched.
The irritated Beekman sent a rent bill to the British Government for the use of both Mount Pleasant and the city house.
In 1840 the house was in danger. As the city’s grid plan of streets and avenues inched northward, Mount Pleasant sat squarely in the course of 51st Street. There were no exceptions made for historic structures sitting in the path of progress.
Unwilling to see the old family home destroyed, the Beekmans spent several thousand dollars moving it a block to the south. A new foundation was created on a high rocky outcropping twenty feet above the sidewalk at 50th Street and 1st Avenue and the house was carefully moved. The extensive formal gardens were gone as were the orchards and greenhouse; but the unique structure was preserved.
|The tall lower level was removed when the house was moved to 50th Street -- NYPL Collection|
But history and architecture in 1874 could not compete with land values. The house high above 50th Street with its deteriorating picket fence stood in the way of urban development.
As the wrecking crew began demolishing Mount Pleasant on April 20, 1874, The New York Times remarked “The encroachments of modern progress have decreed its destruction and people have failed to realize the propriety of a country seat at Fifty-first street…For years the old house has stood in its isolated position, marking the advances of that tide of progress which has at last surrounded and overwhelmed it. There is now no Beekman country seat; it is among the things of the past. The destroyer commenced the work of its demolition…and the relics of its existence are shapeless and unrecognizable.”
The Dutch tiles from some of the mantels were removed and the drawing room was dismantled to be preserved by the New York Historical Society. And then the house that played so an integral part in the American Revolution was smashed to the ground.
The Times reporter lamented the loss of yet another historic New York property. “But its vicissitudes are now over; its career is ended; and having been connected with some stirring events in the history of the country, it is at length blotted out for ever.”
very sad to destroy such history''ReplyDelete
My mother told me I am related to this Beekman family through her mother and that the Beekman house was the family home. I haven't as of yet had the time to research thoroughly to make all the connections. I believe the name Ilsley has some connection also. My mothers mother was married to a John Steven Rielly, who was a broker in New York City in the 1920's I believe.ReplyDelete
I have a friend named James Beekman, he may be related to them, he lived in NYReplyDelete
I am interested in all things American Revolutionary. I am happy to have found this page and this site. I hope to find more "lost" Historical places in NYC on this site. Thank you.ReplyDelete
Hi i have paintings by a mary b beekman from NY wonder is there any connectionReplyDelete
I would like to see the painting? I am a descendant of that family and an artistDelete
I would also love to see the paintings! I am a descendant of that family as well.Delete
Love reading about this family history! Gerardus Beekman was my 8th great grandfather, I am compiling the family geneology and this information is fascinating!ReplyDelete
They call it progress but I call it a crime when such a gorgeous piece of property get demolished. What a shame they would not have saved the original structure. That's the problem with much of the area. Unlike Europe, we destroy historical properties for greed....what a shame....ReplyDelete
You are so right greed is the root of all evil and NYC is no exception. But you will never see them destroythose old uglybrownstones. History they could care less and I hope NYC is reading this.Delete
James Beekman was my great (x5) grandfatherReplyDelete
I descend from this family. My 3x Great Grandma Is Huldah Anne Beekman.ReplyDelete
I'm descended from the Beekmans, thanks for posting this. I got to see the coach when we went to NYC it's at the Historical society museum, but all their other artifacts were temporarily in storage, which was a bit letdown. They may be on display again by now.ReplyDelete
This is a great story, and it's nice to know there are artifacts preserved at least. My mother who died at 93 in 2005 talked frequently about our ancestors, the Beekmans, as many of the stories were passed down...though not this one. James Beekman being a brother of our GGGG.etc..grandfather. If anyone knows why or if James Beekman, the builder of Mt. Pleasant, moved to Warwickshire, England, where he apparently died, I'd love to read about it.ReplyDelete
Don't know, I am also a descendant of the family Christopher Beekman? Gerardus...I'll have to look at my papers...I have some history collected in the 50's. One of the stories was that the crest was given by King James of England for Beekmans translations to that Bible from Greek, Latin, Hebrew...the motto reads to a man with a conscious of right. Two roses on either side of a river..some versions give 3 roses. The roses are houses, the river is the Rhine. They lived in Amsterdam as well..so moved aroundDelete
So Many Beekman cousins on here. Awesome. my name is Gerard Beekman and James Beekman was my 5x GrandfatherReplyDelete
Hi family. :) When is our reunion?ReplyDelete
A 5-story brick mansion was built at 17 Beekman Place in the 1930s, replacing an unmarried mothers' shelter. In the 1940s, Irving Berlin bought the mansion and he & his family lived there for over 4 decades until he died at age 101. Then the country of Luxembourg purchased the mansion, and it still serves as the Consulate of Luxembourg.ReplyDelete
Another descendant here! Hi fam!! I can throw a reunion in north Georgia!ReplyDelete
Hi family! I found out my lineage in December 2021. Wilhelmus Beekman was my 7th Great Grandfather. I'm April Lakeman, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I work for Georgia's next Congressman, so Beekman is back in politics, but this time fighting against the man :)ReplyDelete