Monday, July 9, 2012

The Lost 1745 Kennedy House -- No 1 Broadway

print NYPL Collection

By the middle of the 18th century New York City saw the development of its own aristocratic class.  Country estates north of the city were built by wealthy merchants and military officers, and elegant town houses provided their owners style and luxury on a par with London.

Captain Archibald Kennedy of the British Navy built his residence at 1 Broadway in 1745 on the site of the famous tavern of Mrs. Kocks, built by her husband who was an officer in the Dutch Navy.  By now Broadway was the most fashionable street in the city, and the site at the corner of Reade Street was extremely desirable.  Long before landfill would widen Lower Manhattan, the river flowed nearby, providing refreshing breezes and idyllic views.

Kennedy, who would become the 11th Earl of Cassilis, married the beautiful Ann Watts.  Their new home was built next to the Watts mansion.  Mrs. Martha Lamb, in her History of New York, described the Kennedy residence as being built “after the most approved English model.”

Over a century later, in 1896, The New York Times noted "It was virtually an imported building, all the materials, including bricks, tiles, carved mantels, doors, windows, and other things entering into its construction having been brought from Holland."  The two-story mansion was perfectly symmetrical, its floors being delineated by two stone string courses.  A Palladian window in the slightly protruding central section was mirrored by the entrance below.   

The Watts House, at No. 2 Broadway (right), abuts the Kennedy mansion -- print NYPL Collection

According to Mrs. Lamb “There was a carved doorway to the Kennedy mansion, and it had wide halls and spacious rooms.  The state drawing-room was fifty feet long, and opened upon a porch in which a quadrille could be danced.  The dining-room, as becomes the noble English race, was vast and rich.”  The Kennedys entertained with dances and dinners, blissfully unaware that New York would not forever be British.   A century later, on November 12, 1865, The New York Times would remember that “Within its walls congregated the beauty and fashion of the Colony.”  On such evenings young belles, said Mrs. Lamb, “looked upon the river which washed the foot of the garden.”

Here the Kennedy’s first son was born, who would eventually become the 12th Earl of Cassilis and Marquis of Ailsa.

The elite block included the homes (left to right) of the Kennedy, Watts, Livingston and Stevens families --sketch NYPL Collection

As the clouds of revolution formed over Manhattan, Kennedy sent his family to New Jersey and later abandoned his fine home as well.  In 1775, General George Washington sent General Charles Lee and an army of 1200 Connecticut volunteers to march on New York.   Upon arriving, Lee encamped his troops in what would become City Hall Park and made his headquarters in the Kennedy mansion.

Gentlemen in tricorn hats stroll before the Kennedy house before the war -- sketch NYPL Collection

Lee’s choice of the house was, apparently, infectious.  Every succeeding commander throughout the war took over 1 Broadway.   Putnam, Washington, Sir Henry Clinton, Robertson, Carleton and other British officers established themselves here.  It was from here that Andre wrote his letter to Benedict Arnold who was occupying No. 3 Broadway, the home of Robert Livingston.

Following the Declaration of Independence, Colonel Patterson, Lord Howe’s Adjutant-General, called upon George Washington at 1 Broadway in an effort to reach “an understanding” between the Crown and the colonies.  Washington received the Colonel in full military attire.  Patterson produced a letter from Howe addressed to “George Washington, Esquire, etc., etc., etc.”   The Colonel remarked that the three et ceteras “might mean everything.”  Washington agreed, however he added that in his official capacity he could receive “only letters officially addressed.”  The letter was neither delivered nor read.

Patterson requested Washington to relinquish his commands for Lord and General Howe.  With the courtesy expected of a gentleman, Washington replied, “My particular compliments to both of them.”  Later General Howe would remark that the meeting was “more polite than interesting,” however it had induced him to rethink how he addressed his letters.  From that moment on he addressed Washington by his proper title.

The handsome cupola had either been removed by the time this print was made; or the artist simply ignored it -- NYPL Collection

Although Sir Henry Clinton used the house next, Washington returned here after the British evacuation.  It was from the Kennedy house that Washington left to make his farewell address to his officers at Fraunces Tavern.

After the war the house became home to banker Nathaniel Prime; although it would remain in the ownership of the De Peyster family, relatives of Ann Watts, until the 1850s.   Although the War of 1812 and a subsequent financial depression slowed development in Manhattan, the city continued to grow.    As development pushed northward, the once elegant residential neighborhood of Lower Broadway became commercial.   Captain Kennedy’s beautiful mansion was converted to the Washington Hotel.

Two floors were added in remarkable sympathetic deference to the original architecture.  A handsome balustrade lined the roof and splayed lintels mirrored the originals of the second floor.  The hotel quickly became a popular site for entertainments.  On January 21, 1842, for instance, a ball was held to pay tribute to the teacher J. L. Garrets.  A. Butman, chairman of the event, invited “the friends and pupils of Mr. J. L. Garrets being desirous of testifying their regard for his attentive and gentlemanly behavior towards them,” through a notice in the New York Tribune.

The architect deftly melded the addition to the existing structure.  The once-quiet Broadway now bustles with activity -- NYPL Collection

The hotel was especially popular with the growing temperance movement.  The same year notice was given that Mr. Covert’s Temperance Concert would take place on Friday evening, October 28 “which could not be given on Monday evening, the Church being without notice closed against him.”  A year later, on May 11, The Franklin Temperance Society held its “Great Washington Meeting” here, during which “several distinguished strangers” addressed the meeting.  On January 17, 1844 the Lady Franklin Temperance Society gave a Grand Festival in the hotel.

Other than the hotel’s name—a nod to Washington’s occupancy—the historic importance of the building was overlooked.  Perhaps because their history was so young, 19th century Americans most often placed no importance on historic structures or places.

Mrs. Lamb noticed, however.  In her book she complained “There was no plate let into the wall, no marble slab, no sign whatever, such as marks in older countries the houses of famous men and of interesting associations…The elevators, the telephones, the bath-rooms, the cuisine, the cleanly comfort and luxury, of our great hotels, compensate the traveler for the absence of such associations.  But they can not supply the romance."

By 1881 the land on which the old building stood was far more valuable than the hotel.  On December 16 The New York Times reported on the sales of the furniture and fixtures at public auction.

“The announcement of the sale brought together under the same roof which is alleged to have once sheltered Washington, a swarm of Dutch, Irish, and fourth-rate boarding-house keepers of mixed nationalities, who knew nothing of the historical traditions said to hover around the premises, but were interested only in getting bargains on the much-worn articles under the hammer.”

The article listed a few of the items sold.  “A number of pieces of mahogany furniture, a quaint piano-forte, and a picture or two of Washington’s family and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, all of which presented an appearance of antiquity, were scattered through the rooms.”

The New York Times also noted that “A fight between two rival boarding-house keepers occurred in the kitchen in the early part of the sale, and furnished considerable entertainment to the motley audience.  The gentlemen were lugged off by friends before they had seriously damaged one another.”

Despite The New York Tribune's noting that “More memories associated with events which are fastened immutably in history are attached to this ancient spot than to any other on Manhattan Island,” the fascinating Washington Hotel was razed.  In its place rose the 10-story Washington Building.

The New York Times explained the demolition with crystal clarity.  "But commerce is a vandal, as well as a civilizer, recognizing no sentiment in its trade marches; so the old house had to go to make way for the structure which in its turn will, perchance, have to give place to one of yet larger and more modern build before many years."

Mrs. Lamb, writing as the old hotel was still being demolished, said “The denizens of no other such building can recount, as they look from their sunny windows, so many and such various romantic traditions of their site as those who shall occupy hereafter the offices of the building which, we hope, will retain in this final change the old name of the famous mansion, the Kennedy house.”


  1. What a pity that we do not value our heritage, our history, and our buildings more than we do. I am currently reading "1776" by David McCullough and had to take a look at "No. 1 Broadway", the home that General George Washington had visited/worked, in preparation for battle with the Redcoats. What a tragedy that the home and the history is relegated now to books and can't be touched or seen today.

    1. I am also reading 1776 and it is really a shame that the old house could not be preserved.

  2. I TOO am reading 1776 and was so happy when I googled 1 broadway that it brought me to this amazing blog that I follow already!!

  3. I'm a couple years behind but I am also reading 1776. Fun to see people think of this the same way as I. Unfortunate but understandable considering the growth of NY. Even looking at Boston and how that city has changed from the heights of Dorchester.

  4. Funny that all remarks are from readers of 1776, as am I. I agree, it is such a pity that we as Americans do not value our historical architecture. I live in Houston, and buildings are torn down every day. Imagine if Europe had this mentality. Shame

  5. I'm so glad I found this post. What brought me here was binge watching Turn on Netflix.. A scene in season 4 episode 5 takes place at Kennedy House. Turn is a great series about the spy ring that Washington used to great advantage.

    1. I'm also here because of the series Turn!

      I am so sorry to see that the house is no more. I'm from Fredericksburg, VA where George Washington's boyhood home, Ferry Farm, is located. I love history and visit old houses. The Kenmore Plantation is also in Fredericksburg and was the home of Washington's sister and her husband. It was thankfully preserved.

  6. Reading McCullough's 1776 as well. That history is preserved in print serves us well. Those interested will look for those landmarks mentioned. Unfortunately, historical preservation has a cost. There's also the selection process for what is historically significant. Don't forget the Confederate Purge of 2017.
    - OTTObox

  7. We have a print from my great aunts estate that shows number one Broadway in 1776 showing my ancestor British officer Kennedy leaving his mansion to be escorted by the Royal dragoons.

  8. Thank you to the author for such a great documentation and historical photos. I confess, I was lead here trying to map out the events outlined in the book, 1776 and the book Chains. I did not realize the great tragic events that transpired in New York and Brooklyn in August 1776. What a horrific week of errors. It seemed as though there were sequential warnings that were ignored by General George Washington, which could have saved thousands of lives, much much suffering, the loss of critical supplies and equipment as they fled (I cannot imagine the weight of such a loss on a leader). The "dispatch" (murder)of surrendered Americans by the German mercenaries was hard to listen to. I'm with everyone, I wish that the Kennedy House (1 Broadway NY) had not been lost, but preserved as a Revolutionary War site (maybe it is because the tragic misjudgement of the American generals caused such a deep loss that no one had the stomach to commemorate the site). But it was still an important part of our history, in my mind (thank you for letting me comment anonymously - not requiring me to surrender all personal information first). Kind Regards to you

  9. 1 Broadway was where my paternal great-grandmother (Fitsimmons] was born in 1844, and my grandmother (Daugherty) was born in 1865. Today, the diorama in Castle Clinton includes the Kennedy Mansion/Washington Hotel.

  10. I read 1776 many years ago, recently took it off the shelf and am reading it again with perhaps a more mature look at the World and how history does tend to repeat in many ways. The book also led me to this blog to learn more about Kennedy mansion and 1 Broadway and I was not disappointed. Thank you

  11. Unlike most other commentators, I was led to this site while reading "Major John Andre: A Gallant in Spy's Clothing" by Robert M
    Hatch, an excellent bio. As with every other commentator, kudos to the compiler of this cite. It has become a go to cite for NYC historic buildings. Thank you.

  12. After watching Hamilton online and my annual viewing of 1776 on July 4th, I read "355: The Women of Washington's Spy Ring" by Kit Sergeant, about Elizabeth Burgin's efforts on behalf of Americans on the British prison ships, Sally Townsend, her brother Robert and others in Washington's Culper Ring, and Meg Moncrieffe, with a touch of Major Andre and Aaron Burr. As quite a bit of the action in the book takes place at 1 Broadway, I wanted to see what the building looked like in the 18th century. Now, learning of this book about John Andre, I just ordered a copy. By the way, my town in Queens, NY was a Tory hotbed - after the Revolution they fled to Canada.

  13. My class is currently reading Sophia's War, by Avi during our American Revolution unit. While Sophia is fictional, all of the characters, settings, and events are accurate and factual, including #1 Broadway. It is here that Sophia is employed by Robert Townsend (Culper Spy Ring) to clean the office of Major John Andre, and ultimately help to stop the plot to capture West Point. Avi has done his research down to the smallest of details. It's a great way to teach kids history.

  14. Well I'm finally reading 1776 so googled Archibald Kennedy House and it brought me to this wonderful site. So nice to put a visual to this building that saw history being made inside its 4 walls. Thank you for bringing it to life. As I read I secretly hoped it would still be standing even though I knew it couldn't possibly. At least someone took the timer to keep its memory alive 100+ years after it was razed!

  15. Another 1776 reader here! Large print version, no less.